The following is from the lectionary reading, Year B, of the Lutheran Lectionary.
A Psalm. 1 Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. 2 The Lord has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. 3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. 4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! 5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! 6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord! 7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! 8 Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together 9 before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
No attribution is given to this psalm and many commentators point out the language of praise which parallels several passages in Isaiah. The occasion of the writing is said to have been the return of the exiles from Babylonian captivity (Leupold, 691-92) although Leupold freely admits that the historical events are not directly alluded to within the psalm. According to Leupold, several verses within the Psalm allude to or are cited from Isaiah. They can be seen in the chart below.
Indeed these verses do parallel the Isaiah passages in language and idea. The Psalm itself is broken into three refrains of three verses each and can be divided as such: verses 1-3, verses 4-6, verses 7-9. The main theme is the praise of Yahweh/Elohim. The centrality for this praise is seen because He has made known His salvation. This salvation is manifested in two ways:
He has made salvation known to all the nations. As God’s covenant people, Israel had the privilege of receiving His Law. When they were faithful to the covenant, God protected them in miraculous ways. The nations surrounding Israel were witnesses of these miracles. Time and time again, God acted on behalf of His people. The Psalmists draws from these times to proclaim how the nations have seen God’s salvation.
He has made salvation known through His faithfulness. Israel had a long history of apostasy. The book of Judges records their darkest times of a continual cycle of apostatizing and return to the Yahweh. Eventually, both the Northern and Southern kingdoms are ejected from their inheritance and led captive to other nations. But as God is faithful, He brought His covenant people back into the land, causing a great rejoicing and praise.
Below, are some of my own observations of the Psalm with important parts marked in bold.
The Psalm concludes with the final praise of God’s judgment upon the nations. He will judge (1) with righteousness – God will show no partiality with His judgment. Political, economical, and social status will all be judged according to His own standards rather than man’s standards. No one will have “an edge” in this judgement. All will stand on equal ground. (2) with equity – This goes hand-in-hand with God’s righteous judgment. His judgment will be fair. The poor & rich, king & pauper, man & woman will receive just judgment/penalty for their actions.
This judgment will be either frightful or as the Psalmist declares, something to rejoice in.
Salvation has been made known to the nations through Jesus Christ and all the world has seen it (John 12:32). This is a great cause of rejoicing, knowing that God is faithful to His people on account of the atoning work of Jesus. He is our King and our Lord. We are to praise Him unceasingly as He continues to show His steadfast love and faithfulness to His sheep.
Judgment is coming. It is for those who refuse the offer of the gracious King and insist in either their own brand of righteousness or their own autonomous rule. This judgment will be fair and impartial and no man, woman, or child will elude the judgement with Him whom we must give an account (Hebrew 4:13).
Salvation is found in no other Person but Jesus. On the final Day it will be a cause of rejoicing for many and a time of wailing for others. Will you rejoice in Christ and praise Him for His judgment? or will you curse Him as you are cast into the Lake of Fire for the rejection of His free offer of life and salvation?.
It’s Sunday morning. You got up early, read your Bible, drank your coffee, and went to church to hear from your favorite apostle. Only—you didn’t hear from any apostles.
Yup, you read that correctly. Many churches boast of having apostles in the pulpit and many self-proclaimed apostles tote bragging rights in order to launch their “ministries.” Most people never question whether or not these men and women are true apostles. They blindly follow them and do their every bidding out of fear that if they do not, they are “touching God’s anointed.”
With the apostolic daze-craze in church culture it is especially important now more than ever to examine Scripture and understand exactly what a true apostle is. Believe it or not, the Bible does give the qualifications of an apostle. There are three main qualifications we see in Scripture: (1) the apostle was sent by someone specific, (2) the apostle was vested with a certain authority, and (3) the apostle was sent with a specific message.Using Mark 3:13-14as our jumping off passage we will take a look at each of these qualifications in more detail and attempt to rebut some common arguments that try to circumvent the Bible on this teaching.
the apostle was sent by someone specific
13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And He appointed twelve (whom he named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach…
It is important to notice the pronouns in these verses. The ‘he’ and ‘him’ in verse 13 are referring to Jesus. But let us note two specific things about this verse:
Jesus chose those He desired to be apostles
Jesus Himself designated them as apostles
Many of today’s self-proclaimed apostles would rebut this by saying that Jesus has also sent them to be apostles. But in the book of Acts we find something different. Those who were designated apostles had to have two special qualifications in order to claim the title apostle: (1) they had to be with Jesus at the start of His ministry or, (2) they had to have witnessed His resurrection. One of these qualifications had to be met before apostleship could be considered.
