Part 1 The Bible - Can I Trust It?
The Challenge in Cross Cultural Ministry
In our preparation for the missionary service, we are well trained in the Bible and the missionary message. When we go abroad, we assume that once we learn the local language, we can preach, and the people will understand us. It comes as a shock that this is not so, that the task of communicating effectively in another culture is far more difficult than imagined.
But what do we need to improve this?
There is a gulf between ourselves and the people to whom we go in service. There is an even treater gulf between the Bible’s historical and cultural setting and contemporary life. How do we bridge these gulfs and make possible the effective cross – cultural and cross-historical communication of the gospel?
Clearly, we need to understand the Gospel in its historical and cultural setting. Without this, we have no message. We also need a clear understanding our ourselves and the people we serve in diverse historical and cultural contexts. Without this, we are in danger of proclaiming a meaningless and irrelevant message.
Too often, however, we are content to settle for only one of these goals. As evangelicals we emphasize knowledge of the Bible but rarely stop to examine the people and cultures we serve. So, the message we bring is often misunderstood and ‘foreign’. The liberal wing of the church, on the other hand, has underscored knowledge of contemporary human settings but downplays the importance of solid theological truth. This group is in danger of losing the Gospel.
We need both approaches. We must know the Biblical message. We must also know the contemporary scene. Only then can we build the bridges that will make the Biblical message relevant to today’s world and its people everywhere.
Dr Paul Hiebert, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries, page 14
Since Johannes Gutenburg invented the printing press in 1439, the most printed book in history has been the Bible, with 2.6 billion copies printed since that time. If you took all the copies and stacked them end to end, the stack would reach one third the distance to the Moon (I did the calculations myself!)
The Bible declares itself to be “living” and “active”, as well as the standard for our morality.
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 NAS
Paul told his disciple Timothy that:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
The Bible was written by more than 40 different authors, who came from all walks of life- kings, farmers, priests, shepherds, fishermen, a tax collector, a physician, a fig tree pincher, all apparently under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It was written over a 1500 year period on three different continents (Europe, Asia and Africa), and in three languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic). Amazingly, all the authors agree on the basic message.
But could I trust it? All Scripture? Every word?
That was the question that I had to decide. I guess it’s the question that we all have to address at some point in our lives.
- Did God speak to mankind through this book?
- Is there a Divine Authority to its contents?
- Does God lay out His opinions on how we are to live our lives here on Earth?
- Can we believe what the Bible says about the origin of life; how we humans think and feel; life after death; who God is, and the great love that God has for us all?
Or is it just another book filled with men’s opinions, mythology, and another philosophy of life?
Let’s examine this question. Bear with me as we take a walk through history, and attempt to bring some facts to the table that might help you make an informed decision on this all-important question.
The Bible has had a tremendous impact on Western Culture.
My friend Dr. Randy Smith said
“If you stuck a syringe in to human history and sucked out the influence of the Bible, I think Western history as we know it would completely collapse. Just look at the influence of the Bible on our Declaration of Independence! The Bible has had a direct impact even on the lives of those who have tried to prove it wrong.”
Dr Randall Smith
The Bible had long been considered “The Truth” by Western Culture during the latter days of the Roman Empire, and throughout the Middle Ages. Changes in opinions began to occur as scientific advances took place, and European culture moved away from a Biblical worldview.
Galileo was brought to trial by the Roman Church authorities in 1633 because he discovered that the Earth actually rotated around the sun.
The Religious authorities claimed that the Bible stated that the Earth was the center of the Universe, and Galileo was forced to recant his statements.
Later work by Copernicus and other astronomers confirmed a heliocentric solar system with the Earth being one of many planets in orbit around the Sun.
This cast doubt on the historical accuracy of the Bible as it was taught by the religious authorities.
This was more to do with the Roman Church’s understanding of the document than what the Bible actually stated. Also many officials in the Roman Church had a desire to control the thought of the general population through the restrictions placed on the general public of reading the Bible themselves.
Because of this and other issues such as the selling of “indulgences” for the forgiveness of sins, a movement developed which was called the Reformation that challenged the authority of the Roman Church, and insisted that each follower of Jesus should read the Bible, and if possible, in their own native tongue. There were many practices and traditions in the Roman Church that had no scriptural basis. Many felt that these practices and traditions were contrary to what the Bible actually taught.
The Reformation: led by Martin Luther and others,
- Called for Christians to live according to what the Bible said, rather than Catholic Church tradition.
- Insisted that all believers should read the Bible in their native language rather than just Latin.
John Hus (1369 – 1415) was one of the first to make this declaration in the 15th Century. William Tyndall (1494–1536) was an Englishman who made a translation into English directly from the Hebrew and Greek texts in the 16th century. Both men were burned at the stake for their efforts by the religious authorities. Others like John Wycliff and Martin Luther were successful in making translations into the vernacular (Middle English and German) and survived persecution to die natural deaths.
Within two years of Tyndall’s death, King Henry VIII authorized a translation of the Bible into English, which was mainly Tyndall’s translation, as was the King James version published in 1611.
Another movement that occurred simultaneously was
The Renaissance: a rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman literature, art, and sculpture.
- Long forgotten works of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek philosophers were taught in the newly formed universities.
- The tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides became familiar to a new generation of theater.
The Renaissance /Reformation of the 1500 and 1600’s produced two divergent views from the traditional Roman church religious outlook.
- The Renaissance focused on the ancient Greco-Roman ideal of man as the center of life- Man being the measure of all things.
- Now man became the source of moral values and truth.
The art reflected the perfect human form, in the perfect earthly background, with perfect lighting. Colors were vibrant as mankind’s reflection of his inherent goodness.
The Reformation focused on God, and His expression through His Scriptures.
- Religious practices based on extra-Biblical traditions were cast aside, and the cry “Solo Scriptura” was heard in churches across northern Europe.
- Mankind was fallen and corrupted through the sin nature, and the needed a Savior.
Both movements occurred during a time of political power and spiritual corruption of the Roman Catholic Church as exemplified by Rodrigo Borgia, known as Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503), who had four acknowledged children from his favorite mistress, Vannozza dei Cattanei, and five more children from others.
