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Eating Shellfish and Interpretative Methodologies June 24, 2014

Posted by TJ Friend in Uncategorized.
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Does the Bible prohibit eating shellfish? Before I answer this question I want you to take a second to think about how you would answer it. If you are familiar with the Bible, what verses would you site either for or against it? What arguments would you use to support your position?

I want to use this question as an example of different ways people come to the Bible. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people (whether knowingly or not) who misuse the Bible. Verses are taken out of context and even twisted to fit what people want the Bible to say. I chose this issue because it is relatively minor. We aren’t having huge debates over whether or not it is a sin to eat shellfish. Churches aren’t splitting because of it, nor are there massive amounts of books being written on this subject. Most of all though, this issue is something we can actually discuss without getting so emotional that the truth is drowned out.

How you answer this question says a lot about your view of the Bible and your approach to interpreting it. I want to go over a few different arguments people use when answering questions about what the Bible says on a specific issue. These arguments will be general enough to apply to different questions, but I am using the specific issue of eating shellfish as an example. My hope is that when you hear these arguments, applying to shellfish or any other issue, you will recognize the problem with them and be able to answer them Biblically.

Before we get into the arguments, let’s take a look at the two passages that people use to argue against eating shellfish.

 “‘Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams you may eat any that have fins and scales. But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales—whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water—you are to regard as unclean. And since you are to regard them as unclean, you must not eat their meat; you must regard their carcasses as unclean. Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be regarded as unclean by you.”

Lev. 11:9-12 

“Of all the creatures living in the water, you may eat any that has fins and scales. But anything that does not have fins and scales you may not eat; for you it is unclean.”

Deut. 14:9-10 

Whatever your view on this issue is, it must take these passages into account if you want to remain faithful to the authority of Scripture.

 

1. The Argument from Silence

There are some people that will say that if a specific word does not appear in Scripture then the Bible has nothing to say about it. In the case of eating shellfish, one could argue that since the word “shellfish” never appears in the Bible then the Bible has nothing to say about it. In fact the passages above are the closest references to the word “shellfish” in the Bible. You could make this sound even more dramatic by saying that Jesus himself never talked about shellfish, neither did Paul or any of the other New Testament writers. Of course this is false. We will get to Jesus’ thoughts on this issue later. But, just because the specific wording isn’t used doesn’t mean that the Bible is silent on the issue. If you read the two passages above, they clearly define our modern day understanding of shellfish. If a passage describes or even defines a specific idea isn’t that just as good as the word itself? The wording could have been more specific, listing out every animal that has fins and scales, and then listing out every animal that doesn’t have fins and scales, but this is a much more efficient way to say the exact same thing. By giving a general principle for people to follow there is less confusion on what is acceptable or not.

We can’t say that because a word is not found in the Bible, that the Bible has nothing to say about it. There are many things that the Bible doesn’t specifically address by exact word, but that doesn’t mean that the Bible has nothing to say about them. The word “trinity” doesn’t appear in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean the concept isn’t there. There are many issues today that the Biblical writers were not aware of. The great thing about the Bible is that because it was inspired by God, the message is applicable across time. We can apply the same principles today to our current situations that the original readers/hearers would have applied to their situations.

 

2. The Argument of Irrelevance

This argument is mostly applied to Old Testament law specifically Leviticus and Deuteronomy. There are a lot of laws in these two books that we currently don’t follow today. I would encourage you to read these two books for yourself (especially Leviticus) to see what they actually say. People will say that since some of these laws are not for us today, then we should disregard these books as relevant for today. In looking at the question of eating shellfish, someone might claim that this is simply and outdated law and therefore we don’t need to follow it. I have seen people use this law as an example of Christian hypocrisy. (This is part of the reason why I wanted to talk about it.) People will accuse Christians of “picking and choosing” which parts of the Bible to follow and which ones to discard seemingly at random. Some even use this to dismiss the entire Old Testament as irrelevant for us today (now that we have the New Testament), or even worse, disregard the entire Bible.

What saddens me about this argument is its lack of respect for the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. Instead of taking the time to study these passages and understand their purpose for being written, we simply discard them. The Bible isn’t a book of human thoughts and ideas, these are the words of God Himself (1 Thes 2:13). For thousands of years people gave their lives to copying and preserving these words so that we could have them today. People like William Tyndale literally died to make sure that we could read the Bible in our own language. Christians throughout history have sacrificed a lot on account of this book. God wanted us to have the Bible for a reason. All of it is important (2 Tim 3:16). Our frivolous handling of the Word of God shows our lack of reverence for it. Even if the message of a passage doesn’t seem relevant for today, we should ask the question why God, in His sovereignty, preserved it for us. We should ask ourselves if there is any message or teaching we can apply to ourselves today. In the case of eating shellfish, even if you believe this passage is irrelevant and doesn’t apply to us today, you should still try to understand why it was recorded in Scripture and if there is another point of application you can make for your life.

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the laws in the Old Testament. As with any passage in the Bible, we need to read contextually. A lot of people assume that there are only two ways to understand these laws. Either we should follow all of them or none of them. Critics will say that because we don’t follow all these laws today, that we are just choosing the ones we want to follow based on personal preference or some other random method. If this was accurate, that there are people that choose which laws to follow based on their own desires, then we do have a problem. We need to have some sort of methodology to understand which laws apply today and which one’s don’t.

There are some laws in the Old Testament that we legitimately don’t need follow today. This doesn’t mean that they are irrelevant for us, but that we need to work harder to find application for our lives today. The Israelites, as God’s chosen people, were to be set apart from the nations around them.

You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices.

