This installment of the De-Sanitizing the Parables series will explore the Parable of the Soil found in Matthew 13. However, before I explore the parable itself, I’d like to give some background on the nature of the parables found in Scripture. To do this, we will listen to two different scholars who give us some crucial background on the nature and use of parables in the New Testament, and a pastor who will help us better understand Jesus’ use of them as story. As such, I have decided to break down my post into two parts. First, an introduction to the nature of parables and second and exploration of the parable of the soils.

Craig Keener has written several books but in this particular case I will depend upon his massive Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Keener notes a couple of important aspects of the parables in the New Testament. First, he writes: “Rabbis commonly taught in parables, sermon illustrations, to communicate their main point or points. This Palestinian Jewish teaching form appears in the New Testament only in the teaching of Jesus, and thus cannot be attributed to composition by the later church outside Jewish Palestine.” (81-82)

This speaks to the authenticity of parables and their direct link to the mouth of Jesus. Especially helpful here is the idea that these are not mere distortions of Jesus’ ‘true’ teachings by later preachers. As we will see too the parables are directly linked to the Old Testament prophets and are seen, to a large extent, as fulfillment of the prophets’ words. There are parables in the Old Testament as well. Nathan told David a parable when he confronted David (2 Samuel 12), for example, and Isaiah used a parable in Isaiah 5 to talk about God’s relationship to Israel.

Second, Keener notes the general character of the population of Jesus’ day, that is, his audience: “Most of the Roman Empire’s inhabitants were rural peasant farmers or herders. The literate elite often ignored this large population, but Jesus’ illustrations show that he ministered frequently among this class. Although Galilee was heavily populated with villages and boasted two major cities (Sepphoris and Tiberias), most of its inhabitants were rural, agrarian peasants.”

So you might say that, in a sense, we have to transport ourselves into their mode of thinking of the world; put ourselves in their shoes; listen to Jesus as if we were farmers, prodigal sons, poor widows, or terminated business managers. Jesus spoke to their point of view and used illustrations that they could understand and relate to and listen to in context. What would make better sense to farmers than an illustration from the farm or to a poor widow than the constant threat of losing a coin or to a shepherd losing a sheep? Jesus spoke to people in language they could understand. He didn’t, as some assume, speak down to them; he spoke in their language. If anything, Jesus, in using their words, their experiences, their context, elevated their words, experiences, and contexts.

Parables keep our feet grounded by requiring us to think outside of our comfort zones about God, kingdom, Son of Man, and our everydayness. Part of the problem with interpreting parables is discussed by our next scholar, Robert Farrar Capon. In his book The Parables of the Kingdom, Capon notes that people can easily and often misunderstand the parables by too quickly assuming that they already know what the parables mean:

“Most people, on reading the Gospels’ assertion that ‘Jesus spoke in parables,’ assume they know exactly what he meant. ‘Oh, yes,’ they say, ‘and a wonderful teaching device it was too. All those unforgettable stories we’re so fond of, like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.’ Yet their enthusiasm is narrowly based. Jesus’ use of the parabolic method can hardly be limited to the mere handful of instances they remember as entertaining, agreeable, simple, and clear. Some of his parables are not stories; many are not agreeable; most are complex; and a good percentage of them produce more confusion than understanding.” (1)

This immediately puts the reader on the defensive: It is not likely we will understand the parables and we need to listen to them anew, listen to them afresh, and work our way through them again and again. After all, these stories were preserved for us, the Church. Yet, they were spoken to people who were not yet the church in any completely modern sense. Only too often do we allow what we ‘already know’ to get in the way of what is really there. We must admit that it is always difficult to avoid the biases that we carry to the text. Capon illustrates his point by directing our attention to the rejection of Jesus by his contemporaries:

“So too with Scripture. Often when people try to say what the Bible is about, they let their own mindset ride roughshod over what actually lies on the pages…Jesus, for example, was rejected by his contemporaries not because he claimed to be Messiah but because, in their view, he didn’t make a suitably messianic claim. ‘Too bad for God,’ they seemed to say. ‘He may want a dying Christ, but we happen to know that Christs don’t die.’” (4)

His warning, it seems to me, is not that we should be afraid of parables or interpreting them, but that we should be cautious and listen well. Peterson, whom I reference below, notes that “Inconspicuously, even surreptitiously, a parable involves the hearer…A parable is not ordinarily used to tell us something new but to get us to notice something that we have overlooked although it has been right there before us for years” (Tell It Slant, 19). It does us well to work our way through the parables often, and to be and become those whose eyes and ears are open to the Word of Christ. We need to continually visit them, read them, participate in their action. Capon goes on:

“It should be only after long study and repeated readings that I would dare to conclude what any particular passage meant, let alone what the entire thrust of his writing was. With such a wildly various collection, there would always be a temptation to let my own sense of what he was up to get in the way of what he himself really had in mind” (3).

