How to Read the Bible
Today, in a short blog post, we are going to try to dive pretty deep theologically and philosophically. I want to begin with a quote from a pretty well-known Biblical scholar at Wheaton, named John Walton, who apparently Larry went to school with, which makes me quite jealous.
Walton writes this, “We must notice that when God wanted to talk to the Israelites about their intellect, emotions, and will, he did not revise their ideas of physiology and feel compelled to reveal the function of the brain. Instead, he adopted the language of the culture to communicate in terms they understood.”
For me, that last line is incredibly important… “[God] adopted” – or we could say incarnated Himself – “in the language of the culture to communicate in terms they understood.” What this means is that the message of the Bible is imbedded and formed by the ancient cultures of the Bible. Or, as John Walton puts it, “[The Bible’s] message transcends the culture in which it originated, but the form in which the message was imbedded was fully permeated by the ancient culture.”
So far, if you’ve read this and think to yourself, “I have no idea what this means and why this matters” and you feel sorry for my wife because I like to sit down on Friday nights and read passages like this, then here’s my interpretation of what this means…When it comes to interpreting the Bible, we need to be humble.
We cannot pretend that the Bible speaks our modern-day language – it doesn’t. We cannot pretend that the Bible is asking our modern-day questions – it often isn’t. We cannot pretend that we have everything put together – we often don’t. The Bible speaks in an ancient voice that we need to listen to and not be so arrogant to think we have it all put together. Because, while I believe the Bible is authoritative, I just as equally believe I am not, nor are my interpretations.
So, for me, the main point of this post is this… We need to be open to letting the Bible speak in its own voice, not in ours.We need to be humble with our interpretations because we aren’t perfect. We need to be open to continually learning, searching and growing because none of us has it all put together.
That doesn’t mean we have to give up on the truth we know, but rather our fallibility should shape how we hold the truth. We shouldn’t be arrogant, haughty and overconfident. Instead, when we come to reading the Bible, we should be humble, grateful and open to learning. Because, this amazing, ancient document has changed lives for centuries, and it will continue to change lives when we learn to humbly listen to it and the wisdom found in it.
4 Books: 4 Questions ~ The Book of Matthew, Change, and Courage
On Sunday we started our series looking at each of the gospels and why they are written the way they are. Because each gospel is wrote with a different purpose, context, and audience – and we need all 4. Life is complex and we cannot reduce the gospels down to “one story”. Instead, we have one story told from four perspectives and we need all 4.
So on Sunday we looked at the gospel of Matthew.
We learned that it was most likely written to Jewish Christians. We can tell this by how Matthew never explains Jewish customs (like Mark), grounds Jesus’ ministry with echoes to Moses and Abraham (unlike Luke who grounds it in Adam), and focuses in on Jewish questions of how to live.
From this we learned though why this might be so important in that day and age. We learned how the temple was destroyed in AD 70 and how Jospehus writes that millions were killed, and “Most of the victims were peaceful citizens, weak and unarmed, butchered wherever they were caught. Round the Altar the heaps of corpses grew higher and higher, while down the Sanctuary steps poured a river of blood and the bodies of those killed at the top slithered to the bottom”.
And while that is certainly brutal, here is why it matters. The Jewish world was utterly rocked by the destruction of the temple. The Jewish way of life as was known was over, and they faced tremendous change, uncertainty, and confusion. And it’s into this milieu that Matthew writes. Matthew writes to a group of Jewish Christians whose way of life has been so utterly compromised that they can’t see the way forward.
So Matthew writes about moving through change and confusion.
While we looked at some high level themes, we really landed on the story of Peter walking on the water, and how this story would be so helpful to a group of people processing change. Peter, in the midst of darkness, uncertainty, and confusion does something crazy. He steps further into the unknown. He actually moves further away from what little safety and security remained for him and stepped out into the wind and the waves. He places all his faith, and trust in Jesus and with courage steps out.
And I think this is Matthew’s point commented on in various ways throughout the gospel: the way we get through change is courage and trust in Jesus.
That’s how we move through the wind, waves, and sea of chaos and uncertainty. And while the temple being destroyed doesn’t change many of our Western lives, we all have our own temples that we rely on. Whether these temples are faith, jobs, health, or wealth they occasionally crumble and seem to crack. And Matthew’s word for us to trust and have courage in the face of uncertainty. Matthew’s words for us when the world is falling apart to step further out in trust with Jesus and follow with courage. Matthew’s message isn’t to huddle in the boat, trying to keep the thing together, but to step out with trust. And that’s where we ended too. Asking us all to take a step of trust.