Leviticus 18:3

But I said to you, “You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from the nations. “You must therefore make a distinction between clean and unclean animals and between unclean and clean birds. Do not defile yourselves by any animal or bird or anything that moves along the ground—those that I have set apart as unclean for you. You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart.”

Leviticus 20:24-26

These laws were not only for the benefit of the Israelites, but also as a witness to the nations around them. As Moses says:

See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

Deuteronomy 4:5-8

Just because these laws were specifically for the Israelites at that time, does not mean they are all irrelevant. Some of the laws transcended that particular context and are still valid for us today. Obviously the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5) are still important today. There were also things that God judged the other nations for, that God also was calling Israel to obey. If God thought a practice was so bad that he destroyed nations for it, we should also not do it today. Leviticus 18 is a good example of this. This chapter lists a bunch of laws prohibiting different types of sexual relations. We see God prohibiting adultery (18:7), bestiality (18:23), and even a prohibition against child sacrifice (18:21). God judged other nations for these sins. How much more will He judge us when we commit these sins?

“‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.

Leviticus 18:24-27

If we take passages like Leviticus 18 and say they are irrelevant, we have to say that these other laws are also irrelevant for us today. If some of these other laws are discarded as unimportant then the Bible also loses its voice on things such as bestiality or brother-sister sexual relations.

When we come to the laws in the Old Testament we need to look at the entire scope of Scripture. Sometimes God will specifically say a law from the Old Testament is no longer valid for us today. (This is the case with all the laws relating to animal sacrifices. Also, the rules regarding circumcision are no longer for us today.) There are laws in the O.T. which are reinforced in the New Testament. When we look at the Ten Commandments we see that Jesus himself took these to a higher level in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). Jesus says that whereas the law prohibited actions, people will be judged now for their evil intentions. He gives the example of murder (one of the Ten Commandments) and says that we will be judged (Matt 5:21-22) if we hate our brother. He also talks about adultery and says that lust is equivalent to adultery (Matt 5:27-28).

We will look at what the New Testament has to say about eating shellfish later. The New Testament is actually pretty clear on this issue. If we limit ourselves to only looking at one or two verses from the Old Testament on particular issues we can actually miss the Biblical teaching on them. The entire Bible is inspired by God and if we are serious about following the teachings of the Bible we need to understand canonically (entire bible) what the Bible teaches.

 

3. The Argument of Love

The argument of love says that love is the highest good and so anything that is done in love is inherently good. This is somewhat a Biblical argument in that Scripture talks about love as the fulfillment of the law.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Rom 13:8-10

In the case of eating shellfish, someone might claim that they “love” eating lobster or clams and therefore it must be good to eat them.

As you can see, the main problem with this argument is a misunderstanding of the word “love”. If we are going to live out the virtue of love then we need to do it as God defines it, not how we define it. Claiming to “love” shellfish is really just saying that you really like it. When you are eating lobster or shrimp, you don’t form a deep intimate bond with it. You eat the good parts and throw out the bad parts. This is a selfish type of love in that it is entirely based on one’s own desires for self-gratification.

Unfortunately there when we look at relationships today, we can see a lot of things that are called “love” that are not actually loving (or even abuse). There are people that say they love each other, but will talk about them behind their back. People will lie to each other and say all kinds of mean things to each other, all the while claiming to love.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 gives a great description of godly love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

It is patient and kind, and keeps no record of wrongs. Can you really say you love someone if you make fun of them or put them down, even if you are joking? Is it loving to lie to people or ignore them? We need a revolution in relationships today. What we call love is mostly motivated by our own selfish desires and wants and isn’t the type of humble service and self-sacrifice that God desires.

In order to understand Biblical love, we need to understand God’s love. We can’t put our definition of love above God’s, since He is the very embodiment of love. God is love. The greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Whatever else we love should be second to our love for God. John 14:15 says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Loving God, means keeping his commandments. We don’t follow God’s commands to earn our righteousness or His love. When we truly love God, the natural outcome will be to follow His commands.

The problem arises when what we enjoy takes the place of loving God. If the Bible teaches that something is a sin and we do it anyway, we are not loving God with our actions. We can’t allow any other love to take the place of our love for God. By not following His commands we are essentially saying that we don’t love God.

 

4. The Argument of Tolerance

Tolerance is one of those concepts that the world highly values that has infiltrated into the Church. A lot of people will claim (both in and out of the Church) that love is the highest value, but practically speaking, tolerance seems to be the highest good today. As I see it, tolerance is the view that people should be allowed to live their lives however they want without being judged by others. If you say anything against what someone is doing it is considered intolerant.

Someone might say they enjoying eating shellfish, so they should be able to eat it. It doesn’t matter what the Bible says about it, and if anyone says it’s wrong then they are being intolerant. The way someone chooses to live in effect trumps both the Bible and truth.

The problem with this is that it starts with the individual as the source of what is right and wrong. If you already believe something is right or wrong, you will read the Bible through that lens and potentially misread the Bible to fit your desires. We cannot be the measure of what is right and wrong. The ultimate authority must be in what God has spoken. He is the one who created us and knows what is best.

The question becomes, is there anything that can be considered wrong? Can we tell someone what they are doing is wrong, or would that be judgmental? I feel like we are losing our voice in society. The argument of tolerance is an argument that, in effect, silences objections. Instead of discussing issues, we end up shutting people down. Whatever your view on an issue, you should have the humility to listen to the other side and be willing to challenge your own position. We are only hurting ourselves when we hinder rational discussion and debate.

I need to make one final point on this argument. There are some people that are legitimately intolerant. They can be so focused on what they believe is true that they put others down, bully them or even verbally or physically attack them. Even if you believe you are right, it is never alright to harm others because they believe something different. We need to be gracious in our speech and respectful of others. There needs to be some sort of middle ground where we can disagree with someone and yet not belittle or insult them in the process. We have some work to do as a society to get to the point where this is the norm, but I am believing for it.