15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “ ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “ ‘Let another take his office.’ 21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”
Mk 3:14-15 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons.
Lk 10 20: Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven
Most of us think about power when we think about apostles. And it is for good reason. Jesus gave His apostles the power to cast out demons and perform miracles in His Name. This was to be for a specific reason as well as a sign of something greater than themselves, as we will examine in our final point of this post.
But this power was not like the kind of power that you may thinking about. It was not a super power or something you see in a comic book. This kind of power did not originate from themselves. The word we are thinking of is better thought of as a vested power, or a delegated power. This was much like an envoy sent by a king with specific authorities to accomplish specific tasks. For example, during the crucifixion of Jesus, the Jews had no power of their own to enact punishment. They had to get that permission, or power, from Pontus Pilate. In fact, our verse, Mark 3:14-15 translates the word as authority, which is a better suited word. The Greek word is exousia and conveys a broad range of meaning in the New Testament, which all have to do semantically with some form of delegation. Consider the word below:
The larger blue ring represents the way the word is translated the most throughout Scripture. The word is authority, the same as in Mark 3:14. But note that it is also translated as a charge, jurisdiction, and even domain. Why is this important for our topic?
Many of today’s fake apostles focus solely on the power of their apostleship. But Jesus told His true apostles not to rejoice in the power given to them, but to rejoice in the fact that their names had been written in Heaven (Luke 10:20).
The apostle was sent with a specific message
33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimonyto the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
We come at last to the anchoring text of apostleship. The apostles were sent with a specific message and that message was their witness of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The phrase to the resurrection is something we should give attention to. In Greek, it is known as a Genitive phrase. And more specifically, it is called a Genitive of Content. What does all this jargon mean? Greek scholar, Dan Wallace gives us some insight.
The genitive substantive specifies the contents of the word to which it is related. This word may be either a noun, adjective or verb. This is fairly common in the NT, though only with certain kinds of words. There are two kinds of genitive of content: one related to a noun or adjective (nominal gen. of content), the other to a verb (verbal gen. of content). A genitive of content is a lexico-syntactic category in that the verb or head noun will be a term indicating quantity…A genitive of content is a lexico-syntactic category in that the verb or head noun will be a term indicating quantity. The nominal genitive of content is distinct from the genitive of material in that content indicates the item contained while material indicates the material made out of…For the nominal use, the genitive term bears the brunt of the semantic weight. It is the important word rather than the head noun. Typically this construction is used in figurative language as a rhetorical device.
Wallace, D. B. (1996). Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. (pp. 92-93)
In other words, the apostles’ message of the resurrection (the content) was more important than the miracles themselves. The miracles simply showed that their message truly was from the Living Lord. This is why we see large droves of people turning to God in a single day. It was the sign and the working of God through those signs to coordinate the message and the miracle.
Again, many who believe that apostles are still commissioned today will point out that the apostles of their churched do indeed witness to Jesus’ resurrection. However, the true apostles’ testimony about the resurrection was accompanied by miracles. The first was that of tongues. But then we have the miracles of healing the lame, blind, even those who were near death. Many no doubt claim miracles in their ministries, as well. But this passage speaks about miracles that could be attested to; real miracles that took place instantaneously, not over time like many you encounter today.
The office of apostle has been done away with in our modern context. This is due to the fact that chiefly, there are none alive today that was present with Jesus during His ministry or none that have physically witnessed His resurrection.
Secondarily, no one has been commissioned by God Himself to be an apostle. One may attempt to argue that they have been commissioned by God’s calling and testified by the laying on of hands and therefore are apostles by that standard. But Scripture never gives this method of designating apostles, only elders and pastors.
Tertiary, one cannot claim apostleship simply because he/she attests to Christ’s resurrection. All believers are called, especially in times of persecution, to give an answer for the hope that lies within [us] (1Peter 3:15) and if that standard were to be used, we could indeed call all believers apostles.
It is important that we be discerning about those who designate themselves as apostles. Certainly, many mean no harm and take the moniker simply to show forth their calling by God into a preaching ministry. But beware of those who flaunt the title. Most are simply after fame, prestige, and wealth. Let us use Scripture as our plumb-line and guide for all of life, even something seemingly as minute as a title.
