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?

Follow Me

Our final Gospel reading for the year comes from the end of John’s Gospel, chapters 20 & 21. I have always loved the personal touches John includes in this section, including the fact that he was a faster runner than Peter (20:4).

One of the interesting debates surrounding this portion of Scripture has to do with the occasion of the writing of chapter 21. It certainly appears that 20:30-31 is the ending of the Gospel. And yet there’s chapter 21. I could bore you with all of the scholarly arguments back and forth, but the truth of the matter is that all early manuscripts of John contain chapter 21. What does this mean? Chapter 21 was written by John as well. It appears that John completed his Gospel with chapter 20, and was then moved by the Spirit to include one more episode in the life of Jesus, likely for the reason given in 21:22-23. It’s an important story with a message we need today!

If you remember in John 18, we see Peter deny Christ three times around a charcoal fire (see 18:18). This so devastated Peter that it appears he had given up on his ability to follow Christ and had returned to fishing (21:3). Jesus performs yet another fishing miracle among them, a clear signal to Peter about who was talking to him, and the disciples come to shore where they find Jesus cooking breakfast, once again around a charcoal fire (21:9). In a way, Jesus has once again placed Peter at a charcoal fire in an effort to give him another chance. Three times Jesus asks Peter to confirm his love for the Savior. Each time Peter does, and each time Jesus invites Peter to feed his sheep, an expression basically telling Peter to act like the pastor he has been called to be. But Jesus also gives Peter an ominous prediction.

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” – John 21:17-19

Did you notice what just happened? Peter returned to Christ. He has been reinstated, and called to shepherd the flock of believers. As Jesus is calling Peter he basically tells him that the pain and suffering he himself had just endured would also be endured by Peter. It’s almost as if he’s saying, “Peter, you too will be crucified. Now follow me.” And the shocking thing is Peter did. Peter followed him! And in case you are wondering, church history tells us that Peter was crucified, but differently than Jesus. Peter claimed he was unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord, so Peter was crucified hanging upside down from the cross.

Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and follow him. He calls us to die to ourselves and follow him. He calls us to give up everything, including our own lives to follow him. It’s radical. It’s extreme. It’s Jesus. My question is this: What is Jesus calling you to do that you have not done? Is he calling you to change something in your life? Is he calling you to share the Gospel with a friend? What is he calling you to do that you haven’t done?  Just like Peter, if you have denied him or ignored his call, it’s not to late. He will welcome you back, with open arms. But the call remains: Follow me!

What Jesus Knew and When

The Gospel reading for this week is John chapters 18 & 19. We have one more week to go before we have completed 50 weeks of study on the life and ministry of Jesus. Today we focus on his crucifixion.

John reminds us of several key points as we read his account. Jesus is in complete control the entire time he goes through being arrested, his trials, and his death. Even his surrender to the authorities shows his power (18:6). He is fully aware that all this was happening to fulfill prophecy (18:9). Jesus also knew what he was facing. He predicted the betrayal of Judas (13:21), the denial by Peter (13:38), the manner of his death (12:32-33), and his resurrection (2:21-22).

John also includes a detailed listing of everything that Jesus suffered during this time. He was bound (18:12), he was put on trial in the middle of the night (18:13), he was interrogated (18:19), he was struck in the face (18:22), they kept him awake all night (18:28), they called him a criminal (18:30), they detained him and released Barabbas as well (18:40). They flogged him (19:1), the crowned him with thorns and put a purple robe on his shredded back (19:2), they mocked him and struck him again in the face (19:3), they forced him to carry his cross (19:17), they crucified him (19:18), they killed him (19:30), and they pierced his side with a spear (19:34).

Now, put yourself in Jesus’ shoes. If you knew what was coming, would you have gone through this? Knowing everything that was about to unfold, would you have allowed yourself to be treated this way by the very creation that you yourself created? (John 1:1-3) Would you have deemed the human race worthy of saving? Would you willingly humble yourself so much and allow your creation to pummel the life out of your earthly body all the while you have the power to wipe out all creation and start over with just a word?

Jesus did.

Jesus felt you and I were worth the unbearable pain and agony of the cross. If that doesn’t move you to follow him, I don’t know what will. The Creator of all things gave up everything for you. How will you live in light of that? How will you serve him knowing his servant heart through this process? That is the Christian life in a nutshell. We live each day seeking to serve him because of what he did for us on that cross.

As we enter the Christmas celebrations, keep in mind that he willingly came into this world. But that’s not the end of the story. The story of the cross is key to understanding why we follow him. But we must also remember that the story didn’t end at the cross. It continues each day in the lives of his followers until the day he returns. How will you live in light of that?

Kosmos

This week’s reading comes from John 15:26 through the end of chapter 17. Jesus teaches many things during this time concerning his sacrifice, what will happen after he returns to heaven, and how the disciples should live in light of all that is going on. But I’d like to focus on a part of this message that I believe often gets misunderstood. And it’s only one word. Kosmos.

Kosmos is a Greek word that means “world” or “universe.” The word appears 185 times in the New Testament, and 105 of those times are in the writings of John. And Christians have thrown this word (world) around quite a bit when discussing their lives following Christ. In some circles this means if there is something that didn’t originate in the church, then we’re not supposed to be involved with it. “We’re not supposed to be of this world,” or “Have nothing to do with this evil world,” are statements that I have heard in the past. But is that what the Gospels are really calling us to do? To have nothing to do with the lost people we live around?

Kosmos as universe is used by John (1:3, 10, 3:17), but the most significant part of the universe is the place where we humans live, earth (John 16:33). So the word kosmos mainly refers to the persons inhabiting the earth (John 12:19). As you read John’s Gospel  you will notice that the majority of people Jesus encounters oppose his ministry and teaching, so kosmos comes to be associated with those who reject or oppose Jesus. This view of “world” equaling opposition to Christ is unique to the New Testament use of the word (John 1:10, 7:7, 14:17, 17:25, etc.)

When you read passages that say the “world” hates Jesus and his disciples (15:18), and that the followers of Christ are not to “belong to this world,” realize that John is referring to the people that reject Jesus, not the ones who simply don’t know about the truth. Think about these statements: “…the Prince of this world” (12:31, 16:11) = Satan. Christians are not to love “the world” (1 John 2:15-17) = love the lifestyle or actions of those who intentionally reject Christ.

Some will use this misunderstanding of the word “world” to try to tell you not to celebrate Christmas, stating that it’s “worldly” and originated as a “worldy, pagan holiday.” Some research points to a pagan origin for Christmas, other research points to Christmas pre-dating the pagan use of the date. But that really doesn’t matter. Christ came to redeem the world (Titus 2:14, 1 Tim. 2:4). He came to redeem our hearts, our souls, and our actions. Yes Christmas may have some elements that we do not accept (mainly gross commercial consumerism), but God has given us a wonderful opportunity to engage our kosmos.

For one time a year the world is more open to discussing the origins of the Christmas celebration, Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, the Savior of the Kosmos. Don’t miss this opportunity that God has given you! Invite your friends and neighbors to worship times. Speak with them openly about your faith. In doing so you will participate in overcoming the Kosmos. (John 16:33).