How To Know You’re Interpreting The Bible Correctly.

For the last five weeks we’ve been discussing reading the Bible as story. We’ve discussed Scot McKnight’s description of Scripture where he suggests that there are three “chapters,” or clearly defined sections to the Bible’s overarching story: theocracy (Gen. 1-1 Sam. 8), monarchy (1 Sam. 8 – Mal. 4), and Christocracy (Matthew 1-Rev. 20). It’s important to realize that God’s ultimate goal is to return us back to a theocracy through the redemptive work of Christ, and the final judgement of all people. Seriously, go read the last two chapters of Revelation and you’ll see an image of how God intended our existence to be in the beginning in the Garden.

Today we talk about the concept of Biblical interpretation. In my church heritage there has been a very big emphasis placed on the “plain reading of the Bible.” In other words, “…we don’t interpret the Bible, we simply do what it plainly says.” Lovely idea, but terribly inaccurate. Whether you like it or not, and whether you realize it or not, the Bible is interpreted by everyone.

Don’t believe me? When was the last time your church put an adulterer to death? (Lev. 20:10) Is your clothing made out of a blend of different materials? (Lev. 19:19) Did you greet everyone at worship with a holy kiss? (commanded 4 times in the NT, Rom. 16:16, 1 Cor. 16:20, 2 Cor. 13:12, 1 Thess. 5:26) Did all the men in your assembly lift their hands during every prayer? (1 Tim. 2:8)

If you didn’t do these things, even though a “plain reading” of Scripture clearly shows you should, then you are interpreting Scripture. And you should interpret Scripture! The only question is, “Am I interpreting Scripture properly?”

Bobby Valentine gives us the following suggestions for doing just that:

“Christian hermeneutics will always begin as a response to the God of all grace who has done great things. Christian interpretation will be rooted in the soul that is seeking to reflect God’s glorious image back into the created world around us. Christian biblical interpretation will begin in prayer and will be understood as ‘an act of worship.’ Thus, interpretation that does not begin in prayer and worship and result in the Spirit flowing through us to a vandalized world means we have a right to question if it is a valid hermeneutic or Christian interpretation. Prayer, Worship and reflecting God’s image: these are the beginning points and the ends/goals of interpretation.”

Bobby Valentine

Again the question isn’t if we interpret the Bible. The question is how we interpret. McKnight put sit this way:

“God speaks to us for a reason – I call this ‘missional’ listening. In brief, God tells his story so we can enter into a relationship with him, listen to him, and live out his Word in our day and in our way.”

Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet, 2nd Ed., pg. 113

If our interpretation of Scripture doesn’t affect our daily lives, it’s worthless. If our interpretation brings us into a place where we better reflect the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29 – remember we’re living in a Christocracy), then we can be confident in our approach to the Scriptures.

So, how is your interpretation of Scripture reflecting the image of Christ to others in your life?

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You’re Probably Reading the Bible the Wrong Way (Part 5)

For the last four weeks we’ve been discussing reading the Bible as story. 70% of the Bible’s text is narrative (story) and the other 30% is communication between the characters in that story. We looked at Scot McKnight’s description of Scripture where he suggests that there are three “chapters,” or clearly defined sections to the Bible’s overarching story. Week have explored theocracy, which is found from Genesis 1 through 1 Samuel 8, and last week we looked at the monarchy, Israel’s rule by earthly kings. This section begins in 1 Samuel 8 and continues through the end of the Old Testament. Simply put, rejecting God never turns out well.

We ended with the question: How have I rejected God as my King, and how has it affected my life? Keep that question in mind as we discuss the final of McKnight’s “chapters”, Christocracy. If you try to look that word up in a standard dictionary you probably won’t have much luck. By Christocracy we mean a body of believers governed directly by the living, resurrected Jesus, the Christ! In the New Testament Jesus said, “…I will build my church…” (Mt. 16:18). The word we have translated as “church” in your Bible is the Greek word ekklesia, and it has absolutely nothing to do with a building. The word simply means assembly, or gathering. What Jesus intends to do is gather and create a people group who are called out of the world’s systems and governments to follow and obey a new King above all, the risen Jesus.