We felt the urgency to write to you and detail some things that we as a congregation and holy assembly of God’s people feel the need to bring to your attention. We know life has been different since the whole COVID thing. We understand “regular” services have been a thing of the past for well over a year, now. And we certainly get that you are constantly under pressure from within and without the congregation, juggling life’s responsibilities and pastoral duties.
But truthfully, we’ve been feeling a little malnourished as of late. To be honest, it’s been going on for sometime, even well before the lockdowns started. We are simply asking you to fulfill the oath which you swore to our Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd, to shepherd us until that Day when we will all be with Him. Here are three things we would like to see you begin to include in our time of worship together:
preach the Word
Please let us clarify what exactly we mean when we say, “Preach the Word.” Many pastors feel they can reach their congregations a little easier if they ignore Scripture and talk about relevant issues of today. This always leads to ignoring large parts of the Bible in favor of a more Ted Talk style of sermons. But isn’t Scripture the very God-breathed words given to us? Doesn’t Scripture contain all the answers to the “relevant” issues they are so craving? Yes! It is the very foundation upon which the true Christian lives his life. We are seeing our services turned into an entertainment venue that looks oddly like a rock concert or a Times Square ball drop. We are supposed to be different, holy, set apart; it is our calling. Much of the service seems to be spent in pep talks rather than actual preaching. In short, we would like the Word to be front and center! Here is our plan for making it happen:
Be expository. Topical sermons are useful and sometimes necessary. But this should not come at the sacrifice of a verse-by-verse sermon. Exegete the passage and tell us what it means. Explain some of the harder things in it so that we understand. Don’t treat us as if we are dumb because we may not have the same theological training that you received. Be gentle with our lack of understanding and give us the Word. Give it to us until we are full.
Be Law/Gospel oriented. It is extremely important that you learn to divide the Scripture properly into its two distinct sections of Law & Gospel. When you confuse and commingle the two, we become confused, especially in our own minds. Many pastors will say something like, “If you believe that Christ has died for your sins and trust in His perfect work, you have the assurance of Eternal life. BUT…”
When conditional emphasis is placed upon a text that already states a simplistic truth, it is confusing to our souls. Is faith all that is required for salvation? If so, why is there a “but” thrown in there? Many of us are keenly aware of our sin and it terrifies us that God, at any moment could bring down His hand of wrath upon us. Please take extra care to properly give us the Law when the Law is needed. But when the Gospel is clear and present within the passage, preach it without any other conditions.
Incorporate the liturgy
The assembling of the local Body of Christ is the place where we are supposed to be nourished each and every week. It is a place we are to be participants in worship. Unfortunately, it usually consists of a couple of congregational songs, special music, and a sermon by the pastor. We rarely, if ever, truly participate in the service alongside you. The early church participated in the services through the reading of the Scriptures, recitation of pivotal creeds and the giving and receiving of blessings. They were catechized, a fancy way of saying they were taught the elemental doctrines of Scripture through recitation and repetition. In fact, did you know that catechesis in the early Church lasted for three years! This was to ensure that the catechumen would be prepared for the coming persecutions. This is certainly a far cry from the way we receive church members today. We would love for you to begin to teach us our catechisms and creeds.
It is also in this liturgy where we may receive the sacraments, Christ’s gifts to us for the forgiveness of sins through baptism and the Eucharist. These means of grace strengthen us from week to week and do two things for us: (1) they are reminders that we need forgiveness of sins daily, and (2) they are real, physical elements that show us Christ’s compassion on His Church and impart to our consciences the assurance of forgiveness of sin. It may sound strange in your ears and there has been debate over the efficacy of these sacraments since the time of the Reformation. Many have taken these to be mere symbols or figurative language to represent something. But those in the early Church certainly took them as literal.
Teach us to study
There is nothing quite like the joy of reading a passage of Scripture and seeing something there we had never noticed! We know this is the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit in us, guiding us into all truth. And while we understand the Holy Spirit is our teacher, we still would like to understand how we can gain knowledge through study. The only way this can be achieved is for you to begin teaching us the method of feeding ourselves. We certainly do not expect seminary-level classes. We only want to understand the methods of objective Bible study known as Observation, Interpretation and Application.
We know this is asking more work of you, but what is more important than investing in the eternal aspects of the congregation? We desire to understand God’s word better. We want to follow along with you as you preach. This is not only a way for us to be prepared but also a way that we may hold you accountable for what you are teaching. Our souls are more valuable than anything else and we do not wish to be led astray by slick-sounding arguments or doctrine.