The conflicting views of the Bible continued in the scientific and philosophic movements of the next two centuries as humanism and rationalism became dominate.
- Humanism: A cultural and intellectual movement of the Renaissance that emphasized human potential to attain excellence and promoted direct study of the literature, art, and civilization of classical Greece and Rome
- Rationalism: The theory that the exercise of reason, rather than experience, authority, or spiritual revelation, provides the primary basis for knowledge.
Many scoffed at the authenticity and relevance of the Bible, while others understood its value. Here are just two examples.
First, the French rationalist philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778):
First, the French rationalist philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778):
“One hundred years from my day there will not be a Bible in the earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker.…….If we would destroy the Christian religion, we must first of all destroy man's belief in the Bible." Voltaire (1694-1778)
Late in life, Voltaire bought a home in Geneva Switzerland, which was later purchased by the Geneva Bible Society, and used to distribute Bibles. Never forget the God Factor.
Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) is perhaps the most famous scientist of all time. His discoveries in optics, motion, and mathematics were responsible for the development of modern physics.
His famous work Philosophiae Naturalis Principia is probably the most significant scientific book, as it set the example for empirical quantitive research and discovery. In his later years, he turned his attention to the spiritual world.
“We account the scriptures of God to be the most sublime philosophy. I find more sure marks of authenticity in the Bible than in any profane history whatsoever.” Sir Issac Newton
- Jean Astruc (1684-1766) was a French professor of medicine who became famous for his published works on syphilis and venereal diseases, but also anonymously published a book challenging the origins of the Bible.
- Astruc presented the theory that Genesis was actually four separate earlier documents that Moses combined to write the book.
The title of this book published in 1753 is "Conjectures on the original documents that Moses appears to have used in composing the Book of Genesis. With remarks that support or throw light upon these conjectures".
Astruc’s ideas were later expounded on by the German Bible scholar Julius Welhaussen (1844-1918).
Wellhausen published his most famous work, Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels (Prolegomena to the History of Israel) in 1883.
Julius Welhausen (1844-1918) the first five books of the Bible which according to the Biblical text were authored by Moses, declared that in fact there were four different writers, based on the different uses of God’s name, (“J for Jehovah, “E” for Elohim), material in Deuteronomy that is different from the other books, and a later priestly source.
According to Wellhausen, the “J” source was written during the time of Solomon, mid 900 B.C.
“E” was written a hundred years later in the northern Kingdom of Israel.
“D” was the third source, written sometime in the 700’s B.C. at the court of King Josiah, and finally
“P” was added to the others in the 400’s B.C., probably under the auspices of Ezra.
Wellhausen did not think the ability to read and write was widespread in the Second Millennium B.C. (1500) so that it was improbable that a desert culture actually had that ability to communicate in that manner. He speculated that this was a skill that came later, thus the later authorship.
- Wellhausen’s theory is called the Documentary Hypothesis, and became the accepted understanding of the Books of Moses for most European and some American theologians.
- Variations of the documentary hypothesis are taught at many seminaries to this day and referred to as Higher Criticism, and casting doubt on the veracity of the Bible as it is written.
If Wellhausen is correct, then the events of Genesis and Exodus are akin to the stories of Greek mythology. There was probably no six day creation event, no Flood and no Trojan Horse. Personalities such as Adam, Eve, Abraham, Achilles, Agamemnon, Moses, David, Joshua, and Odysseus never really existed. The miracles of the Exodus from Egypt never happened, and the laws that God gave to Moses were only the collection of moral values and religious traditions developed over a millennium of Jewish History.
The stakes are high in the acceptance of the Documentary Hypothesis.
The Bible becomes just another book of mythology and men’s opinions.
Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792-1860) was a German theologian who founded the Turbingen School of Theology, challenging the traditional view of the New Testament.
Using documents from the Fourth Century, Baur concluded that the writings of Paul and Luke were in conflict with the writings of Peter, James, and the other Jewish writers. Paul was in fact considered a heretic.
According to Baur, the book of Acts is really a Second Century document, as are the Pastoral Epistles (Timothy & Titus), which were written not by Paul, but later authors. Baur taught that the four Gospels were in fact adaptations of an earlier account of the life of Jesus, not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. According to Baur, John’s gospel "does not possess historical truth, and cannot and does not really lay claim to it."
The theories of Wellhausen, Baur, and others are still influencing seminary students, pastors, and the average citizen who “hear” that the Bible is not really written by the Biblically named authors, is full of contradictions, is not historically accurate, and cannot be trusted as a source of God’s thoughts on humanity, morality, society, or eternal life.
The Biblical Worldview outlined in the Bible has been rejected by many as a result of the theories offered by Wellhausen, Baur, and their disciples.
But then, in the early 1900’s, something extraordinary happened- Modern Archeology.
In 1901, Gustave Jequier discovered a basalt stele on the ancient site of Susa, in western Iran near the Persian Gulf.
- This black column stands over seven feet tall, and on it is inscribed the legal code of Hammurabi, the sixth king of ancient Babylon.
- The stele and assorted clay tablets date from around 1754 B.C., about 250 years before Moses.
In 1974-75, Italian archeologist Paolo Matthiae and his team discovered over 1800 complete clay tablets and 4700 fragments in situ on collapsed shelves in the palace archives at the ancient city of Elba, Syria during their excavations of Tell Mardikh. These date from 2250-2500 B.C. almost a thousand years before Moses.
Obviously Wellhausen was wrong in his assumption of the lack of writing skills during the time of Moses.
As a historian, I was trained to evaluate ancient works of literature as to their veracity- historical accuracy. I took my “Historiography: The Methods of Historical Research” given by Professor Herbert Oerter at the Miami University Luxembourg campus. Dr. Oerter trained us to apply three tests to any ancient work:
Manuscript evidence: How many copies of the document exist, what is the date of the oldest copy, and how close is that to the original writing? Errors in copying were common. The closer the copy to the original date, the more accurate the document.
Internal Evidence: Is the record from eyewitnesses (primary source)? Does the book describe how people of that time reacted to the events? Are all the facts and themes consistent within the work?
