Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Historical Narratives

"For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink" (1 Corinthians 12:13).

Today we will consider some of the problems involved in reading the historical narratives of the Bible. The first principle, and the most important, is historical narratives must be interpreted by the didactic parts of the Bible. “Didactic” passages are those that teach matters directly. We must not read the historical parts of the Bible and then just imagine what they might mean, but we must permit the Bible to interpret itself.

For instance, should we always imitate Jesus? Or are there some things that were His unique prerogative, such as driving people out of the temple with a whip? We must use the didactic parts of the Bible to interpret the narrative parts. The Gospels as historical narratives relate what happened, while the Epistles give didactic teaching about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

A current debate illustrates this problem. Many Charismatic and Pentecostal theologians maintain that the baptism of the Holy Spirit happens after conversion and not all Christians receive it. Thus, there are two kinds of Christians: mere believers and Spirit-baptized believers. They base this on Acts 8 because the Samaritans did not receive the Spirit when they first believed, but later.

In contrast to this, however, the Epistles clearly teach that all believers receive the Spirit at conversion. Since the didactic portion of the Bible is clear, we have to go back to Acts and take another look. When we do, we find the baptisms of the Spirit in Acts are historical events that show the progress of the Gospel from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the earth. These events show that all believers, regardless of background, are baptized into the same body in Christ, and all have the same Spirit. The baptisms in Acts were miracles designed to make the point that there is no distinction among believers in Christ.

We read in Acts 2:44 that the believers sold their goods and had all things in common. How would you argue against someone who said this proves the need for Christians today to do the same? From your study, discern the unique historical event going on in Acts 2:44. (Hints: Leviticus 25:8ff.; Isaiah 61:1–2; Luke 4:19.)

SBG - Episode 10 - "Bible Translations"

Episode 10 - "Bible Translations" - Our host, Matthew Dowling, continues the discussion of God's revelation with an episode on the translations of the Bible. We discuss the Bible's earliest translations, the Septuagint and the Vulgate, the textual transmission of the Majority Text (Textus Receptus) and Westcott-Hort (Eclectic) Text and give some background on the translational philosophies behind contemporary English Bible translations.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Reading Existentially

"Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke of when he said: ‘Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’ ” Aaron remained silent (Leviticus 10:3).

As a methodology, subjectivism is dangerous. At the same time, however. Christians should read the Bible as people who are personally and passionately involved with what we are reading. We should read the Bible as if it were personally addressed to us.

The characters in the Bible are not fictional. They are real people who lived life with all its difficulties. The Bible is not simply communicating information to us but is presenting us with the fullness of life. The full range of human emotions is present.

One of the best illustrations of this occurs in Leviticus 10, where we have the record of the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron. We read that “Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD” (vv. 1–2).

There is not a word in this passage about Aaron’s reaction except what is implied. What do you think it was like for Aaron? Are we to assume that he was unmoved? Obviously not. I imagine Aaron was overcome with grief, and that he screamed to Moses, “Moses! What kind of a God would do this? I’ve served Him day and night. I’ve prepared my boys for the priesthood, and one little tiny transgression and He destroys them. Why, Moses? Why?”

Moses replied to his dear brother, “Aaron, don’t you remember that God made it clear that He would be treated as holy by those who approach Him? Don’t you see, Aaron, God will not tolerate sacrilege at the altar, even if it comes from the hands of your sons? God cannot tolerate it.” And Aaron bowed his head and was silent.

Can we feel the anguish and see the trial of Aaron’s faith as he keeps silent through his tears? If we can, we are able to make the Bible real to us.

Read Genesis 22. What were these men feeling? Do you begin to get a better understanding of what God was doing with them, and of what God is doing in your own life? Put yourself in the shoes of Abraham and then Isaac.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Scripture Twisting

How do people in various religious movements interpret Scripture? Many cults claim to have a high regard for it. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, claim the Bible as their sole authority. The Mormons place it first in their list of Scriptures. The Unification Church also gives it an authoritative position, as does Christian Science. Even the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of Transcendental Meditation, and other writers in the Eastern traditions quote favorably from the Bible. If traditional Christianity affirms the Bible as its sole authority, how can these very different religious movements claim Scripture for their own?

They can only do so by violating the principles of sound literary interpretation. The extent to which heretical doctrines are said to be based on Scripture is the extent to which misreading has taken place. Of course, not all doctrines held by traditional Christians have an equally firm biblical base. There is room for disagreement, for example, between Christians who hold that baptism is for adult believers only and those who argue that baptism is also for the children of believers. Serious Christians have drawn different conclusions. But both groups believe baptism is an important rite; the disagreement is on the mode of baptism.

There are difficulties in Scripture—passages which are obscure, references which are unclear. This we must admit. In fact, it is often in just these difficult areas that cult teaching makes its entry. Obscurities become key doctrines or important practices.