Do not take this letter as berating you. It is actually written out of humility and necessity. As the people of God, we desire to follow Him in every holy way, with every ounce of strength, and in all purity until the time as He sees fit to come for us or call us individually into His presence.
Thank you kindly for taking the time to read and consider our petition.
Struggling with assurance of salvation seems to be a common thing. Like the Israelites in the book of Judges, we sin, experience God’s chastising hand, repent, return to God, and sin once again.
It is a depressing cycle. It is the constant battle of the spirit and the flesh. Through your Christian walk, you have certainly come to realize that truly the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). These emotions are powerful and run deep within our souls. If we let them, they will paralyze us in fear and keep us from serving our God.
What can we do then, to get us through these difficult moments? We turn to the Word of God! Here are three things that we can remeber during these weak moments:
Firstly, remember that God knows our weaknesses
Psalm 103:14 declares, For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. This is a beautiful Psalm about the goodness and care of God over His people. It begins with the Psalmist praising God for His goodness and benefits, which include:
forgiveness of sin (verse 3)
redemption (verse 4)
earthly gifts (verse 5)
He then moves to the theme of God’s compassion. Verses 6-9 tells us that though God could deal with us according to our sin, He is merciful and instead chooses to show us love and compassion. By the time we reach verses 13 and 14, we get a clear understanding of how David views God: God, like an earthly father, shows compassion on us because of our frailty. He knows and understands our weaknesses. Let this thought be a comfort when you are in doubt because of your sin.
Secondly, remember your baptism
Modern Evangelicalism has duped many into believing that baptism is nothing more than a mere symbol or act of obedience. Scripture proclaims our baptism as so much more. It depicts baptism as our entrance into Christ’s death. In Romans 6, Paul demonstrates that just as we were buried with Christ through baptism, we also will be raised to live a life of righteousness to the glory of God the Father.
Baptism is our “anchor” into Christ’s atoning work. Peter tells us that baptismsaves as an appeal to God for a good conscience. We must daily drown the old Adam in our baptism and allow the new Adam to come forth. It is a daily thing. We will fail. We will give in to our flesh. We will sin. But we have the promise of our baptism, that through Christ’s work and resurrection, we are forgiven and washed (Eph 5:26, Titus 3:5, 1Pe 3:21).
For more info on the efficacy of baptism, download the PDF article, New Life Through Baptism from the Lutheran Study Bible.
Of the many verses that capture the reason behind the Son’s incarnation into our world, this verse says it the best. It is simplistic yet profound. Lutheran scholar R.H. Lenski said of John 3:16, “The “must,” the compulsion, lies in the wonder of God’s love and purpose. By telling Nicodemus this in such lucid, simple language Jesus sums up the entire gospel in one lovely sentence, so rich in content that, if a man had only these words and nothing of the rest of the Bible, he could by truly apprehending them be saved”. (Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, p.258, Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.)
It is indeed one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible. It matters not whether you “feel” saved or if you’ve sinned greatly, or you think there is no returning because this time you really blew it. Stop using subjectivity to ascertain your standing before God! Your surety lies in the objective work of Christ alone. It is the promise of forgiveness through His death and resurrection and His word does not change, regardless of your feelings.
Take comfort in this and understand that your assurance rests with Him, not your feelings.
My soul hath naught a reason for despairing/in times of doubt mine eyes will look above/for Jesus, bless-ed Consolation/secures me fast with mercy and with love
The Law revealing, self-merit dare not stand/its accusations doth my conscience sting/But Jesus, bless-ed Consolation/Thy perfect work, my guilty conscience pleads
Salvation wrought, my weary soul rejoices/The Law, with all its power o’er me hath lost/This Jesus, bless-ed Consolation/His love, His blood, hath nailed it to the cross
In desert drought or valley lows descending/even death as its last breath shall groan/My Jesus, bless-ed Consolation/with joy and laude I’ll worship at Thy throne
I was honored to join my brother, Danny, on the Messed Up Church podcast yesterday. We discussed the ever popular Psalm 46:10–Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth. The verse is misused by being toted as a verse of a quiet, meditative peace during the midst of life’s chaotic moments. But as you will see, it goes way beyond this interpretation. We will seek to put this verse back in the proper context of its authorial intent.
Below is the PDF that was mentioned in the video and the video of the podcast itself.
