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!”

Love is NOT God!

God is Love2In the aftermath of the recent SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage, one of the slogans becoming popular is the phrase: “Love wins!” The argument behind the slogan is that, since God is love, then God approves and affirms the Supreme Court decision because God who is love, would not disapprove of two people of the same sex marrying one another because they love one another. After all, the God who is love surely approves of any and all loving relationships!

Well, let’s look at that argument for a minute! First of all, it seems to me that the proponents of this argument have made fundamental flaws in theology, biblical exegesis, and logic. It is true: God is love! 1 John 4:8 says: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (ESV) Verse 16 of the same book and chapter says: “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (ESV) The text does say: “God is love!” But the text does not say that love is God! God is love; but love is NOT God! I think the proponents of the LTBG lifestyle have made a fundamental error in equating their definition of “love” with “God!” If love is God in the sense of that love coming from God and being the controlling force and motivation for all decisions and actions, that would be fine. But the “love” the LGBT community advocates is not the same love found in the biblical text!

There are four main words used for “love” in the biblical text. In the Old Testament, which was originally written mainly in Hebrew, the main words for “love” are the Hebrew words: “ahab” (pronounced; ‘aw-hab or ‘aw-habe) and “checed” (pronounced: kheh’-sed) ‘Ahab refers to human love for another, including family and sexual. In some cases it is used to refer to man’s love for God and God’s love for man. The Hebrew word; “checed” (pronounced: kheh’-sed) in the King James Version, is translated as: “lovingkindness.” This word refers primarily to the goodness, kindness, and mercy of God. In the New Testament, which was originally written primarily in Greek, the two main words are “phileo” and “agape.” Phileo, refers primarily to brotherly love. It is from that word that the City of Brotherly Love: Philadelphia gets its name. Agape refers to godly love. This is the love that used in the text that says “God is love.” Agape is unconditional love, love that loves in spite of, not because of! Agape is the love that God has for humanity and the love that humanity should have for God and all fellow human beings! However, there is no place in the New Testament where “agape” used to denote sexual love or the love that is subject of the discussion at hand! So, the argument that God must approve “gay-love” or “lesbian-love” because God is love is not theologically, exegetically or logically valid!

God is love, but the God, who is love does not approve of all loving relationships; not even all loving heterosexual relationships! God does not approve of any loving heterosexual relationships outside the bounds of marriage! Those relationships constitute adultery, which is sin! So if everyone was to subscribe the logic of the “love wins” argument, then everyone could do whatever they wanted with whoever they wanted to do it with, with no guilt in the name of love!

But there is no such thing as “absolute freedom!” There are rules and boundaries put in place by the Creator, that all are subject to! When we ascribe to the notion that love is God, we then find ourselves standing on uncertain ground! What is the love that is being talked about? Is it the emotional feeling experienced toward another person? Is it the sexual tension experienced between two people? If that is the love that justifies the Supreme Court decision, then there’s not really much to build a foundation upon! That “love” is conditional and changing! People fall in and out of love every day! No! Love is not God, and we are not justified to do whatever “feels” right in the name of love! To live in such a manner, we indeed, make a god out of love and as a result, fail to experience real love or know the true God!

A Layman’s Guide to Biblical Reading and Interpretation (Part 2)

study bible

In Part 1, we talked about the various barriers, bridges, or rivers that must be crossed before one can even get to a correct reading and interpretation of the Bible. The barriers we talked about were: (1) Time, (2) Culture, (3) Language and (4) Geography. While these are not the only barriers, they represent the major ones that must be addressed. In this post, we will look at some of the factors one must deal with while actually reading the text.