External Evidence: What do outside sources say about the date and story presented in the document? Are there references to the document or information therein in other historical sources? What does archaeology say about the events described in the document?
I had to determine if I could trust the Bible. I began to do my research at the Lahaina Library, which was at the harbor next door to the Pioneer Inn, where our ice cream business, What’s The Scoop, was located. To my surprise, I discovered that many historians consider the Bible to be good history.
I found that the Bible has very good manuscript evidence, especially when compared to other ancient works of its time- like Herodotus’ The Peloponnesian Wars, Julius Caesar’s The Gallic Wars, Homer’s The Illiad & The Odyssey and others.The numbers tell the story:
Author Date written Earliest Copy Time Span Number of Copies
Caesar 100-44 B.C. 900 A.D. 1,000 years 10
Bible 40-95 A.D. 125 A.D. 30 years over 24,000
There are more manuscripts of the Bible than those of other ancient works combined, and one, the John Ryland manuscript of a portion of the book of John, has been dated to within 30 years of the original writing.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed much of the Biblical text we read in our Bibles today.
Isaiah is a book in the Old Testament written by the prophet Isaiah in the seventh century b.c. The earliest manuscript we have is in the Massoretic text of the Old Testament, which dates from about 916 a.d.
If you look in your Bible, your Old Testament is probably an English translation of this 1,000-year-old-plus document. There is a gap of about 1500-2200 years between the time these books were written and the copy we use for our English translations.
This gap has caused critics to speculate that our modern translation does not accurately follow the original text and has been changed over the centuries.
In 1947, a shepherd named Mohammed Dib was down by the Dead Sea in a place called Qumran, looking for some lost sheep. There are many caves in this desert region, and the sheep sometimes wander into these caves or fall into holes in the ground. Mohammed threw a rock down into one hole, hoping to hear movement of his sheep but instead heard the sound of something breaking. He crawled down inside the hole and discovered his rock had hit and broken a clay jar. There were other clay jars; many containing leather scrolls with writing and immersed in oil.
He took these to a friend, and eventually they ended up in Jerusalem where they were identified as books of the Old Testament, dating from about 125 b.c.
Suddenly, we had a text of the Bible that dated almost 1,000 years earlier than the Massoretic text, much closer to the time they were written.
The contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls cover many topics including books of the Hebrew Scriptures. There are cases where the scrolls don’t match up exactly word for word with other manuscripts (like to the Masoretic Text, commonly used for the Old Testament), but in terms of theological differences, there are none.
Let me give you one example:
Of the 166 words in Isaiah chapter 53, there is only one word (of three letters¾light¾in verse 11) in question, along with some punctuation marks, none of which changes the meaning of the passage.
I have concluded that manuscript evidence is excellent!
- Primary Eyewitness source?
- No contradictions?
My first test for Internal Evidence was to see if there was primary source information – eyewitness accounts. Peter and John, who together wrote seven (really eight, as Mark’s gospel is probably Peter’s gospel narrated to Mark) of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, leave no doubt they were eyewitnesses. Listen to Peter:
For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and his coming again. We have seen his majestic splendor with our own eyes. 2 Peter 1:16
How did contemporary witnesses react to the words of the apostles?
Here’s Peter speaking before a large crowd at the temple in Jerusalem:
“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus of Nazareth by doing wonderful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know.”
Peter’s words convicted them deeply, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter replied, “Each of you must turn from your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church—about three thousand in all. Acts 2:22, 37-38, 41
Peter appealed to them about events that all of Jerusalem had witnessed¾the miracles of Jesus and his crucifixion¾and explained why Jesus had to die for our sins. Did the people shout “No Peter, you are lying!”? No, they believed him and over 3,000 accepted Jesus as their Lord that day!
When someone tells me that there are contradictions in the Bible, I ask them to tell me one. Most cannot.
- Apparent Contradictions often disappear with more accurate translation of the Greek and Hebrew.
- The Authors of the Bible often give partial information, which is common in historical writing.
The author chooses the information that he thinks is important to his points. Another writer will choose other details to tell the same story. This is particularly true in the four biographies of Jesus’ life.
For example, Matthew tells us that when Jesus left Jericho on his final trip to Jerusalem, there were two blind men who cried out to him:
As Jesus and the disciples left the town of Jericho, a large crowd followed behind. 30 Two blind men were sitting beside the road. When they heard that Jesus was coming that way, they began shouting, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” Matthew 20:29-30 NAS
Mark tells us that there was one, and gives us his name.
Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed him. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road. 47 When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Mark 10:46-47 NAS If you saw your aunt and uncle at the mall today, and later your mother asked you if you saw her sister (your aunt) while you were at the mall, you would reply “Yes.” Later, your dad asked you if you saw his fishing buddy (your uncle) while you were at the mall and you would reply “Yes.” Are you giving contradictory information? No. Only partial information.
Another problem occurs when the Bible records what a person says, but this does not mean the person was telling the truth.
A good example of this is when King Saul fell on his sword and died to escape torture.
Then Saul said to his armor bearer, “Draw your sword and pierce me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and pierce me through and make sport of me.” But his armor bearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. So Saul took his sword and fell on it. 1 Samuel 31:4
Later, an Amalekite came to David and reported:
“So I stood beside him and killed him, because I knew that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown which was on his head and the bracelet which was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.” 2 Samuel 1:10
The Amalekite was a battlefield scavenger. He lied to David, hoping to gain favor. David had him killed.
After my research, I had to agreed that internal evidence was good.
Then I started digging into external evidence sources, which focused on archeology and the writings of other contemporary authors.
- There are many writings existing from early Christian writers (Justin, Eusebius, and Polycarp, among others) that contain large portions of Scripture, which match our modern records.
- The information in these second-, third-, and fourth-century documents supports the information given to us by the writers of the Bible.
- The writings of contemporary historical figures, such as the Jewish writer Flavius Josephus, and the Roman writers Tacitus and Lucian support the Biblical account of history.