Capon also draws our attention to the fact that the parables, if they are about God, happen to turn on their heads our popular conceptions of who God is and the way God does things:

“In the Bible, as a matter of fact, God does so many ungodly things—like not remembering our sins, erasing the quite correct handwriting against us, and becoming sin for us—that the only safe course is to come to Scripture with as few stipulations as possible. God used his own style manual, not ours, in the promulgation of his word. Openness, therefore, is the major requirement for approaching the Scriptures. And nowhere in the Bible is an un-made-up mind more called for than when reading the parables of Jesus.” (5)

Indeed. The parables turn our conceptions inside out and outside in as he further observes for us:

“For example, some of the parables are little more than one-liners, brief comparisons stating that the kingdom of God is like things no one ever dreamed of comparing it to: yeast, mustard see, buried treasure secured by craftiness, fabulous jewelry purchased by mortgaging everything…Once again, they set forth comparisons that tend to make mincemeat of people’s religious expectations. Bad people are rewarded (the Publican, the Prodigal, the Unjust Steward); good people are scolded (The Pharisee, the Elder Brother, the Diligent Workers); God’s response to prayer is likened to a man getting rid of a nuisance (the Friend at Midnight); and in general, everybody’s idea of who ought to be first or last is liberally doused with cold water (the Wedding Feast, the Great Judgment, Lazarus and Dives, the Narrow Door).” (10)

Finally, there is a pastor, Eugene Peterson whose book, Tell It Slant, is a masterpiece in Peterson’s ‘conversation in spiritual theology.’ In the book, he takes on a journey with Jesus through Samaritan country as he explores Luke 9:51-19:27 and the parables contained therein. I wish there were space and time enough to note more, but I’d like for the time being to pick up on just a particular aspect of Peterson’s work. He begins by reminding us of the rather mundane, earthy subject matter of the parables:

“The subject matter is usually without apparent religious significance. They are stories about farmers and judges and victims, about coins and sheep and prodigal sons, about wedding banquets, building barns and towers and going to war, a friend who wakes you in the middle of the night to ask for a loaf of bread, the courtesies of hospitality, crooks and beggars, fig trees and manure. The conversations that Jesus had as he walked on the Samaritan roads were with people who had a different idea of God than what Jesus was revealing, or maybe not much of an idea at all. This was either hostile or neutral country. Parables were Jesus’ primary language of choice to converse with these people, stories that didn’t use the name of God, stories that didn’t seem to be ‘religious’” (20-21).

For all the ‘high’ talk we use in churches, talk about sanctification, redemption, propitiation and suchlike (all great and useful words!), talk that make us sound far more knowledgeable than we truly are, we stand in contrast with Jesus who didn’t. Jesus seems to have delighted in ‘low talk.’ This prompts Peterson to ask, “Why in the world is Jesus telling unpretentious stories about crooks and manure? Why isn’t he preaching the clear word of God, calling the Samaritans to repentance, offering them the gift of salvation in plain language?” (21) Peterson observes that Jesus’ choice of language is increasingly relaxed and conversational as he nears the day (he is speaking of the context of Luke 9:51-19:27). And Jesus doesn’t apologize for doing so.

Why? Well, Peterson believes that this keeps the conversation going by continually involving the listeners. As Jesus neared the crucifixion, knowing he would not see these Samaritan people again, his language became less direct. He told them stories they would remember, chew on, think about and be involved in forever. We are keen to remember a good story, to hear a good story, to tell a good story. Even now, the popular culture is fond of ‘Good Samaritans’ and ‘Prodigals.’ But church folk forget this simple aspect of life and in our attempts and efforts to be important, we fail to capitalize on such an idea. We forget how to be children. I remember when my eldest son, now nearly 16, was but a toddler. He could listen to the the same stories over and over and over; memorized them too. Why do we forget this as adults? This is what stories are for in the first place. Not merely to entertain even if they do entertain. We remember stories. I couldn’t tell you the financial reports of last month’s board meeting. I can tell you stories from every church I have ever had the pleasure or displeasure of knowing.

“It is common among many of us when we become more aware of what is involved in following Jesus and the urgencies that this involves, especially when we find ourselves in Samaritan territory, that we become more intense about our language. Because it is so much more clear and focused we use the language learned from sermons and teachings to tell others what is eternally important. But the very intensity of the language can very well reduce our attentiveness to the people whom we are speaking—he or she is no longer a person, but a cause. Impatient to get our message out, we depersonalize what we have to say into rote phrases or programmatic formula without regard to the person we are meeting. As the urgency to speak God’s word increases, listening relationships diminish. We end up with a bone pile of fleshless words—godtalk” (21).

So, why? I think this has something to do with keeping people involved in the conversation by requiring their participation. “A parable is not an explanation. A parable is not an illustration. We cannot look at a parable as a spectator and expect to get it. A parable does not make a thing easier; it makes it harder by requiring participation, by entering the story…” (59-60). Parables require effort. Parables require eyes of faith to see and ears of faith to hear. We have to listen and participate.