Big Idea: Face change with courage and trust.
- We have 4 gospels and need all four.
- The Gospels tell us how the early church told the story of Jesus in four different contexts – Michael Hardin
- Matthew is about how to face and deal with change.
- We still have our own “temples” today.
- I have no certainty about my future, and you might not either.
- A theme of Matthew is to have courage and trust.
- Face change with courage and trust.
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Had you ever thought about the gospels being different before? How does knowing some of the context change things? Are you in the midst of facing any change? What excites you, or worries you about it? What might “stepping” out of the boat look like? How can you be sure to remain focused on Jesus?
Challenge for the Week: To ask Jesus to call you out of the boat, and step out with courage and trust.
Envisioning Your Future Self
I read this recently by author, and podcaster Lewis Howes:
You become what you envision yourself being.
And in all honesty I think that’s really true. I’m not really big into the “positive self thinking” kind of movement. But there is a deep truth in that quote. That if you envision yourself as failing, as having nothing to contribute to the world, as lacking in value and worth to others it ends up being the “lens” you see yourself and the world through. It ends up conditioning and determining some of your actions and behavior, and you end up sometimes becoming what you envision.
This is nothing new or revolutionary, this is something social psychology and even psychiatry have known for a long time. That the “tapes” we play in our minds, contribute heavily to our actions and who we become. And we could discuss that, but I’d rather discuss something more revolutionary. Not who you envision yourself becoming, but who the Bible says you are.
Lewis Howes wants you to focus on “who you want to be”. The Bible wants you to focus in on who you already are. And I think that one little shift makes all the difference. Lewis, rightfully, wants you to focus on becoming a positive and healthy person. The Bible has a different perspective, to tell you who you are so that you can live into that reality.
The Bible and the Spirit of God doesn’t want to tell you, “Envision becoming this way”. The Bible and the Spirit of God tell you that fundamentally at a core level, this is who you are – now live into that reality. The Bible doesn’t want you to dream of being holy, pure, loved, or new. The Bible states unequivocally as follower of Jesus, that you are holy, pure, loved, and a new creation.
The Bible is less concerned with trying to get you to envision who you can become, than for you to believe who you are. Because once you know who you are, you can live out of that reality. The Bible isn’t trying to get you believe that you can be holy, pure, and new – through positive thinking – but to believe that you are holy, pure, and new through Jesus Christ.
And this small difference can make all the difference.
Because I can tell you – if you follow Jesus – you are pure, holy, loved, and new. And while you might not always live out of that centre, it’s your true centre. And the beauty is this then – this reality isn’t beyond any one of us because it is true of all of us.
So then no matter how much you might struggle with it, to live it, to truly know it – it’s still true and today you can live it.
So all I’m wanting to say is that Lewis Howes is right, “You become what you envision yourself being” I just want to make sure what we envision ourselves being is what the Bible says – holy, pure, and loved (Colossians 3:10-15)
Theology 101: Hermeneutics ~ How to Read the Bible
On Sunday we looked at Bibleology, the study of the Bible. Specifically we looked at two things: how the Bible came to be, and how to read the Bible.
We talked about how the Bible came to be over a period of years, and how there were different criteria for books to be included in the Bible. These criteria were: Apostolicity, Orthodoxy, Antiquity and Catholicity or Usage.
Apostolicity is that the writings needed to be connected to an apostle. Orthodoxy meaning that it conformed to the overall emerging tradition. Antiquity meaning that it was written early and close to the time of first-hand and eye witness accounts. And lastly, Catholicity or usage meaning that it was used by the majority of the early church, and attested to its usefulness.
From there we moved on to discuss three poor ways to the read the Bible, and three helpful ways to read the bible.
The first poor way to read the Bible was what I called foundationalism. This is where the Bible is the foundation of our faith. Where we build up a historical, reasonable, and irrefutable arguments for the validity of the Bible and of faith itself. And while I believe in apologetics and using reason and history to demonstrate the reliability of the Bible, this view has one major flaw for me. And it’s this: the Bible is not the foundation of our faith. I know that sounds controversial but it shouldn’t be. The foundation of our faith is Jesus Christ. And yes, the Bible attests to that fact, but it is still not the foundation of our faith.
For me foundationalism misses the point because it raises the Bible above Jesus. So to put it clearly I don’t believe in Jesus because of the Bible, I believe in the Bible because of Jesus. That’s the correct order of priorities of things. And yes, of course, we get to know Jesus through the Bible, but the Bible should never become more important or foundational than Jesus. The Bible actually has a word for that, and it’s idolotary and leads to poor readings of Scripture.
