Several years ago, while watching a tv show based on “real life” emergency room experiences, I heard a phrase used by a doctor that’s worth remembering and applying to the study of the Bible’s prophetic language and imagery: Continue reading
…and you are it: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)
…and you are not it: “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” (James 2:24)
…and you are it: “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.” (James 3:8-9)
…and you are it: “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”” (James 4:6)
…and you are not it: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” (James 4:8-9)
…and you are it: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days.” (James 5:1-3)
and you are not it: “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)
For many reasons people love to play with scripture as if it were a game, and it doesn’t only happen to the epistle’s of Paul. Unfortunately, they say to themselves, and even more so to others, “I like what this verse says because it comes from God, but this verse was only the writer’s opinion.” Such a game is played by the rules of the individual, but each individual who attempts to play this game needs to remember that scripture comes from God (2 Peter 1:19-21), and playing a game like eeny meeny miny moe does no good, because at the end of the day, spiritual truth is not determined by how we want the rhyme to end (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
During the last couple of years in the ole’ blogosphere I have been accused by Catholic apologists of self-popery. And why such an accusation? Because I dared to have “a personal interpretation” of the Bible that disagreed with them and with the pope’s!
In the Catholic Church, one’s doctrine is not determined by the revealed and written word alone – it is determined by those who make determinations based upon orally determining factors (a.k.a. making up the rules as you go) that shape the determination of God’s will in God’s word. Therefore to rest upon the written word of God alone is to be mistaken, and studying to show yourself approved (2 Timothy 2:15) need not apply since the studying has already been done for you. You just need to study what has already been studied and follow what those personal studies determined for you to study and personally believe.
Case in point is the latest issue the Catholic Church is having with the pope’s willingness to actually “have a debate” on the sinfulness of homosexuality. The reason I bring this up is that there should be no debate at all – none whatsoever. And why not? Because the word of God has settled the issue, but unfortunately the written word of God is not enough for the Catholic Church.
I know, I know. Many Catholic apologists will say “the issue is more complicated” than what I’m presenting it to be. And my response to that is “it’s only complicated because the pope (the pride and head of the Catholic Church) is complicating a very uncomplicated biblical issue and it’s making a lot of Catholics feel uncomfortable.” It’s actually a case of the pope wanting to do something but the Catholic Church has decided that personal interpretations do indeed matter after all.
Following the closing of this latest “synod session” it was released to the press that, “This synod will be followed by a year of consultations, and a follow-up questionnaire will be sent out to dioceses around the world. A second, larger synod will then be held in October 2015. After that, the results will be handed to the Argentinian pope, who will have the final say in outlining the Church’s stance on family matters.”
A questionnaire? Why that would involve making personal interpretations wouldn’t it? Why not just speak “ex cathedra” and get it over with. After all, when the “ex cathedra” starts talking, the Catholic Church has no other choice but to listen because the pope can do no wrong when he starts dictating what is and what is not right for the Catholic Church to believe. But I really do wonder what would happen to all the Catholics if the very “papa” who could do no wrong actually told the majority of the people who make up the Catholic Church that their personal interpretation was wrong on this issue? I wonder how open they’d be to personal interpretation then? But then again, why would the pope do that? After all, who is he to judge?
You see, the irony of the whole matter to me is that while I have been accused of self-popery multiple times over the last couple of years, because I have dared to have an opinion that disagrees with “Catholic Oral Tradition”, the reality of the matter is that the Catholic Church actually has a pope in authority who could be accused of the very thing I’m supposedly guilty of – self-popery! For if the Catholic Church had always had the right answer on this issue then how can this discussion be anything but wrong?
“The spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics had called for the Church to take a more merciful approach to unmarried mothers, remarried divorcees and gays, famously saying of homosexuals, “Who am I to judge?”” (see the above link for the quote source)
So much for that Catholic unity. And may we all learn a valuable lesson about biblical authority from this situation.
- The Final Word? – BP’s Fuel For Thought
HUGH’S NEWS & VIEWS
WHY DO GOOD, SINCERE PEOPLE NOT “UNDERSTAND” THE BIBLE ALIKE?
Can good, sincere people understand the Bible alike? Or does the Bible (and therefore, God) communicate a mixed, inconsistent, and confusing message to mankind? If people would lay aside the psychological lenses of their denominational beliefs and practices, their church creeds and catechisms, their religious traditions handed down from their parents and grandparents, what they have “always believed” or how they have “always felt” about a particular religious matter, would they see the Bible alike? Let’s do a little experiment and see what the results might be. (You are encouraged to read the Bible passages cited below.)
Based on Luke 1:26-35, I understand that Jesus was born of a virgin by the name of Mary, that He was conceived in her womb by the Holy Spirit, not by a man. What do you understand the passage to teach?