 

Does the Bible prohibit the eating of shellfish?

I have provided a number of arguments that people might use to validate their desire to eat shellfish. Our final authority though should be the Bible as God’s word to us. As we look at the two verses I put at the beginning of this post, we can see a clear prohibition of eating shellfish (even though the word “shellfish” isn’t there). As I mentioned before, we need to take these into account if we want to be faithful to the text. If these were the only two verses about eating shellfish then it might be clear, but there are actually more passages that we need to look at to understand the overall message of the Bible on this issue.

I want to briefly look at two passages from the New Testament that can inform are view on this issue. In Acts there is a passage that talks about a vision God gives to Peter. In this vision God tells Peter to eat food that was “unclean”. In this passage God is changing Peter’s views on what is clean and what is unclean. Ultimately, this is the beginning of the Gentiles being included into the people of God. Right after this, Peter preaches the gospel to Cornelius and both he and his family (all Gentiles) get saved. This passage teaches that foods that were once considered unclean are now clean, and in the same way, people that were once considered unclean are now clean.

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

Acts 10:9-15

One final passage I want to look at is from the Gospels. Jesus is teaching the people that the things that defile people are their evil thoughts and actions, not the food they eat. Food goes into the body and them comes out of their body. It is actually the things that come out of people’s hearts that defiles them. Jesus in this passage is affirming the eating of shellfish for today.

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Mark 7:14-23

 

Conclusion

There are many issues that we are facing in our society today. We need to have an answer to the questions the world is asking. I have provided a few of the arguments people use to either discount or misread the Bible. If we truly value Scripture we will seek to understand it in its entirety. Even when we come across difficult passages we can’t give up on the Bible, but dive in deeper and seek to understand what they are saying. The Bible may not specifically mention an issue, but that doesn’t mean that the Bible has nothing to say about it. There are always principles we can apply to whatever issue we are going through. As we prayerfully seek God and meditate on His truth, He will guide us and direct us righteously.

 

 

Selah March 3, 2012

Posted by TJ Friend in Uncategorized.
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Introduction

I would like to dedicate this post to a great band – Selah. Their music is both uplifting and Christ-centered. In thinking about this group, I was wondering about their name. Why did they choose this specific Hebrew word. What were they trying to convey. I have also come across people who have given this name to their child. I have heard this word used by pastors and lay people all my life. It seems by popular consensus this word is easily defined and a somewhat normal part of everyday “Christian” vocabulary, somewhere along the lines of agape or ekklesia. It’s definition has been over-simplified and assumed as legitimate. As most Christians are unfamiliar with Greek / Hebrew it is easy to see how a popularized definition of a word can become the norm. I would say, for most people who have heard this word they would say it means to pause and reflect on what was just heard. When a pastor says something profound there is a “selah” moment afterward where people meditate on the depth of insight of what was spoken. Although I haven’t asked them, I would assume that the band Selah wants people to have this understanding of the word in mind when they listen to their music. The music then would prompt people to these “selah moments” where they reflect on Christ or whatever the song may be about. As for people who name their child Selah, I am not sure. Assuming they had this understanding of the word in mind, and not simply choosing the name based on how it sounds, they could be saying that the life of their child or their personality will be that of peace, rest and/or reflection.

Definition

From an academic standpoint “selah” is one of the most difficult Hebrew words to define. The way we understand and define words is by reading them in the context of the sentences they appear in. The same word can have different meanings depending on the surrounding context. The word selah however does not occur in any sentences or even phrases. It only occurs by itself in between lines of poetry. It primarily occurs in Psalms, although it also occurs outside of the Psalms (Habakkuk 3). Because this word has virtually no context there are many conjectures as to its meaning.

Here is a list of how some of the translations take the word:

KJV, NKJV, ASV, HCSB – Selah

NASB – Selah may mean: Pause, Crescendo or Musical interlude

Amp – Selah [pause and calmly think of that]

NLT – “Interlude” with footnote:Hebrew Selah. The meaning of this word is uncertain, though it is probably a musical or literary term

ESV – Selah with footnote: It may be a musical or liturgical direction

NIV, TNIV – The Hebrew has Selah (a word of uncertain meaning)

Net Bible –  It may be a musical direction of some kind.

Some of the translations don’t say anything about the word and let the reader figure it out. Most of the other translations give a footnote as to its possible meaning. The New Living Translation actually uses the word “interlude” in place of selah. Even from this short list the definition ranges dramatically. Comparing the NASB and Amp helps us see the diversity. NASB has “pause, crescendo, or musical interlude” while the Amp has “pause and calmly think of that”. Just in these two translations the word can be a calm and supposedly quiet reflection to a loud crescendo in the music. The other translations take the safe route and call it a musical or liturgical term of some sort.

Looking at the other scholarly views there are even more options for defining this word. Without getting into the details or pros and cons of each I will simply give a list of some of the options for this word:

As a sign to the people to prostrate themselves

As a sign for people to lift their hands

It could mean “always”

It could mean “amen” or “peace”

As a note to change the music (as in a crescendo)

As a marker of the breaks in the text

As a benediction (a place for people to recite a certain phrase):

“Blessed be God forever”

“for ever”

“for ever and ever”

“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever”

The variety and number of possible definitions for this word shows its elusiveness to be defined specifically. There is a joke that because of its seemingly random usage, selah is the word used by David when he broke a string. At the very least we need to be cautious when advocating one of these definitions as the “right” one.

Final thoughts

A few final notes on this word.

It is used with Psalms with titles, especially David, Korah, Asaph, and Ethan.

