This is What the Verse Means to Me!

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says: “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.” (NLT) I was reminded of that verse as I was reading an article for a paper I am required to write for one of my D. Min., (Doctor of Ministry) classes. The article was about preaching, postmodernism and the New Homiletic. Without going into too much depth, postmodernism is a movement or a way of thinking that denies the objectivity of knowledge and truth. According to postmodernism, there is no objective truth, but rather truth is socially and culturally constructed. When you hear people saying such things as “my truth,” that is an indication that they have been influenced by postmodernism.

The author of the article, in describing the various elements of the New Homiletic (Homiletics is the art and craft of constructing sermons and preaching. Simply put; the New Homiletic advocates the construction and preaching of the sermon should start with the listener, whereas in traditional homiletics, the process begins with the biblical text) said, according to the New Homiletic, the purpose of the sermon is not to communicate information, but rather to evoke a communication event from the audience in which the audience, with the help of the preacher, creates or discovers the meaning of the text. In the New Homiletic, the most important thing is not what the text actually means or says, but rather the meaning the listener or reader gathers from the text or the preaching event. The article goes on, in much detail, to talk about this ‘new’ way of thinking, preaching, and listening to sermons. As I read the article, I said to myself: “This is nothing new; this is the same thing I did in Sunday School as a boy!”

When I was a youngster, my Sunday School teachers were not, by no stretch of the imagination, biblical scholars. Now, this is not to be disparaging, or disrespectful toward them because they, and the church, did the best they could with what they had! (The only qualification required to teach Sunday School back then was just the willingness to do it; not too much has changed in most churches I am familiar with today!) But, I thank God that they did know enough to light a fire within me to want to know more about the Word of God and the God of the word! Now, I mention them because, as we went over the lesson, each student had to read a verse. Then, after reading the verse, each student would stand up and explain what the particular verse they read meant to them. I didn’t know it then, but the most important thing in biblical study is NOT what the verse means to me, but rather, what the verse actually means! No! I didn’t know it then, (and my Sunday Schools teachers apparently didn’t know it either!) but you really can’t know what the verse means until you know what the verse meant! In other words, the primary thing is not so much what the verse is saying to me, but rather what was the original author’s intended meaning for his original audience. You can’t get the application right (what the verse means and how it applies to your life) until you first get the original meaning right! My New Testament Greek professor; Dr. G. Roger Greene, at Mississippi College (MC) always asked and challenged his students, when I was in his class: “How can you know what it means if you don’t know what it meant? As preachers and teachers of the Gospel: You can’t tell them what it means, if you don’t know what it meant!”

So, I guess what I’m saying is that postmodernism and the New Homiletic are not really “new” at all! The same thing was happening in my Sunday School class over fifty (50) years ago! But, we could go back, even farther than that! Judges 17:6 and Judges 21:25 are two verses that are identical in most English Bibles, the verses say: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (KJV) The New English Translation renders it: “In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered to be right.” (Jdg. 21:25 NET) Isn’t that where we are today, with people talking about ‘their truth’ and ‘my truth?’ Isn’t that the same thing postmodernism and practitioners of the New Homiletic are doing and saying when they say there is no objective truth and that truth is subjective and relative? It’s amazing to me, because it seems like the more modern man seeks to discredit the Bible as the Word of God, the more he actually proves it to be true!

If you are a preacher, a prophet, a teacher, or deal with the word in any kind of way, I admonish you to be careful to be faithful to the text. Please remember, we are not being faithful to our calling when we assign meaning without finding and understanding the original meaning. We must remember, the scriptures were not written specifically to us or for our modern frame of mind. They were written to ancient people, who processed things much differently from the way we do today. Therefore, to be honest in our exposition, we must first understand their position! Even in modern communication, the real meaning is not the meaning you, as a reader might assign, but rather the real meaning is the meaning the writer or author intends! For instance, if you assign a meaning to this blog post that I did not intend, there has been no communication; but rather there has been a miscommunication! Even in our daily conversations, we should make sure we are actually communicating instead of just merely saying words to each other. One of the main problems with communication today is with people are using the ‘same’ words, but those same words often having ‘different’ definitions! For example, when I tell you, “I’m cool.” Before the conversation is over, we both need to understand whether or not I’m talking about my discomfort with the temperature, or am I talking about what a great guy I am, or am I saying, I have no problems with our relationship or with something you might have said earlier that might have caused me to be upset!