I listen to Christian radio sometimes while I’m driving. I’m not too big a fan of Contemporary Christian Music but I do enjoy some of the worship and praise songs that my local station plays on occasion. Most times, I hear self-absorbed, self-centered music with a few God and Jesus lyrics thrown in for good measure.
Our culture seems to be on an ever-spiraling decline of selfishness and it is no wonder the church has followed suit. With a large majority of churches now catering sermons about improving your life in general, it didn’t take too long for Christian music to pick up the mantle. I’m certainly not accusing all Christian artists of being plagued with the self-help mentality but by and large, a good number of songs reflect the current trend of that culture.
Just on the way home today I heard a song with the lyrics (I’m paraphrasing) that talked about trusting God because what else do you have to lose? You were made for something more.
There is nothing maniacal at all with the concept. But I still have a problem with it. A HUGE problem! The main problem is that the gospel seems to have been reduced to a Savior that died for the sake of fulfilling God’s plan for your life. The majority of songs that I hear reflect this same thing. It is no surprise that many Christians have bought into this lie. I am sorry to inform you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, but Jesus did not die to fulfill God’s wonderful plan for your life. Jesus did not die to heal your broken heart because your boyfriend or girlfriend broke up with you. Jesus did not die to give you a second shot at fulfilling your dreams. Jesus did not die to give you better self-esteem. Jesus did not die so that you could pursue a dream of becoming the next American idol. Scripture gives us many reasons why Jesus did die. Here are a few of them:
Jesus died to present His people as holy and blameless unto the Father (Jude 24-25)
I could go on and on but I think you get the picture. The most important thing to remember is that Jesus died for the glory of God! So the next time you’re sharing the gospel with someone please, please, please, do not tell them that Jesus died so that He could fulfill God’s wonderful plan for their life. Just tell them that Christ died to save sinners.
Bible reading is profitable for the soul. Cracking open your Bible every day is essential and necessary to understand and hear God’s word. But let us not confuse it with Bible study. Study is much different than reading. Studying a passage forces us to slow down and ask questions of the text, whereas reading simply informs us of general things in the text. Over the next several weeks I hope to present some Bible study tips to help you get the most out of your study. Note that I said study–not reading! There are five general principles I believe can aid your study of the word. They will be presented below and over the next several posts will be dealt with in a more comprehensive fashion.
bow to your king, King context
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Context is king,” on more than one occasion. It is absolutely true and vital for both the interpretation and the application of Scripture. In our post dealing with context, we will explore three main areas of context: (1) the immediate context – this is the surrounding verses of the passage you are studying. (2) the book context – this deals with the reason behind the author’s writing of the book. It speaks volumes on interpretation. (3) other author writings – authors had particular phrases, words, and concepts that they used in their writings. Most New Testament authors wrote more than one book and so their language may have spilled over in these other writings. It is important to look at these other writings when determining how certain words are used.
the background information station
Like context, background information is vital for correctly understanding Scripture. As Westerners, we have the habit of reading Scripture through our cultural lenses. This tends to be a great travesty in the area of hermeneutics and yields false interpretations. In our post dealing with background, we will consider the cultural nuances that help us interpret Scripture accurately, particularly in the Gospels and parables.
Discover Diagramming joys
They’re hard, they’re a lot of work, and no one likes to diagram—ever! But diagramming a passage will help you understand the syntax like nobody’s business. When you understand the main subjects and verbs of a clause you will have a better overall understanding of the structure of a passage. And seeing a visual representation takes a step further, especially as you are dealing with multiple sentences. In our post on diagramming, we will examine three different types of visuals that will help understand the syntax of a passage: line diagramming, text flow diagramming, tracing (AKA, arcing, or bracketing).
Original language blues
The Bible was written in three different languages. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the New Testament in Greek. The goal, therefore, is to get back to the original authorial intent. What did the author mean when he used this particular word? Why did he choose to use that particular structure? These are questions that good word studies can answer. But be careful not to fall into the pit of word study fallacies. All of this will be discussed in our post on word studies.
Applying the hermeneutical principles can often be a daunting task. As overwhelming as it can seem, there are rules, or a structure, if you will, that guide these principles. When the proper foundation is laid the rest of the rules are a bit easier to manage. In our microwave-instant generation, we have tendencies to skip straight to the results without actually preparing the ingredients. Imagine a construction company attempting to build a skyscraper without a blueprint! It would all be guesswork and disaster would certainly follow. Interpreting God’s word is a much more serious thing and skipping the instructions results in spiritual disaster. For more on bad hermeneutical principles, see my earlier post on ways you may be interpreting Scripture wrong. In the final post, we will see how this structure works and how each of the principles is built upon each other.