What I have laid out for you is three important aspects of the parables. First, Keener teaches that parable teaching is a common feature of teachers and rabbis of that day. This is not a later invention of the church. Second, as Capon noted, the parables turn our conceptions of God, Kingdom, Son of Man upside down and undo all our pretension. Third, as Peterson draws our attention to, parables keep us involved in the conversation by bringing us back to earth. “Why do you stand there staring at the sky?” the angel asked the disciples. Indeed, the answers are not found ‘out there’ or ‘up there.’ Jesus said, “Behold! Look around! You will see the Kingdom of God at work in places you never would have thought, under the spell of your own knowledge and wisdom, imaginable.”

Jesus told parables. He told stories that had meaning and connection to the everyday lives of the people who heard those stories. We do well, when we interpret the parables, to first listen to the parables. We do well to pay attention to the context of the parables. We do well to hear first the story of earth before we presume to know and attach meaning of heaven to the word of God. These are not earthly stories with heavenly meanings. They are carefully told earthy stories designed to capture our attention, involve us in a conversation with Jesus, and seek him and his kingdom first.

In part two of this post, I will explore the parable itself and de-sanitize it.

De-Sanitizing the Parables: The Good Catholic

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69 Comments(+Add)

1   Chris P.    http://approvedworkmanonterrafirma.blogspot.com/
May 27th, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Good Lord! Talk about making an issue more complex that He intended it to be.

The context of scripture is scripture. The Holy Spirit interprets, not cultural or historical settings.

“After all, these stories were preserved for us, the Church. Yet, they were spoken to people who were not yet the church in any completely modern sense. Only too often do we allow what we ‘already know’ to get in the way of what is really there.”

This is why the Spririt brings us in to all truth, or is Christ a liar? Oh I forgot, Chris L says the Holy Spirit speaks through the hermeneutic of culture. This of course makes the word worthless to us today.

One tires of the stupid God we portray to the world. He makes all these promises and then leaves it to folks like you to explain them?

The word of God is God’s word. He spoke them. They come from above not through the inspired mystical musings of men.

“He told them stories they would remember, chew on, think about and be involved in forever.”

Involved in forever? They are dead, and we are now here. Or did the God of open theism not know the world would last as long as it did, and that the scriptures would get around? Anyway in most accounts of these stories, the listeners pretty much failed to understand them. Even the 12 had problems, until the Lord gave the explanation to them privately.
Jesus told parables to fulfill prophecy.

You present the parables as given to the common man, yet we need historians, sociologists, and cultural anthropologists to interpret them.

Isa 6:9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

BTW all the parables of Matthew 13 are talking about the same thing.

2   John Hughes    
May 27th, 2009 at 6:21 pm

Jerry,

Very interesting and I am looking forward to your future articles. However, this begs the question. You (or the arthurs you quote) state that we think we know what the parables mean but in actuality we probably don’t. For example you state:

It is not likely we will understand the parables and we need to listen to them anew, listen to them afresh, and work our way through them again and again.

To some extent I understand the concept presented here. And yet 200o years after the fact we indeed **DO NOT** read these parables in a vacuum. We do have 2000 years of Church History in the interpretation of these parables. Indeed, you are going to help “explain” some of these parables yourself. Am I to assume that after reading your interpretation that I will be no further along in understanding the lesson of the parable? I hardly think so and yet the underlying implication (as I read it) is that the Church has not had a true understanding of these parables until these particular arthors have had their say. I don’t think that is the case of course, but the fact of the matter is we have 2000 years of rich Church history and interpretations in which we exist. On the other hand the Word of God is ever alive and engaging and the careful student is constantly amazed at the “new” discoveries to be found therein. Still we cannot deny the richness and depth of our spiritual heritage or think our spiritual forefathers had little insight into these matters. Indeed, cannot I expect a deeper understanding of the parables after reading Peterson’s book? If not, why bother? And has not Peterson built on the work of others? See my point?

3   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
May 27th, 2009 at 7:31 pm

To over Hebrewize the parables is to make them understandable to the average believer and restricts the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The understandings and applications of all the Scriptural truths are treasures that can never by fully uncovered, and if you can understand and apply even half of the parabolic truths without deep Hebraic revelations, you will be a disciple for sure.

Jewish customs can help glean things in Scripture, however we must assume the Lord knew that most future believers would read without that knowledge.

4   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
May 27th, 2009 at 7:36 pm

Correction:

“To over Hebrewize the parables is to make them less understandable to the average believer and restricts the ministry of the Holy Spirit.”

5   Jerry    http://www.dangoldfinch.wordpress.com
May 27th, 2009 at 8:43 pm

John,

I understand how that perhaps can present a conundrum, but I don’t think that is quite what I am getting at nor do I think any of these authors are meaning to say that *they* have the definitive interpretations to the parables. Furthermore, I don’t think you are correct in your assessment of the ‘underlying implication.’

