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One Interpretation, Many Applications April 23, 2016

Posted by TJ Friend in General Principles.
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One of the criticisms of the Bible is that everyone interprets it differently. This a legitimate concern. There are many people that come to different ideas on what parts of the Bible are actually teaching. Some people base their interpretations based on only one or two verses completely overlooking the literary context these verses came from. Picking out isolated verses to prove a point is called “proof-texting”. The problem with proof-texting is that it starts with the individual (their views, beliefs, experiences, etc.) and imposes those ideas onto the text. If you take verses out of their context you can find justification for almost anything you want. People have used the Bible to condone slavery, racism, the Crusades, polygamy, homosexuality, and numerous cults. The teachings on baptisms for the dead and the high status of the Pope both come from Biblical passages. There have been many things that people have wrongly believed simply because they had a misunderstanding of what the Bible actually taught.

The Church today is fractured and schizophrenic in its beliefs. We have hundreds of denominations in the US today. Most of these came about because of differences of opinions on doctrine and practice. We have some churches that put a big emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit, while others see the gifts of miracles and prophecy finished with the completion of the Bible. Some people believe it is a sin to read any other translation other than the KJV. Some churches don’t allow women teachers. Some believe if you are not a Calvinist you are not a Christian. Some of these differences are a matter of tradition, but for the most part we simply disagree on what the Bible teaches.

Some people think the Bible is like an artistic painting or piece of modern art, that you look at and interpret based on how you feel. This is exemplified in the question a lot Bible study groups ask: “What does this passage mean to you?”This version of Bible study a lot of times ends up as just a pooling of ignorance. People say whatever comes to their mind, whether or not it is relevant or even accurate. Studying the Bible takes time and effort. Most people tend to give up too quickly. They think that a cursory reading of the text is sufficient.

In case you were wondering, studying and understanding the Bible is difficult and takes time. It was written in an ancient language (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). It was written thousands of years in the past in a culture that we are unfamiliar with. It was originally written for a specific audience, and because of this there were things the authors didn’t say because they didn’t have to. Their audience was already familiar with the culture and language. It is our job as faithful readers to attempt to understand what the author’s of the Bible were trying to say to their original audience. Only after we understand what it meant to those people can we make application to our lives today.

People say that since there are so many different views on what the Bible says, we can’t know what the Bible actually teaches. If we have such a diverse range of interpretations, even in the Church and among scholars, how can we know which one is correct? This is the whole reason why we have exegesis and hermeneutics. Even though it is difficult to get at what the author’s original intent was, this should be our goal.

The people who wrote the Bible, had a specific purpose for writing what they did. They had a distinct and deliberate message they were trying to convey to their audience. This is what we should be trying to uncover. This becomes even more important when we realize that these people were inspired by God.The Holy Spirit led these writers to convey a message. This wasn’t some symbolic or hidden message He was trying to convey. God had a specific message He wanted the people to understand and He gave it in a way that the people could comprehend. The more we can put ourselves in the shoes (or sandals) of the audience to which the Bible was originally written, the better we will be able to interpret the message to them. Once we understand what God was trying to say to them, we can make application to our modern context.

No one is perfect in their interpretation. Because of our distance from the original readers, there will inevitably be things we will not be 100% sure about. But, there are also things that the Bible is so clear on that we should be unified in our theology. The way I think about it is that there are two categories of the things the Bible teaches. There are essentials and non-essentials. The essentials include things like the basic Gospel message (Jesus died for our sins, was buried and resurrected), Jesus’ divinity, the trinity, the idea that Christ is coming again, etc. The non-essentials are things like style of worship, speaking in tongues, tattoos, eating pork, issues surrounding the second-coming/end times, etc. Basically, the things that you must believe in order to be saved are essentials, and those things not affecting salvation are non-essentials.

Past interpretations

We are not the first generation to read the Bible. Many people in different cultures and contexts had to make sense of what the Bible was saying for them. This is what is so great about the Bible. Its message transcends time and culture. Throughout history people have had to do the same thing we do today – read the Bible, attempt to understand its original meaning and then apply it to their lives.

I do want to make mention of some alternate interpretive methods, particularly the Jewish interpretation. One of their methods is known as PaRDeS. It is basically an acronym for Pashat, Remez, Drash and Sod. The four levels of interpretation. The Pashat is the “simple” interpretation which is essentially what I have been referring to, getting at the meaning of the author. The other three are increasingly deeper levels of meaning that attempt to find hidden meanings that can be found in the patterns of words and letters of texts. These interpretations range from symbolic (reading an idea like circumcision into a text that doesn’t explicitly talk about it but may have verbal parallels to other passages that do mention circumcision) to more hidden interpretations. These hidden interpretations often would rely on numbers. By assigning numerical values to numbers and words they would make comparisons to other words or phrases with the same numerical value. In this way, they would connect passages together that otherwise wouldn’t be connected. One thing they did believe though was that the simple meaning was the baseline, and so none of the other levels could contradict it.

There are some dangers in these types of interpretive methods. I think a lot of people see the Bible as this mysterious book with all kinds of hidden meanings that once uncovered will unlock some secret message in the text. I’ve noticed this a lot when it comes to word studies. Because most people are unfamiliar with Greek and Hebrew, they think that they can uncover vast meanings hidden in the definitions of certain words. This is not the purpose of word studies. While it is true you can get a more nuanced understanding of a passage by looking both at the grammar and the Greek or Hebrew words used, this is different than trying to get a new meaning from a text by searching through a list of definitions for a word. The words themselves only have meaning because of the sentence they are in. A word doesn’t import all its different definitions to each context it is used in. It is constrained to its chosen usage. In the same way sentences or verses are limited to the context of the paragraph to which they are in.

Whether trying to get at a deeper meaning through improper use of word studies or through some sort of numerological code, we end up missing the message of the author. And this is what is important. Whatever other messages we “find” in the text, if we overlook the message of the author they are worthless. In fact, by looking for these other things instead of what the author is trying to tell us, we hinder ourselves from understanding the original message.

