Based on the title of today’s message, I promise not to give one verse or quote from the Bible.
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There are many, many people who believe the Bible to be the infallible Word of God. Yet, how can that be if there are literally dozens of different versions of the Bible and under the law of copyright, each version has to have a significant difference from the other versions?
Also, we have interpretations of the original Hebrew and Greek into many different languages, and we all know that there is no such thing as an exact translation from one language to another due to cultural and linguistic differences between the many different people of the world.
So, in light of these facts, how can we even think that what we are reading in our Bible (whichever version it may be) is truly infallible?
The truth is…it can’t be! After all, the Bible is just a book. It is not God, himself. It tells us about God, it tells us what God wants us to know, it even tells us how to live our lives in the way that pleases God, but it is not God. It is not infallible, and it is not exactly what he said, even when it is supposed to be a quote.
Now that I have angered a number of you who are absolutely fixated on the Bible as being the absolute, infallible word of God, let’s raise the bar on your frustration.
When someone tries to prove a position, spiritual, ceremonial or social, that is based on what is written in the Bible, their argument may not trustworthy. And I am not talking about just those arguments that I don’t agree with. Why do I say this? Because the way people use Bible verses to support their position is too often an improper use of biblical exegesis.
As an example of what I mean, let’s take two of the most hotly argued issues regarding the Bible: the Trinity and Mosaic Law.
There are many people who argue that the Bible tells us, absolutely, that God, Messiah and the Holy Spirit are three-in-one, all the same entity but appearing in different forms. Then again, there are just as many people who say the Bible tells us, absolutely, that God, Messiah and the Holy Spirit are separate and unique entities, that there is only One God, one Messiah who is not God, and the Holy Spirit. Both sides have biblical evidence that supports their argument, and often the Bible verses they use as support for each side of these polar opposite beliefs are the same verses!
As far as the “Law”, meaning the commandments given to Moses on the mountain which are written in the Torah, still being required for those who have accepted Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) as their Savior, there is the one side quoting from the New Covenant to show the law was done away with when Yeshua was crucified, and there are those who use quotes from the New Covenant to show that those who accept Yeshua are still required to obey God’s Torah.
Now…before you start to comment on which position is correct, please stop right there and remember this message is NOT about the Trinity or the Law- it is about the fact that Bible quotes cannot be trusted as absolute proof of a position. The reason why I say this should now be obvious: because the same verses can be used to support either side they can’t really support any side.
The reason this can be is because there is so much in the Bible, so many different messages and ideas and statements, that if I want to prove whatever I choose to believe in, if I take enough time, look long enough, and pull enough words and statements out of context, I can make the Bible “say” pretty much anything I want it to say.
So, nu? If this is true, then how can anyone learn anything from the Bible? How can we use the Bible to show what God wants us to know and how he wants us to behave? How can we trust anything anyone tells us about God?
We do so by interpreting the Bible correctly. We use proper biblical exegesis, which is a combination of Circles of Context and Hermeneutics.
Circles of Context is the system where we take the word within the sentence, the sentence within the paragraph, the paragraph within the book, and the book within the entire Bible. We make sure that when we are reading or quoting anything from the Bible that the interpretation considers who is writing it and to whom is it addressed. We have to consider what the topic is; for instance, Shaul (Paul) wrote to the different Messianic congregations he formed that were having problems. Each letter he wrote was specifically meant to deal with that congregation’s problems, and so each letter is unique to that audience. What he wrote to the Jews in Rome has to be interpreted and understood using Jewish culture, linguistic, and religious context. On the other hand, the letter to the Galatians was to a congregation of mostly Gentiles in the process of converting to Judaism. In that case, Shaul wrote using a form of Greek logic and terms from the Septuagint because the Gentiles there would not understand the nuances and cultural mores of a Jewish argument.
Once we have reviewed the biblical passage in its full context, we also need to ensure it is hermeneutically validated. Hermeneutics, simply stated, is the idea that everything we find in the Bible will be consistent with everything else in the Bible. As such, what is said to be a sin in Genesis will still be considered a sin in Revelation; what Shaul says is in the Torah in his letter to the Philippians will be consistent with what Moses tells us is in the Torah in Exodus.
Just as we are told that God is the same then, now and always, hermeneutics uses this same idea to validate what we read in the Bible- the meaning of the passage we read here must be the same everywhere else in the book. The true word of God does not contramand itself.
When we read the Bible, we need to always use these two exegetical practices. We must consider the cultural and linguistic usage of the words and events we read about that were used at the time they were written. We cannot use current or modern definitions of words or, for that matter, current social and moral values for what was done in ancient days. We must accept what we read in the Bible from the viewpoint, morally, culturally and linguistically, of the people that lived back then. If we really want to understand what we read in the Bible, we need to transplant ourselves into the culture and walk a mile in the shoes, or sandals as the case may be, of the people at that time.
Can we trust the Bible? Yes, we can. We can trust what is in the Bible when we use the proper tools I have given you today. And always, ask God to show you what he wants you to see. There is a legitimate argument that God may give a different message or meaning to you than he will to me, even when we read the same passage. So long as what we each believe that passage to mean is contextually accurate and hermeneutically validated, we can both be right. For instance, some prophecies have dual-meanings, and if you see the current meaning and I see the future meaning, we are both saying something different about the same thing, and we are both correct.
I know this is confusing and may make some of you feel uneasy and doubtful. That is good! Never accept what anyone says as correct, not even me- always verify it for yourself in the Bible using the proper tools of interpretation. And always, always, always ask God for guidance and understanding.
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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch Ha Shem!