Now, if we have those communication issues with just simple everyday conversations, and we are in the same culture, time, and place, then how much more do you think there are communications issues involved in properly reading and understanding the Bible, when we are dealing with communication issues with people from a different time, culture, language, and way of thinking? Imagine this scenario, if you will: Suppose, I write you a note and I tell you about this funny joke I heard. And in the note, I make the statement: “That joke was so funny, I died laughing!” Now, fast-forward several thousands of years and my note is found by people of a different culture, language and time. A people who no longer or never, used the expression; ‘died laughing’ to express how funny something is. There will be a distinct possibility that those people might mourn my untimely death because they will think I literally died from laughing so hard! And God forbid that my note should somehow be misconstrued as factual scientific data! Then they would be some sad people indeed, afraid to laugh, lest they were to ‘die’ from laughing! Now, as unlikely as that might sound to you, some of the things that people are so uptight today about what the Bible says were not meant to be doctrines, dogma, or deep truths, but actually were originally just hyperboles and figures of speech! But, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the deep stuff and the fluff, if you don’t dig for what it meant and just take someone’s word for what it means!

We live in an amazing time! On one hand, with the advent of biblical computer software programs such as Logos Bible Software, BibleWorks, BibleSoft, WordSearch, Sword, and many others (some of which are free), access to the Bible in the original languages and the tools for research and correct interpretation are just clicks of the mouse away! Yet, biblical illiteracy, even in the church is increasingly alarming! I remember one night, I was teaching a New Testament Survey class at a church I once served. One student asked me why I kept referring to some of the epistles as ‘Pauline.’ He thought ‘Pauline’ was the wife of Paul! (No joke; he was serious and he was a deacon!) He was almost as bad as the joke I heard about the kids who thought the ‘epistles’ were the wives of the apostles! Or even worst, I actually heard a person reviewing a Sunday School lesson say that he thought the ‘Gentiles’ were called that name because they were gentle!

God help us all! At a time when the need for biblical authority in preaching and teaching is so great, the airwaves are flooded with preaching and teaching that has no real depth or substance! There is an overwhelming number of preachers and teachers, with many followers and listeners; boldly, loudly, and authoritatively proclaiming nothing more than: “This is what the verse means to me!”

Man: Created ‘As’ the Image of God?

There has been much ink spilled over the meaning of Genesis 1:26-28: “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.’ So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (KJV) So, this is not an attempt to rehash the ideas that have already been put forth as to what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God. Instead, I want to suggest a slight adjustment in our thinking.

When I was a boy, I grew up in a time when automobile and other small engines still had carburetors. (For those of you too young to know what a carburetor is, it basically served the same function as fuel injectors do today, but it was less efficient and more finicky!) My dad worked as a greens-keeper at a golf course and during his spare time, he would often work, doing minor repairs to automobile and lawn mower engines. I remember quite vividly that often my father would be working on an engine and after he thought it was repaired, he would attempt to crank it. Many times, after incessantly pulling the rope on a lawn-mower engine or turning the key in the ignition of an automobile, the engine would stubbornly refuse to start. It was at that point, my dad would do something, that would make the difference between successfully starting the engine or flooding (too much gas in the carburetor) the engine. He would take a screw-driver and slightly turn the screw of the value that controlled the flow of gas into the carburetor. After my dad did that, nine times out of ten, the engine would start! That is what I suggest we do in our thinking concerning man being created in the image and likeness of God; not a major shift in our thinking, just a slight turn of the carburetor screw!

Are you ready? Here it is: Instead to thinking of man as being created ‘in’ the image of God, what if the meaning the Genesis author really sought to convey was that man was created ‘as’ the image of God? The preposition ‘in’ allows for such an interpretation. If I said: “I work in a bank.” You would hear the word ‘in’ but you would understand I work ‘as’ a banker, a teller, a loan officer, or whatever capacity at a bank. Using that same line of logic, when you look at what follows in the Genesis text, it is obvious that God’s intent was for man to function as God’s representative on the earth! What I am suggesting is that, it could be; the image of God is not a capacity that man has, but rather it is the essence of what man is! Maybe the author’s intent was not so much to convey that God created man ‘in’ God’s image, but rather that God created man ‘as’ God’s image!