Application

I guess what bothers me in all this is that we aren’t satisfied with the simplicity of the Bible. Why do we think that a deeper meaning is somehow more spiritual than the plain meaning of the author? Earlier I mentioned the difficulties in the interpretive process due to time, context and language, but there are also things that are clear. A lot of the message of the Bible translates easily through all cultures and times. The ideas of love, justice, mercy, righteousness, holiness, and humility don’t need much interpretation to understand them properly. We get so caught up in the intricacies of interpretive method, that we forget to actually do what it says. The Bible isn’t just a book of a bunch of theological ideas, it is handbook for how to live. We follow it best, not when we understand it fully, but when we live out the parts we do understand.

What Does it Mean to be a Christian? July 3, 2015

Posted by TJ Friend in Encouragements.
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As I’ve been thinking about this topic, I am realizing that “Christianity” is difficult to define. The word itself gives hints to its meaning, but to say that a Christian is a “little Christ” or “Christ-follower” is not specific enough. The main problem is that there are so many different ideas on what it means to be a Christian. For those outside the Church there are a wide variety of stereotypes of Christians. Some see Christianity as a religion of hate and intolerance. Others see it as a crutch for the simple minded to lean on. For others, Christianity is seen as an extension of its activity in society, so that it looks like a social justice institution. For most though, there is at least an idea of what Christianity should be. A lot of people recognize that Christians are not perfect and may not accurately represent Christianity. For these people they would say that Christianity is about love and compassion.

It is no surprise that people outside the Church would have misunderstandings of what it means to be a Christian. We, as the Church, have not done a good job in representing the Gospel to the world, either in word or deed. We have shown the world a lot of hypocrisy and such a watered down message that I am amazed people have any idea what Christianity really is.

What bothers me the most though, is that there are so many different views on what it means to be Christian from people who claim to be Christian. I fear that in a society where we choose our own truths, the idea that there even is a “true Christianity” is heretical. We are in a time where however people want to define Christianity and live it out is their own personal choice. The reason why the world consistently accuses Christians of picking and choosing parts of the Bible they want to follow while ignoring others, is that this is exactly what a lot of people actually do. People live one way on Sunday and live completely different the rest of the week. Because of this, we are in a place now where there are many people who think they are Christian, but are only Christian in name and do not accurately represent what it means to be a Christian.

I realize that in calling out people who are not living by the sort of Christianity I am about to set forth, this puts me in a place of “judging others”. This as we know is the cardinal sin in Christianity…except that it’s not. I believe that the Bible gives clear principles on what it means to be a Christian. I believe that God has clearly revealed, through His word, what it means to be a Christian and this is the standard by which we should strive to line up with. What I am about to set forth, is not some new or idiosyncratic view of what it means to be a Christian. I am simply relaying what God Himself desires in those who claim to represent Him. If you have questions with what I am describing, look at the Scripture for yourself and see if what I am saying is true.

I want to look at three “requirements” I see in the Bible that relate to what it means to be a Christian. I see a doctrinal aspect, a transformational aspect, and a relational aspect. Before getting into these though, it is important to recognize that “salvation” is not a one-time occurrence. Once we accept Jesus we are saved, but that doesn’t mean that we are then free to live however we want. In Philippians, Paul tells us,

12 ”Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Phil 2:12-13)

We have a responsibility to discipline our lives and live and grow as Christians from the moment of salvation till we die.

Doctrine – Do you believe the core elements of the Gospel?

The first aspect of Christianity is doctrinal. We can’t just believe whatever we want and claim to be Christian. One of the biggest issues the New Testament Church had to deal with was false teachers. Paul is continually warning against false teachers. He tells the church in Galatia that even if an angel proclaims to them a different message (like Mormonism proclaims) they are to reject it:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! (Gal 1:6-9)

There are a lot of doctrines that churches and individuals have established over time. There is no way we will agree on every single point. What we should at least agree on are the essential doctrines of the faith. If someone at least believes the core elements of Christianity, even if they are off on other doctrines, they have the foundation and can grow from there. If people are missing core elements, or have such a skewed understanding of them that they no longer mean what they originally meant, then that person cannot claim to be a Christian. If we don’t have distinguishing doctrines then how can we even know what Christianity is?

The list of the core doctrines could be potentially long, depending on how nuanced one chooses to go. I do not intend to give an exhaustive list here, just some examples of the kind of doctrines that fit in this category. One of the biggest issues is the means of salvation. In Ephesians it says, 8 ”For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8-9). A lot of clarity can be gained from this simple passage as to what it means to be saved. Anyone who claims that you need to do any type of “work” to earn salvation is proclaiming a false gospel. Salvation is a free gift, not something you can earn. Some other core doctrines are the fact that Jesus was fully God and fully human, that He died, was buried and rose again as a substitutionary atonement for our sins. I would also add to this list a belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. I don’t see how someone can claim to be a Christian and deny the very book that reveals what that means.

There are a lot of doctrines that are secondary to the core understanding of Christianity. Some of these are as minor as what type of worship music to play, or whether or not Christians should drink alcohol. There have been huge debates over free-will vs. predestination and the Charismatic movement. While there are people who would say that you have to believe one way or the other on these issues in order to be a Christian, I don’t think this is necessarily true. Just because you don’t believe that miracles still happen today doesn’t mean that you aren’t doing your best to follow God and live for Him. What we need to do is have more dialogues about what we believe and use the Bible as our standard of truth. Disagreements in the Church happen, but as long as people are holding to the core doctrines we shouldn’t allow these smaller things to divide churches.

Fruit/Works – Is there evidence of transformation?

The second aspect of Christianity is that of “fruit”. Matthew 12 talks about good trees and bad trees. Each tree is recognized by its fruit.