Based on John 3:16 and Romans 5:8, I understand that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to die for sinners. What do you understand these passages to teach?
Based on John 14:6, I understand that the only way anyone may come to God is through Jesus Christ. What do you understand the passage to teach?
Based on John 8:24, I understand that in order to not die in one’s sins, one must believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. What do you understand the verse to teach?
Based on Luke 13:3,5 and Acts 17:30, I understand that everyone must repent of his or her sins in order to be saved. What do you understand these passages to teach?
Based on Mark 16:16, I understand that one must both believe and be baptized in order to be saved. What do you understand the verse to teach?
Based on Acts 2:38, I understand that people must both repent and be baptized in order to have the remission of their sins. What do you understand the verse to teach?
Based on Acts 22:16, I understand that in the act of baptism one’s sins are washed away. What do you understand the passage to teach?
Based on Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12, I understand that baptism is a burial (immersion). What do you understand these passages to teach?
Based on Acts 8:38, I understand that baptism is in water. What do you understand the verse to teach?
Based on Matthew 26:26-28 and I Corinthians 11:23-26, I understand that the followers of Christ are to eat the bread and drink the cup (the fruit of the vine) in memory of the body and blood of Christ. What do you understand these passages to teach?
Based on Acts 20:7 and the example of the first century church, I understand that the breaking of bread took place on the first day of the week. What do you understand this verse to teach?
Based on Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, I understand that Christians are to sing and make melody in their hearts to the Lord. What do you understand these verses to teach?
Based on Ephesians 1:22-23, I understand that the church is the body of Christ. What do you understand the passage to teach?
Based on Ephesians 4:4-6, I understand that there is only one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God. What do you understand the passage to teach?
Based on John 17:20-21, I understand that Christ wants all believers in Him to be one (united). What do you understand the passage to teach?
Based on I Corinthians 1:10-13, I understand that Christians are to have no divisions among themselves and are not to wear religious names that honor men rather than Christ. What do you understand the passage to teach?
The above illustrates the unity of understanding we can have concerning what the Bible actually says when we leave off our opinions and “what we have always thought or believed” about a matter.
We conclude with three observations: 1) We do not differ in our understanding of what the Bible actually says; our differences arise over what the Bible does NOT say. 2) We do not differ in our understanding of what the Bible actually says; our differences arise when some choose to add to what the Bible actually says or to subtract from what the Bible actually says or to modify what the Bible actually says. 3) We do not differ in our understanding of what the Bible actually says; our differences arise when some believe and do what the Bible actually says, while others choose NOT to believe and do what it actually says.
December 10, 2013
HUGH’S NEWS & VIEWS
WHY DO GOOD, SINCERE PEOPLE NOT “UNDERSTAND” THE BIBLE ALIKE?
I am frequently ask, “Why do good, sincere religious people not understand the Bible alike?” I do not profess to have all the answers to that question, but after over fifty years of preaching and teaching, I believe I have some insights into the question. In today’s essay (as well as in the one next week, D.V.), I will endeavor to set out some of the reasons for the differences in people’s “understanding” of the Bible.
First, please note that in the title I have put “understand” in quotation marks. The reason I have done so is because, in reality, people cannot truly understand something, including the Bible, differently. For examples, two people may misunderstand something differently. Or, one person may understand a matter and the other person may misunderstand the same matter and therefore they will differ. But when two (or any number of people) truly understand a matter, including what the Bible teaches about a subject, they will understand the subject alike! Differences of interpretation and application of scripture arise out of misunderstanding, not understanding!
One reason people do not “understand” the Bible alike is because some have never read (or read very carefully) what the Bible actually says. They have their own ideas and opinions about various religious matters and when they get into a discussion with someone who has read and is familiar with the Bible it soon becomes apparent that the two parties differ in their “understanding.” The reason they differ is because one is setting forth what the Bible says and the other is expressing his opinion or “think-so” about the matter. Jesus said to the Sadducees who denied the resurrection of the dead and a life hereafter: “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). People are mistaken about many religious matters today because they do not know the Scriptures.
With reference to God’s message to mankind, the apostle Paul affirmed “how that by revelation He [God, hf] made known to me the mystery [that which previously had not been revealed, hf] (as I wrote before in a few words, by which when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)…” (Ephesians 3:3-4, emphasis mine, hf). Paul believed that, by reading, the Ephesians could understand what he had written to them, but he did not expect them to “understand” it differently! Thus, for people to understand the Bible, they first must read and become acquainted with what the Bible actually says.
A second reason people do not “understand” the Bible alike is because they read the Bible through the lenses of their church’s creed, catechism, or church manual, or, perhaps more often today, through the lenses of the religious tradition that has been passed down to them by their parents and grandparents and therefore what they have “always believed” about a matter. (“I was born a Baptist [or whatever denomination]. My parents were Baptists, my grandparents were Baptists. I will live and die a Baptist. This is what Baptists believe, and therefore this is what I believe.”)