Two things. First, I am edging towards a clear reading of the parables in context. Fact is, it was Jesus himself who said that the parables would not be understood; not me or Peterson or Capon. A good example is the parable of the ‘good Samaritan’ which is often referenced anytime anyone does a particularly good deed for someone in the world. But that is *not* what the parable is about at all. Another example is the ‘prodigal son.’ Tim Keller has a great book on this parable, but the point of the parable of the two sons is actually the same as the parable of the lost coin and the lost sheep: We should rejoice when something that is lost is found as do the angels in heaven; the shepherd did, the widow did, the Father did, but the older brother did not.

The point is that we are often so quick to know what the parables mean, because we sentimentally want them to mean something, that we miss the point Jesus was, in fact, making.

Second, building on this, the scripture says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” And therein is the important part: Listening to them again and again and again, being willing to cast aside what we are so confident that we know in order that we might listen all over again. It’s about having all the preconceived ideas we have about God, kingdom, and Son of Man ripped to shreds, turned on their heads, and hearing the Word of God afresh each time we hear it willingly or unwillingly.

Thanks for the reply.
jerry

6   Jerry    http://www.dangoldfinch.wordpress.com
May 27th, 2009 at 8:53 pm

Jewish customs can help glean things in Scripture, however we must assume the Lord knew that most future believers would read without that knowledge.

I suppose if this is *true* then he might have given us parables that dealt with life in 1990’s suburban America or 1930’s European Jewish Ghettos or 1960’s Communist Russia…and so on and so forth. But the fact remains that Jesus gave us parables in a context, a particular context, and no other context.

I don’t make the assumption you make at all. I do assume, however, that Jesus might have thought we would be wise enough to search out the context in which he delivered them and try to understand it (the parable) first within that context. And that those with ears would hear what the Spirit is saying (Rev 2-3). After we have done as much, then the meaning of the parables will become clearer, richer and more applicable in our context. And, best of all, we won’t end up with all sorts of sentimental, false interpretations of the parables based upon 2000 years of rich church tradition. (Not that church tradition is bad, but I would remind you that for the better part of the church’s history parables were interpreted allegorically. That was not a good thing.)

Thanks for the input Rick.

jerry

7   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
May 27th, 2009 at 9:03 pm

My suggestion was that the open truth each parable communicated was transgenerational. The specifics of the stories will always have some cultural identity, but I contend a truth within each parable is lost when we make it more complex than wasoriginally intended.

The listeners did not as of yet have the Holy Spirit, so we must assume these parables can be understood on a common level. However, the simple truths that they convey can never be fully plumbed when juxtaposed upon the glories of redemption, without much cultural understandings or prisms.

You are welcome.

8   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
May 27th, 2009 at 9:37 pm

The parable of the prodigal son has redemption, forgiveness, and repentance as its core. However some can read into it something that is not there, like repentance comes after forgiveness. Teachings like this, although not the mosts grevious by this man, are what give the parables the doctrinal authority Jesus never meant them to have.

The parables are vunerable to expansive understandings that find truths that are not in fact truths at all.

9   John Hughes    
May 28th, 2009 at 8:08 am

Jerry: And therein is the important part: Listening to them again and again and again, being willing to cast aside what we are so confident that we know in order that we might listen all over again. It’s about having all the preconceived ideas we have about God, kingdom, and Son of Man ripped to shreds, turned on their heads, and hearing the Word of God afresh each time we hear it willingly or unwillingly.

Jerry, I’m not trying to be contrary just to be contrary and am sincerely looking forward to your posts. However I find “preconceived ideas to be ripped to shreads” to be somewhat sensationalistic rhetoric. Biblical understanding is built precept upon precept. (Ref. Iasiah 28:9-10) We must have a foundation on which to build a theology. The constant ripping of preconceived ideas leaves one with what? I am ever wary of those who say “we’ve got it all wrong here’s what it really means.” Hopefully, you will be sharing some new insights which I have never considered before and therefore enrich my knowledge of the Lord. I certainly agree we should approach scripture with afreshness and willingness to **hear** anew each time we get into the Word, but faith must have a foundation. Every world view starts with underlying premises.

10   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
May 28th, 2009 at 10:03 am

I find it odd that in the same post you basically speak of the necessity of simplicity and transporting ourselves to the mind-set of the common man, only then to proceed to basically glean all of your thoughts from scholars. A little contradictory perhaps, or maybe I am missing something.

Also, there seems to be an attempt – perhaps in dramatically setting up your next posts – to “re-imagine” everything.

The thing about parables is revealed here:

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people (the masses) in parables?”

He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them…”

100 people could be in the crowd hearing the same words, yet 95 men walk away disappointed because they heard someone go on about agriculture (parable of the sower) while 5 men received a deep conviction and solid footing.

The gospel is foolishness to the world, but to those who believe it is the power of God unto salvation.

It is by illumination – given by the Lord – that we grasp the depths and truths of the gospel.

Scholarly pursuits are sometimes just a diversion – not in all cases, but in many (and no, I’m not being a student of the Bible, but skeptical of the “re-imagining” of everything that is going on – especially when put forward by “scholars”).