Following King Jesus is a difficult task that must be considered carefully. Consider the following:

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said:  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.
In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Luke 14:25-33 NIV (emphasis added)

Following King Jesus as part of his ekklesia means allegiance to him above all else. This isn’t a half hearted, fill the pew an hour a week type of relationship! Nothing else in this life matters apart from following his will. He is our King, and we die to ourselves, our desires, our choices when we decide to follow him. It’s a radical kingdom!

We see from theocracy that the people rejected God as their king. We see from monarchy that the people rejected God even with an earthly king.  And sadly in our Christocracy that we call the church, many will still reject Christ as their king. But Christocracy is designed to return us to a Theocracy once again at the end of time (read Revelation 21 & 22 for what this looks like).

But now back to our original question: How have I rejected God as my King, and how has it affected my life? If Jesus isn’t Lord of your life you are rejecting him. You are rejecting God’s will on your life. And the scary thing is he will let you do this. But as Scripture makes clear, no good comes from rejecting King Jesus!

You’re Probably Reading the Bible the Wrong Way (Part 4)

For the last three weeks we’ve been discussing reading the Bible as story. 70% of the Bible’s text is narrative (story) and the other 30% is communication between the characters in that story. We looked at Scot McKnight’s description of Scripture:

“There is not just one and only one story in the Bible. But there are two nonnegotiables (sic) in the Bible’s Story. First, there is a general plot from the creation of the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1-2 to the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation 20-22. Second, there are redemptive benefits for those who participate in that ‘general plot’ by declaring allegiance to the God of that plot.”

The Blue Parakeet, 2nd Ed., pg 68

McKnight goes further to suggest that there are three “chapters,” or clearly defined sections to the Bible’s overarching story. Last week we explored theocracy, which is found from Genesis 1 through 1 Samuel 8. Today we look at the next section of the Bible, monarchy.

Most people are familiar with the term monarchy. It’s a form of government where one person, usually a king or queen, rules over a people.  Here’s how the text sets this up in 1 Samuel 8:

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

1 Samuel 8:6-9 NIV

God gave the people what they wanted, even though it meant rejecting him. There were good times under some of the kings, but when you have a human running things there will always be failures. Israel’s history under the kings is full of failures. And a parallel can be extended to our lives as well. When we reject God’s lead in our lives we too will fail. Perhaps not every moment of every day will be a failure, but we will suffer the effects of rejecting God.

Just browse through your Old Testament from 1 Samuel 8 to the end of Malachi. What do you see? What do the title headings (added by editors of your translation as aides for understanding) show you about the narrative of the story? I just did a quick flip through and came across the following on each page I turned to: Judgement on Jerusalem and Judah, The Covenant is Broken, The Fall of Jerusalem, Idolatry in the Temple, Judgement on the Idolaters, Israel to be Destroyed. These are the kinds of things the rejection of God brings upon people. But this is not the end of the story.

You will also find headings such as A Promised Messiah from Bethlehem, Israel will Rise, Restoration of Israel’s Remnant. Even through the people’s rejection of God as their King, he was preparing to send another King that would undo that rejection. That section begins in Matthew 1. But for now, answer this question:

How have I rejected God as my King, and how has it affected my life?

You’re Probably Reading the Bible the Wrong Way (Part 3)

For the last two weeks we’ve been discussing reading the Bible as story. 70% of the Bible’s text is narrative (story) and the other 30% is communication between the characters in that story. We looked at Scot McKnight’s description of Scripture:

“There is not just one and only one story in the Bible. But there are two nonnegotiables (sic) in the Bible’s Story. First, there is a general plot from the creation of the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1-2 to the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation 20-22. Second, there are redemptive benefits for those who participate in that ‘general plot’ by declaring allegiance to the God of that plot.”