33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt 12:33-37)

When you become a Christian there is a change that takes place inside of you. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone the new is here”. It is like a “rebirth” where we begin a new life that is different from our old life. If someone has no evidence of a changed life, they should examine themselves to see if they are actually saved. Here are some examples of what this transformed life should look like:

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. (1 John 2:9)

15 ”Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)

26 ”Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:26-27)

14 ”What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” (James 2:14-24)

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:19-21)

As we can see there are a lot “evidences” of a transformed life, from loving one another, to watching our words, and not hating people.

Obedience – Do you know God?

This third and final aspect is simply a question of knowing God. Matthew tells us that the way of salvation is difficult to find.

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt 7:13-14)

There are a lot of people who may think they are saved, but according to this verse there are many who will not find it. Just a few verses later we are told that, 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt 7:21-23) The only ones who will make it in are those who “know God”. Doing miracles, or casting out demons does not qualify you to make it into heaven. A Christian is therefore someone who knows God.

The way that we “know God” is by…

Doing what he commands:

“We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands.Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:3-6)

Not sinning

No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (1 John 3:6)

Loving one another

7 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

Conclusion

I want to send out a call to all Christians. I would first of all challenge you to read the Bible and know what it says. It bothers me when those outside the Church know the Bible better than we do. We are way too easily swayed by false doctrines, because we are not familiar enough with the truth. And, I am not talking about knowing all the proof texts for certain doctrines. This type of splintered reading of the Bible creates a false methodology and misses the over-arching themes of the Bible. We need to have an understanding of the “big-picture” of the Bible. This only comes from reading all of it a book at a time. It amazes me, when non-Christians bring up passages that Christians are not even aware are in the Bible. The Bible is our revelation from God on who He is and how we are to live. We can’t limit ourselves to only hearing a few verses on Sunday mornings and then neglect it the rest of the week.

Second, we actually need to live like Christians. If you don’t know where to start, just live out the verses I have shared here. The world needs to see Christians acting like Christians. We are only hindering ourselves when we live by the actions and values of the world around us. Christianity is not a spectator sport. Let God’s spirit lead you and guide you to do the things He has for you.

Finally, we need to stop sinning. This is a hard call, and technically not possible this side of heaven, what we can do though, is eliminate chronic sin patterns from our life and put boundaries in our life so that we don’t fall into big sin issues. God doesn’t want us to be weighed down with addictive behavior. He came to set us free. We need to cultivate an attitude of repentance, so that when we sin, we are quick to move forward and not dwell in condemnation. Of course no one is perfect, but we can’t claim to know God and then live our own way. All that does is show the world a false representation of who God actually is.

All of this comes down to one word – “Love”. God loved us and gave himself up for us to redeem us from the power of sin. Because of God’s love for us, we can know what love is. We start by loving God. If we love God we will love His word, because it is a reflection of who He is. We can then allow God to love us, by changing us from the inside out into the people He made us to be. This love should also stop us from sinning because we don’t want to God. Finally, as we are filled with God’s love it should overflow to those around us to such a degree that they are hungry to know our Source and we can point people to the one who, by definition, is Love.

Apostles in the Bible January 29, 2015

Posted by TJ Friend in Word Studies.
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I have been pondering the idea of apostles for the last couple weeks. I have been thinking about how we view apostles today and if that lines up with how Scripture describes apostles. In thinking about and studying this topic I have come to realize that the idea of apostles and apostleship is very confusing. There are many differing ideas of what apostles are today and even the Bible itself does not come to one clear definition of apostles. I want to do my best to describe what I think is the Biblical understanding of an apostle. Hopefully, this will bring some clarity on how we use the term today.

There are some people today who don’t believe there are any apostles left today. That all depends on how you define apostle. I believe there are at least 3 different Biblical understandings of the term “apostolos” (apostle) in the NT. If you combine the qualifications and roles of all three you will end up with conflicting ideas on what an apostle is. My goal in writing this is to break down these three categories and show why there are distinctions between them.

1. Apostle as Messenger

In the Greek the word for Apostle is the word “apostolos”. This word comes from the verb “apostello” which means “to send”. At its most general definition an apostle is one who is sent. This usage is found in John 13 (see also 2 Cor 8:23 and Phil 2:25).

16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him (John 13:16).

This was the common, secular usage of the word at the time. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that it was during the time of the Bible that the more specific usage of the word was coined. Up until that point people used the word apostle for someone who was sent with a message (like a delegate). It had the idea of commissioning someone with a message.

In a way, every Christian fits this category. We are all sent out with a message to proclaim (Matt 28:19-20). So, if we take this as our only definition of apostle then clearly there are still apostles today, since we all fit that category. However, this is not the only way to define apostles.

2. Apostles as the Twelve

The twelve disciples are also called apostles: 13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles (Luke 6:13). This is the most common use of the term apostle in the Bible. After the loss of Judas, the eleven remaining disciples wanted to find someone to replace him. They set forth some requirements of what it would take to be one of the Twelve.

21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

In looking at this passage there seems to be a specific role for these 12 “apostles”. They were to be “witnesses of his resurrection”. This understanding of an apostle is limited to those who had been with Jesus since the beginning and could be a witness of his resurrection. Paul fits into this category because of his encounter with Jesus (Acts 9). He was the last person to see Jesus after the resurrection as shown in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8,  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

These apostles are also sent with a message. For Paul, he received a special message that the Gospel, which was primarily for the Jews, was now open to the Gentiles. These apostles were sent out specifically by Jesus to proclaim the message of salvation. In order to validate their message God worked many miracles through them. 12 I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles (1 Cor 12:12). 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles (Acts 2:43).

Some people will take these verses as universal qualifications for apostles. But, this is just the qualifications for this particular type of apostle. If these are the requirements for all types of apostles then there is no way we could have any apostles today, since no one today has seen Jesus or been with him since the beginning of his ministry.

