Do Bible Verses Really Prove Anything?

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!

There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way to Disagree

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When I was a “suit” working on Wall Street back in the 80’s, and you said I should be a Salesman working strictly on commission, I would have told you that you were NUTS!! Yet, as the old saying goes: If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans; my plans were turned around and by 1992 I was working as a commission-only salesman, doing the hardest of all types of sales- in the home from a telemarketing lead. And God helped me by placing good trainers in my path so that after about 2 years in that field I was one of the top two salesmen in the country selling siding, windows, and kitchen refacing.

You may wonder what this has to do with the title of today’s message, and I’ll be happy to tell you how:

Nowhere, in all of my experience throughout three different career paths, did I learn as much about human nature and how to get my ideas across successfully to others then when I learned how to sell.

Selling is the “Poor Man’s” career in Psychology. It isn’t so much manipulation of people as it is getting them to reject their own pre-conceived ideas and actually listen and absorb what you are saying to them. They still get to make up their own minds, but a good salesman will do three things:

  1. Make them realize that what they think they want is not what they need;
  2. Show them that what he has is really what they need;
  3. Allow them to come to their own conclusion that what he has is not just what they need, but what they want.

People don’t buy what they need but they do buy what they want, and when we take this from the commercial applications to the spiritual, we need to be able to “sell” the idea that what they need and want is Messiah and obedience to God which must come about through proper interpretation of God’s Word. .

Now we get into the real meat of today’s message- how do we get past that first step in which we are disagreeing with their pre-conceived ideas without making them kick us out the door? I can tell you this, absolutely…it isn’t by slapping them in the face with the truth.

I am a member of half a dozen different “Christian” or “Messianic” discussion groups, and too often I run into people with ideas totally opposite to my understanding. And no matter what their ideas are, or mine (for that matter), if we cannot discuss or argue in a respectful and proper manner, then we achieve nothing. 

The proper way to disagree with someone is not to tell them they are wrong, and never, never, NEVER attack them on a personal level.  You can’t win someone over by insulting them (remember that old saw about how you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar?) I am not saying you should agree with them or say something like “You might be right” if you really believe they are wrong, but disagree with them and do it with respect for their right to choose what they want to believe.

God has given each of us Free Will to choose, and when people tell me (as I often have to deal with) that I am wrong and I have to change, they are (in my opinion) abrogating my God-given right to choose.

NOTE: did you catch that style of disagreeing? Starting off with “in my opinion”, or “for me”, or even “what I have been taught…” is a way to disagree and get your opinion out there which will allow them to listen without feeling the need to defend themselves. Thats’ becasue the focus is on you, not them.

I will try to respectfully disagree with people without attacking them, although I might attack what they have been taught. When I do this I make sure that first I have a biblical reference to justify my position. I state how proper biblical interpretation must account for historical and linguistic context, hermeneutics, etc. in justifying my position, but I will not come right out and tell them they are wrong.

Having said that, there are times when I will be very straightforward and say they are wrong, but not in a way that blames them for being wrong. I will say that what they have been taught is wrong- attacking what they have been told without attacking them. I will say that they have been taught is a form of traditional doctrine, that what they have been told is not in compliance with the Bible (showing them the Bible reference), or some other means of demonstrating that what they are saying is not accurate but not saying that THEY are inaccurate.

At some point, usually after two or three back-and-forth discussions, if I can see that they are not ever going to even consider what I am saying, I ask them if we can just agree to disagree and let God judge between us. If the other side is spiritually and emotionally mature, we will end friends. But, unfortunately, too many times pridefulness overrules spirituality and the other side just can’t let it go. They will continue to post their side, and from the frustration that comes from my not bending to their will, they stop talking about the Bible and begin to attack me, personally. They call me spiritually empty, unknowing, ignorant, demonically possessed (yes, there have been people who have accused me of that), and any number of nasty, virile attacks against me. That is why God invented BLOCKING on Facebook.

When the discussion turns from your ideas and beliefs being argued to you being insulted and berated, it is time to shake the dust off your sandals and move on. Let them have the last word, you be the humble one and accept that you can’t make someone change their mind if they don’t want to.

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the lightbulb has to really want to change.

People are the same way. And remember: there is very little good soil out there to begin with, and we are just here to sow the seeds.

After having read this, if you disagree with me about any part of it, that’s OK- you have a right to! And if you agree with me, that’s much better, but the hard thing is not to just understand what I am saying but to actually use it in real life. When people are so passionate about what they believe that they can’t stand the thought of someone else not agreeing with them, the situation can become very tense and hurtful before you even know it is happening. Practice makes perfect, as with any skill, and if you find that your arguments keep falling on deaf ears, first I would suggest you verify that you are correct. Review your position with an open-minded approach and, if after doing so, you still believe your original position is the correct one but no one is listening to you, consider that you might need to change your method of argumentation.