11   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
May 28th, 2009 at 10:03 am

Sorry, should read:

“(and no, I’m not against being a student of the Bible,…”

12   Jerry    http://www.dangoldfinch.wordpress.com
May 28th, 2009 at 10:55 am

Also, there seems to be an attempt – perhaps in dramatically setting up your next posts – to “re-imagine” everything.

Couldn’t be further from the truth.

Besides, who said anything about simplicity? I’m not assuming that those to whom Jesus spoke these parables were ’simple.’ I assume Jesus wanted them to think about what he was saying.

13   Jerry    http://www.dangoldfinch.wordpress.com
May 28th, 2009 at 11:01 am

John,

with all due respect, I think you are over analyzing what I said. Is there any other reason to be contrary? :)

I am ever wary of those who say “we’ve got it all wrong here’s what it really means.” Hopefully, you will be sharing some new insights which I have never considered before and therefore enrich my knowledge of the Lord.

I never said ‘we’ve got it all wrong,’ nor have any of those whom I have quoted. I never said I had any ‘new insights.’ Again, over analysis, unfounded expectations. So, you have nothing to be wary about since I have said neither of those things. That is not quite the point of what it means to ‘Listen to them again and again and again, be willing to cast aside what we are so confident that we know in order that we might listen all over again.’

I don’t know why you seem to think that the Lord, whose mercies are new each day, would be hesitant to reveal himself afresh each day in his word heard over and over and over again. There are many who hear these parables for the first time and do not have the ‘rich history of church tradition’ to fall back on, or premise or foundation upon which to build as you seem so confident that all must have.

Try not to over analyze.

jerry

14   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
May 28th, 2009 at 11:08 am

I’m not assuming that those to whom Jesus spoke these parables were ’simple.’

But they were simple – those that heard, that is. That’s why Jesus rejoiced to the Father – “I thank you that you have hid these things from the wise and revealed them unto babes.”

Paul also hints at this in 1 Corinthians 1.

Of course he wanted those that heard to consider what he was saying (no one’s disputing that). There are depths in these parables.

When it comes to parables and the gospel in general, last year I wrote an article that I posted here: The Necessity of Being Illuminated (don’t normally try to self-link)

In light of this discussion, I’d welcome any feedback/comments (not trying to hijack you here Jerry:) ).

15   nc    
May 28th, 2009 at 11:46 am

A text without it’s context (literary and socio-historical) is just a pretext to make it mean anything you want.

We do violence to the Texts when we do not do the work to understand them in their original setting as far as possible.

It’s not that good lessons can’t come out of the “parables”, but many times they aren’t the main point that Jesus was trying to communicate.

I think that given their contexts, we need to emphasize those readings of parables–since they were Jesus’ emphases.

Just say’n…

16   John Hughes    
May 28th, 2009 at 11:51 am

Jerry: I don’t know why you seem to think that the Lord, whose mercies are new each day, would be hesitant to reveal himself afresh each day in his word heard over and over and over again

I don’t. I do believe there is an infinite of truth to be cleaned from scripture. Therefore I am looking forward to your take on these parables and, as I said before, hope to learn some new insights.

P.S. I admint I do highly analyze everything (it’s the Berean in me), and obviously encouragement is not my spiritual gift. Don’t mean this to be a downer. It was overall a great introduction. :-)

17   John Hughes    
May 28th, 2009 at 11:53 am

Hey, Rick is the only one I know who exegetes in a vacuum. I really use my biblical library. :-)

18   John Hughes    
May 28th, 2009 at 11:56 am

Good points NC.

19   nc    
May 28th, 2009 at 12:04 pm

The place I would disagree with Keener is the idea of a literate elite.

Actually, a lot of the elite couldn’t read…if not then they would hire a slave who could.

“idiotes”–translated “unlearned” in our Bibles actually indicates “illiterate”.

There is parallel literature that indicates the term “idiotes” is applied to the elite too when it fits.

Which leads to another point–the anti-intellectualism of certain groups who like to tout the “unlearned” status of the apostles and then drive a “culture-war” point home about how “learning” is against faith or you don’t have to be trained to be a “pastor”, etc. etc. etc. etc.

That’s not what that passage means…given its original cultural/linguistic context.

Just say’n…again.

20   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
May 28th, 2009 at 1:46 pm

The truth being taught is far superior to the contexual medium used to communicate that truth. The understanding of the context is only helpful as it pertains to understanding the truth.

And over analyzing the parables can lead to dcotrinal mischief, especially without solid support from the epistles. In short, parables have been twisted over the centuries to mean something that was never intended.

I suggest that most parables can be understood clearly without any special knowledge of Hebraic customs. Those customs often make the truth clearer, but they are not a barrier for understanding.

21   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
May 28th, 2009 at 1:58 pm

It is far easier to shape 2000 year old history to represent your viewpoint than it is to do the same with a somewhat timeless parable.