Unfortunately, people will take it one step further saying that since there are no more apostles, then there is no more need to validate their unique role as witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection and therefore signs and wonders have also died with these apostles. I think this only applies if you take this view of apostles as the only view and if you believe the only purpose for signs and wonders was to validate their message. As we have seen their are at least two descriptions of apostles in the NT (and we are about to see the third). Also, the Bible talks about many different reasons for signs and wonders besides validating apostles (one of the most common being Jesus’ compassion on people).

3. Apostles as Gifts

This third understanding of apostles is harder to define. There are only a few passages that talk about the gift of apostleship. One of them is Ephesians 4:11-12:

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

The reason why I label these categories as “gifts” is that it specifically says that they are given to the Church. In this understanding of apostles they are given to equip the people of God for service and build it up so that the Church may be united in faith/knowledge and be mature. As of yet, we as the Church have not attained to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. It is for that reason that we still need apostles (and prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) to help us grow and develop in our faith.

Ephesians 2:20 says that the Church was built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets. So, as some would claim, since the foundation has been laid, there is no longer need for apostles or prophets. To some degree this is true. We don’t need to re-lay the foundation that has already been laid. But, if apostles and prophets were necessary for the foundation how much more are they necessary for the building itself.

Another passage that shows this idea of apostleship is in 1 Corinthians:

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. (1 Cor 12:27-31)

This passage first of all separates the gifts of healing from the gift of apostleship. Because they are separate this shows that healings and miracles were not limited to the apostles. This passage is talking about the different gifts that people have. Here Paul lays out a hierarchy of the gifts. He says that first are apostles and then at the end he says to eagerly desire the greater gifts. It seems clear that Paul wants us to desire the gift of an apostle, even more than the other gifts.

Trying to discern what this gift actually is, is a challenge. It must be in someway related to the idea of sending, because it is from the root apostello – to send. Also, it is separated from the gifts of evangelism, pastoring, teaching, and prophecy as we just saw in Ephesians 4:11. From what I can tell, this gift is most similar to that of a missionary. I would say it is someone with a specific message (the Gospel) being sent to a specific group of people. This could also involve church planting.

The Title of Apostle

I want to add one more thought on the idea of apostles. There are some people today who claim the title of an apostle. Although there are some people in the Bible who claimed that title, I believe they were only those in the second category – those who had specifically seen Jesus and were witnesses to his message. For people today to claim status based on a gifting seems prideful. A gift is something that is freely given. It should be used with humility to serve others, not to put yourself on a pedestal.

Preparation and Ministry December 26, 2014

Posted by TJ Friend in Encouragements.
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I want to talk today about the importance of preparation. Too often our desire is to rush into the ministry God has for us thinking that that is what is important. What we fail to realize though is that if we are not fully ready we are susceptible to all types of attacks from the enemy. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly”. Those in leadership, teachers, or others in authority over others, will be judged by a higher standard, because they are not only responsible for themselves but all those under them. God’s desire is not that people would fail their area of ministry. Unfortunately, there are many leaders who have lost their position of leadership due to things like hidden sin or burn out. God allows us to go through seasons of preparation so that we will be able to sustain the calling he has for us, so that we don’t fall into these traps. I want to look at two biblical examples of people that God took through seasons of preparation.

Joseph (Gen 37-50)

Joseph’s story is fairly well known, so I don’t want to recap the whole thing. I just want to hit a few highlights. God gave Joseph two dreams when he was younger (Gen 37:5-10) both showing that his family would bow down to him. God was showing Joseph a glimpse of the future he had for him as a ruler in Egypt. It is interesting to see what type of preparation God thinks is important for those who would lead a nation. In Joseph’s case, he was sold into slavery (Gen 37:28) and eventually thrown in jail (Gen 39), before he was made second in command of all Egypt. What strikes me though is Joseph’s faithfulness and integrity in the midst of all he went through. As a slave, he did his duties so well that the master (Potiphar) put him in charge of the whole house. Joseph even resisted the temptation to sleep with Potiphar’s wife, which is what eventually got him thrown in jail.

When he was in jail he remained faithful. The Lord gave him favor and Joseph was placed in charge of other prisoners. Joseph didn’t give up, and he didn’t shrink back from what God had for him in that season. He wasn’t focused on the future so that he saw his current situation as a “stepping stone” to future ministry. He was present and did his duties with excellence. The text never records him complaining on doubting God. He was simply faithfully doing whatever was put in front of him.

I believe God allowed Joseph to go through this time so that when he would eventually be elevated to a place of prominence he would have the character and wisdom to rule justly.

Moses

The main story of Moses is found in Exodus, but there is a recap in Acts 7. According to Acts 7:23-30, Moses was forty years old when he fled to Midian and spent forty years there before he saw the burning bush.

23 “As he was approaching the age of 40, he decided to visit his brothers, the Israelites. 24 When he saw one of them being mistreated, he came to his rescue and avenged the oppressed man by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He assumed his brothers would understand that God would give them deliverance through him, but they did not understand. 26 The next day he showed up while they were fighting and tried to reconcile them peacefully, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why are you mistreating each other?’

27 “But the one who was mistreating his neighbor pushed him away, saying:

Who appointed you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me, the same way you killed the Egyptian yesterday?

29 “At this disclosure, Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he fathered two sons. 30 After 40 years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush.

According to this passage Moses had a desire to free his people (v. 25). Apparently God had already spoken something to him about him delivering the Israelites. In trying to do things his own way though, he ended up killing someone, alienating his own people and going on the run for his life.

Moses spent forty years in the desert of Midian. While there he got married and had a family. As a shepherd, he spent most of his time wandering around the countryside looking for food for the sheep. Not much is said about this part of his life. Whatever happened though, brought him to the place where he was willing to follow God’s plan for setting the Israelites free. I think it was this 40 year desert season that formed his character. I think it was because of this that Moses was called the most humble man on the face of the earth (Num 12:3).