  1. Context – Read several verses before the verse in question and read several verses after the verse in question to gain a sense of context. It is even a good idea to read the whole chapter. How does the verse fit into the chapter? How does the chapter fit into the book? How does the book fit into the part of the Bible in which it is found? How does that part of the Bible fit into the whole of the Bible? The first rule is context! The second rule is context! The third rule is context!
  2. Genre – As we read the Bible we need to understand that the Bible is not technically one book, but really 66 books of various types of literature. How one approaches and interprets a biblical text is largely depended upon the genre of the text. Genre (pronounced: “john-ra”) is a literary term that means, “kind,” “type,” or “sort.” As you read a passage of scripture, before you can even begin to interpret it, you must determine what type of literature it is. Is it poetry? Is it a historical narrative? Is it a chronological listing? Is it a parable? Is it a hymn? For example, one of the distinguishing characteristics of Hebrew poetry is parallelism, in English poetry, the main characteristic is rhyme.
    1. English example: Mary is so blue; but what about you? We recognize this as poetry because of the rhyming sounds of the words “blue” and “you.”
    2.  A good Hebrew example is Psalm 37:1, “Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.” (KJV) The term: “Fret not thyself” is parallel with and roughly equal to “neither be thou envious” and the term “evildoers” is parallel with and roughly equal to “workers of iniquity.” The author is basically using two different terms to communicate the same concept.

There are other characteristics in Hebrew poetry, but parallelism is the most notable.

  1. Take note of the various figures of speech. In other words, be on the look-out for hyperbole, exaggeration, sarcasm, etc. Just as we use these literary devices in our speaking and writing, they are also present in the biblical text.
  2. Invest in a concordance, a biblical lexicon, a Bible dictionary, a Bible encyclopedia, commentaries etc. – In the words of my New Testament Greek professor at Mississippi College: Dr. G. Rogers Greene, “You can’t tell what it means, if you don’t know what it meant!” Invest in sources that will help you deal with the text in the original languages. Remember, no one in the Bible ever spoke a word of English and not one word was originally written in English. The Bible you read is a version that came from a translation that came from manuscripts that were copied from the autographs (original documents). By the way, when you hear talk about the inerrancy of scripture, the reference is to the original autographs (which we don’t have), not necessarily the manuscripts and even less the translations and versions.
  3. Remember, your primary goal in studying the Bible is not to determine “what the verse is saying to you” but rather “what the verse is actually saying!” You cannot make application without first determining what the text actually says.
  4. Also remember, no matter what you read in the Bible, you are always reading someone else’s mail and ease-dropping on someone else’s conversation. Therefore, you need to know  who, what, why and where? This is akin to context! Who was the author? Who was or who were the original recipients? What was the issue that was being addressed? These are the type of questions that must be addressed if you are going to do serious Bible study! You need to know the original setting! The Germans called it: “sitz im leben;” the setting in life.

While the information contained in this post and in Part 1 is by no means exhaustive, hopefully it will provide you with a springboard to propel you to a more productive and exegetically correct approach to Bible study.

The Anointing That Destroys The Yoke?

yoked oxen colorI can remember as a child, I used to always hear people say:  “The Bible says. . .” They would complete the statement with a quote or a paraphrase that supposedly came from the Bible. Now, although many of the things I heard sounded like good, wise and sound biblical advice, I discovered later on that many of those things were not actually found in the Bible! In fact, not only were they not in the Bible, many of them were not even implied by the Bible and some were even opposite of what the Bible actually said! For example, I heard people say: “The Bible says: ‘God helps those who help themselves!” Now I understood their point. They were saying that a person has to have some initiative to help themselves and not just depend on God or others to do everything for them. But, I discovered that the Bible doesn’t say that! In fact, the Bible seems to imply that God is especially apt to help those who “cannot” help themselves!

So along that line of thought, I have always heard people say that the Bible says: “It’s the anointing that destroys the yoke!” Well, I looked it up and guess what? The Bible does say something similar to that! It’s found in Isaiah 10:27 and it says: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing.” (KJV) Whew! I was glad to know that some of what I’ve been hearing people say was in the Bible was actually in the Bible!  However, I also discovered that the Bible doesn’t mean it in the way in which most people use it! Let me show you what I’m talking about! Most of the time when I heard and hear this preached or taught, the speaker is making reference to the fact that the anointing of God is able to break any yoke (a yoke being anything that has us in bondage, be it spiritual or physical such as sickness, debt, substance abuse, etc.,) in our lives. Now that sounds good! It sounds like something God would do! But is that actually the meaning and message of the text in Isaiah 10:27? I think not! Let me show you why!

One of the primary rules of proper exegesis (that’s just a fancy word for properly handling and interpreting the text) is that the text cannot be divorced from its context. The context of this text is the Assyrian Captivity. God used Assyria to execute judgment upon the Northern Kingdom of Israel because of sin. However, the Assyrians got the “big-head” and attributed their dominion over Israel, not to an act of the Lord, but to their own strength and power. The words of our text are a promise to the remnant of Israel that eventually the yoke of Assyrian oppression would be destroyed. Note, in the context, that the yoke was really the result of God’s judgment more so than the enemy’s actions.