No matter how “right” we may think we are, if we can’t get people to listen to us we might as well say nothing.

 

Is Jesus God? I Have the Definitive Answer!

I have heard people argue in person, in congregations, and on Face Book in different discussion groups whether or not Jesus (Yeshua) is God (the Father) or just the Messiah. Is He God? Is He just a human being? What does “God in the Flesh” really mean, anyway?

Before we get to what I consider the definitive answer to this unanswerable question, let’s review Bruck’s Acid Test Question for discussion topics:

How does this affect my salvation?

If I believe Yeshua is God, does that make me any more “saved” than someone who believes Yeshua is just the Messiah and a separate entity from God? Is believing in God the Father and Yeshua the Messiah as separate entities something that is dishonoring God? Will I not be saved if I only accept Yeshua as God’s son and the Messiah God promised?

If I believe Yeshua is not God the Father, am I rejecting God? If I believe Yeshua is God, why do I need to have faith in a messiah? If the Messiah is God, why do I need to identify Him as a Messiah? God is all I will need, right?  But if Yeshua is not God and I put my faith in Him as the means of my forgiveness, does that mean I am not saved?

If I have faith that Yeshua is the Messiah who provides forgiveness of sin, will it make any difference to my being forgiven whether Yeshua is God or not?

Do you see where I am going with this?

The definitive answer to the question, “Is Jesus God?” is this: It doesn’t matter!

No one can argue against the biblical fact that Yeshua lived a life and died. Even those who don’t accept Him as Messiah cannot really argue against the biblical and extra-biblical historical evidence of His life. And anyone who accepts Yeshua as their Messiah cannot argue that His sacrifice is what now provides for us the means to be forgiven of our sins (because with the Temple destroyed we have no place to offer sacrifice for sin, in accordance with Torah.)

So, whether or not Yeshua is God, He is (at least) Messiah, and it is our faith that through Yeshua we are saved. The faith in Yeshua that He is the Messiah and His sacrifice was for us, and also our faith in God that He will keep His promise to forgive those who ask for it, in Yeshua’s name. This is how we are saved: proclaiming faith that Yeshua is the Messiah God promised, that when we do T’shuvah (turn from sin) and ask God for forgiveness invoking the name of Yeshua, we will be forgiven. That is how salvation works.

So can you see that whether or not Yeshua is God doesn’t affect our salvation- we are covered one way or the other. That’s why it doesn’t really matter.

But let’s not stop now!

Ask yourself this: What value is the argument about Yeshua being God, or not being God, have to anyone? Who really benefits from this discussion? I’ll tell you who benefits from it- The enemy does!

What I have heard and seen when this topic comes up is, invariably, dissension, argumentation, dissonance, hatred, pridefulness and anger. All these emotions, especially when brothers and sisters in the Lord direct them at each other, serve only the enemy of God.  Yeshua said people will know we are His Disciples by how we love each other, but when this discussion comes up, love goes right out the window! Because any answer makes no difference to our salvation, this is a useless discussion that only causes strife every time it comes up, and as such serves no useful purpose in God’s kingdom or to a gathering of God’s people.

Whether or not Jesus is God doesn’t really matter, but what does matter is how we treat each other, how we maintain our focus on what is important and how we learn more about what God wants us to do for His kingdom and His glory. Now, I can’t talk for God, but I am willing to go out on a limb and say I really, really doubt God wants us to argue with each other about something that has nothing to do with salvation, spreading the word, making disciples or showing the peace and love that God has for everyone. Aren’t those things more important than a theological discussion about deity that doesn’t edify or help anyone?

Think about it.

Pride and Prejudice

No, I am not talking about the classic novel. Truth be told, I never read it.

I am talking about my experiences on different Face Book Discussion Groups. I have joined a few, mainly to get my name “out there” to generate interest in this ministry, my website, and (maybe?) sell a book or two. So far it has been more painful than useful.

I have been a member of one group that was supposed to be about the Torah, but instead ended up being all about Kabbalah and Talmud, almost totally Rabbinical-based. I was also on one that was titled in a way that made you think it had Messianic Jews and Messianic Christians in it, but that was not so, either.

In both these different groups I found opinions that were anywhere from banal to heretical, and it seems that 20% of the people in the group (based on the numbers of members) did 80% of the posting.

And much of what was posted was, at least for me, useless. I saw posts that were nothing more than a “copy and paste” from the bible, verse upon verse, different verses from different books tied together in a continuous diatribe, with no message, no drash- just copy and paste. Some people did find something edifying in those posts, so it did serve a purpose for some, but to me that is just a topographical, empty spiritual experience. I don’t need to be in a discussion group to read bible verses.