When I look at Moses and Joseph, I see two great leaders who God took through long seasons of insignificance before they were placed in positions of prominence. Even Jesus himself didn’t start his ministry until he was 30 (Luke 3:23). Seasons of preparation are usually necessary for us to go through to form our character. James 1 talks about rejoicing in trials because they ultimately form our character.

2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

This is where we have missed it in our view of leadership in the Church. People are too anxious to get into positions of leadership before they are ready. Gifting and calling do not trump character. In 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1 Paul gives instruction for selecting the leaders of the churches. What he talks about are character traits. He doesn’t talk about schooling or spiritual gifts or charisma or business savy. What he talks about are people who live holy, righteous lives and are faithful to the truth of the Gospel.

Developing patience

I believe in God. I believe his promises are true and I believe that his timing is perfect. Sometimes (oftentimes) God speaks a promise over someone’s life that is for the distant future. We get ourselves in trouble when we try to make the promise come true by our own efforts. God spoke a huge promise to Abraham (then Abram) that he would be the father of many nations and would inherit a land that he had never been to. But, instead of waiting and allowing God to fulfill the promise his way, Abraham took matters into his own hands. Basically, because his wife was barren, Abraham (taking his wife’s advice) got one of the servant girls pregnant so that his line would continue through their offspring. The consequences of that decision are still being felt to this day. Instead of waiting, Abraham tried to force something that should never have been.

The time between receiving a promise and the fulfillment of that promise is a crucial time. It is in this time where we grow in patience. It allows our faith to grow. Faith is believing something even when we can’t see any evidence that it will happen (Heb 11:1).

Don’t despise small beginnings

Why am I saying all this? I know a lot of people who are anxious to get into ministry. They want to serve God and be used to change people’s lives. This is definitely admirable and for a lot of people this desire is from God. The problem comes when we are dissatisfied with where we are because it is not where we think we should be. We have bought into the lie that some ministries are more important than others, either because they are bigger or more influential. What we fail to realize is that as Christians we are ministers wherever we go and whatever we do. Whatever stage of the journey you are on, God has you there for a reason. If you are a youth leader, for instance, and you feel like God has called you to be a pastor, don’t slack on your duties or blame God that He has not fulfilled His promises. God will allow you to go through seasons of training and development to get you ready for future positions. It all comes back to the principle that whoever is faithful with little will be given much. Take whatever is before you and work at it with all your heart. Look at your role as if it was the most important role you could have been given, because it is. Leading 5 youth is no more important than leading a congregation of 5,000. Success is not based on numbers, but how you impact the people God has put in front of you.

I realize for a lot of us there are things God has called us to that seem impossible based on our current situation. God’s not looking for people who are exceptionally gifted, or talented. He is looking for people who are faithful to where they are at. Even if you are not in any professional ministry at all, do the best wherever you are. Be the best employee at your job. Be the best parent or spouse you can be. Your present situation is your ministry. Even if it’s small or seemingly insignificant it is of utmost importance. Not only do you have the opportunity to deeply impact those around you, but you also are in a place to grow your character. Instead of worrying about the future, focus your energy on the present. How can you best serve those around you right now?

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.

 

 

OICA: Application August 12, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Application, General Principles, OICA.
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Hello. It has been awhile, but here we go. This is the last step in the OICA process. Application is extremely important, for what good is it for you to learn things if you never do anything about them. Now, saying this is the final step does not mean that you should wait till the end to apply things to your life. At any point during this process, even if you are simply reading a verse, if you feel like God is speaking to you, then you should try to apply whatever it is to your life. The reason this is the last step is because it is at the end of the process when you should reflect on what you have learned, not at the beginning or middle.

Application is broken into 2 categories: What you should do and what you should believe. Both of these are important. We need to do what God desires, because that will lead to better living and will glorify Him. But, we also need to have right beliefs. There are far too many lies in the world and we need to be saturated with the truth so that we are not deceived. Also, what we believe and think about shapes our values and morals and makes us who we are.

How to Live

The Bible is full of the wisdom of God. Our lives would be radically transformed if we simply did what the Bible said for us to do. We can see what God wants us to do in a few different ways. First, there are commands that are direct and specific for us. It is clear that we should love each other and not kill or steal, because these are explicitly stated in scripture. Some things though are not stated this explicitly. Sometimes we need to follow the example of one of the characters in Scripture. For instance, at the end of 2 Samuel 24, David wants to buy a field from Araunah, so that he may build an altar to sacrifice to the Lord. Araunah wants to give the land to the king, and in reality the king could have simply demanded it and he would have had to give it over. But David says, I will not sacrifice something to the Lord which does not cost me anything. This is not a command, but more of a principle which we can apply in different ways. God doesn’t want us to honor Him solely out of our excess, He wants us to obey even if it stretches us. As you are studying a passage, look for these principles to see if you can actually do something with what you are doing. In the example I just gave, God may want you to set aside some money from your budget and just bless others with it.

When we see people doing things in the Bible it does not automatically mean that we should do the same things. In fact a lot of things that the Biblical characters do are not for us today. The exception to this is Jesus. Jesus is the standard of how we should live and behave. We should not seek to live the same life as Jesus (collecting 12 disciples, doing miracles, and eventually dying on a cross). That was his mission, not ours. What we should focus on is his lifestyle. Jesus spent his life pouring into others, he spent a lot of time in prayer, he lived with integrity and did not compromise in the face of persecution and he gave glory to God. We can learn a lot simply by looking at the life of Jesus and seeing how we can live like him.

What to Believe

After you read/study a passage there are a few questions you can ask to get you thinking about what to believe. Obviously, not every question will apply to every passage, but every passage will have an answer to one of these questions if you think about it long enough. 1 Timothy 4:12 says that all scripture is useful for equipping and training in righteousness. Don’t give up on a passage if it seems difficult, just bring it to God and ask Him to reveal what you can learn from it?