Secondly, we talked about how a poor way to read the Bible is to read it flat. We read it as if each part is equally authoritative for our lives right now. All of the Bible is God-breathed, absolutely!, but we do prioritize or privilege certain parts – specifically Jesus. When we read the Bible we need to take into account the overall arc or trajectory of Scripture, and interpret in light of that. So what this means to give a practical example, we no longer practice “eye for an eye” because Jesus says not to do that. To read the Bible flat though makes these two teaching authoritative even though they contradict. Instead, we need to read the bible through the light and revelation of Jesus Christ, the full revelation of God. So reading it flat is taking each part equally without placing the commands of God, in the history, context, and overall scope in which they are given.
The third issue is that we read the Bible plainly or naively. Sometimes people say, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it”. But that is a really naïve way of reading, because we interpret all of the Bible even the clear parts. Because what is clear to you, might not be clear to others. Most of us in the West who are very wealthy do not take Jesus clear words “Go and sell everything” as his clear command. We take them metaphorically, even though they are clear. My point is that we need to learn to read the Bible not naively or plainly but deeply. And ask some key questions is this text just describing a time, or prescribing how we should relate for all time? What is the context here? How does this relate to other parts of the Bible? I think that to approach the Bible with just a forced naivety without a willingness to study is problematic.
And lastly, I gave three other quick ways to read it correctly. First, was to read it through the lens of Jesus. If Jesus is the complete revelation of God, we need to read the Bible through that revelation. Jesus is the standard, so we need to start there.
Secondly, we need to start reading the Bible through not only the lens of Jesus, but also the lens of love. This is because this is what Jesus explicitly says. When he summarizes all of the Old Testament he says its summary is to love God and love others. That this is the trajectory or goal of the Old Testament to teach how to love. So we need to read the Bible in light of that. And St. Augustine agrees, saying this: “Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought”
And lastly, I argued that we need to read it looking for things to practice. The classic verse that is used to argue for the inspiration of Scripture actually points us to the meaning or purpose of Scripture. Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16 says:
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.
The purpose of Scripture is to teach us how to live. That’s the point of it, “teaches to do what is right”
So when I come to read the Bible this is what I try to do:
- To not place the Bible above Jesus, but to help me discover Jesus
- To not read the Bible flat, but to look for how to act
- To not read the Bible plain, but through the lens of love
We ended with this main point: The Bible matters, but what matters most is following Jesus. And when we keep that priority and relationship right, it helps everything. So the challenge was simple this week. To go home and read your Bibles, to really dive deeply into them, to wrestle with them, and read them through the lens of love, through the lens of Jesus, and looking for things to place into action.
The truth is reading the Bible flat, plainly, or as the main priority are just immature ways of reading it. They are great starting places, but we need to grow deeper than that. And that happens through practice. So read, study, and let God guide you in that.
Big Idea: The Bible matters, but what matters most is following Jesus
- Criteria for the Bible: Apostolicity, Orthodoxy, Antiquity, Catholicity or Usage
- The Bible isn’t the foundation of our faith, Jesus is.
- I don’t believe in Jesus because of the Bible, I believe in the Bible because of Jesus.
- Scripture has a trajectory and a goal to it.
- Don’t read it flat, but in light of Jesus.
- Reading the Bible “plainly” or “naively” rather than deeply isn’t helpful.
- Read the Bible through the Lens of Jesus
- Read the Bible through the Lens of Love.
- Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbour, does not yet understand them as he ought. St. Augustine
- Read the Bible for action and praxis.
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? How can reading the Bible without context lead to difficulty? Which way of reading the Bible (lens of love, Jesus, or action) do you really need to focus most on? How often do you read the Bible? What are your struggles with reading the Bible? Who can help you?
Discussion Questions for Young Families
Today rather than asking questions, why not do something together. If you’re not already in the habit of reading the Bible with your kids daily – why not start? There are some great Story Bibles even for little kids like Whirl Story Bible. Pick one up and start reading.
Challenge for the Week: Read the Bible everyday this week.
How to Read the Bible and Why it Matters
Well on Sunday were are looking at something so obvious you may even wonder why we are looking at it: how to read the Bible.
At first glance this doesn’t seem to be something we need to be taught…but it is. And here is why. Because we have probably all encountered bad readings of the Bible.
This is where people use the Bible, but leave feeling like they missed the point. Or they used it poorly, or hatefully, or just plain wrong. Let’s be clear, you can use the Bible to make almost any point you want. And just because something is in the Bible, doesn’t mean just quoting it – makes it right. Just look at Satan in the temptations with Jesus; he uses the Bible as a weapon to try to actually stop him from accomplishing his mission.