McKnight goes further to suggest that there are three “chapters,” or clearly defined sections to the Bible’s overarching story. We’ll look at each of these “chapters” individually over the next few articles. The first of these is theocracy.

According to the dictionary, theocracy is a political system governed by a deity (or by officials thought to be divinely guided). In other words, when the Bible begins we see the center of everything is God Yahweh. From Genesis 1 until 1 Samuel 8, it is God and only God who has the authority to rule. God makes everything, therefore everything is under his authority, and from the beginning he yields some of that authority to other beings, including humans (we’ll talk more about the other beings later). We see this clearly in Genesis 1:28-31. God expected humans to have authority over the created earth while remaining subject to him.

During this time there is no earthly king, no earthly political leader. God is the center of everything. Yet we see a common problem throughout this time as well: humans constantly go against the will of God. From Adam and Eve in the garden story to Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, all of these episodes show that Israel is truly an appropriate name for God’s people (Israel means “struggles with God”)

Theocracy was the ideal in the Garden. God giving a direct set of limited rules to the people (in this case Adam and Eve) by which to live, but ultimately God himself led them. The problem? The people rebelled. Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden and so there’s distance between God and man, but God himself is still the direct leader of the people. The problem? The people rebelled (just read Genesis 6!) God ultimately deals with unbridled violence through rescuing Noah and his family through the flood. The problem? The people rebelled again (Gen. 11). God now begins to speak to some individuals directly, and relays his message through some of these  human beings. These people are variously referred to as prophets, or judges, and some have no special title at all. All the way through this section of Scripture, God is the one who directly deals with the people, and the people continually rebel. Story after story in this section fits into this narrative style.

So where does the story of the Bible go after theocracy? We’ll look at that next time, but if you want to get a head start in thinking about the next section of Scripture, look at 1 Samuel 8. In the meantime, ask yourself this question:

Have I fully submitted my life to God and his will, or do I “Israel,” that is struggle and rebel against God’s will for me?

You’re Probably Reading the Bible the Wrong Way (Part 2)

In my last article I mentioned that followers of Christ need the entirety of Scripture (both Old and New Testaments) in order to really understand God’s Word revealed to humans. Many will try to say we only need the New Testament, but this is not what the writers of the New Testament believed. They knew the entire Word of God was important (see my last article for further explanation.)

70% of the Bible is story. It’s narrative description of what has happened to humans seeking to honor God (or not) with their lives, and God’s interactions with those people. The other 30% of the Bible is messages back and forth between members of the story…letters written between the characters of the story. We need all of this to see the story of the Bible, as well as to properly understand Scripture in its own context.

Scot McKnight puts it this way in his book, The Blue Parakeet:

“There is not just one and only one story in the Bible. But there are two nonnegotiables (sic) in the Bible’s Story. First, there is a general plot from the creation of the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1-2 to the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation 20-22. Second, there are redemptive benefits for those who participate in that ‘general plot’ by declaring allegiance to the God of that plot.”

The Garden was perfect. God’s creation was good and not marred by sin. The Garden represents the ideal relationship between God and his people. Here they are physically present with one another (Gen. 3:8). When will this type of relationship happen again?

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Revelation 22:1-5 NIV

Notice that we are once again in a garden setting in the physical presence of God himself and his radiance is all the light we will need.

God is about the work of restoring all things. He is working to make all things new again. Perhaps this is what Paul means when he tells us we are a “new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15).

Next week we’ll look at the three main sections of the overarching story of the Bible, but for today I would encourage you to seek the answer to this question:

Does who I used to be still haunt me, or am I truly living like a new creation in Christ?