It never occurs at the beginning of a Psalm, and is usually at the end of a stanza.

It could be related to the Hebrew word “salal” – to lift up (Prov 4:8).

The Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint – LXX) translates selah with the word diapsalmos – an interlude in which something was sung or played. Also, the Septuagint uses diapsalmos in more psalms then the Hebrew uses selah. For instance diapsalmos occurs in Psalm 2 where there is no selah.

Even without a proper definition of selah, this word is still valuable. It is in the Bible for a reason. And even if we can’t be sure of what the writer was calling for, we can recognize that there was some sort of change or response called for at different times in these Psalms. For me, when I see the word selah, I take as a call to readjust my focus. In reading I can get caught up in the words or even distracted in my thoughts. These little “selahs” are a reminder to refocus on the God and the ultimate purpose of these Psalms – to worship Him. Whether meditating, raising hands, singing, playing an instrument or just being quiet, the focus should be upward. I see “selah” as a call to worship right in the middle of the text. I would like to think this is how those who name their kids Selah and the band Selah views themselves and their music – as a reminder to look upward and refocus on Christ.

Creativity and the Bible September 15, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Application, General Principles, OICA.
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Hello again. This will be my final blog, at least for awhile. I wanted to finish things out with an important and extremely overlooked aspect of reading/studying the Bible: creativity. Everyone is creative to some degree or another. Unfortunately, must of us do not get the chance to use the creative gifts God has given us. I think this is sad, because for me creativity is a way of getting past our logic and reasoning side and tapping into a freedom that allows for true expression of who we are. Through creative expression we can understand ourselves and our emotions/feelings better. Being creative also gives us a way to communicate to others in a way that speaks past a person’s mind and touches their heart.

Reading the Bible is a spiritual exercise. God doesn’t just speak to your mind. He speaks to your heart and your soul. Because God often speaks things that go beyond comprehension, it can be hard to integrate them into your life. There are a few different ways to accomplish this. As I mentioned in a previous post, talking about what God has revealed to you can help you integrate that truth into your life. You can also journal or simply pray back to God what He has shown you. But, what I want to talk about today is finding a creative outlet to express what God is speaking.

Art can be and often is a form of worship to God. We bring glory to God as we represent part of his creation to others through an artistic medium. But we also glorify God simply by exercising the gifts and talents He has given us. Artistic expression revolving around the Bible and what God has revealed is even more glorifying to God, because it allows God to speak directly to others.

How important is drawing, or painting? As I said earlier, creative expression allows you to connect with God in a way that you would not be able to see otherwise. God is spirit and those who worship Him must do so in spirit and in truth. Just comprehending truths about God is not enough. There is a second aspect that involves our spirit connecting to His Spirit. I think creative expression is the way to do this.  God is a creative God. He created the entire universe. And although not to the same degree, there is are things which we can create as well. In so doing we are coming in line with our created purpose.

What am I suggesting through all this? We need to take what we have learned from God through the Bible and creatively express it to ourselves and others. Paint, draw, sing, write a song, write a peom, make up a dance, sculpt something, make a collage, take a picture, write a script, write a story, sew something, carve something, build something. Just do something creative! I will leave you with no summary today or reflection. This whole post is actually a reflection on the theme I’ve been building since day one. Instead I leave you with a poem I wrote about the Bible. Enjoy!

The Sword of the Word

let me tell you a tale

without the Bible

we are liable to grow stale

and pale as our spiritual muscles fail

due to atrophy

its a catastrophe how easily

we deny our need for help

and instead rely in our feeble self

we stumble through this life

hoping to get it right

accepting our plight

we have lost our “fight”

We need to get back to the Book

give it more than a look

but instead we are hooked

on feeding our minds

with shows designed to entertain

and drain our desire

for what is good

and although we should

feed our soul

we’d rather feed the hole

that is formed as we dull

our desires and quench the fire

of passion for Jesus.

He wants to free us and make us

mature and complete

I repeat

the reason our lives get off track

is that we turn our back

instead of facing the attack

with the sword of the word

it is absurd

to have a weapon of such power

and then cower with fear

when the enemy draws near

so take the Bible off of the shelf

and get back your spiritual health

as you feast on the abundant wealth

of truth

you may feel weak

or your situation is bleak

let God speak

and let His words wreak

havoc on Satans lies

when he tries to speak doubt or shame

don’t play his game

you have authority in Jesus name

you are free

and when you speak

and believe

Satan has to flee

reading the word is not about being smart or super skilled

it is the humble that see God and it is the hungry that are filled

Sharing What You Know August 18, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Application, General Principles.
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Hello. If you have made it this far, you should have a lot of the tools necessary to understand what the Bible is saying and study it for yourself. The mesage of the Bible is not just for you, though. It is something that needs to be shared with others. If you just keep it to yourself, you are missing the point.

Before Jesus ascended to heaven he left his disciples with some parting words. At the end of Matthew 28 Jesus tells his disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations…” We are called to be disciple makers. Whatever knowledge or wisdom God gives us is not just for us. We need to share what we are learning with those around us, especially those who are new or young believers. Whenever God reveals something to you, do your best to apply it to your life, but don’t just leave it at that. Share what you have learned with someone else.

Your Uniqueness

You are unique. Not only do you have a unique blend of gifts and talents, but you also have a unique way of understanding the Bible. Even if you don’t have all the skills or tools of a Biblical scholar, you still have a lot to bring to the study of the Bible. In fact sometimes an overly scholarly look at the text can be harmful. It is possible to overanalyze the text and end up missing the point. Sometimes a simple observation or question can bring a text alive. Although it is important to study and try to get at the intended meaning, don’t discount yourself if you don’t have all the tools necessary. God can speak not only to you, but through you!

