Friday, June 26, 2009
What is God Telling Us?
Are you cheating on your taxes? Many taxpayers would honestly answer, “I hope not, that’s why I hire an accountant.” The tax code is complicated enough that it is difficult to know which deductions are allowed and which ones are not, so the interpretation of the code is often left to the professionals.-There is a parallel in the area of Scripture. Many Christians are like their taxpayer counterparts, thinking that believing the Bible is beyond comprehension, and to be left to the professionals to interpret. Is that the correct approach to take?-From the time the first books of the Old Testament were given, even children were to study and learn them. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 commands, “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” Paul was able to encourage Timothy concerning the Word of God, because he had learned as a child. “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 3:15 -The writer of the book of Hebrews encourages the reader to move beyond the basic understanding of the Bible that is gained in childhood, and to reach the point of actually being able to understand it well enough to teach it. “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Hebrews 5:12-In other words, the Scripture must be used so it can be understood and taught. It must be studied. 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”-Notice that the passage says ‘rightly dividing the word of truth’ and that it also warns about not being ashamed. The call to interpret the Scripture correctly is an important admonition. Still the challenge should not be neglected.-I believe one of the reasons why the challenge is often avoided is because of a misunderstanding of even how to interpret the Word of God. Some are intimidated because they do not realize that a reader is supposed to take the work of God quite literally. But aren’t there figures of speech and even symbolism in the Bible? Yes, of course, but they are to be read according to the rules of the normal use of language.-To clarify- what I am suggesting is that we are to take the Bible literally within the structure of the normal use of language which allows for figures of speech and symbolism. The context will clearly show when such devices are being used.-There is an approach that says that the Bible doesn’t really mean what it says and that the statements really symbolize some other truth that only the enlightened are able to divulge. If you have such a belief, then it would be easy to give up on studying the Bible, because how could you possible know what it had to say? You are thus at the mercy of whoever you happen to listen to and you have no way of knowing if they just made it all up.-On the other hand, if you believe that the Bible means what it says, that means that you actually have to study it to understand it. Spiritualizing the words is actually the lazy way out for the preacher. He can either make things up or just repeat what someone else has come up with. But if the words really mean what they say, that means that the preacher has to both explain them as they are and deal with supposed contradictions. By the way, a preacher who really trusts that the Bible came from God is not worried about contradictions. He knows that God does not contradict, so there has to be an explanation. Some are easier to explain than others. Some may not find a ready explanation, but that never gives us the right to say that the Bible says something different than what it says.-Many of the problems vanish when verses are simply read in the context of their surroundings- both the context of time and setting as well as the context of words. That means as a Christian, studies the Bible, they should also be studying about the setting of the original audience. For example if the book of II Timothy is to be taken literally it is helpful to know that it is written to a leader in the church of Ephesus during the first century A.D. -On the other hand, if that book is nothing but a spiritual allegory, why even bother going to all the work of finding out about the background of the book because it doesn’t really mean what it is saying anyway? This approach ends up minimizing the significance of the Word of God.-God is not the author of confusion. He wants us to both understand and to obey His word.