Now when I looked at this text in some of the English versions other than the KJV/NKJV (King James Version/New King James Version), I discovered that where the KJV/NKJV use the term “anointing,” most of the other English versions use the term “fat” or some derivative of it such as “fatness.”  When I looked at the text in the Hebrew and conducted some lexical research, I also discovered that the word the KJV/NKJV translates as “anointing” is the Hebrew word: “shemen” or “semen.” According the TWOT (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) the primary meaning of this Hebrew word is “fat” and “oil.” It is used to covey the idea of prosperity and well-being. The idea in Isaiah 10:27 is that the Assyrian yoke would be broken or destroyed because like oxen that have grown fat, the yoke would be broken and destroyed by Israel’s neck becoming too large to be contained by it! It also interesting to note that, of all the occurrences of this word in the Hebrew text (nearly 200 times!), this is the only occurrence where the KJV/NKJV translates it as “anointing.” All the other times, it is translated as fat, fatness, richness, or fertile.  And even where the idea of anointing is clearly present, shemen or semen is translated as “oil” and is always found combined with the Hebrew word “mashach,” which means to smear or anoint.

So what am I saying? Am I saying that the anointing doesn’t break the yoke in the sense that many people say it does? I don’t know! (I do know that it is not wise to base a doctrine, a practice, or a belief on just one verse! Especially when the translation and/or interpretation of that verse is suspect!) What I am saying is that this particular verse cannot be used in all exegetical and hermeneutical honestly to arrive at and support the conclusion that the anointing, as many people refer to it, breaks the yoke. I don’t know about the anointing destroying the yoke, but I do know that the Anointed One (Christ) does! And because he does; I am not so much worried about “having the anointing that destroys the yoke” as I am about having the yoke of the Anointed One! The focus should be on responding appropriately to his call in which he invites us: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 KJV)

Nicodemus and the Woman of Samaria

Most people do not realize it, but biblical authors and compilers were strategic and deliberate in how they arranged their material. Many times, what is not explicitly revealed in the text is implicitly revealed in the arrangement of the text. I believe this is the case in John chapters 3 and 4. They serve as “bookends” to illustrate the point that whether a person is of high social rank and status or whether they are of what could be called: “low-class,” they both have a common need to have a life-changing, life-saving encounter with Jesus. Now, let’s look at the comparison and contrast between the meetings that Jesus had with Nicodemus in John 3 and the Woman of Samaria in John 4.

The first comparison to note is the way the text introduces the two contrasting characters. John 3:1 says: “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.” John 4:7 says: “There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water.” Note the contrast: The man of the Pharisees was religious, respected, and named! The wording of the text suggests that this “Woman of Samaria” was a person of questionable moral character. The contrast is between a man and a woman, a religious man and an immoral woman, a named man and an un-named woman. Note the timing of the meetings: Nicodemus came to Jesus by night (I call it “the meeting with Nick at Night!”); Jesus met the woman of Samaria in the middle of the day! Nicodemus knew who Jesus was and initiated the meeting; the woman didn’t know who Jesus was and it was Jesus who initiated the meeting. Jesus talked to Nicodemus on the religious theme of being born again, while he talked with the woman on the common theme of the need for (living) water.

Now, I’m not going to go into too much depth with this comparison, but I am somewhat struck by the irony of the conversations in the two meetings. One would have expected Nicodemus to understand what Jesus was talking about; but he didn’t! One would not have expected the woman of Samaria to understand, and although she too was confused, she understood to a greater degree than Nicodemus!

And then finally, compare the end-results. Nicodemus left his meeting and told no one. The woman of Samaria left her water pot, went downtown and told everyone! As a result of Nicodemus’ encounter, no one, except perhaps himself, was saved. But as a result of the woman’s encounter a whole village was evangelized! John 4:39-41 says: “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

What is the lesson for us? Could it be that sometimes “bad people” can indeed have a good testimony? Nicodemus felt that he had no need of salvation because he was already a “member, even a leader, of the church.”  However, it is not religion that saves us; it is a real and vital relationship with Jesus.