In the early 1900’s, many archeologists travelled to Asia Minor and the Middle East, and began to dig on ancient sites. Archeology in the past 100 years has discovered many artifacts of ancient civilizations. Pottery, clay writing tablets, leather scrolls, paintings, tombs, statues, staella (columns of carved stone with writing and pictures), palaces, homes, temples, and even entire cities have been discovered, uncovered, and recovered. I’ve been to some of the sites in Central America, Europe, and the Middle East.
It is safe to say there has not been one archeological discovery contradicting anything in the Bible. Instead, the artifacts discovered support the lifestyles and cultures described in the Bible. Often, exact names and dates discovered on the artifacts match the information given to us by biblical accounts!
Many archeologists have set out to prove the Bible is inaccurate, only to find it is indeed an excellent history book and a source book for their digs.
Sir William Ramsey, the first Professor of Classical Archaeology at Oxford University who pioneered the study of antiquity in what is today western Turkey, was one who doubted the historical validity of the Bible. After exhaustive research, he found the Bible to be a valuable asset in his projects. He was especially impressed with Luke, who reported things such as prevailing winds, tides, geographical features and locations, and details of travel with great accuracy.
Here Sir William says in his own words:
I may fairly claim to have entered on this investigation without any prejudice in favour of the conclusion which I shall now attempt to justify to the reader. On the contrary, I began with a mind unfavourable to it, for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tubingen theory had at one time quite convinced me. It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought in contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor.
It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvellous truth. In fact, beginning with the fixed idea that the work was essentially a second-century composition, and never relying on its evidence as trustworthy for first-century conditions, I gradually came to find it a useful ally in some obscure and difficult investigations. 1
Probably the most eminent archaeologist of the 20th Century was Dr. William F. Albright (1891 – 1971), a professor of Semitic Languages at John Hopkins University from 1938 until he retired in 1958. He also served as the director of the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem, which is right outside Herod’s Gate on the northeastern side of the Old City. Mikaela, Lukas and I often walked past the gates to this institute during our walks around the Old City when we lived there in the summer of 1999. The school was renamed Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in 1970. Albright was famous for his important work on many sites in Israel (Gibeah, Tell Beit Mirsim) as well as for authenticating the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948.
Here are a few of the many statements that Albright made about the historical reliability of the Bible:
“There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition. The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible by important historical schools of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, certain phases of which still appear periodically, has been progressively discredited. Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history.” 2
For me the external evidence for the Bible is overwhelming. All three tests show the Bible to be a reliable historical document.
Can I trust the Bible? I decided Yes! What do you think? Let me finish with one of my favorite quotes.
Will Durant (1885 – 1981) was an American historian and philosopher who is best known for his 11 volume work titled The Story of Civilization, which he co-authored with his wife Ariel. These volumes were published between 1935 and 1975. I read large portions of The Story of Civilization while attending Miami University’s Luxembourg Campus in the Grande Duche’ in 1971-72. The Durants were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Literature for the 10th volume, Rousseau and Revolution (1967). I have especially enjoyed Caesar and Christ, where I found this portion, which I used in Just Another Lump of Clay, with permission. Although I don’t agree with all that Durant says, for one of the most respectable historians of the 20th Century, he makes a truly remarkable statement!
“In summary, it is clear that there are many contradictions between one gospel and another, many dubious statements of history, many suspicious resemblances to the legends told of pagan gods, many incidents apparently designed to prove the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, many passages possibly aiming to establish a historical basis for some later doctrine or ritual of the Church….
All this granted, much remains. The contradictions are of minutiae, not substance; in essence the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke)agree remarkably well, and the Higher Criticism has applied to the New Testament test of authenticity so severe that by them a hundred ancient worthies - e.g. Hammurabi, David, Socrates- would fade into legend.
Despite the prejudices and theological preconceptions of the evangelists, they record many incidences that mere inventors would have concealed- the competition of the apostles for high places in the Kingdom, their flight after Jesus’ arrest, Peter’s denial, the failure of Christ to work miracles in Galilee, the references of some auditors to his possible insanity, his early uncertainty as to his mission, his confessions of ignorance as to the future, his moments of bitterness, his despairing cry on the cross; no one reading these scenes can doubt the reality of the figure behind them.
That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels.
After two centuries of Higher Criticism, the outlines of the life, character, and teaching of Christ, remain reasonably clear, and constitute the most fascinating feature in the history of Western man.”
The Story of Civilization, Caesar and Christ, p. 557 6
The Gospel Through The Biblical Lens Part 2
Seven Precepts for Understanding The Message of the Bible
Precept 1) It’s not just one book but a library of 66 books, with seven different styles of literature.
How you read the literature will determine your understanding of it.
You can't use the lyrics of a song to prove a point of logic.
Ancient cultural symbols often don't make sense to modern culture.
Legal code has principles behind the prescription or prohibition that supersede the cultural practice.
To understand the message we first have to know what style of literature we are reading. The seven literature styles in the Bible are:
- Biography: Many parts of Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers, parts of the History books, Daniel, Jonah, the Gospels & Acts.
Notice the “acts and scenes” which the narrative is divided into and look for the points the author is trying to make to his audience.
Notice how mankind and God are relating. We learn much from witnessing other’s interaction with God.
Matthew is a Jew who is writing to a Jewish audience. He uses many prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures to show that Jesus is the predicted Messiah.
Mark is writing to a Roman audience and wants to show Jesus as a man of action. The word “immediately” is used 39 times, with 10 in the very first chapter.
Luke tells us the story of Jesus in chronological order, and wants us to see Jesus as the ultimate servant- a high ideal in Greek culture.
John presents Jesus as the Logos- the active creative force of God, wisdom personified.
2) Prescriptive Epistles: Paul’s, Peter’s, John’s, James’s. and Jude’s letters.
Ask yourself “What are the problems that the writer is addressing?”
“To whom is the letter addressed?”
“Is this letter written to a certain people group or an individual?”
What is happening in the culture that might help explain the intent of the passage?
What is going on in Corinth that would cause Paul to write this to his friends? Why do women in some modern churches believe that they must cover their heads?
I am so glad that you always keep me in your thoughts, and that you are following the teachings I passed on to you. But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. A man dishonors his head if he covers his head while praying or prophesying. But a woman dishonors her head if she prays or prophesies without a covering on her head, for this is the same as shaving her head. Yes, if she refuses to wear a head covering, she should cut off all her hair! But since it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut or her head shaved, she should wear a covering.