Denominational beliefs and doctrines often conflict with what the Bible actually teaches. Theologians and scholars, preachers and pastors, creeds and catechisms are not divinely inspired and, therefore, they are not infallible. Only the Bible can make that claim (II Timothy 3:16-17). But when one reads and “understands” the Bible through the lenses of creeds, catechisms, family religious traditions, or “what I think” or “how I feel” or what “I have always believed” about a matter, he will “understand” the Bible differently from those who read the Bible through another set of lenses. All who read the Bible through such lenses will “understand” the Bible differently.
Most people are very devout and sincere in their religious beliefs. This is most commendable. But being devout and sincere does not guarantee a proper understanding and application of the Scriptures. One may drink deadly poison, sincerely believing he is drinking pure water. Sulfuric acid in its pure form is clear and colorless and looks just like water. The formula for the make-up of water is H2O; the formula for the make-up of sulfuric acid is H2SO4. Ah,
Poor Willie, we’ll see him no more.
He drank what he thought was H2O,
But it was H2SO4.
In spite of what he “thought” and in spite of his sincerity, Willie died!
The people of Berea “were more noble-minded than those of Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). If people today will have that same Berean spirit they too will learn from the Scriptures the things that are so, they will know what is true, and they all will be united in the truth of God’s word. (To be continued next week, D. V.)
December 3, 2013
Here’s an article that originated with the E-mail Bulletin from the Lord’s Church in Wise, Virginia. The author (John Gibson) says several things that I have wondered about in relationship to the criticism one can receive when it comes to applying biblical principles to present day situations. I thought some here might find it interesting.
STONES TO BREAD REVISITED by John Gibson
“But He answered and said, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Most readers will recognize those words from Matthew 4:4 as those spoken by Jesus when confronted by Satan in the wilderness and challenged to prove that He was the Son of God by turning the stones into bread. While I can’t imagine a Christian questioning Jesus’ answer, based on things I’m reading and hearing from some of my brethren, I’m convinced that if this had been said or written by a gospel preacher it would have been criticized in one or more of the following ways.
- I noticed you quoted from the Septuagint, but are you sure it translated the Hebrew correctly here? The Septuagint is not a bad translation, but a lot has been learned about Hebrew in the last 250 years. Unless you have done sufficient research on the original language, I would be hesitant to rely too heavily on a translation that old.
- Have you ever stopped to think that you are reading Deuteronomy as a 1st century inhabitant of Galilee when these words were spoken to a people who had been wandering in the Sinai wilderness for 40 years? To a people living in a barren land like that bread may have had a different meaning.
- While everyone recognizes there are portions of the Scripture that contain Law, in Deuteronomy 8 Moses is telling a story, and it’s a perversion of the original to go over a narrative in that manner and pick commandments from it that you turn into law. In those sections we need simply to read the story and learn to be more like Moses and other faithful men and women who loved the Lord their God.
- While your interpretation of Deuteronomy 8:4 has been the prevailing one taught in the stricter synagogues for some time, it is important that we be willing to challenge orthodoxy and not be trapped in a traditional mindset.
- Why must you come across as so rigid in your approach to questions like this? I can understand why you may not be comfortable with the turning of stones to bread, and if that’s the case, then don’t do it. But why bind your interpretation on everyone else? Continue reading
Here’s a short, but good and funny article from Harry Middleton of the Lebanon Road church in Nashville, TN.
It’s titled: Search the scriptures!!! I thought someone may want to use it for a reference or a bulletin article.
Great truths may sometimes be stated in amusing ways. I found the following statement of truth amusing and thought provoking. It is taken from “Wells of Thought.”
Jacob Ditzler and J. S. Sweeny were having a debate on the scriptural mode of baptism. Ditzler showed a secondary meaning of the word BAPTIZE to wash or sprinkle.
In reply, brother Sweeny showed that a secondary meaning of BELIEVE was to have an opinion and a secondary meaning of SAVE was to be pickled.
Then he gave the resulting translation of Mark 16:16, “He that hath an opinion and is sprinkled shall be pickled.”
He then raised the question, “Is it our aim to see what we can make out of the scriptures, or is it to find out what God has said?”
On March 22 I sent forth an essay titled “Another Look at CENI (Commands, Examples, and Necessary Inferences).” I observed that in my judgment “commands” does not adequately describe what is actually intended by the term—that a better way of expressing the matter is to say that in the Scriptures we have various kinds of “statements” (including commands) that are intended to communicate God’s will to us.
My own preference for expressing what is often referred to as commands, examples, and necessary inference is to say that Scripture uses statements, examples, and implications to communicate God’s will to us.