1. How does this reveal Jesus?

2. What can I learn about God?

3. What does this tell me about humanity?

4. What can I learn about the interaction between God and man?

Write down whatever you learn and meditate on it until it sinks in.

Reflection

1 Cor 2:16 says that we have the mind of Christ. What does this mean for us? How would our lives be different if we actually believed this?

Correlation July 7, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Correlation, OICA.
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Hi everybody. We have finished with Observation and Interpretation and are now moving on to Correlation. Correlation is an important step when you are studying a specific passage of the Bible. This step is where you look at other passages to help get a bigger picture of what is happening in your passage. There are basically two types of passages to consider in this step: parallel passages and quoted passages.

Parallel Passages

There are 66 books in the Bible and over 30 different authors all writing about the same thing. Because of this there is bound to be some overlap in content. Sometimes there are entire sections that are repeated in different places, and other times there are stories or characters that are talked about in other books. One of the best examples of this is in the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all wrote about events in the life of Jesus. There is a lot of overlap between these books especially between the first three. When you are reading about an event in Jesus’ life or even one of His sermons or parables it is helpful to look at the same section in the other books. Reading how the other authors dealt with the same story can illuminate the distinct emphasis of the writer of the book you are studying.

Paul wrote a lot of letters to different churches and in the same way, he had similar things to say to some of them. The benefit of the Epistles is that for the most part they have a set structure. You can easily compare the introductory comments between the different letters as well as the prayer that is usually at the beginning of the letters. Paul has certain things to say about different aspects of theology such as salvation, or end times or spiritual gifts, depending on which church he is writing to and what problems they are going through. Comparing these aspects can help you understand what is going on in each church and ultimately understand the letters better.

Quoted Passages

Quoted passages are passages that are quoted either directly or indirectly by other passages. For the most part this is OT verses quoted in the NT, but this can be expanded out to characters being mentioned or stories being referenced. This is the main reason why the OT is so important, because a lot of the NT writings either directly quote the OT or make reference to it in some way or another.

Our Old Testament was the Bible that the New Testament authors had. To help explain what they were writing about they would often quote verses out of the OT. This gave more weight to what they had to say. When a verse from the OT shows up in the NT it is for a reason. It is important to go back and read the original context so that you can see what they were referencing. By understanding what the verse meant in its original context you will gain more insight into your current context.

The NT authors were familiar with the OT and as such, would integrate it into their writings. They often mention OT characters, places and events and assume that the reader is familiar with them. This is why we need to be familiar with the OT. But, even if you are not totally familiar with the OT, you can at least read up on whatever story or passage is referenced in the passage you are studying. For instance, if your passage mentions the creation narrative, then you would want to reread the first few chapters of Genesis. For bigger themes, it might be helpful to have a Bible dictionary, if you don’t have the time to read the entire book of Exodus for instance.

Whatever passage you are studying you should always look for allusions to the OT. The obvious ones are the direct quotations, but there are other things to look for as well. Sometimes verses will be restated in the authors own words or only part of the verse will be quoted. Be on the look out for anything that seems like it might be from the OT. Some of the main themes to look for are Creation, the fall of man, Noah, Abraham’s covenant, deliverance from Egypt, the Law, David’s kingship, and the exile. I would recommend at the very least reading up on these main themes if you are unfamiliar with them.

Whatever you discover from the OT contexts, should not override the context of the passage you are studying. It is only there to add to your understanding of the passage. Do your best to interpret these passages in light of their OT context and then see how the NT author is using them. Usually, the NT author is expounding on the OT idea in some way or another.

Reflection

The New Testament is extremely important, but unfortunately, some people only use the New Testament and completely overlook the Old Testament. There are even some preachers who only preach from the NT. What are your thoughts on the Old Testament? What can we learn from it?

Summary of Biblical Genres June 23, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in General Principles, Genre, Interpretaion, OICA.
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Hi. Today I want to review the major genres found in the Bible. I have already devoted a post to each of these genres, but I thought it would be good to have a short summary of each of them that you can refer to help you in the interpretation step of OICA. By placing the genres together, with a short description of each, you can see which genre you are dealing with and some of the things to look for as you try to interpret it. For a more detailed look you can review the longer posts I have done on the genres.

Narrative

This is the most basic genre. It is where the author is describing events. This is the genre of books like Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Ruth, Esther, Acts and other places where there is a story being told.

1. Take it Literally

2. Treat it as a story. Find out what is going on, who the main characters on and why things are happening the way they are.

Discourse

This genre is where people are speaking. It can be a sermon, a prayer, or any other long speech. The book of Job has a lot of this, but there are also examples in the Gospels, such as the Sermon on the Mount, and in the book of Acts.

1. For the most part take this literally. The exception to this is if it is in another genre like a parable, a poem, or a prophecy.

2. Determine the main point of whatever the person is saying.

3. Take things literally, but don’t believe everything that people say. In the book of Job, there are a lot of things said that are simply not true. If you know who is speaking you can determine if what they are saying is true or not.

Poetry

Poetry is the genre of Psalms. It is full of symbolic language and is full of emotion.

1. Look for repetition. In ancient times, repetition was used for emphasis, so pay attention to the things that are said more than once.

2. Look for parallelism. Sometimes (especially in Proverbs) an idea will be stated and then restated either as its opposite or from a different perspective. The two ideas are basically saying the same thing

3. Don’t take the figurative parts literally! Look for the comparisons being made by the figures of speech.

Prophecy

The genre of prophecy is found wherever there are prophecies. These books are easy to recognize: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Amos, etc. There are also prophecies in the Gospels, the Epistles and Revelation.

1. When you come across a prophecy see who it was given to originally (Israel, Judah, everyone). Interpret it first in light of the original hearers of the prophecy.

2. Look to see if the prophecy has already been fulfilled.

3. Please do not read too much into prophecy. Prophecy is not meant to be a map that lays out exactly what will happen in the end times. It is there to draw us to repentance and help us to be ready for when Christ returns.