Bible study is work. No great Bible teacher got to be great or understand the things he understands without first putting in the work. As we embark on this journey together it will be important to keep in mind that the methods presented are not exhaustive. They are simply there to get you started and hopefully continue to spur you more and more towards deeper study.
Considering Context is already a written segment of this site. However, I wanted to do a podcast as not everyone would be able to sit and read for a long period of time. The podcast should not last more than fifteen minutes or so, with some hitting the half-hour mark if technical and structural considerations of the text have to be discussed. Below is the first very first episode. Enjoy!
The Messed Up Church is a group of independent contributors who focus on some of the zany, whacky, ridiculous things going on in the mainstream Evangelical church. As of late, they began exploring the podcast arena. This episode is an interview with Robert M. Bowman, Jr., author of The Word of Faith Controversy. Take s listen to the podcast and jump over to the MUC site and relish in the resources that will help you avoid false teachers like COVID!
The Bible contains many precious promises of God to the believer. They are and should be a great source of comfort to us. Promises of God’s presence with His people, His enduring strength in our weaknesses, and mostly, His covenant with His people through the perfect work of His Son, Jesus, are causes of rejoicing and celebration, and rightly so.
Problems arise, however, when we begin to misinterpret or misapply these promises. Do not fret. We all do it. We are all guilty of making these promises more than they were intended to be. The important thing is to recognize what we are doing wrong and readjusting so that we interpret and apply Scripture correctly. Here are five ways we may be misinterpreting Scripture.
it’s me! (allegorizing yourself into scripture)
Allegory is a useful way to teach theological truths. What else are Jesus’ parables but allegorical stories that demonstrate their spiritual meanings? The parable of the soils teaches us the condition of the human heart in response to the gospel. The prodigal son shows us God’s acceptance of a repentant sinner and a self-righteous person’s indignant attitude of the repentant person. And one of my favorite allegorical stories in the Bible is found in Judges 9:7-21. After Gideon’s death, his son, Abimeliech became the self-appointed king and murdered all of his brothers, save one. This youngest son, Jotham, confronted him and told him an allegorical tale that would be Abimilech’s downfall.
Allegory is not a problem in and of itself. Problems arise when we attempt to take a passage of Scripture, usually historical or narrative, and place ourselves as one of the main characters in the story. Perhaps the most famous type of this fallacy is that of David and Goliath. The common Evangelical pastor interprets this to mean that God will help you defeat your “giants” and that with His help you can overcome anything. Marshmallowy mush like this has caused many a Christian to wrongly interpret the story of David and Goliath and claim a promise of God not found in the narrative. How do we avoid such fallacies? Here are three simple rules on how not to misinterpret allegory.
True allegory will be presented as such. Therefore, you will not find allegory in historical and narrative passages unless it is stated as allegory. Parables, hyperboles, Apocalyptic literature, and the like are introduced by specific phrases and keywords such as, “there was a man…”, “he told them a parable…”, “it was like…”, etc.
Allegory is full of imagery. The passage in Judges, for example, depicts the enemies of Jotham as certain types of trees while the main character, Abimilech, is depicted as an olive tree. Since olive trees were viewed as good and safe, the imagery is useful and appropriate for the occasion. If the passage you are reading does not contain these types of elements, it is not an allegory. Don’t interpret them as such or place yourself as one of the characters. Narrative is written to inform us of something past and usually contains an over-bearing theme for the benefit of the reader. Hence, the entire book of Judges warns us of apostasy and the continual wavering between serving the Living God or dead idols.