There is no one person who fully understands the Bible. We all have our own lens with which we view the Bible. We actually need each other so that we can see the different angles. What you gain from your reading of the text may be something that someone else would never see, simply because of how they read the text.

Understanding the Text

There are different ways to learn things. You can hear it, see it or interact with it. Each of these methods will help you to remember what you learn and understand it. The best way to learn something though is to teach someone else. This principle is just as applicable to the Bible. If you share what you are learning it is solidified inside of you and you really learn it. So, not only does it help out the person you are sharing with, but it helps you out as well.

Summary

You are awesome.

You can read and understand the text.

Sharing what you know can help others out.

Sharing what you know helps you learn it yourself better.

Reflection

What is the last thing you learned while reading the Bible? Find someone to share that with.

Simplicity and Simplification December 10, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in General Principles.
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Hello all. Today I want to talk about two important ideas: simplicity and simplification. These are not technical terms. I actually just picked these two words because they sound similar and hopefully will be more memorable. I am using the word simplicity to refer to the idea that the authors of the Bible wrote with the intention that they would be understood. Although they may talk about complex ideas, they put these ideas in simple enough terms for their hearers to understand. Simplification on the other hand is an interpretive procedure where we take large (or small) blocks of text and try to simplify them to get to the basic meaning that is being conveyed. These two ideas are related. On the one hand the author has a basic idea that he is trying to get across and is writing with the goal that his meaning would be understood. On the other hand, we as readers should strive to get at the meaning that is being conveyed. Let us take a closer look at these two ideas.

Simplicity

Again simplicity is the idea that the author writes in such a way as to be understood. What this means is that the simple meaning should be taken over the complex one.  Sometimes people come up with interpretations that are extremely complex. They may overemphasize a word study or read too much into a cultural issue.  This brings us back to the importance of context. Reading a verse in its context limits its possible meanings to those that fit in with the surrounding verses. There is a trend out there to find “hidden” meanings in the text. People will analyze a verse way beyond the initial intent just to find something new or profound. Just because something may sound good or logical does not make it right. The authors of Scripture did not inject their writings with complex hidden meanings that only a few select individuals would be able to figure out. They wanted people to understand what they wrote. The Bible as a whole is pretty clear. You can learn how to be saved and what to do from there just by reading it. Verses like “love your neighbor as yourself” or “pray continually” do not need to be hyper analyzed to figure out what they mean. Our problem is not a lack of understanding of certain portions of scripture, but a lack of application of the portions we do understand. When we come to obscure passages, it is good to study them and try to interpret them. But it is more important to live out the truths that we already know then to search out new ones, especially if that means we force an interpretation onto a passage. Although the authors of the text tried to be clear, there are just some things that we will not understand because we are in a different time and culture. In our interpretation of Scripture we need to keep it simple. Once we bring in a bunch of extra-biblical sources and the interpretation starts to become complex we should step back and make sure we are staying in the context and that we are reading it the way the author intended for it to be read.

Simplification

ABC Always Be Condensing. This is the general approach we should take when we come to Scripture. Unless you are reading a proverb it is best to read more than one verse at a time. The smallest unit you should interpret is a paragraph. When you read a paragraph or a chapter the goal is to find the main idea and simplify that down to its most basic components. In order to fully understand the intricacies of a text, we need to strip it down to its most basic idea and then we can see how all the pieces fit together. If you are reading a narrative, try and figure out the basic action that is going on. This could be Saul’s disobedience in 1 Sam 15 or Job’s restoration at the end of Job 42. when reading discourse material (like an epistle or a prophecy) we should look for the main point the speaker is making. What is the main point of John 15? What is Paul saying in Rom. 8?  As we read a paragraph or a chapter or a section of a book or an entire book, we should look for the ideas and themes that tie it together. If we can simplify a few paragraphs into their main ideas then we can take those and see what the bigger is of the chapter that those paragraphs make up is. Our goal is to take the text, whether it is a paragraph, a chapter or a larger section and simplify it down to a one sentence summary. The more that you understand something, the easier it is to simplify it. If the simplest explanation you can give of a paragraph is a paragraph in itself, then you haven’t fully understood it and need to keep studying it. Even if you get your summary down to a sentence, but that sentence is long and complicated, there is still room for more understanding.

Let me give an example of this. Lets say you are reading Psalm 23 and your summary is that God feeds his sheep and helps them rest and protects them from danger and gives them food in front of their enemies. This summary is way too long and complicated. It would be much easier to say that Psalm 23 is about how God watches over his people as a shepherd watches over his sheep. The idea of simplification is to express all the main ideas in the shortest most efficient way possible.

Reflection

1. The Bible Code is a study of various patterns of letters in the text that reveal hidden messages in the text. Based on what we have learned here, what is wrong with this method of Biblical study.

2. Read Psalm 150. How would  you summarize this chapter using only one sentence?

Genre: Parable November 25, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in Genre.
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Hello all. Today is parable day. I am excited to talk about parables because I think they are extremely important. This is the main way Jesus chose to communicate to the people. Even though parables are important and show up a lot in the Gospels, they are often misunderstood or worse, misinterpreted.

The word parable comes from the Greek – parabole, which is literally “to cast along side”. The Greek word had a wider range of meanings than our word in English. It covers the whole spectrum from short statements that are no more than extended allegories (where only one idea is being conveyed)  to longer stories that we would call allegories with multiple meanings being conveyed. Parables are stories that have a surface meaning, but are used to reflect a deeper secondary meaning.