What I mean is that a person with a limited education in central Africa might have a better grasp of a certain parable than a theologian who can’t see for the forest for the trees.

nc mentioned anti-intellectualism. I would say the danger today is relying too heavily on intellectualism (education) than on the Spirit. It doesn’t mean we discount scholarship completely, but make sure it doesn’t trump the Spirit (which is such a temptation because scholarship is so gratifying).

Isn’t it interesting that with all the access we have to information, Greek and Hebrew at our fingertips, numerous Bible translations, thousands of instructors and the leisure of time we are really no more spiritual or closer to Christ than we were at any other time?

22   Jerry    http://www.dangoldfinch.wordpress.com
May 28th, 2009 at 2:08 pm

I would say the danger today is relying too heavily on intellectualism (education) than on the Spirit. It doesn’t mean we discount scholarship completely, but make sure it doesn’t trump the Spirit (which is such a temptation because scholarship is so gratifying).

This assumes that scholarship is necessarily opposed to the work of the Spirit. That is your basic, underlying assumption. And it is, from my point of view, wrong to make this assumption. I know you say we should not avoid scholarship, but quite frankly, I have heard a lot of stuff spouted off from the mouths of people who claim to be moved by the Spirit and it is a) spiritually repugnant and b) intellectually unsatisfying and c) biblically unsound. I don’t think the Spirit of God is opposed to scholarship; not the God who said ‘come let us reason together’ or the God who said ‘take captive every thought.’

Your dichotomy here is, IMO, frightening.

23   Jerry    http://www.dangoldfinch.wordpress.com
May 28th, 2009 at 2:15 pm

The truth being taught is far superior to the contexual medium used to communicate that truth. The understanding of the context is only helpful as it pertains to understanding the truth.

And over analyzing the parables can lead to dcotrinal mischief, especially without solid support from the epistles. In short, parables have been twisted over the centuries to mean something that was never intended.

I suggest that most parables can be understood clearly without any special knowledge of Hebraic customs. Those customs often make the truth clearer, but they are not a barrier for understanding.

The problem with this, Rick, is that Jesus did not give us the parables–or any of his teaching for that matter–apart from a specific context; they were not written in a vacuum. If the context didn’t matter, then we could be satisfied with the Gospel of Thomas or ‘Q’. And I find neither of those so-called ’sayings documents’ satisfying or Spirit driven at all.

Yet, you say, it is more important to understand the parables in light of the epistles (a Greek/Gentile) context than it is to understand them in light of their Hebraic/Aramaic context? I don’t understand that at all. But then again I seem to recall that you place a little more emphasis on the epistles than you do on the Gospels and that might explain your proclivity to do so.

I disagree since it was the same Spirit who wrote both the epistles and the Gospels.

Finally, I would note this. I’m not, I suppose I’ll have to say this about 100 more times, I am not suggesting over-analyzing the parables. What I am suggesting is listening to them again and again and again so that we hear the voice of Jesus and not the voice of the ‘rich traditions of the church’ which, for many years, simply missed the point of the parables (even as many do now).

That’s the whole point of the De-Sanitizing series.

24   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
May 28th, 2009 at 2:18 pm

But Jerry, I am not creating a dichotomy.

Just as you say they are not necessarily diametrically opposed, I am saying basically the same thing, but from a different angle.

Just because you have some idiot that claims to be ‘led of the Spirit to _________’ (pick between: go and kill 5 dogs, visit the local zoo and enter the lions’ pen a la Daniel, roll around on the carpet in a charismatic frenzy, etc) doesn’t mean that being led of the Spirit is bad.

Just as a gifted individual who writes sound words in line with scripture should not be discounted simply because he is intelligent.

Where you are cautioning against being solely led of the Spirit (with good reason, I believe) I am cautioning against over-intellectualizing the scriptures. Remember, biblical history demonstrates clearly that the Spirit – more than scholarship – is responsible for changing people’s lives in accordance to Christ.

As Solomon sighed, “To the writing of many books there is no end, so be careful of what you read.”

Now true more than ever. Is there anything more empty than the Christian bookstore?

25   Brett S    
May 28th, 2009 at 2:44 pm

I don’t think the Spirit of God is opposed to scholarship

Amen to that; but depending on the scholarship we may be better off with the bible in that vacuum.

Much of the criticism of belief you find today comes from people who are judging it from the standpoint of another and narrower discipline. The Biblical criticism of the 19th century, for instance, was the product of historical disciplines. It has been entirely revamped in the 20th century by applying broader criteria to it, and those people who lost their faith in the 19th century because of it, could better have hung on in blind trust. – Flannery O’Conner [The Habit of Being]

26   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
May 28th, 2009 at 2:51 pm

I am cautioning against over-intellectualizing the scriptures. Remember, biblical history demonstrates clearly that the Spirit – more than scholarship – is responsible for changing people’s lives in accordance to Christ.

Of course, part of the problem is that the original audience had no need to understand the original context – they were living in it.

Certainly the Spirit leads, but is seems like Jerry is catching a good deal of (undeserved) flack for holding scholarship in high regard. Considering that most of Jesus’ followers had the Scriptures mostly (or fully)memorized, I don’t think a little bit of scholarship on our own part is a bad thing.