A man should not wear anything on his head when worshiping, for man is made in God’s image and reflects God’s glory. And woman reflects man’s glory. For the first man didn’t come from woman, but the first woman came from man. And man was not made for woman, but woman was made for man.
For this reason, and because the angels are watching, a woman should wear a covering on her head to show that she is under authority. 1 Corinthians 11:2-10
Jews often had long hair, Greek and Romans short hair. Prostitutes in Corinth had short hair or shaved heads. Women’s hair was a common object of lust in antiquity, and in much of the eastern Mediterranean women were expected to cover their hair. To fail to cover their hair was thought to provoke male lust as a bathing suit is thought to provoke it in some cultures today. Some commentators note that prostitutes were getting saved and becoming part of the Christian community in Corinth. Perhaps Paul was recommending that they covered their shaved or short hair heads when they came to the meetings so as not to confuse outsiders that Christians approved of this profession.
3) Lamentations: Includes selected Psalms, Lamentations, Habbakuk.
Notice how the writer moves from the human perspective to the Divine.
Habbakuk is railing against God. God responds. Habbakuk understands.
1 The oracle which Habakkuk the prophet saw.
2 How long, O LORD, will I call for help,
And You will not hear?
I cry out to You, “Violence!”
Yet You do not save.
3 Why do You make me see iniquity,
And cause me to look on wickedness?
Yes, destruction and violence are before me;
Strife exists and contention arises.
4 Therefore the law is ignored
And justice is never upheld.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
Therefore justice comes out perverted. Habakkuk 1:1-4
“Look among the nations! Observe!
Be astonished! Wonder!
Because I am doing something in your days—
You would not believe if you were told.
6 “For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
That fierce and impetuous people
Who march throughout the earth
To seize dwelling places which are not theirs. Habakkuk 1:5-6
Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
18 Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
19 The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places. Habakkuk 3:17-19
4) Legal Code and Covenant Treaty: Parts of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.
Look at the behavior and the consequences and seek to determine God’s chief concern.
Ask yourself “What part of God’s heart is displayed in this passage?”.
What is the principle behind this cultural practice?
Here is why God wanted his people to obey Him, and that they should not mix his culture with the Canaanite culture. God gave the Hebrew people many object lessons to this point- don't mix seeds, animals or fabrics.
So you shall observe to do just as the LORD your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right or to the left. 33 You shall walk in all the way which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you will possess. Deuteronomy 5:32-33
You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, or all the produce of the seed which you have sown and the increase of the vineyard will become defiled.
10 “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.
11 “You shall not wear a material mixed of wool and linen together. Deuteronomy 22:9-11
5) Wisdom Literature: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes.
Focus on the “Truism” or principle, not the specifics.
These offer guidance, not guaranteed success.
Here is one we all know and many are waiting for our children to return to the way.
Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6
Here are general principles for conflict given in Proverbs 17:
Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it
Than a house full of feasting with strife. Proverbs 17:1
He who conceals a transgression seeks love,
But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends. Proverbs 17:9
The beginning of strife is like letting out water,
So abandon the quarrel before it breaks out. Proverbs 17:14
A friend loves at all times,
And a brother is born for adversit Proverbs 17:17
He who restrains his words has knowledge,
And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Proverbs 17:27
6) Poetics: Many of the Psalms, parts of Exodus, Judges, 2 Samuel, and others.
Treat like the illusive lyrics of songs, which they are.
An understanding of images used is essential to understanding the often veiled truths. Here is a lyrical description of God's laws from Psalm 19:
The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
2 Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. 3 There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. 4 Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world.
The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. 10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Psalms 19: 1-4,7-10
7) Prophetic works: Most of the Minor Prophets and Revelation.
The writers focused on Coming Judgment and Blessing, Exposing sin, and Political Commentaries.
These are filled with understandings of God’s heart and principles for living. Prophets like Micah made observations on current life and then brought God's perspective to light:
With what shall I come to the LORD? And bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves? Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:6-8
Understanding the type of literature is an important step in receiving the intended message and a safeguard in keeping our hermeneutics on course.
Precept 2) The Principle Approach to Scripture.
What about Tattoos? What does God say about them. Are they prohibited?
27 You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard. 28 You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:27-28
Why is it hard to find a Cheeseburger in a Jerusalem McDonalds? Religious Jews point ot this verse:
“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” Exodus 23:19
What do we do with these seeming random laws?
There are actually three ways that we can look at these Hebrew sacred writings
1) The “Theonomic” view that says all these laws are still in effect and must be obeyed to the letter.
I have many Jewish-Christian friends in Israel who take this view and eat a strict ‘kosher” diet, observe the Sabbath laws, and try to do everything they can. Obviously they are not able to obey the sacrificial laws, since the Temple was destroyed by the Roman armies in 70 AD.
2) The “Cultural” approach which says that all the laws belonged to their day and have nothing to do with our lives today.
One of my friends asked her pastor if it was okay to have sex with her boyfriend. The pastor replied that in “Bible times” people rode camels, wore sandals, and did many things that we don’t do today. Since we don’t ride camels in modern times, etc., he told her that it is permissible to have sex outside marriage. Interestingly, in these past years, we have spent many days in the Negev desert riding around on camels. People still use them for transportation. And most people in the Third World use some form of a sandal for their footwear.
3) Then there is a third view, which we refer to as the “Principle Approach”. This Biblical interpretation technique says that behind each “cultural practice” is a spiritual principle that is always relevant to our lives as members of the Kingdom.
Of these three, which makes more sense to you? Paul told his disciple Timothy in his second letter that
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. 2 Tim 3:16-17 NLT
The challenge- discover the principle behind the prescribed cultural practice. Here is an example from Leviticus 1:
Then the Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When any man of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock.
‘If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it, a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. Leviticus 1:1-3
In verse one, we see God calling out to Moses. From this I know God often takes the initiative in His fellowship with mankind. This is an important principle for me to remember when I am feeling far from God.
