Great answer to a very serious question
If you are ever in the study room of a Pastor or Teacher in your Church there is one type of book (apart from the Bible) that you will always find, this is a book usually titled Systematic Theology. Depending on their denomination or theological bent they will have the appropriate version. There is nothing wrong with these books and I myself have used them and studied them while in Bible College. But a though occurred to me the other day that they have one serious flaw and this flaw is that they are too systematic. In an earlier post I contrasted the difference between Greek and Hebraic though and these ideas are applicable here. The idea of systematizing your theology is Greek thought which argues that everything in your life must be logically. Your theology must be compartmentalized and logical in all areas. This works to a point but I feel that if this is the only way that you work out your theology then you are short changing yourself. When you read the Bible the Bible does not have a chapter or verse on the existence of God, The nature of God, The Messiahship of Christ, The nature of the Church or the End Times. Rather the Bible is Narrative which interweaves all this thoughts into one big tapestry. We cannot understand the Nature of God without also connecting it with creation, Christ, the Church or the End Times. When we try to box up particular theological ideas we will only see part of the picture. The Bible is not not a systematic book it is rather a very unsystematic book which uses stories to help us understand the whole picture and Story of God and His people. You can systematize ideas but not people. I am not saying that you shouldn’t use such ideas but maybe we have come to rely on this way of thinking to our spiritual detriment. Maybe we should read the Bible as a narrative of wonderful stories the way that you would have read it in Sunday School instead of always reading it as just a theological text book.
I was reading 2 Timothy 3:16-17 recently which says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin, correcting faults and training in right living; thus anyone who belongs to God may be fully equipped for every good work.” I have believed and must commentaries that I have read also believe that these verses are talking about God being the inspiration behind all Scripture. I believed and still believe that this is true, but the more I read the Bible I have come to realise that the Bible is like an onion in that each passage has more that one level.And each level while possible talking about different things at the same time can still be true in each of its levels. Just remember that the Bible was not written by logical so called enlightened Europeans but rather by Middle Easterners who thought and still think in a very different way to us.
Now back to the passage. The part that I want to focus on is the words God breathed in relation to Scripture. The word God in the Bible is usually used to convey 2 different ideas. In the majority of case the word God is used to convey the Father. In some other cases it is used to convey the idea on the Trinitarian Godhead. In this verse I wish to put forward the idea of the Father. The next word breathed is used on numerous occasion in Scripture to convey the idea of the Holy Spirit.So if we run with this idea then Scripture is the Father breathing out the Holy Spirit. Now this on its own doesn’t add very much to this verse but what is the job of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirits number one job is to point towards Jesus. So what I believe that this verse is pointing at is that All of Scripture is about Jesus. It is all simply the Father breathing out the Holy Spirit in order to reveal Jesus on every book, chapter and verse of the Bible. If you want to now about Jesus you don’t simply read the Gospels or the New Testament, but you can find Jesus in Genesis, Joshua, Haggai, Kings etc etc. Jesus is the central theme of the Bible. He was there in the beginning before Genesis 1:1 and He will be there after Revelation 22:21. Jesus is the foundation, building blocks and roof of the Bible.
I hope to restart this blog in a few days time.I have been absent for a couple of years now but hopefully I will be able to to start posting on a more regular basis.
If we are all honest most of us have parts of Scripture that we like more than others. There are also parts of Scripture that makes us feel uncomfortable theologically, for example most Calvinists feel uncomfortable with Hebrews 6 and most Armenians feel uncomfortable with Ephesians 1. Today in my reading I was reading through 2 Kings and came across a passage that many believers will feel uncomfortable with. The passage comes in the story of Naaman in 2 Kings ch. 5. We all know this story from Sunday school, how Naaman an Aramian Commander got healed by going to Elisha and bathing in the Jordan River 7 times. After this Naaman is speaking to Elisha and he says in verse 18 and 19,
“Except this, and may Adonai forgive your servant for it; when my master goes into the temple of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon – when I bow down, may Adonai forgive your servant for this.” Elisha said to him, “Go in peace.”
When I read this, everything inside me cries out saying “what do you mean Elisha “Go in Peace.”” Are you condoning Idol worship? At first glance this doesn’t make any sense. Are you saying that if your hearts in the right place then it’s ok to bow down to Idols. What about the boys in the book of Daniel when they refused to bow down to the Idol and where thrown into the fiery furnace. Why where they not permitted to bow down? These are all legitimate questions, but I think that the answers come down to two things; Maturity and Situation. How mature in the faith is the person? You cannot expect a new born baby to walk and talk so why do we expect new believers to do everything at the beginning. Also I believe that God deals with everyone in his own way and what God expects from me he may not expect from you and vice versa. In the last chapter of John Peter asks Jesus what about John and Jesus basically told Peter to mind his own business and not worry about how John would be dealt with. When Elisha said “Go in Peace” he was not condoning what Naaman may or may not do, but he was basically saying that it was between God and Naaman. Maybe if we put more emphasis into our relationship with God and how God wanted us to live and less time worrying about what some else was doing or not doing, we might all grow stronger as believers. As I said at the beginning, I feel uncomfortable with what Elisha said but in the end of the day God never told us that it was going to be comfortable.
How do you think? When it comes to the Bible and your worldview how do you approach it? William Barrett said “Hebraism and Hellenism – between these two points of influence moves our world.” How true this is. The Bible is written contained within the framework of the Hebrew mind, and it is my belief that you can never fully understand it unless you gain some understanding of the Hebraic mind. Unfortunately less than a 100 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, this way of thinking had begun to wane and a Greek or Hellenistic mind had taken over. This is mainly what we find in the Church today. This in and of itself is not completely bad but without the Hebrew mind much of the Scripture will seem hard for us to understand.