Before we get into how to interpret parables, it is important to understand why Jesus used them. I would say that there are basically two purposes that Jesus used parables for. First, because parables are story based, they are easy to remember and they can be used to cut to our hearts without getting caught up in our brains. We enjoy stories and they speak to us in ways that normal dialogue doesn’t. Secondly, Jesus used parables to separate out the hungry. There is a mystery to the parables and it takes some time to understand their messages. Mark 4:10-12 shows the disciples asking Jesus about a parable and he tells them that some people will not understand him. I think Jesus purposely used parables so that those who were truly seeking would press in and try to understand the message. The disciples were the ones who came to Jesus to ask him the meaning of the parable. Their curiosity turned them in the right direction – to Jesus. I’m sure some of the people in the crowds were wondering about the parables also, but whatever response they had, it did not bring them closer to Jesus.

So, how do we interpret parables? Like I said before, parables are stories that have a secondary meaning they are trying to convey. Our goal is to find out what that meaning is. I like to think of parables as jokes. Their meaning is found in the punchline. Usually a parable will have “punchline” where there will be a twist on the expected result. Take for instance the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37. The story is that a man is beaten, robbed and left for dead. Both a priest and a Levite come along and pass right by him, but then a Samaritan comes and takes care of him. It is hard to understand this parable without understanding the context. The priests and Levites were the religious leaders and so should have been the ones to help out the injured man. The Samaritans were social outcasts. They were a polluted mixed race that were viewed with extreme prejudice. Some people would even walk miles out of their way just to avoid walking through the same area where the Samaritans lived so that they wouldn’t contaminate themselves with their soil. Anyway, they were not liked and it was a definite reversal for the only one to help out was the last person expected. We need to try and see how the original hearers would have been affected by the parables. Most of the things Jesus said were radical and sometimes made people extremely mad.  Because of our cultural distance it is hard for us to see some of these things, but we can still try and see the big picture idea of what the parables are about.

When reading a parable there is usually one main idea being conveyed. In the parable above the main idea is discovering who your neighbor is. Our job is to find out what that main idea is. When we read a parable the first thing we need to do is read the surrounding context. Often Jesus is using a parable to answer a question or to teach a lesson. If we don’t know the question the parable is answering then we won’t fully understand the parable. Although parables usually have one meaning, sometimes Jesus is trying to teach more than one thing through them. Take for example the parable of the prodigal son. This story is not just about the younger son who squandered his wealth and finally came back to his family. The story is also about the older son who had been there all along and didn’t realize what he had. Therefore, when we read a parable, primarily we should look for the main meaning, but if there are other characters that seem important we should look to see if there might be something we can gain from their part of the story. Parables are intentionally short and details are limited, so when we are presented with things we should see if they are being used to represent something.

A word of caution: It is possible to over analyze a parable. Whatever meaning we can derive from a parable has to fit within the context of the book it is written in and not every detail needs to have a hidden meaning. Try and hear it from the listeners perspective. How would they have interpreted it. As an example St. Augustine had a radical interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan. He said that the man represented Adam, Jerualem was heaven, Jericho was the moon, the robbers were the devil and his minions who strip the man of his immortality through sin, the priest and levite were the law and the ministry of the OT, the samaritan was Christ, the binding of the wounds was Christ’s work at binding sin, the oil was comfort and encouragement, the donkey was the Incarnation, the inn was the Church, the term “next day” was the resurrection, the innkeeper was Paul, and the two denarii were the two great commandments to love God and love your neighbor. This may be a nice picture of salvation, but it has nothing to do with the parable. Every analogy breaks down if you take it too far, and in the same way if try to impart too much meaning into the details, the parable will break down.

Summary

Parables are short stories with a purpose to impart a message

Look for the intended message, without overlooking possible other meanings

Understand what the main details stand for, but don’t overanalyze the parable

Look for the question the parable is trying to answer or the doctrine it is trying to teach

Once you understand the meaning of a parable try and apply it to your own life

Reflection:

I probably should mention that there are parables in other places besides the Gospels. They actually occur a lot in the prophets as well, and even in the narrative books. Read 2 Sam. 12:1-4. What is the main point of this parable? What do the rich man, the poor man, and the sheep represent in the parable? How do you think David would have responded if Nathan would have delivered his message differently, such as a speech, or an accusation?

Genre: Gospel November 11, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in Genre.
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Here we go again. Today I would like to talk about the gospel genre. This is the genre of the first four books of the New Testament. My intent is not to define this genre as a whole as it was when these books were written, but to show some characteristics of the New Testament use of gospel. Hopefully, this will help us to interpret them better.

Gospels are similar to biographies in that they focus on one person as the “hero”. This person in the NT gospels is obviously Jesus. The Gospel’s are not biographies though. The main difference is that the Gospels are not intended to describe every event in Jesus’ life. They are highly focused and emphasize more Jesus’ role in the plan of salvation then telling his life story. They show how Jesus is the Messiah, God’s son, who came down from heaven and took on flesh in order to redeem us from sin and death.

One of the difficulties of defining the genre of the Gospels is that they had a dual purpose with a specific audience in mind. The Gospels were written with the intent of them being read in the churches, so they were written with a lot of teaching material in them. But they were also written somewhat biographical, in order to tell the story of Jesus and his ministry, death, and resurrection.

The style of the Gospels is basically narrative. There is a general flow of action as the story unfolds. But, there are also large sections of discourse material in the Gospels. In reading the Gospels it is important to keep in mind the narrative underlying the discourse. Because of the large sections of discourse it can sometimes be difficult to follow the flow of the story, because if we don’t we risk reading the Gospels simply as a collection of sayings and end up missing the bigger picture. As you read through the Gospels see where Jesus is going and who he is talking to, whether it is to his disciples or the crowd or the Pharisees. Sometimes Jesus goes into a lengthy discourse based on a question by the Pharisees, and if we don’t read it in context we can miss the point of what he is saying.