Additionally, if we skip digging for the original context, we may get some of what was intended in the teaching, but we may miss out on much of the meat (kind of like seeing The Good Samaritan as primarily a story about how we should help people who are hurting, when it is a story that answers the question “who is my neighbor (i.e. who must I love)?”

Give Jerry a break.

27   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
May 28th, 2009 at 2:54 pm

BtW – excellent article, Jerry.

Sometimes when you desanitize, sacred cows (like “epistles supersede the Gospel accounts”) become hamburger…

28   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
May 28th, 2009 at 2:56 pm

The many tribes in Africa, the many nuanced languages in India, the tribes in South America that had no language, and many of the assorted ethnic groups with all sorts of idiomatic understadnings of truth, have no way to be edified and taught by the parables without any Hebraic accompaniment? I believe the parabolic truths are transcultural.

BTW – I believe God is not opposed to scholarship or intellectual assessment, I just believe He warns against elevating other’s intellectualism above your own Spirit led investigation and interpretation.

29   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
May 28th, 2009 at 3:00 pm

“Sometimes when you desanitize, sacred cows (like “epistles supersede the Gospel accounts”) become hamburger…”

A self serving and demeaning way to partially represent my position. But if it works for you, enjoy. :cool:

30   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
May 28th, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Of course, part of the problem is that the original audience had no need to understand the original context – they were living in it.

Yes, and the majority of them didn’t understand what Christ was actually teaching. That’s because the parables – no the entire gospel – is spiritually discerned.

So, yes, scholarship may have its place, but it plays a subordinate role to the Spirit of the Lord which does the job of uncovering the truths presented in the words of Christ.

Something to consider:

If God the Father wanted everything so crystal clear, He sure did a good job of creating obstacles…

- born of a virgin?
- born in a stable?
- grew up in a dustbowl of town called Nazareth?
- 12 lowly esteemed followers?
- parables that only a handful grasped?
- death on a cross?

Then you look at Israel, chosen because it was the least, David selected as king though lightly esteemed, Gideon… the story is the same.

God seems to take pleasure in hiding or veiling the truth from the ‘wise and prudent’ (in their own eyes) and revealing it to the humble.

No one is denigrating scholarship, but I go back to my earlier comment:

What I mean is that a person with a limited education in central Africa might have a better grasp of a certain parable than a theologian who can’t see for the forest for the trees.

It is the gift of God.

31   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
May 28th, 2009 at 3:54 pm

The many tribes in Africa, the many nuanced languages in India, the tribes in South America that had no language, and many of the assorted ethnic groups with all sorts of idiomatic understadnings of truth, have no way to be edified and taught by the parables without any Hebraic accompaniment?

Whenever you ‘translate’ something from one form/language to another, part of it is lost in that translation.

I fully believe that the basics of what we need to understand and accept the salvation given to us is easily communicated and is not ‘lost in translation’.

However, I do believe that being purposely ignorant of – or denigrating – the original context and intent is foolish and arrogant, at best. If we are driven by the Spirit to plumb the Scriptures and to ‘pick up’ those things which have been ‘lost in translation’, I would duly assume that was something to be desired, not something to snipe about.

I believe the parabolic truths are transcultural.

I do too, which I why I go to the original context – as best I can – to apply their truths across cultures, rather than supplying my own culture as the context and turning my nose up at the original one, considering it to be “good enough”.

32   Brett S    
May 28th, 2009 at 4:47 pm

a person with a limited education in central Africa might have a better grasp of a certain parable than a theologian who can’t see for the forest for the trees. – Paul C

No offense to smart people, but I agree.

When people think they are smart – even when they are smart – there is nothing anybody else can say to make them see things straight, and with Asbury, the trouble was that in addition to being smart, he had an artistic temperament. She did not know where he had got it from because his father, who was a lawyer and businessman and farmer and politician all rolled into one, had certainly had his feet on the ground; and she had certainly always had hers on it. She had managed after he died to get the two of them through college and beyond; but she had observed that the more education they got, the less they could do. Their father had gone to a one-room schoolhouse through the eighth grade and he could do anything. – [from The Enduring Chill], Flannery O’Conner

33   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
May 28th, 2009 at 4:50 pm

Please provide for me a couple of parables where a knowledge of the real time culture is essential to understanding the overall truth.

That might be helpful.

34   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
May 28th, 2009 at 4:59 pm

Please provide for me a couple of parables where a knowledge of the real time culture is essential to understanding the overall truth.

The Good Samaritan. Without an understanding of the relations between the Samaritans and the Jews (something only elliptically acknowledged in the Scriptures), you do not have a full understanding of how the parable answers the question “who is my neighbor?” or why the answer was important.

Without this understanding, the primary meaning of the parable is that we should help people who are beaten up rather than walking on by. While this is a good lesson to learn, it misses the point of the question Jesus has been asked.