Now, this gets all the more interesting when we consider the Greek word the Septuagint (The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible: OT) uses in that verse to denote the idea of image. It is the word from which we get the English word; ‘icon.’ When I looked it up in the various Greek dictionaries and lexicons, a couple of definitions jumped up and grabbed my attention. This is what is found in the Friberg Analytical Greek Lexicon: “(1) as an artistic representation, such as on a coin or statue image, likeness; (2) as an embodiment or living manifestation of God form, appearance; (3) as a visible manifestation of an invisible and heavenly reality form, substance.”[1] Note, definitions 2 and 3! And then, look at what The Bible Knowledge Commentary says: “Human life was created in (lit., “as,” meaning “in essence as”) the image of God.”[2] All this time, we have been thinking ‘in,’ when the real truth just might be ‘as!’

As I was pondering the implications of this, I ran across some biblical texts that seem to imply that perhaps my reasoning is correct. The Apostle Paul made a statement in 1 Corinthians 11:7 that is very interesting! Now, he made the statement in the context of proper cultural protocol in regard to men and women covering their heads (or not) while they prayed or prophesied. Now granted, when Paul spoke of ‘man’ in this context, he was referring to the male gender of the species, but nevertheless, could not what he said be applicable to the species in general? He said: “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.” (KJV) Aside from the cultural specifics of covering the head, Paul plainly said: “He (man) is the image and glory of God.” Note also, that he said the woman was the glory of the man, but he didn’t say the woman was the image of the man! In Colossians 1:15, Paul says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. In Romans 8:29, he says that God predestined us to be conformed to the image of his (God’s) son. Now, don’t get lost; follow the dots: Man was created as the image of God! Because of sin, that image is marred and tarnished! Jesus, who is the perfect image of God, came to redeem humanity and to restore that image. Hence, God’s purpose is that we might be conformed to the image of Jesus, who is the image of God! When we conform to the image of Jesus, who is the image of God, we are conformed to the image of God, which is the image God made us as in the first place!

Now, what are the implications of this? How does this change the way we think, pray, or do God’s will? Well first, once we internalize this slight turn of the carburetor screw into our spirits and minds, we will truly understand and appreciate how God works in the earth realm. We will cease to believe in magic and begin to believe in God! We will realize that whatever God does in the earth, God does it through human agency because the very purpose of man is to be the physical, visible, embodiment of the spiritual, invisible God on earth! Hence, we will no longer foolishly blame God for the evil in the world because we will understand that the presence of evil in the world is not God’s fault or responsibility; it’s ours! There is evil in the world, not so much because God wills or allows it; but more so, because we allow it!

Secondly, we will no longer snort, cry, sling oil, or otherwise try to get God to bless us! As we refer back to the Genesis text, we should note that the text says: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them. . .” Do you see that? It didn’t say: “And God ‘was going to’ bless them.” No! It said: “And God ‘blessed’ them.” Every blessing we need to successfully be the image of God on earth, we already have! If we are experiencing a lack of the blessings necessary to function in the capacity God intended for our lives, it is because we don’t understand how to operate as the image of God! Jesus was the perfect image of God! Therefore, if we want to know how to do it, he’s the perfect example and model. He said to a crowd of people who were worried about how they were going to make it: “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. ‘Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:25-34 ESV)

Thirdly, if we understand that all of us (saints, sinners, Black, White, Americans, Republicans, etc.,) are created ‘as’ the image of God, then we will have a newfound respect for the sanctify of human life! Racism, classicism, and all the other ‘-isms’ exist because of our ignorance of who we really are! There billions of people on the planet, and each one of us was created to ‘image’ God on the earth. Therefore, when we mistreat and abuse one another, we are, in a sense, mistreating and abusing the image of God! And when we mistreat and abuse the image of God; we mistreat and abuse the God the image represents and embodies!

Finally, once we understand and internalize this concept, we will truly understand that life is not about us! All of us are placed here to do the will of God. The purpose of the blessings in our life are not primarily for our comfort, but rather to aid and assist us in doing what God called (created) us to do! In other words, primarily, the blessings are not for our enjoyment; they are for our employment! We are blessed to be a blessing!

There is an old saying that says the eyes are the windows of the soul. Perhaps that is true, but even more than that, as we look into the eyes of another person, we must also realize we are looking into the eyes of an image of God!

 

[1] Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 1

[2] Allen P. Ross, “Genesis,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 29.