The real problem is the pridefulness I see in the members of these groups that makes them prejudice towards anyone that disagrees with them. I have seen abusive, degrading and distasteful language used against someone who just disagrees. I have been the butt of this, myself. I mentioned how I felt about the Zohar, the “bible” of Kabbalah on one site, and I was accused of being in league with HaSatan because by my not wanting to read it I was being willfully ignorant, which is a sin and therefor in league with the Devil.

Really? Not wanting to read something that I was taught Judaism (and this was supposedly a Torah based site) has historically considered heretical because I don’t want to expose myself to it, makes me a demon? This one person went as far as to say that Yeshua (Jesus) was Kabbalah and taught from that.  The Chasidic and Orthodox Jews believe Kabbalah was first introduced at Sinai and was part of the Oral Torah, which has become the Talmud. In other sources the origin of Kabbalah is 12th to 13th Century in Spain.

The point is not what Kabbalah is or isn’t, but that when someone disagrees with you and you find yourself attacking the person instead of the argument, then your pride has taken over and you’re showing signs of prejudice. The anger and frustration you feel is causing you to become aggressive and impolite, and that is directly from pridefulness.

When we recommend something, or suggest a way to do something, if the person we give that suggestion to decides not to do it, many of us feel that we have been insulted. “You asked me, and I told you- so why won’t you do it?” is the feeling we have. We forget it is very likely that what we suggested is not a good suggestion; maybe it isn’t right, or maybe the person knows that it is a good suggestion, but there are other factors we don’t know about (which the person does) which render the suggestion as inappropriate. If nothing else, when someone asks for an idea or suggestion that doesn’t mean they have to do what is suggested. It is not personal, it is not because they don’t like you or think less of you, it is just that they decided they don’t want to do what was suggested. They have that right.

So, when I said I didn’t want to read the Zohar because of what I had been taught about it, why did I have to be called “willfully ignorant”, or be told that I am in league with Satan, or that I am unable to make up my own mind and am “easily swayed”? Why?- because the people who I was having this discussion with are so prideful and defensive of their own beliefs that they have to attack and demean anyone who doesn’t agree with them.

And this wasn’t any one group- I have been in (and out) of about 5 groups, of which (so far) only two have been representative of what I would expect from a God-fearing group of people who believe in Yeshua, or are (for lack of a better term) “Christian” in their approach to people. And when I use the term “Christian” I mean what we would want “Christian” to mean.

So, now that that’s off my chest, what is the value of this little rant of mine? It is to remind everyone, including myself, that when we talk about God, Yeshua or the bible, we are representing that topic. In other words, if I say I believe in Yeshua and am talking with another person who doesn’t, when they disagree with me and I start to brow-beat them, call them insulting names and tell them they are doomed for hell and eternal destruction, what kind of image will that leave them about all Believers? I think we can agree that their perception of someone who is “Christian” or “Messianic” will not be a good one. When we talk about God, no matter how adamant the other person is in their opinion, let them be the one that is out of control and wildly defensive. Let them be the one to attack you and call you names or infer your lack of strength or wisdom. Let them be the one who leaves a bad taste in the mouth of all listening. In the meantime, you be compassionate, respectful and patient. If they become abusive, politely ask them to not attack you personally and stay on the topic. If they can’t, then politely excuse yourself. Let everyone who is listening see the peace and security you have in your belief- wildly defensive is saying I can’t be sure of what I am saying and anyone who doesn’t agree is weakening my faith, so I must destroy them. Quietly and calming explaining why you believe in something shows a deep and confident faith in the truth of what you are talking about.

We know who God is, we know who Yeshua is, and we know (or we should) from our experience with God and Yeshua that whether someone accepts or rejects, the truth is still the truth.  In the Trilogy of the Matrix, Morpheus talks about the prophecy of “The One.” His commanding officer says that not everyone believes as Morpheus does, to which Morpheus replies that his faith doesn’t require anyone else to believe as he does. Now that is a statement of faith!

So even if someone is bound for hell, just because it is the truth doesn’t mean you have to tell them- you certainly won’t gain anything from it with regards to changing their mind. And if someone is adamant God doesn’t exist, remember that they have a right to their opinion. God gave us all Free Will to choose or reject Him- you know God exists, so you don’t need their approval or agreement because God exists whether they believe it or not.

Too many people have a bad image of “Believers” because too many Believers have left that image with them by being so zealous that they actually do the opposite of what they want to do: instead of making people jealous of the peace the Ruach (Spirit) gives us and of the fearlessness we have knowing that God is on our side, they leave the impression that all “Bible-thumpers” are totally out of touch with reality, and the last thing anyone would want to do is become that way.

When we proclaim ourselves as followers of Messiah, everything we do and say is a reflection on Messiah. Everything. And when someone who has rejected God, and/or Yeshua , sees us act in a poor fashion, they will use that as a reason to continue to reject God and His Messiah. So instead of saving a soul, we are contributing to their death.

Think about that the next time you are in a discussion with someone trying to win their soul for Messiah.