The main difference between the Greek and Hebrew mind is found in the area of knowing v doing. The Hebrew is concerned with practice, the Greek with knowledge. Right conduct is the ultimate concern of the Hebrew, right thinking that of the Greek. In it’s most simplest of forms the difference between the moral man (Hebrew) and the theoretical or intellectual man (Greek).
This maybe helps to explain why so many Christian Churches are so focused on the issues of doctrinal orthodoxy (whatever that may be), at the expense of godly living. In many Christian circles, what one believes or espouses is treated as more important than how one lives. For example if I wrote a blog questioning the orthodox position of say Hell and put forward a contrary position, I can guarantee that I would be attacked for all quarters and even accuses of not being a believer. I have seen people put out of Churches for simply raising questions. But on the other hand if I wrote a blog stating that I had had an affair (by the way I haven’t, and don’t plan to as I love my wife very much), I would receive emails and comments from people saying that they would be praying for me or something like that. How warped is this. This is so wrong. How many Christians have been burnt at the stake by the church for simply having a different opinion when the people doing the burning where living debauched lives?
In the Hebrew way of thinking it should be the exact opposite. Christians are inclined to subject each other to litmus tests of orthodoxy, while the Hebrew mind is concerned mainly with behaviour. Belief in God and acting ethically must be inextricably linked. God demands right behaviour more than anything else, including right ritual and right belief.
It was gentile Christians, influence by Greek philosophy, who both intellectualized and systematized Christian doctrine. Worse, they radically changed much of it. The Biblical Hebrew, and the Apostolic Era of the Church, had no formal theology as such. Nothing was systemised. The believing community had no entrenched hierarchy through which all doctrine had to filtered and approved.
What the apostles taught about any given subject was either learned directly from Jesus, then passed on, or determined situationally. They determined Halakha (behaviour or right way of doing things) for believers in much the same way the sages of Israel did. As circumstances changed they rendered decisions about the application of Torah (Matthew 18:18). Acts 15 provides an account of how at least one teaching concerning requirements for gentile believers was formed around 50AD.
In Christian Circles, it is often more important to believe and espouse “the right thing,” than to live the right way. This is why we are so obsessed with creeds, doctrinal statements etc. I am not saying that these are not important. But I am saying how you live is more important. How you live says more about what you believe than anything else. This mode of thinking is thoroughly western and Greek.
Another issue is in Greek thought there is the idea of sacred and secular which says that religion is only for a certain area of your life but not for all of if it. In Hebrew thought this division does not exist. For example in the Talmud we even find a prayer about going to the toilet. If someone prayed in Christian circles about this or even admitted that they did it they would be accused of being irreligious. But in Hebrew thought every area of life is considered one and that there is no difference between what is religious and what is not religious.
In Greek theology, we also have sometimes abandoned the literal interpretation of Scripture in favour of allegorical interpretations. This too is very Greek and was virtually unknown in the Church up until the tile of Origen. This method opens the door to a myriad of creative expositions that leave the student of Scripture confused and disorientated.
It is not easy to readjust our thinking especially as a Church we have been thinking Greek for around 1800 years. But to get the most out of Scripture and to live our lives in the way that God want us to we do as individuals and a Church start thinking Hebraically. Of course this will take time but if we start by taking small steps we can get there.
What does it mean when Jesus said “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s”? (Matthew 22:21). Richard Wurmbrand a Romanian Pastor who spent 14 years in prison and 3 years in solitary confinement for simply preaching Jesus had an interesting take on it. I happen to think that there is a lot of merit in what he says here, but even if you disagree at least allow your mind to think through what he has to say. This is taken from one of Richard’s many writings. (Some of the examples he uses may be a bit old now but they still make the point)
“The words “Render unto Caesar” have been misunderstood. Jesus did not advise his disciples to give anything to Caesar. His words where address to the Pharisees. The Pharisees and Jesus’ disciples were at odds with one another: the words were spoken to Jesus’ detractors, not His friends.
Who was this Caesar anyway? A foreign conqueror who had occupied Israel, He had contributed nothing to its well-being. He had never planted a tree, built a highway, or even visited the country. Yet he had established tax-collectors to milk its riches, and had slaughtered anyone who dared resist his edicts. Nothing in Israel belonged to Caesar.
If you say to a Czech, Hungarian or Pole, ‘Render to the Soviets the things which belong to them’, he would understand you instantly. Nothing belongs to them. These words can only mean, ‘Give them a boot in the back and send them packing.’
This was the true sense of Jesus’ words. If the Pharisees were so convinced that they serve God, why were their minds preoccupied with things which are not godly? Jesus commands them, ‘Do both things: serve a tyranny and serve God at the same time.’ He knew they would soon realize that these things are not compatible. One must choose between being Caesar’s bootlicker and a true servant of God who stands before a godless King like Herod and tells him to his face, ‘What you do is unlawful.’ This is the attitude which cost John the Baptist his head.
It is a misuse of Jesus’ words to interpret them as counselling submissiveness to despots. My own interpretation is in fact the contrary. Just as the soul is higher than the body, so the sacerdotal dignity excels and instructs the regal; the celestial, the terrestrial. It is the duty of Kings to obey Scriptural leaders, rather than the reverse.”