So there are healthy and unhealthy ways of reading the Bible. And even though if you’ve grown up in the faith and it seems pretty straightforward, I think this could be one of the most revealing and interesting sermons all year. So I hope you can make it. I know it’s a long weekend ~ but I promise not to preach…too long 🙂
Theological Weaponry and Words
I read this the other day and it really struck me. “I don’t think God is glorified by tightly crafted argument wielded as weaponry.” Sarah Bessey
Sarah was commenting on how we seek to craft our theological arguments into weapons that win the argument, break the defense of others, and cause harm. I think this is both sad and true.
So often when God enters into the conversation, rather than discussion and sharing, we debate and argue.
Now don’t get me wrong I love theology, I love debating, and wrestling with God and theological issues. The point is that there is often a point in a conversation where it becomes less about wrestling with an idea or with God, and more about wrecking another person’s views.
I’m not saying that I believe everyone has a right or correct view. But so often rather than trying to help one another grow, we try to show through our intellectual prowess, mastery of theological language, or biblical understanding that our position is not only better – that your position is stupid, small, and clearly wrong. That you, as a person, are clearly stupid, small, and wrong for believing…whatever.
The point is that we argue not to grow in theological understanding; so often we argue to prove we are better than someone else. And I agree with Sarah, God is not pleased when we try to prove our worth by proving someone else’s deficiency whether that is in relation to morals, actions, or theological belief.
So I’m all for wrestling, discussion, and growing. I just want there to be grace and love in the midst of dialogue and debate. Because the truth is I hold my beliefs strongly, and I think you should too. Let’s just make sure that our strongly held beliefs don’t slide over from being strongly held to violently pushed, coercively driven, and hatefully argued.
On Sunday we opened a new series here called Modern Family looking at issues that affect our “families” however you define family.
And we began by looking at “being extraordinary”. In many ways we often settle. We don’t reach for greatness, or anything other than mediocrity. We look around and see what everyone else is doing, and we do that. Donald Miller wrote that we want to live deep stories, but end up settling for living for a Jetta and Roomba Vacuum cleaner.
The point is that we are called to be more than average in our lives. We are called to be more than average husbands, friends, parents, or employees.
And we know this because we desire this for those significant people in our lives. We hope that our spouses are extraordinary. We want extraordinary parents. We want to work for extraordinary bosses. The point is why don’t we seek to be extraordinary?
And to discover how we can do that we looked at the story of Gideon. The story of Gideon in the Bible is of one man – who is rather whiny actually – who saves the entire people of Israel. God picks the weakest man, from the weakest tribe to do something extraordinary.
And this should give us hope as well – because I don’t often feel strong and awesome. I can relate to Gideon. But the point is this – if God chose him, he can choose me, and he can choose you. And more than that I think he does want to choose you to be extraordinary in your life. To be an extraordinary grandparent, neighbour, co-worker, whatever. I do not believe God calls us to settle for mediocrity.
So I ended the sermon by giving us one question to focus on this week: what would an extraordinary person do? What would a great father do? What would an amazing friend do? What would the best aunt do? And for us to actually do these things.
God shows up to Gideon and calls him mighty warrior, even though he’s hiding and not a mighty warrior at that point. God believes in Gideon and calls him to be better. And I think God is doing the same with us to show up and call us extraordinary mom, courageous co-worker, or astonishing friend. God is calling us to be more than we are and I think that’s a beautiful thing.
So this week be extraordinary. Ask what would an extraordinary person do? And do that. And the great thing is that if you keep doing that, you’ll look back and soon see, you’re extraordinary.
Big Idea: God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things
- How do we have healthy families?
- Families are diverse and sometimes dysfunctional
- What kind of person do you want to be?
- You control that destiny to be extraodiary or not
- You will never be extraordinary if you try to be like everyone else
- God’s response to difficulty seems to be to pick someone to change it
- But if we want to be extraordinary people, we need to learn to step out
- God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things
- Be extraordinary this week
- What would you do if you were confident God was with you and for you?
- What would someone who is extraordinary do? Now do that.
Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? Are you ever tempted to settle for ordinary? In what role (parent, work, friend etc) are you most tempted to settle? Where is God calling you to be extraordinary? What do you think God sees in you if he see Gideon as “mighty warrior”? How are you going to be extraordinary this week?
Discussion Questions / Actions for Young Families: Today talk to your kids about how God wants us to be extraordinary. Tell them we want to shoot for greatness with God’s calling in mind. So ask them what extraordinary thing they want to do, or be. And then take a step towards it with them. If they want to be an astronaut take them to science centre. If they want to be chef, take a step and let them cook. Build into them the idea that settling isn’t for them.