The point is that for the central core of the Christian faith, the biblical evidence is overwhelming. The deity of Christ, the triune nature of God, the creation of the world by God, the sinfulness of all humanity, salvation by God’s grace through faith, the resurrection of the dead—these and many other such matters are clearly taught in Scripture. Yet all of these have been challenged by one cult or another, and sometimes these challenges have been based—so the cult may claim—on the Bible itself.

If a Christian knows how the Bible is or can be misread, he or she can be properly wary of any evangelist’s claim that the Bible teaches any bizarre doctrine at all. With new cults springing up almost daily, what is needed is a general defense against all perversions of God’s Word.

Christians who respect biblical authority have a special burden to read right. We, too, are prone to fall into error. In fact, none of us is absolutely right about what God’s Word really means. That is why we must ourselves return daily to the Bible—reading and rereading, thinking and rethinking, obeying what we grasp, correcting our earlier readings as new insight is given us, constantly crosschecking our grasp of Scripture with our minister, our fellow Christians, and with the historic understanding of Scripture by orthodox Christianity.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Fear of Missing Out

It’s a modern fear apparently, fed by a constant awareness of what is happening in the lives of many others. It’s the anxiety that others elsewhere are having more rewarding experiences from which we are absent. It is often aroused by social media posts. So people may check their phones compulsively in case they miss what is going on. But there’s a deeper fear of missing out where people compare their boring lives to the carefully curated portraits they consume. They fear they are missing out on a better life altogether and they grudge others having it. Why? It’s Social Media Envy.

That answer may be a little shocking but there’s nothing new about it. Envy breeds discontent with the life and circumstances God has provided for us. We can be envious of very good and right things, even the best things. It’s something observed in Ecclesiastes 4:4 “I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbor. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit”. In this case, it is just someone doing what is right and good. They are following the calling God has given them. They may do this by maximizing their skills, raising a family and enjoying time with them, loving their wife etc. But these right works can be the cause of envy in others. Alexander Nisbet explains the meaning of this in more detail showing how this envy can get a hold in our hearts.

The word “travail” means the hard work in which men engage in things that are right and approved in God’s sight. He shows what reception this sort of work has in the world: “for this a man is envied”.  The better a man’s actions are, the more he is hated by those who cannot do similarly.  This may be even by his closest friend (this is what the word “neighbor” means here).  This is vanity, sinful vanity on the part of the envious who are grieved at what they ought to rejoice in (others doing well). There is also vanity in the sense of disappointment on the part of the envied, who look for better reception for their right works. This can create anxiety. Since it may happen to us, as the envying or the envied, it is man’s wisdom to seek his happiness elsewhere.

1. Envy Can Affect the Best Actions

The best and most upright actions may not be approved and honored by the wicked world. On the contrary, it may be expected, that they will the object of envy in those who are so greedy of vainglory for themselves. Those who care so little about God’s glory are grieved to see others made the means of glorifying Him (John 3:26-27).  So for “every right work…a man is envied of his neighbor”.

2. Envy Can Affect the Closest Friends

Envy is so great an evil that it does not only make people grieved at the success of strangers and enemies.  It vents itself mainly against someone’s own companions or equals when they get the approval that the envious are hunting for. For a “right work, a man is envied of his neighbor”. The word neighbor here means an equal, or close friend and companion.

3. We Will Be Disappointed if Seek Approval From Others

This envy for the good actions of others proves how far we are infected with the vanity that has resulted from the Fall.  It is also a just rebuke to those who look for the praise and approval of others as the great encouragement in their work. They will be disappointed in this and may experience the envy rather than the praise of others. The “vanity” of disappointment and frustration this verse speaks of relates to both the envious and the envied. The envied who expected the approval of others as their reward are disappointed. “This is also vanity”.

4. We Should Seek Approval From God Not Others

By nature, we overvalue the praise and approval of others and strive very little to draw our encouragement from God’s approval. Thus, when we meet with envy instead of praise our spirits are easily eaten up with anxiety. When a “right work” is envied by others it produces not only “vanity” or a disappointed expectation but also “vexation of spirit”.

5. We Must Not Neglect Our Duty Because of Envy

Some may abandon the duties of the ordinary calling or spiritual duties due to the envy of others. The following verses (verse 5-6) go on to describe this temptation as folly. They fold their hands together in idleness and discouragement (see Proverbs 6:9-10; Hebrews 12:12). Those who desire peace of conscience and to have true contentment must keep going in their duty despite envy and oppression from the world. He who forsakes his duty because of fearing the envy of others is a fool in God’s esteem. The Lord’s approval and reward is more than able to make up for all that the envy of others can bring on us.


The more God-centred we are in our attitudes and desires, the greater contentment we will have. We need not be paralyzed by the fears of missing out and the insecurity that others have a better life than we do. The Apostle Paul speaks very often about being approved by God. The motive of pleasing God in doing our utmost for His glory by His grace takes away the disappointment and frustration of focussing on others. Whatever we do, therefore (even in the smallest aspects of life) let us do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).