You’re Probably Reading the Bible the Wrong Way (Part 1)

You’re probably reading the Bible the wrong way. I did this for years and missed a lot of what God was saying through various parts of the Bible. Parts of it really resonated with me, and parts of it, frankly, I could do without. Then I learned how to look at the Bible as a whole, not little parts put together that were unrelated, but as a complete work. When I did this things began to make far more sense. If this sounds familiar, you may not understand what the Bible is intended to do.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

All Scripture. Every bit of it. You realize Paul was writing the New Testament as he said this, right? When Jude said that the faith has been delivered “once for all” that the New Testament wasn’t completed? Paul reminds Timothy that from “infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” You realize he’s talking about the Old Testament, right?

So what are we to make of the Bible as a whole? Famed pastor Andy Stanley has recently said Christians need to “unhitch” themselves from the Old Testament, and that the Ten Commandments don’t apply to Christians. I’ve known many Christians over the years who would say something similar, that the Old Testament has no bearing on us today, citing arguments based on a misreading of Colossians 2:14 and arguments based on the names Old Testament and New Testament, terms which Scripture itself never applies to itself.

I’ve always liked the description that the Bible Project uses when describing the Bible: “Our mission is to show how the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus.” Scot McKnight summarizes it this way, “…there is an overarching plot to the Bible–God’s creating the heavens and earth to completing his creation work in the new heavens and new earth.

Over the next few weeks we are going to discuss how we should approach reading and understanding the Bible. It’s a collection of 66 writings – letters, sermons, history, songs, prayers, complaints, warnings and prophecies –  written by over 40 people over a span of 1600 years in three languages on three continents and has a unifying theme that can only be explained by a God behind its writing. And we completely miss it when we try to pick apart the Bible into little nuggets of information rather than viewing Scripture in context of the entirety of God’s Word.

As we approach this study, let us look at the Word with fresh eyes to discover the ancient truths perhaps for the first time, and let us remember that God’s Word never returns empty (Isa. 55:11). When we study the Word, we are blessed in doing so.

Why Kill Jesus?

Our reading for this week is John chapters 11 & 12. We will focus mostly on chapter 11, as this is a huge theological turning point in John’s Gospel. The first 11 chapters of this Gospel shows Jesus revealing who his glory through performing “signs and wonders.” After this point Jesus will reveal his glory through his death on the the cross, and his resurrection. But the raising of Lazarus is the linking event, and the catalyst that will ultimately cost Jesus his earthly life. But why did the religious leaders decide to put Jesus to death? We’ll answer that question in a minute.

Jesus was very close to Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. The text is quite clear on this point…this wasn’t some acquaintance. They were close. (11:3) Yet Jesus is painfully slow in responding to the news that Lazarus was near death. (11:6), but this was for a purpose… “that you may believe” (11:15), which is also the entire purpose of John’s Gospel (20:30-31).

Martha and Mary have huge confessions of faith in this chapter as well. It starts with verse 21 where Martha believes that if Jesus had been present, Lazarus would not have died. She has just shown her faith believed Jesus had power over death! Mary has the same statement in verse 32. But notice Jesus’ teaching surrounding this:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” – John 11:25-27

Jesus wept. That verse is so meaningful to me, not because it’s short and easy to remember, but it shows the humanity of Jesus. He wasn’t weeping for Lazarus, he knew he was going to be raised from the dead. But he weeps at the pain that this has caused Mary and Martha, and the sting of death that he himself had not yet conquered.

Jesus calls forth Lazarus from the dead, and he is miraculously raised from the dead; another example of the glory of God being revealed through signs and wonders (see 2:11). This was a deeply controversial event. Jesus was showing quite clearly that he had power over every aspect of human life and this troubled the religious leaders, some of whom didn’t believe resurrection was possible.

But back to the original question: Why did the religious leaders decide to put Jesus to death? Look at the statement by the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” – John 11:47-48

Notice how their resistance to believing in Jesus has nothing to do with what is true, but rather what it might cost them. They craved power and authority over the truth.

Questions:

How many people have this same hang-up today when confronted with the Gospel?

Have you ever had a similar reaction to God’s call on your life?