Challenge for this Week: Be extraordinary this week
On Sunday we are starting a brand new series called Modern Family. The whole point will be to see how we can have the healthiest families possible. And I want to define “family” as broadly as I can. Family are the people you consider family. For some of us that means a more traditional style of family perhaps like mine – a wife and two kids. For you it might mean an adoptive parent, a group of such close friends they aren’t friends anymore but family.
The point is that we are all journeying with people whom we have relationships with. And with these key relationships how can we make them as healthy and as whole as possible? That’s the point of this series. So however you define your family, I want to explore how to make it as good as possible.
Because I know two things about “family”. First, is that families and their structure are incredibly diverse today. So I want to recognize and appreciate that. Second, is that all families at some point are dysfunctional. By that I mean all families at some point struggle, have tension and difficulty to work through.
So that’s what I want to look at how to ensure that we know how to work through the difficulty, tension, and struggle we have in our family structures, looking at it from God’s perspective. So whether you are single, a grandparent, parent, or whatever, I want to look at how we can have the best relationships with those closest to us.
So that’s where we are going and on Sunday we are going to look at one question.
How can we be extraordinary?
And I think it’s a good place to start.
Seven Deadly Sins: Envy
On Sunday we looked at the deadly sin of envy. Envy is similar to jealously but they are very different. Jealousy desires what someone else has, envy wants to destroy what someone else has. Jealousy wants other people’s things, envy wants to be the only one with things. A perfect picture is the story of Snow White. In it the queen asks the mirror “Mirror mirror on the wall who is the fairest of them all”. And when Snow White is named, the queen must wreck, ruin, and destroy snow white. Just so we’re clear the Queen is still beautiful, but that is not enough for envy. The Queen must be the most beautiful, and destroy anything that threatens that. That’s envy. Envy, when it cannot have what it wants, destroys. That is why it is so dangerous.
The second reason it is so dangerous is that it thrives in community. In fact, you need community for envy to even be a possibility. Will WIllimon said, “Envy works best at close range.” This is true. We are often jealous of people distant from us, and envious of those closest to us. We may be jealous of Katy Perry and her fame, but we generally don’t want to destroy her or see her fail. In contrast to that, we sometimes do want our sister, brother-in-law, or neighbor to fail. This is why it’s so dangerous, because it wrecks community.
So much of the strife in our relationships is because we are envious. We are envioius of our brother who gets preferential treatment, so we want to see them slip up. We are envious of a co-worker who never gets reprimanded, so we hope for them to screw up. But what is at the root of envy? Well many church fathers said this: a lack of trust in God.
We get envious when we believe that God is withholding good from us. That we are being shortchanged by God. In essence, envy thrives when we disbelieve God’s goodness. And since this is so closely tied to envy we ended with a challenge. The challenge was this: for one week keep a journal of God’s goodness to you. If feeling envious is tied to a lack of trust in God’s goodness, then we need to create habits to remind us of the generosity, goodness, and grace of God.
So it’s a simple thing to do but it could be a life changing thing. Because whenever we get centred in the fact that God is good, we can live differently. We no longer need to be tied to envy and hurt, instead we can be set free. And that’s something worth finding.
Big Idea: Envy is a problem
- Envy is a subtle sin Jealousy wants things, envy wants to the be the only one who has things.
- “Envy works best at close range” Will Wiilimon
- Envy is about close relationships and it’s about enjoying when they fail.
- While greed is primarily about possessions, envy is about one’s place in the world. Where greed wants the good things that others have, envy wants to be the only one who has good things. Envy delights in spoiling what others have. Michael Mangis
- Envy leads to destruction every time.
- At the root of envy is a lack of trust in God.
- Envy is dissatisfaction with who God has made me to be. It is also suspicious that God is withholding what I deserve and giving it to someone else. Michael Mangis
- Envy is a problem
- Love overcomes envy.
- Get rid of envy by getting closer to God.
Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? Had you understood what envy was before today? How has envy wrecked relationships in your life? Is there anyone you tend to feel envious of? How can you grow closer to God this week? What good things has God done for you?
Discussion Questions / Actions for Young Families: Today talk to your kids about envy. Talk to them about how sometimes we want what other people have. But be proactive against envy, have them write out reasons why they are thankful to God. Have them make a picture, or share reasons for being thankful to God. The more they are rooted in that, the harder it will be for envy to take root.
Challenge for this Week: Get rid of envy by getting closer to God