In verse two, God orders the people to bring an offering from their own herd or flock. I can conclude that God wants me to return to Him some of the things He has freely given me. This is a good principle of relationship between God and me, and an important principle of God’s economics.
In verse three, I can see that God wants me to bring Him my best.
These are three principles that work for us in the 21st Century.
So what about tattoos? Chapter 19 begins with this:
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. Leviticus 19:1-2
Holy – Qadosh: displaying a standard of morality that is different from the culture around you and comes from God Himself.
27 You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard. 28 You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:27-28
Egyptians shave the side of their heads. They worship to dead and their gods by marking and cutting their bodies. God says don’t think like the Egyptians or Canaanites, do try to look like them, and don’t worship their god by cutting a marking your bodies. In some cultures, having a tattoo is a sign that you are a follower of Christ.
What about boiling a goat in its mother’s milk?
“Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me. 1 Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.
18 “You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread;
19 “You shall bring the choice first fruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God.
“You are not to boil a young goat in the milk of its mother. Exodus 23:14-19
This is a section commanding all Hebrew males to attend the three feasts in Jerusalem each year, along with some directions on what type of offerings Yahweh wants.
Canaanites would offer the gods of fertility an offering of a newborn goat or lamb and kill it by boiling it in its mother’s milk, then the entire extended family would drink the broth and dedicate themselves to that god. God says don't do that, but trust me for your economy. Jesus repeats this principle in the Sermon on the Mount:
Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:31-33
There are cases where the practice and principle coincide, and the ancient cultural practice prohibition is still applicable in our culture.
In Leviticus 18, we find the following in verses 1 & 2:
Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. I am the Lord your God. 3 So do not act like the people in Egypt, where you used to live, or like the people of Canaan, where I am taking you. You must not imitate their way of life.
God then gives us His View on sexual relations. It is an interesting read involving sexual relations between sons & mothers, sisters & brothers, stepmothers and stepsons, etc. In verse 22 we come to this command:
“Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin. A man must not defile himself by having sex with an animal. And a woman must not offer herself to a male animal to have intercourse with it. This is a perverse act.” Lev 18:22-23
Here is a prohibition of cultural practices and along with timeless principles.
God’s design of mankind has specific functions. Man and woman together give birth to children, and make up the family unit that society is to be built upon. This apparently is our Creator’s design. The act of sexual intercourse was given for procreation, as well as an expression of intimacy. Apparently God thinks that it is best reserved for a marriage relationship and a promotion of love and intimacy within the family unit.
Otherwise why would He prohibit adultery, fornication, homosexuality, and bestiality?
“How essential are these Laws given to Moses in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy to me, the New Testament Christian?”
You may be surprised at the answer Jesus gave which was recorded in Matthew 5:
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-20
It's important to understand that the word Fulfill is the Greek word Pleroo which according to many lexicons in this verse means To explain more fully.
It is apparent that in this passage Jesus said that the “Law and the Prophets
1) have permanent validity to everyone in the Kingdom of God, and that
2) The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) should be taught and obeyed by the children of the Kingdom, and that;
3) Entrance into Heaven is dependent on an inner state of righteousness reflected in the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures.
As we study these laws of Moses, we must ask ourselves what was the purpose of the Law. Why did God give them? Here are four thoughts:
1) He wanted to give His people His standard for morality. They were heavily influence by their world environment, just as we are. God wanted His people to be distinct, to stand apart from the society of Egypt and Canaan.
2) He wanted to give them an understanding of what sin was, and there was a price we would pay for the effects of sin in our lives. His people needed to know they had a need for forgiveness, and ultimately a need for a Savior.
3) God wanted to reveal His Divine Holiness to a people who had unique privileges bestowed upon them for a fulfillment of a high calling. He didn’t want them to become presumptive and take lightly their mission, or Him. He wanted them to understand just who they were dealing with- and it was not the flawed, self-serving gods of the Egyptian and Canaanite culture.
4) God wanted to give His people a manner in which to express their faith in Him. Doing what God wants when you don’t want to do it is a very practical way to display your faith in God through your obedience. Without any laws, how will your faith really be expressed?
God always intended the relationship between Him and His people to be one of trust and faith. This is the vision behind the verses.
These laws were never meant to be legislation, but more information on the lifestyle of the child of God. Paul told his friends in Galatia (Galatians 3:19) that as Abraham was saved through his faith, the laws given to Moses didn’t alter that, but were rather layered upon that relationship of faith.
The Law was just a signpost to our sin (Romans 7:7), to our need for Christ (Romans 8:2-4), and a practical guide for our living (Psalm 119:105).
Although its cultural application may be antiquated and irrelevant, the principles behind the laws given through Moses are essential to our spiritual health, and determine our entrance into heaven.
Precept 3) God always speak to mankind in a way that they will understand
God speaks your language. Isn’t this a comforting thought? God speaks your language! He speaks to the characters in the Bible in words and symbols that they understand. Here is one example.
In Genesis 15 we see God making a promise to Abraham and Abraham’s faithful response. Why did Abraham so firmly believe that God was going to do what He promised? It was through a very unusual cultural practice that “God sealed the deal”.
And He (God) took him (Abraham) outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
6Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. 7And He said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.”
8He said, “O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it?”
9So He said to him, “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. 11The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away.
12Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. 13God said to Abram,15“As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age.” 17It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. Gen 15:5-17
“What a bizarre scene!” Kill an animal and cut the body in half and spread it out on the ground! Really? There must be something more to this story. The obvious question to ask is: What significance did the split carcasses have for people of Abram’s time?
We get a clue to the meaning of this seeming strange practice from Jeremiah 34:18-20:
‘I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not fulfilled the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between its parts—the officials of Judah and the officials of Jerusalem, the court officers and the priests and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf—I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life. And their dead bodies will be food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth. Jeremiah 34:18-20:
Jeremiah explains that in those days, business men, politicians, and friends made pacts by cutting animals in half, and walking together through the split carcass, pausing in the middle and looking at each other saying
“If I don’t keep my end of this deal, may I become like this dead animal.
Apparently God was going to hold The royal officials of Judah to the terms of the covenant they made with Him!
What caused Abram to believe God?