Allegory will always be tied to the lesson that the author is presenting. In other words, the author has a point to make and launches into a story that represents this. Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenants in Luke 20:9-18 exemplifies this type of allegory where the Pharisees represent the tenants, the prophets of old represent the king’s messengers, and Jesus represents the heir. The point of this allegory is that God has a vineyard, Israel, and expects fruit. He has placed the religious leaders over the people to care for them. They failed and so He sent prophets they ignored. The final person is the heir, Jesus. They will also reject Him and therefore be kicked out of the Kingdom of God. If your allegory is not indicative of the lesson the author is trying to make then it is not an allegory.
stone skipping in the pond (skipping straight to the application)
One of the greatest temptations of Scripture reading is not understanding the full context. This tends to happen when we see a verse that stands out to us or affects us emotionally one way or another. Instead of examining the surrounding verses, we tear up and go with that “feeling.” We never consider whether the application that we think is correct is valid because it makes us feel good. Just as interpretation is dependent upon the context, so too our application must reflect the context. It is doubtful that a first-century audience would have understood Zepheniah 3:17 as God giving believers the feel-good assurance of His love. That is a purely modern application and stems from lazy Bible reading/study. It is a total disregard for the text and ignores the entirety of God’s judgment upon the leaders of Israel, of which the context of Zepheniah 3:17 speaks. Before jumping to an application ask these questions:
What is the full context of this passage?
What message is the author trying to convey?
How would the original audience have understood it?
What was the response the author was seeking?
verbs, tenses, & roots (word study fallacies)
“The Greek word for power is dunamis. It’s where we get our word ‘dynamite.’ This passage is saying that God’s power is dynamite!”
How many times have you heard this or something similar? Enter, the word study fallacy. Word studies yield vital information when done properly. However, the saying, A little Greek is a dangerous thing, should always be minded carefully. Understanding syntax, not just basic definitions, goes a long way in proper interpretation. Most fallacies of the word study type occur in two areas:
Tenses – verbs are packed with tenses which indicate time and Greek is no different. Most unskilled interpreters look at a specific tense, ascertain a basic definition, and conclude that this tense bears the same nuance every time it occurs. One of the most famous examples is John 1:1. The ‘to be’ verb in that passage is an imperfect tense. Imperfect, as given in many grammars is described as a past event that is not yet completed or an action that is yet ongoing. For this reason, I have heard pastors attempt to translate John 1:1 as, In the beginning, was being the word, and the word was being with God, and the word was being God. This kind of fallacy stems from a misunderstanding of how tenses work. Though the imperfect may bear this kind of action in some way, it is not always the case and should not always be assumed. Careful consultation of Greek scholars and grammarians will go a long way to aiding you in the syntax of word studies. One of the primary sources used is Dan Wallaces Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. It is an excellent resource that will help with understanding verbal aspects and how they work together.
Root words – also called the Etymological Fallacy, it assumes the root meaning of the word must continue to mean the same thing throughout time. A wise person once said that language is dynamic rather than static. In other words, words change their meanings over time and it should not be assumed that the word you are now studying carries the same meaning as it once did. The Greek word διαθήκη, for instance, is translated as covenant in the New Testament. However, the original use of the word according to the LSJ Greek Lexicon is that of a will of property. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament further indicates that it was often used as coming to an agreement or a distribution of property. It would be improper to assume that it means this in every context simply because the root word initially indicated this usage. But one of the vilest misuses of this fallacy I have ever encountered came at the attempt to equate the same usage of the Greek preposition ἐν (in) in all contexts. The sermon was on Ephesians 2:2, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience. The pastor came to the conclusion that because the basic definition of ἐν is a place of location, and the text stated that lost people had the spirit of disobedience working ἐν them, then all lost people must be demon-possessed! This kind of reasoning is destructive and always leads to bad theology. Beware of the Root Fallacy.
For more information on these types of bad hermeneutical practices, D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies is an excellent resource.
unintended promises (is it for me or another group of people?)
Scripture is replete with promises. God’s word is written to assure us of His faithfulness and goodness towards us. But one thing that we need to reckon with is that not every promise in Scripture is individualistic. That is, many of the promises are corporate, or for a specific people group. When we take a corporate promise and make it individual, it often results in disappointment. Jeremiah 29:11 is perhaps the most misapplied promise in all of Scripture.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future
This verse has been hung on thousands of walls in homes, venerated in countless Bible studies, and passed around social media like wildfire. The promise is not a promise for God to fulfill a plan for your life, or even to bring you to a place where He can begin to shape your “destiny,” as has been so wrongly taught. God’s promise here is a corporate promise to the nation of Israel to restore them as His inheritance and to bring them back to the land of Israel after their time of punishment has ended. It is His assurance that even in the midst of their chastisement, He has not forgotten His promise to be their God and for them to be His people.