4. Because of the symbolic nature of prophecy, there are many ways people have interpreted it. We need to be alert and keep watch for the signs of Christ’s return. But, ultimately, we do not know what it will be like. There are far too many debates and arguments over one persons interpretation of the end times vs. someone else. Eschatology (the study of the end times) should not supersede soteriology (the study of salvation). Our focus is and should continue to be the lost, not the last days, souls not signs.

Epistle

The epistles fall under the bigger category of discourse. These are the letters that were written either to single individuals or groups. The majority are found in the New Testament, although there are some in the Old Testament as well (there are some in Nehemiah). They are addressed to a specific group for a specific purpose.

1. Find out who the author and the audience are.

2. Read the epistle in light of what the author was trying to say to the audience.

3. Try and figure out why the letter was written in the first place. What was it written in response to? You can actually answer a lot of these questions, simply by reading the epistle and looking for clues as to who it is written to and why it was written. Observation is the key.

Gospel

There are four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They are written as witnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

1. Look for what each author emphasizes in his gospel. What are the important events or discourses that are recorded? Why are these recorded?

2. Try and read them with a fresh perspective. We have been so inundated with the story, that we can easily forget what it must have been like for the original hearers would have felt as they heard these Gospels. As you read them, forget the ending and put yourself in the shoes of someone reading it for the very first time. What would stand out?

3. Compare other Gospels. Because there are four Gospels, there are many things that are repeated in different Gospels. As you compare and contrast what is said in the different Gospels, you can get a sense of what each individual author was trying to emphasize.

4. Unless you are reading a parable or allegory, or someone is using a figure of speech take these books literally. Jesus actually did come down, become a man, die on a cross and rise again in 3 days.

Apocalypse

Apocalypse is the genre of revelation. It is something big revealed to someone. This is similar to prophecy although in an apocalypse the events being described are of a large scale. This genre can be found in the book of Revelation and also parts of Daniel.

1. The goal of this genre is to get a big picture understanding of what is going on. Because of all the figurative and symbolic language there are certain things that we simply will not be able to know until they happen. We don’t need to understand every single detail, but merely let the pieces come together to show us a picture of what is to come.

2. This genre should not be taken literally.

3. As you read through, try and see how you would live your life differently if you had an eternal, God-prevails focus.

Wisdom Literature

Wisdom literature is basically Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, although there are other small sections throughout the Bible. This is the genre of wise sayings and the wisdom of man.

1. Proverbs – These are not promises. They are general truths that will help you live out your life in a godly manner.

2. Job/Ecclesiastes – There is wisdom in these books, but it is found at the end. Job’s friends spout out their false theology which God rebukes at the end. The writer of Ecclesiastes gives a cynical view of life, but then comes back at the end and points to God as the only one who gives meaning to life.

Parable/Allegory

Parables are short stories that have a moral to be learned. Allegories also are short discourses, but are different from parables in that they have more than one point of comparison. These are mostly found in the Gospels.

1. Look at the situation or question to which the parable/allegory is a response to. How does this answer the situation/question?

2. For a parable find the one key point being made and don’t try to see more than is there. For an allegory look for the main point and see how each of the points of comparison adds to this main idea.

Ethical Instruction

In this genre I would put proverbs, laws, and promises.  These are found throughout the Bible, but there are a lot in Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and of course Proverbs.

1. Proverbs are not promises and should not be taken as such.

2. Promises are not universal. See who they are for and if they apply to you.

3. A lot of the Old Testament laws were only for the people back then. As a general rule, we need to follow the Old Testament laws that are also found in the New Testament.

Reflection

What is your favorite genre and why?

Interpretation: Summary June 9, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Interpretaion, OICA.
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Hello, all. For the past few weeks we have been going through the Interpretation step of OICA (Observe, Interpret, Correlate, Apply). Today, I want to finish up Interpretation, by giving you an overview/summary which you can refer to whenever you are studying a text. For the summary of Observation you can see my previous post here.

Interpretation is a more in depth look at the text. It is in this phase that you use whatever reference tools you have and study different aspects of the text. If you have done a thorough job on Observation and put in the time in Interpretation, you should have a good grasp of what the text is saying. Even if you don’t have all the resources to do each of these steps, you can still do a few of them and doing so will get you to the heart of the text. There are 6 steps to Inerpretation.

1. Genre Analysis

We have already spent a lot of time going over the different genres. Figure out which genre/s your passage fits in and use that information to make sure you are interpreting the passage correctly.

2. Word Studies

Find two or three important words and do a short word study on each of them. After each word study answer the question: How does this help me understand my passage better.

3. Historical/Cultural Studies

For this step find two or three cultural issues to study and find out more about them. It is also in this step that you want to research any geographic issues in your text. Again, after each study ask yourself how it relates to your passage.

4. Discourse Analysis

For discourse analysis try and understand the relationships between each of the propositions. If this is not possible, at least break your passage into two or three main ideas and figure out the relationships between these bigger chunks.

5. Contextualization

For this step read the bigger context of your passage in an effort to figure out what is going on both before and after your text. Without spending too much time read and ry to summarize the sections before and after your text. You don’t need to understand them completely, but just enough to see how your passage fits in to the overall picture.

6. Summary

After you have done these steps you should have a good idea of what your passage is saying. Using what you learned in analyzing the discourse write a paragraph summarizing the main ideas and transitions in the passage. This should help bring everything together so that you can write a ONE sentence summary of the passage. Try and make this sentence as short and simple as possible, without leaving any of the big ideas of the text. If you are having trouble with this go back and look over the discourse some more.

Reflection

Think of a passage that became more alive after you learned something more about it. What did you learn that helped you understand the passage better?

Interpretation: Discourse Analysis – part 2 June 4, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Interpretaion, OICA.
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Hello. Today we are continuing our discussion of Discourse Analysis. Last week was all about finding the propositions. This time I want to talk about “determining the relationships”. Every proposition is related to another one is some way or another. Sometimes the relationship is stated, but a lot of times it is not stated. Before we can get into the details of comparing propositions we need to distinguish between “subordinate” and “coordinate” relationships.