When God passed through the split carcasses by himself, Abraham knew that God’s promises did not depend on whether Abram keep his end of the deal.
What promises has God made to you?
Do you think He will keep those promises? Even if you don’t?
Be encouraged by this principle from the life of Abraham
Now is a good time to ask 'How did the Biblical Jews and Greeks think?'
One difference is Function vs. Form
Hold up a coffee cup and ask the First Century Greek and Jew to describe it.
The Greek will tell you it’s color, the shape, how tall it is, how wide it is, and what the curve in the handle is like.
The Jew will say simply: “With this I can drink coffee.”
His analysis focuses on function.
Greeks think in terms form- how it appears. Jews think in terms of function- what it does.
This is helpful when it comes to understanding a confusing passage found in the Song of Songs. Here the writer describes his beloved by saying:
Your belly is like a heap of wheat fenced about with lilies. Song of Songs 7:2
But the Jewish lover is saying that his beloved will be very fruitful, bearing him many children from her belly- her womb- the heap of harvested wheat. That is a beautiful thing.
David often refers to God as his “Rock” in his Psalms.
They will declare, “The Lord is just! He is my rock! There is no evil in him!” Psalms 92:15
We read that and naturally imagine what the rock looks like. Is it black or white? How is it shaped? Is it round or sharp? What is the size? Is it a boulder or a pebble? That is form thinking.
What did David do with a rock?
He killed the giant Goliath.
David built his fortress with rocks.
He ground his wheat with a big rock.
David is thinking functionally.
Form and Function thinking are apparent in the Gospel of John.
We hear Jesus describing himself seven times as “I Am. . .” ,
The Bread of Life, The Light of the World, The Door, the Good Shepherd, The Way, The Truth, and The Life.
These are images John uses to appeal to the Greek thinking person.
He feeds me; He illuminates my path; He opens the door to Heaven for me; He cares for me; He is my life journey; In Him I can discover the Truth; and He is the source of true life;
I can see it through these images.
Along with these seven “I Am’s” John also gives us seven miracles:
Turning water into wine, Healing at a distance, Raising the paralytic, Feeding the five thousand, Walking on water, Healing the Blind, and Raising Lazarus from the dead.
This seven “I Do’s” would appeal to the functional, Hebrew-thinking person.
He takes ordinary people and turns them into extraordinary individuals, He can touch me even when I feel far away, He can heal the crippled areas of my life; His provision for me is limitless; With Him I can do impossible things; Where I am blind, He can open my eyes to reality; When I die, He will bring me back to eternal life.
John spend many of his later years living in Ephesus, and his ministry was among both Greek and Jewish cultures.
Precept 4) The Bible is a complete Unit
The Old Testament and New Testament are a continuous, linked revelation of God to Mankind.
The ideal of “Old” comes from a passage in Hebrews 8:
When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. Hebrews 8:13
The context of this letter is to Hebrew Christians who were still going to the Temple to offer sacrifices for their sins. The writer of Hebrews says that since Jesus died on the cross you do not need to offer any more sacrifice. That part of the Hebrew Scriptures is old and out of date.
Titus came to Jerusalem a few years later and destroyed the Temple.
I call these two sections of the Bible the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Scriptures
God didn’t change
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8
Salvation didn’t change - Mankind always saved by faith
Some believe that the Jews in the Hebrew Scriptures were saved by keeping the Law.
1 For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.
4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins Hebrews 10:1, 4
The Offerings and sacrifices commanded in the Torah were only coverings for sin,
If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it, a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. 4 He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf. Leviticus 1:3-4
Atonement: Hebrew kaphar; to cover over, pacify, make propitiation
It was the faith of those Hebrews that saved them, a faith that was demonstrated by obedience to God’s words.
Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
“Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him;
But the righteous will live by his faith. Habakkuk 2:4
Many modern Christians focus their Bible reading and study on the New Testament. Look at your own Bible and notice which pages are worn. Probably it is the last third of the book that received most of your attention.That is because we naturally want the new, improved version of laundry detergent, toothpaste, deodorant, cell phones, automobile, and religion. Old is simply “old” and ready for the dumpster. We bring this same attitude when it comes to studying the Word of God. We think the New Testament is actually the “new and improved” Word of God, and the Old Testament is an archaic document no longer applicable to our society. The reality is quite the opposite.
The Bible is one continuous revelation of God to mankind.
God’s Covenants are layered one on top of another
God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; 13 I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. 14 It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, 15 and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. Genesis 9:12-15
When we study the New Testament, it is hard to appreciate what God was doing in those latter times, unless we understand what He did in the pages of the Old Testament. Not only that, the writers assume you know the backdrop of the Old Testament to fully understand what they are describing in the pages of the New Testament.
In John 8 the people pick up stones and attempt to kill Jesus, because he identified himself as 'I Am".
57 So the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” 59 Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple. John 8:57-59
The crowd knew that only God was known as "I Am".
Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “ I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Exodus 3:13-14
On the Day of Pentecost, they were together in one place, with the sound of mighty rushing wind, tongues of fire appear, the Spirit descends and 3000 are saved.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them Acts 2:1-3
Exodus 19: The First Pentecost at Mt Sinai- Fire, wind, and thunder, the Law is given, then later 3000 die.
So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. Exodus 19:16
John 3 Jesus and Nicodemus
14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:14-16
In the wilderness the people rebelled against Moses’ leadership and God sent snakes into the camp, and many were bitten and died.
It's a good lesson on our attitudes towards God’s leaders.
8 Then the Lord told him, “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” 9 So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed! Numbers 21:4-9
Jesus brings it all together for Nicodemus (and us) when He says, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert “I the Son of Man will be lifted up so that anybody who looks upon me with faith will have that poison called sin removed from their body and they will have eternal life.”
John assumes we know Nicodemus knows as those stricken people looked at the serpent, the fatal poison injected by the snake into their body was removed.
How can we appreciate Jesus on the cross unless we understand this picture God gave His people over a thousand years before in the desert?
What lessons do the Hebrew scriptures give us about life?