Therefore, the only feasible way to apply a modern application of this passage is the realization that when God now punishes His people, the Church, it is out of love. The Church should cling to the promise that despite their discipline, it is through the covenant of His Son that He will not forsake them. He does this because He knows the plans He has for [them]declares the LORD…
It is truly sad when a person becomes depressed and begins to think that God is unfaithful. Knowing a little context goes a long way. When claiming promises from Scripture, be extra diligent that you understand the full extent and context of that promise.
hello, my name is context. You ripped me from my pages. prepare to die! (context–the over-arching theme)
You may have guessed by now that the main thing stressed throughout this post has been the importance of context. Context ripping is all too often a reality in the pulpit as well as in our personal studies. Misinformation, misinterpretation, and misapplication are all a result of destroying the context. Do not fret, Christian for we are all guilty of this at one time or another. The important thing is to recognize and correct our mistakes. There are guidelines that can help us avoid this pitfall and though we will not always be one hundred percent correct, we can be confident that we did not butcher God’s word to such a degree that it is irreparable. Here are some things to consider when interpreting and applying Scripture.
Read the entire context. The entire context includes the verses before and after the passage you are reading. Sometimes it may include entire paragraphs depending upon the genre. A lot of heart misinterpretation is suddenly taken care of when the full context is taken into consideration.
Understand the background of the book. Part of knowing the context consists of knowing the who, what, why, when, where, and how–the 5WH method–of what you are studying. Understanding the background is a tremendous help in interpreting the passage. For example, the book of Galatians was written for the purpose of debunking Judaizers. These were men that were teaching the young church that adherence to the Mosaic Law was required alongside of faith in Christ. When we realize what is at stake, we begin to understand some of the harsh and condemnatory language Paul uses towards his audience. The book of 1John serves as another example. Some people are baffled at the opening of this treatise. What does John mean by all of this talk? Simply stated, he was combating a form of Gnosticism that taught that Jesus did not have a real physical body because the flesh was evil and the spirit was good. At the outset, John makes it very clear that he and the other disciples physically touched, talked, and heard Jesus.
Keep the book’s context in mind while reading. If you know the context of the book it should always be front and center while attempting to interpret. The New Testament authors wrote for specific purposes and this purpose is what drove them to engage their audience. Jude, for example, states that his brief epistle was written for his audience to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. He wanted to write to them concerning their common salvation but changed gears as he felt the necessity to address false teachers. The Gospel of John was written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. When you know the why of the book, it must be kept at the forefront to understand a correct interpretation. Grasping for an interpretation or application outside of this context will usually be wrong. No doubt there will be many topics addressed in a book or an epistle but the important thing to remember is that the authors usually had a specific audience in mind with a specific reason for writing to that audience.
Know your genre& literary devices. Genre and literary devices are important when it comes to interpreting Scripture. You don’t interpret poetry the same way you would interpret a didactic (teaching) passage, for instance. Or you would not interpret apocalyptic literature the same way as an historical or narrative passage. How are hyperboles to be interpreted? What about some of the stranger sayings in Scripture? Though context is the guiding factor in all interpretation, different genres must be interpreted according to their rules. Let’s take, for example, Jesus’ statement in Luke 14:26: If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother… he cannot be My disciple. Are we to come to the conclusion that Jesus is commanding us to hate our parents or other family members? What of His own teaching on honoring your parents? This particular verse demonstrates hyperbole, a literary device used to exaggerate something in order to make a point. Here, Jesus is not advocating hate for family. He is using the extreme to make a point. Your love for family members should be of such degree that it pales in comparison to that of even your closest Jesus. And if those family members keep you from following Him, you are to forsake them instead of rejecting Him. I once knew a pastor who took this passage at face value and encouraged others who had family members that were unsaved to do the same. This is why great care should be taken when interpreting different genres and literary devices.
Go with the plain meaning of the text. There is no reason to complicate things. Sometimes, it really is that simple. When the Bible states that we are all dead in sin (Eph 2:1) it really means that. When Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again of water and Spirit (John 3:5) that’s what it actually means. Sometimes there’s a deeper meaning like our example passage Luke 14:26 above, but most times it really is as simple as the text states. If the plain meaning of the text is the plain meaning of the text, then the plain meaning of the text is the plain meaning of the text. Let’s not complicate it.
It may be discouraging to realize that you have been guilty of any of these interpretive fallacies. When I began to understand how hermeneutics properly worked, I had many ooops moments of my own. Do not let it deter you from studying God’s word. We are all guilty of these methods and we must all learn how to correct our mistakes. Be sure to visit the Study Aids page for books and other tools that will be of help. Until then, God bless your study of His word!