Subordinate vs. Coordinate Relationships

Every proposition is related to another one in some way or another. The most basic way they are related is if they are coordinate or subordinate. Coordinating propositions are on the same level grammatically, while a subordinating conjunction is dependent on another proposition for its meaning. Coordinating propositions are related with the words “and” or “or”. Pretty much any other conjunction (but, so, therefore, when, if, etc.) will be for subordinating propositions. If there is no conjunction you will have to look at the logic to decide if its coordinate or subordinate. If I say: I went to the store and went for a bike ride. These are two coordinating conjunctions. Not only is there an “and” in between them, but they are two separate ideas that are not dependent on each other. But, if the sentence is: I went to the store by riding my bike. This is a subordinate relationship. “by riding my bike” does not make sense alone, it needs to have the first part of the sentence there in order for it to make sense.

Clauses can be connected grammatically or logically. Sometimes, you will have a word that shows how the clauses are related. As I mentioned earlier the words “and” or “or” are grammatical clues that help you see that the clauses are related coordinately.  Subordinate clauses are marked with words like: “but”, “until”, “while”, “by”, “so that”, “in order to”, “because”, “as a result”, etc. These words are not absolutes, but just clues to help you see that you are most likely dealing with a subordinate clause. These are the grammatical clues. But, just because there are no connecting words, does not mean that the clauses are not related. Sometimes they are related logically, with no grammatical clues at all.

Take for example these two sentences:

Michael Jordan is really good at basketball. He would easily beat me in a one-on-one game.

These two sentences are related, but there is no conjunction between them. They could simply be coordinate clauses with no dependent relationship, but the second clause could also be subordinate. If you think about it, you could actually make one big sentence out of these two little ones, and put the word “therefore” in between them. Or you could start the first sentence with the word “because”. Either way the relationship would be more clear with a connecting word. But as they stand you can still see the logical relationship between them. “Because” MJ is so good at basketball, he would win in a game of one-on-one.

It is important to look for these logical relationships, because often there will be no words to help determine the relationship.

Coordinating Relationships

Once you decide if you are dealing with subordinate or coordinate clauses then you can see what type of relationship you are dealing with. Subordinate relationships are far more common and a little more difficult so we will start with the easier coordinating relationships. There are three types of coordinating relationships: Series (S), Progression (P) and Alternative (A). Each category has a letter or symbol which is used to abbreviate it. When you are actually doing Discourse Analysis you can just use the abbreviations.

Series (S) – 2 ideas that are related in a general way. I ate a sandwich and drank a glass of milk.

Progression (P) – 2 ideas that are related and are either building toward something or diminishing into something. The boy ran away from home. He stole a gun and held up a bank.

Alternative (A) – 2 ideas showing different possibilities. I could take a nap or I could clean my room.

Subordinate Relationships

Subordinating relationships are adverbial in nature. They tell when, where, why or how something is done. Therefore it is important to distinguish which clause/idea is the main idea and which one is helping to describe it. This is important because sometimes the main idea comes after the clause that is describing it. As you are going through the process of DA try and make a note of what these main ideas are. They will give you insight into what the passage as a whole is about.

Action-Manner (Ac/Mn) – A statement and the statement about how it was accomplished. I got ready for bed, by putting on my p.j.’s and brushing my teeth.

Comparison (Cf) – A statement that describes the main statement with a comparison. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.

Negative-Positive (-/+) – A statements where one is positive and one is negative. You are dead to sin, but alive in Christ.

Idea-Explanation (Id/Ex) – One idea is given and another idea explains it in more detail. It was a great day, the day I was born.

Question-Answer (Q/A) – A question and an answer. What book are you reading? I am reading the Bible.

Ground (G) – A statement that tells why something is. Mary and Joseph to Jesus to Egypt because Herod was trying to kill him.

Inference (the abbreviation for inference is a triangle of dots, just like the shorthand way of writing the word “therefore”) – A conclusion drawn from a statement. My t.v. is broken therefore I will not be watching it.

Action-Result (Ac/Res) – One action happens and another one results from that action (the second action is not planned). She laughed so hard that she snorted.

Action-Purpose (Ac/Pur) – One action that is designed so that another action will happen. I went to the store to buy some shoes.

Conditional (If/Th) – 2 statements where one is the “if” and one is the “then”. Sometimes the words “if” and “then” are not there, but the relationship is still there. If God is for us, who can be against us?

Temporal (T) – A statement that tells when something else is taking place. They went for a run while it was still light out.

Locative (L) – A statement that tells where something else is happening. I want to be where the people are.

Bilateral (Bi) – This is a statement that serves 2 purposes. It supports what comes before it, and what comes after it. Because I am thirsty, I need some water, so that I do not dehydrate.

Concessive (Csv) –  This is something that happens in spite of something else. Even though it was cold, I went for a walk in the park.

Situation – Response (Sit/Res) – A statement in response to an idea. The people shouted “Surprise” and he fainted.

All of these are just guides to help you figure out what the passage is about. There are different options for how two propositions relate to each other. For each set, go through the options and see what makes the most sense with the context. Once you see how the smaller units fit together, put them together into bigger units and compare those bigger units as if they were single propositions. The goal is to get a big picture idea of what the passage is about and to understand how all the smaller units relate together to make up that bigger idea.

There is a lot more to say on this topic, but there are far better resources out there. If you are really interested in Discourse Analysis I would recommend the book “Interpreting the Pauline Epistles” by Thomas Schreiner, which I used in the formation of this present blog post. More importantly though is the website: www.biblearc.com. This site has videos and other tools which are amazing. Not only can you learn all about arcing there, but you can actually do it there as well. I would highly recommend at least checking out the site.

Reflection

No reflection. Just go check out the site I just mentioned.