Malachi - God’s economy
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. 1 Malachi 3:10-11
This principle of God’s economy is echoed in the New Testament
But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:3-4
God describes Himself in Exodus 34
6 Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” Exodus 34:6-7
Song of Songs- the importance of Sexual Love
6 “How beautiful and how delightful you are, My love, with all your charms!
7 “Your stature is like a palm tree, And your breasts are like its clusters.
8 “I said, ‘I will climb the palm tree, I will take hold of its fruit stalks.’
Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine,
And the fragrance of your breath like apples,
9 And your mouth like the best wine!” Song of Songs 7:1-9
God created sex not only to grow the human race but as an intimate expression within the committed relationship of marriage.
Sex outside marriage is forbidden in the Bible, be it adultery or premarital sex. It is an act that harms both individuals, and leads to the destruction of the family unit that God ordained to be the foundation of Human society.
Even though our culture says yes to premarital sex, the Bible clearly says that sex is given for intimacy within a committed marriage relationship.
4 Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Hebrews 13:4
Precept 5) There is a difference between Narrative and Instructional Scripture.
We often hear people say “If it is in the Bible, then I believe it”.They read about the lives of the Biblical characters, their thinking, and way of life. Sometimes we think that we should imitate the lives of those God – followers, in all aspects.
But the Bible is filled with men and women interacting with other men and women, and what we see it is often not pretty.Eve believes the serpent, and disobeys God, while her husband stands idly by, and then he joins her. Cain kills his brother Abel. Noah gets drunk and passes out naked in his tent. Abraham tries to pass off his wife Sarah as his sister in order to gain favor. Joseph’s brothers plot to kill him, and then decide to sell him as a slave. Judah goes to a prostitute and has sex, only to discover later that it was his daughter-in-law.
And this is all in the first book of the Bible.
Then we have adultery, deception, and murder- this in the life of the great hero king of Israel David. There is more; much more ungodly, self-center behavior.
Paul told his friends in Corinth:
And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. I Corinthians 11:1
The key phrase here is “as I imitate Christ.” Just because someone in the Bible does something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we should do it too.
That goes for obvious unrighteous behavior, but it also applies to less obvious religious practices. Cults get started when people take narrations and turn them into instructions. Here is what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. 1 Corinthians 4:6 NAS
Sometimes we place more meaning into a passage of Scripture than the writers intended. Paul cautioned the Corinthian church not to do that.
A personal example of mistaking a narration for an instruction:
Luke describes what happened after the Day of Pentecost in the new Christian community in Jerusalem:
Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Acts 2:43-45
In the 1970 there was a group of Christians that sprang out of the Jesus movement that decided based on this Scripture that God was against personal property. They believed that private ownership was not God’s design, and that there should only be communal property. One of my dear friends became involved in this cult. After reading more of the Bible, he realized that this was not an instruction but rather a description of what some of these First Century disciples did.
The Bible tells us to be good stewards to what God has given us:
Know well the condition of your flocks,
And pay attention to your herds;
24 For riches are not forever,
Nor does a crown endure to all generations. Proverbs 27:23-24
Here is an example of Narrative Scripture:
Late one afternoon David got out of bed after taking a nap and went for a stroll on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath. He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent for her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. 2 Samuel 11:2
This is obviously a narration of something David did that was not a good thing for him, or his country. Can you imagine if we tried to use this passage as a Biblical Instruction with our wives? “Honey, adultery is in the Bible. . . .David, one of our heroes did it. . .I think it’s o.k.” That would not work at my house!
Instructional Scripture is different:
Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you. Ephesians 5:18
This is a clear instruction of how to handle alcohol beverage.
Why does God give us instructions?
9 Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other. 40 So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time.” Deuteronomy 4:39-40
So that things will go well for you in the land.
How important is it to obey God?
15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. John 14:15
God’s Love language is obedience.
Think of God commandments as more information rather than legislation.
Precept 6) Often the cultural, political, and geographical settings help us better understand the Biblical Message
Culture - The Last Supper
While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:26-28
Communion (or the Lord’s Supper) is a special time for all Christians. Jesus’ final celebration of the Passover with His disciples (with unleavened bread and wine) was rich with symbols of God’s grace and favor to mankind. But there is more to the story. Every male in the room understood that this use of bread and wine was part of a marriage proposal in First Century Israel. They understood that Jesus was proposing a intimate relationship with them, on the level of human matrimony.
God wants an intimate relationship with you
Politics - Palm Sunday
On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD, even the King of Israel.” 14 Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written, 15 “FEAR NOT, DAUGHTER OF ZION; BEHOLD, YOUR KING IS COMING, SEATED ON A DONKEY’S COLT.” John 12:12-15
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” 40 But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”
A political demonstration that was about to turn into a riot.
The first Sunday in the Passover Week was the day that most Hebrews came into Jerusalem to select their sacrifice for the Friday Passover celebration. It was the day that Jesus rode in to present Himself as our Passover sacrifice.
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. 13 And He *said to them, “It is written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER’; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.” Matthew 21:12-13
18 Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. 19 Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He *said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered. Matthew 21:18-19
Where you see the fig tree with leaves in Jerusalem, there will be small figs, which provide a nice snack for any passing by. Jesus found no fruit on this fig tree. He had witnessed not fruit in the activities and priest of the Temple. He made a graphic object lesson to His disciples.
Is there fruit in your life?
Precept 7) Words Matter
Some translations from Hebrew and Greek into English do not capture the essence of the meaning of the words.
Many Christians believe that woman do not have a role in teaching men and adolescent children, and use this verse to justify this idea called complementarianism.
A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 1 Timothy 2:11-12
Woman – Gr: gune Man- Gr: andros (aner)
When used together commonly has the meaning of wife and husband
“Let the wife learn in tranquility (peaceable) in her positioning under.”
Teach is in the present infinitive meaning continuously.
“I do not allow a wife to constantly teach her husband in public, but to remain tranquil, not disturbed.”
Qualifications of church leaders:
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of mone 1 Timothy 3:2-3
Husband of one wife: Gr: mais gunaikos- “a one woman man”
Could refer to polygamy but is better translated
“ a non flirtatious man who has wyes only for his wife.”
Matt 5 You must be perfect
Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48
Perfect Teleios Fully mature
How are you maturing?