Let My People Think

Posts tagged ‘Bible’

Bible: a study tool or a God-substitute

BibliolatryIt’s fascinating how often the Bible gets deified, based on the way we use certain phrasings: “The Bible says …”, “The Scriptures teach us “, “The Bible tells us”.

In all of those examples, the Bible is antropomorphized – i.e., it’s getting endowed with characteristics which belong to sentient beings. That is without warrant. The teacher is the Holy Spirit. The One who is to be obeyed is God. The human being to emulate is Jesus. And the Bible is simply a very, very useful tool on the journey. It is the official historically accurate record of God’s dealings with humankind, containing a lot of “inside information”.

Typically, by the time we get to studying our Bibles, we are already given the looking glass through which we perceive everything that’s written in the Bible. In doing so, we calibrate our reading experience to our apriori theology, and we draw out and magnify things that are in line with what we already believe, and minimize and discard the things that could challenge our existing beliefs.

So, often times it’s not “the Bible teaching me”, but actually quite the opposite of that. It’s “me” telling the Bible what I think it should be saying.
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What is the Word of God? The answer might surprise you

Logos of GodThe Bible assigns a very special place to the “Word of God”. In fact, we even capitalize the word “Word”. Let’s take a deeper dive on this concept.

Often times, we equate the Word of God with the Bible, pretty much without thinking. After all, that’s the normal usage of the phrase, right? So, “studying the Word” turns to “reading the Bible”. “Flowing with the Word” becomes “knowing details about Biblical events” (culture, history, perhaps even Hebrew / Koine Greek, etc.)

Let’s take a close look at this notion. The Word of God is very important indeed:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

Let’s try to substitute this with the word “the Bible”, and see if this bears out:

“In the beginning was the Bible, and the Bible was with God, and the Bible was God.” (John 1:1)

There are a few problems with this. One, the first book of the Bible was likely penned in about 1500 BC, and the last book of the Bible was most likely penned shortly before 70 AD. The entire Bible was put together in its (more or less) final form no earlier than circa 367 A.D. Clearly, those 1800-1900 or so years happened long after “the beginning” of John 1:1.
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Women in society: recovering God’s original blueprint for womankind

Woman holding a BibleThe issue of the role of women in society is as old as the Biblical story of humankind itself. So, let’s revisit the creation account for a good starting point in our discussion. It contains some intriguing insights.

Unfortunately, most translations of the account of creation and the fall will not give you a faithful representation of the full meaning of what was being said, due to different translations of the same words, and haphazard capitalization of the noun “adam”. The word “adam” may be translated as “Adam” in one place, “man” in another, or “mankind” in the third, according to translators’ biases.

So, I will take NKJV for a starting point, and give you an straight translation from the original language in square brackets. Please feel free to verify this with your favorite interlinear or original language Scripture text.

Genesis 1
27 So God created man [adam] in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

The word “adam” derives from the word “adamah”, or earth. Literally, it means “that which is made of earth”, or “earthly human”. Hebrew lacked capitalization and punctuation the way English language has it today. So, let me simplify this:

Genesis 1
27 So God created the earthly human in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

You see that the account is not describing Adam the man. Rather, it’s describing male and female collectively. Therefore, the masculine pronoun “him” is not a reference to the man, per se. Rather, it’s a reference to the unity of male and female.

The word “image” (“tselem” in Hebrew, “eikon” in Greek) is something that is meant to faithfully represent the original. An example would be an icon, or a photograph. So, both male and female collectively have a God-appointed function to be a divine image-bearer in the world. Any deviation from that is bound to skew God’s reflected image, so it’s very important for us to uncover and be mindful of that original blueprint.
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How to study and apply the Bible

Scripture

What we call “the Bible” or “the Scriptures” is a historical collection of books which were composed over 1,500 years by 40 different authors. It was recorded under the guidance and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, yet at the same time was addressed to different groups of people in different circumstances living under different covenants. This is a very important point that is all too often overlooked. It’s not to be studied as an abstract collection of timeless sayings, but rather as a historical document applying timeless wisdom of God to people, individually and collectively, under different circumstances.

Another point is that the Bible contains words spoken by :
– God
– Jesus
– people inspired by God
– people not inspired by God (and even demon-possessed people)
– demons and satan.

So although we colloquially refer to the Bible as “the Word [of God]”, if you want to get precise, a better way to phrase that is “the Bible contains (or records) words of God”. Only Jesus is called “THE Word of God”. The Bible writings most commonly refer to themselves as “the Scriptures”. When we study our Bibles, we want to study the words of God, specifically, as well as examine how putting trust in God enabled peoples and individuals to advance with God (and how distrusting God led to failures).

I propose a simple, well-anchored 3-step approach to Bible study.
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Sudoku Scriptures

sudoku The Scriptures have been penned by 40 different authors in a time span of over 1,500 years. I believe that it was God who gave understanding and inspiration to those 40 individuals write a record of God’s dealings with humanity, in their historic context, as well as forecast future events and God’s plans and intentions in those as well. What then naturally follows from this perspective is that the Scriptures present an integrated, coherent message, united by an authorial intent and vision that transcends time and space limitations.

You shouldn’t find any “oops, I didn’t see that coming, let’s backtrack and try a different theory” type of issues here. Given the “omni-” characteristics of God (omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence), the Biblical message should be quite focused, consequential, and straightforward. Yet many of us have different degrees of difficulty both grasping the meaning of the text, and seeing how different pieces of the message fit together to form a coherent, logically sequenced whole.

If you haven’t tried playing Sudoku, you should give it a try. At first you will get frustrated, then if you persist you will get to really like it.
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