None of these, however, constitutes a hermeneutic (a method of interpretation); instead, the statements, examples, and implications of Scripture require the use of sensible, valid principles of interpretation to correctly understand and properly apply them.
Since the Bible is a revelation from God communicated through various divinely inspired writers (II Timothy 3:16-17), the only truly valid and beneficial system of interpretation is that one which enables us to determine from the statements, examples, and implications of Scripture those things we must do to be well-pleasing to God.
Alexander Campbell, one of the leading lights in the effort to restore original New Testament Christianity, in writing about how to understand the biblical teaching regarding the Holy Spirit, said:
“Our province is to understand and teach the meaning of the words and sentences, which the inspired writers have used on this subject, judging that when these are fairly and fully, that is, grammatically and logically understood, we are in possession of the ideas which God designed to communicate to us” (The Millennial Harbinger, 1834, pages 508-509, underlining mine, hf).
What Campbell said with reference to understanding what the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit is equally true with reference to understanding what the Bible teaches about any matter, including how one is saved from sin, how one is to worship, and how one is to live so as to please the Lord. When the words and sentences of Scripture are grammatically and logically understood we may know that we have correctly interpreted God’s word.
It is beneficial in studying the Scriptures to recognize that they are comprised of various genres of literature. In the Bible we find law, history, poetry, prophecy, biography, and letters. Through these various kinds of literature God has communicated His message to us.
In studying the Bible it is essential that the reader keep in mind the context of any given passage. Certain questions should be asked:
- Who is speaking? (The devil, fools, and others who are not to be believed speak some things recorded in Scripture.)
- To whom is he speaking? (Was the message to a limited audience, or was it intended for “every creature” in “all nations”?)
- Of what is he speaking? (A temporary, cultural situation, or an abiding truth, doctrine, and practice?)
- When was the thing spoken? (The age when God’s plan of redemption through Christ was still a mystery, or the age when God’s plan had been fully manifested [Romans 16:25-27]; “time past” or “these last days” [Hebrews 1:1-2]? This is one of the most important “keys” to properly understanding God’s will for us in the Christian era.)
- Why was the thing spoken? (To answer a question, such as in Acts 2:37-38; to provide a regulation, such as in I Corinthians 11:23-34?)
- What else does the Bible say on this subject? (We must take into consideration all that the Bible says on a matter to know the full truth on that subject.)
The Bible is a revelation from God. As such it was intended by God to be read and understood by all. From a practical standpoint most of the principles to be used for reading and understanding the Bible are the same as those we use for reading any other document—a book, this morning’s newspaper, and even this essay.
May 17, 2011
hugh’s news & Views
It has often been pointed out that God communicates in Scripture through commands, examples, and necessary inferences. This tripartite formula has been reduced to an acronym — CENI. By many in churches of Christ it has been viewed as a hermeneutic (a way of interpreting the Scriptures). While there is hermeneutical value to be derived from recognizing commands, examples, and implications from which we draw certain necessary inferences, it is my contention that CENI are not themselves a hermeneutic, but ways, means, or avenues by which God has set forth His will in Scripture and to which a valid hermeneutic must be applied. Continue reading
Reading the Bible is, for the most part, a common-sense enterprise. The scholars like to muddy the waters because it makes them essential to the process. So we have to take their classes and read their books. I’m not anti-intellectual — I have some letters after my name. But it’s a constant effort, here, to help people see that reading the Bible is a project that anyone can undertake with success.
So here’s the basic idea of our reading last Wednesday night. I’ve been trying to get it finished since Thursday. Decided to let it go as is, with a couple of bare spots, but you fill them in for me. Maybe somebody will find something of value in it.
I’ve just received in the mail Louis Rushmore’s book, No Hermeutical Gymnastics, Please! The Essentiality of Correct Biblical Interpretation (Winona, MS: J.C. Choate/Louis Rushmore Publications, 2009). Just so happens that on the back cover three of the five recommendations are by Fellows: Phil Sanders, Mark McWhorter and me. I wrote of the book:
The author deals with important topics like the New Testament as the Christian authority, the expression of that authority and the nature of the gospel. Application of the truths in this book will go far to keep the faithful in the Way of Christ.
There are 59 pages of text in the paperback. It provides a good overview of the dangers out there today by progressives and change agents and reviews the biblical nature of authority.
I like what he says here:
The impotence of a defective hermeneutic can be seen by to what it not only reduces divinely given, biblical instruction, but by what it does to the vehicle of communication in general. For instance, the assertion that Bible authority relates only to commands or direct statements is false because it erroneously supposes that approved examples and implications from which one must make inferences are not part of human communication (p. 31).
Ask Louis about purchases.
UPDATE: Louis says the book goes for $6.