Also, when you are reading through the Gospels watch how Jesus is treated as the story progresses. The climax of all four Gospels is Jesus’ death and resurrection. You can see the opposition growing as it gets closer to this time.

Because Gospels are a cross between narrative and discourse, there is also a mixture of literal and figurative language. The narrative sections that describe events should be taken literally. When it says Jesus died on a cross and rose from the dead, these are literal events that happened. The figurative language comes in when you read the discourse material. When Jesus speaks he uses a lot of metaphors and similes, as well as parables and allegories. For the most part it is pretty easy to tell when Jesus is saying something figuratively as opposed to literally.

One final note, a lot of the OT is referenced either directly or indirectly in the Gospels. The writers of the Gospels assumed that their audience had at least a basic understanding of the OT. You can not fully interpret (or maybe even understand) the Gospels without familiarizing yourself with the Old Testament. The OT is not only interesting and beneficial, it is also vital not only to understanding the Gospels, but the entire New Testament.

Summary
1. Read the Gospels primarily as a story, watching how the plot develops throughout
2. The Gospels were meant primarily to teach truths of Christianity and secondarily to show the life of Jesus
3. Read the discourses in light of their audience/context
4. Read the OT, especially the parts that are referenced in the Gospels
5. Take the literal parts literal and the figurative parts figuratively
6. Look for the big message – why were these written

Reflection
1. Since the Gospels were written with Jesus as the focus, why is John the Baptist not only featured, but featured prominently in them?

Genre: Epistle October 28, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in Genre.
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Hello. We are continuing our study of genres this week with a look at the letters written in the Bible. The word “epistle” simply refers to these letters. The majority of letters occur in the New Testament although there are a few shorter letters written in the Old Testament as well. So, I want to go over 1: the general characteristics of letters and how we can recognize them; and 2: the specific characteristics of the NT epistles. We will look at how epistles need to be interpreted in light of their unique characteristics.

Letters today are similar to those written back in Biblical times. Today we have an abundance of methods of communication, but back then they had to rely on either a messenger or a letter brought by a messenger. On a side note: when a messenger brought the message of the person he was representing he took on the authority of the person who was sending the message. The person who received the message would have heard it and accepted it as if it was spoken directly by the person sending it. For instance, if a king sent a message to one of his servants, the words of the person delivering the message have the same authority as if the king himself were speaking.

It is fairly easy to recognize the genre of letters. They have a set pattern and are pretty consistent in their form. Besides their unique form, they are usually specified in the text as being letters. In the New Testament, where there are entire books as letters, this forewarning is not there, but the characteristics of the letter are clues enough to tell their genre.

When we come to a letter in the Bible we need to ask four basic questions:
1) Who wrote it?
2) Who was it written to?
3) What prompted it to be written?
4) What is its message?

To say this another way, we should try to discover the author, audience, occasion and purpose of the letters we find in Scripture.

NT Epistles

The New Testament contains a lot of epistles. Paul wrote a lot of letters to churches and even individuals. These epistles have certain characteristics that put them in this genre. The main characteristics of these epistles is the same four things I just mentioned: an author, audience, occasion and purpose. Stylistically, the letters follow a general style, but even if a few of these characteristics are missing we can still call them letters. Formal letters today have a short greeting at the beginning telling who the letter is addressed to, then there is the body of the letter and a conclusion at the end that tells who the letter is from. The epistles follow a similar pattern. The main difference is that both who the author and audience of the letter are put at the beginning of the letter in the greeting. Also, at the beginning of the letter, there is usually a prayer before getting into the body of the letter. At the end of the letter there is a final salutations. One of the biggest differences between our letters and the epistles is the greeting section. Our letters have really short greetings, we usually just a have a “dear someone” and then get right into what the letter is about. The epistles though have lengthy introductions. Even the shortest introductions are longer than ours. Take for instance the introduction to Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. It starts out: Paul, Silas and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Compare this to the seven verses of introduction in the book of Romans.

Because of these introductions it is fairly easy to see who these letters are written by and who they are written to. The other two questions are more difficult to answer, but will yield more benefits. When reading these letters we should seek to find out what situation or problems were going on that the author was writing about. We also need to see what the author’s overall purpose for writing was. When we come to the letters written by Paul, we can usually go back to the book of Acts and see what the city was like and the circumstances surrounding the original bringing of the gospel to that region. This will help us get a picture of what may have motivated the writing of the letter.

Most of the information about the people who the letter was written and what is going on with them can be found in the letter itself. Some of the purposes of the letter will be clear from even a cursory reading of it. It could be that the letter is a warning against false teachers, a call to unity, teaching certain theological ideas, or just encouraging them to stand firm in the face of persecution. These are a few big ideas to look for when reading through these epistles. You can sometimes figure out the problems that were going on by looking at what the author is admonishing the people to do. If he is telling them to be united, it is probably because they were things going on that had caused the people to splinter or isolate themselves. If the author is warning against false teachers, it is because there actually are people that are teaching false doctrines. The authors of these epistles are addressing real issues that need real answers.

Optimally, the best way to read an epistle is to read it as a whole in one sitting. When you read the book as a whole, you get a better understanding of the big picture of the letter. The overarching themes become clear and it is easier to understand what the book is about. When you are reading an epistle it is especially important to recognize the transitional words. As you read notice especially when you get to words like “finally”, “therefore” or “now”. These words can signal breaks between large blocks of text. Romans 12:1 starts with a “therefore” and signals a transition in the book. I Cor. 15:1 shows a transition using the word “now” and Phil. 3:1 shows an example of the word “finally” as a transition. When you read through the epistles it is helpful to follow these transitions so that you can see when the author is moving from one topic to another.

The letters of the Bible, especially the NT epistles were written with a purpose. To best understand them, we need to try to understand why they were written and what issues they were addressing. As you read look for hints and clues as to what these purposes are.

Reflection

The book of Philemon is really short and can be easily read in one sitting. Read through it and answer these questions:
Who is the author of this book?
Who is this written to?
What is the problem the author is addressing?
What does the author want Philemon to do or believe?

Preparation September 2, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in General Principles.
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Studying the Bible, like any task or exercise, requires a certain amount of preparation. There are basically three things that you can do to prepare for studying the Bible. If you do these things it will put you in right attitude and enable you to focus in on what God has for you without being distracted.

Prepare your Time

First it is important to intentionally set aside time to be in God’s word. I find the best time for me is early in the morning. It is a good way to start the day and is the easiest to keep consistent, although the time is not as important as the consistency. Find a time and a place where you can be alone and free from distractions. It is important to find a place that is quiet, so that you can focus in on listening to God. If there is a lot of noise or other distractions it will be difficult to fully engage. Set aside a specific block of time each day and stick with it. Again, the amount of time is not as important as developing consistency. But, realize that studying the Bible takes time, and if you do not give yourself enough time you will miss out on the benefits. It is similar to mining for gold or other jewels in the earth. You can’t just walk around on the surface and try to find the treasure, you need to dig in to the ground and put time and effort into searching, only then will you find the treasure.

Prepare your Heart

The next thing you can do in preparation is to begin with prayer. Studying the Bible can be an overly academic or intellectual pursuit, but ultimately it should be about hearing God speak through His word. Taking time to acknowledge Him and asking Him to speak will help you be an attentive reader, one who is actively listening and expecting God to speak. By starting with prayer and acknowledging God you can keep a humble attitude, realizing that it is God who is revealing Himself to you.

Prepare your Tools

The final step in preparation is physically assembling your tools. Get some paper, something to write with, grab a few different translations of the Bible and any other resources you might feel are necessary, such as a concordance or dictionary. Coming with all things already there, will eliminate the need to get up and get something you need while you are in the middle of studying. I will talk about the importance of some of these resources later, and if you don’t have some of them don’t worry. The minimum amount of resources you need are a pencil/pen, a paper and a Bible. If this is all you have you can still learn a lot and gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of the text. Later on I will recommend some more resources, but I am only going to recommend the most basic resources that will aid in your study. There are literally hundreds of resources out there to those desiring to study the word. Although these are helpful and may add to your study, I want to emphasize the importance of the text itself, and I believe most of your time should be spent looking at the actual words of the Bible.

Can I Study the Bible? August 19, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in General Principles.
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Yes. If you are reading this, you already have the most important skill in studying and understanding the Bible, the ability to read. The Bible after all is a book. I know that seems blatantly obvious, but the implications may not be. People read things everyday and for the most part understand what they read, but for some reason the Bible seems like a mystical book that defies interpretation. You may think that you are not smart enough or spiritual enough to understand the Bible, but this is not true. The Bible was written for you. It wasn’t written just for pastors or teachers or people who have gone through years of college or seminary. It was written for the average person. God wants to speak directly to you through His word. The system we have now goes like this: The pastor or teacher spends time and studies the word then imparts the revelation he (or she) receives to others. There is nothing wrong with this picture, but it is incomplete. It is like a mother bird hunting and finding some worms for her chicks. She finds the food and chews it up, regurgitating into the mouths of her hungry chicks. Eventually, the chicks need to learn how to find and chew their own food. In the same way, we can’t rely on our pastor as our only source for food. We need to take time on our own to study for ourselves.
So, what exactly does it take to study the Bible? The concepts needed are fairly simple to comprehend, but it is definitely not natural or easy. There are four basic traits that are needed to study the Bible. Read through these and see if you have what it takes to be a student of the word.

Basic Reading Skills: You need to be able to ask questions, look for main ideas, follow an argument, and understand different genres. This is a lot of what I will be going over later, so don’t discount yourself if some of this sounds foreign.

Self-Confidence: You need to believe that you actually can understand the Bible. Like I said before, the Bible was not just written for scholars and God desires to feed you directly through His word. And just like anything, the more practice you get the more confident you will become.

Humility: The Bible is God’s word to you. You need to come with an open ear to hear what the text is saying. If you come to the Bible assuming you already know what it says or looking for proof texts for your own ideas you will not be able to hear what God wants to say to you.

Perseverance: Studying the Bible takes time and consistency. You can’t expect to reap the rewards without putting in the effort. The Bible is filled with jewels and treasures that you can only find if you dig for them. I hesitate to use the word perseverance, because it can have some negative connotations. Just to clarify, reading and studying the word is not some sort of trial that you need to endure in order for God to speak to you. The journey toward revelation is just as exciting as the outcome. God has placed inside of us a desire to study and observe and figure things out. He would be robbing us if He just placed things out in the open. It is like an Easter Egg Hunt: How fun would it be if all the eggs were out in the open? What makes it fun and exciting is the search…the “treasure hunt”. That is what studying the Bible is for us, a treasure hunt.

Reflection:
Pick a chapter out of the Bible. Read it over and over until you understand what it is saying and ask God to speak to you. If you come to Him with an open heart and don’t give up too soon, God will speak to you.

Just because someone has been a Christian for many years doesn’t make them mature, in the same way a new believer can grow and mature rapidly. What determines your growth is understanding truth and drawing closer to God. The main way you grow and mature is by spending time daily in the Word. If you were to give yourself an “age”, not based on how long you have been a Christian, but on how mature you are, how old would you be?