35   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
May 28th, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Also, the Parable of the Shrewd Manager.

36   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
May 28th, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Or the parable of the good and bad eyes. (You miss the meaning if you don’t know that a ‘good eye’ is a Hebraism for generosity and a ‘bad eye’ is a Hebraism for stinginess)

37   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
May 28th, 2009 at 5:03 pm

#34: this doesn’t really address Rick’s question as a reading of the gospels would clearly show that there was a separation between Jews & Samaritans (ie: John 4 or Jesus being called a Samaritan in a disdainful way).

A better parable might be Matthew 25: the Virgins (in respect to a Jewish wedding). But NOT essential to understand all the particulars. The warning: WATCH, GET PREPARED, BE ALERT.

38   Jerry    http://www.dangoldfinch.wordpress.com
May 28th, 2009 at 5:19 pm

A better parable might be Matthew 25: the Virgins (in respect to a Jewish wedding). But NOT essential to understand all the particulars. The warning: WATCH, GET PREPARED, BE ALERT.

Of course, we might confuse exactly who or what we are watching, getting prepared or being alert for. They were waiting on someone specific, someone in particular. They, the virgins, were also waiting for a specific reason. They were not just waiting to wait. They had a job to do after the One they were waiting for arrived. Understanding why a virgin would be waiting in that culture might be significant since virgins don’t wait in our culture at all.

39   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
May 28th, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Of course, we might confuse exactly who or what we are watching, getting prepared or being alert for.

And all this while I thought we were just to wait for the sake of waiting! But in serious, this is a parable that is important to understand. However, for clarity’s sake, it seems that the parable before it (Matt 24) and the one following, also hint at much the same message.

since virgins don’t wait in our culture at all.

Unfortunately this statement can be taken in many ways – unfortunate indeed.

40   Eugene    http://eugeneroberts.wordpress.com
May 29th, 2009 at 7:17 am

Excelent post Jerry.

Rick you asked:

Please provide for me a couple of parables where a knowledge of the real time culture is essential to understanding the overall truth.

Here at the tip of Africa cultural misunderstanding is common so that the undersanding of a culture become paramount to communicating the truth. An example of this is translating the part where Jesus said that our Father in heaven will give the Holy Spririt to those who ask him. For the Khoi-San culture in South Africa saying that a father would not give a child a snake would mean that that father doesn’t care if the child goes hungry when there is no fish. Snakes are just another food source not the embodiment of evil in tis culture.

41   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
May 29th, 2009 at 7:25 am

As I have said before, the Hebraic context can assist in understanding, however parables like the good Samaritan can surely be understood without knowing the cultural particulars concerning the relationship between the Jews and Samaritans.

The priest and Levite make it obvious about religious hypocrisy without knowing the Samaritan element. Some of the particulars of the Samaritan/Jews relationship can be gleaned from other Scriptures. But knowing that can add to the fulness of the truth, but the same truth could just as easily been presented by making the man a woman, or a lowly Jew, or even a Gentile.

The truth is hypocrisy and that truth doesn’t completely hinge on the Samaritan history.

42   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
May 29th, 2009 at 7:36 am

Gene – It is obvious by the context that a snake in Jewish culture would be considered bad. Your information concerning your culture needs some translation, no one would argue that.

My contention is, simply put, many times the deep Hebrew investigation adds little to the truth that is presenteed in parables. I feel much the same about the Greek language, it can add clarity, but since most of us fall very short in obedience to the English, the importance of Greek study is many times overstated.

43   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
May 29th, 2009 at 8:41 am

The priest and Levite make it obvious about religious hypocrisy without knowing the Samaritan element.

That’s part of the problem, Rick – they weren’t hypocrites. Each was practicing what they preached! The Priest believed that nothing apart from Torah (the Pentateuch) was inspired, and that the ceremonial laws were just as, if not more, important than the laws governing mercy. So, by not touching a “half-dead” person, he was following the Scripture.

The Levite was in a similar boat where, though he believed that all of the Hebrew Scriptures were inspired, he too believed that the rules around ceremonial purity were “loving God” and, thus, superseded “love your neighbor”. So, by not touching the “half-dead” person, he too was following God’s Torah and not a hypocrite.

NOWHERE in Jesus’ story does it suggest that these two were hypocrites, or that they were indifferent to the man’s suffering. However, in our context, to “pass on by” would suggest indifference, and thus, give us a wrong impression of the picture Jesus was painting.

And then along comes a Samaritan (who even the most liberal of Rabbis, Hillel, excluded from “who is my neighbor?”), whose religion believed that only Torah (the Pentateuch) was Scripture. He, too, was governed by the ceremonial laws. However, he interpreted Torah to put the saving of human life above ceremonial cleanliness, and he interpreted that his “neighbor” included his blood enemy.

Some of the particulars of the Samaritan/Jews relationship can be gleaned from other Scriptures. But knowing that can add to the fulness of the truth, but the same truth could just as easily been presented by making the man a woman, or a lowly Jew, or even a Gentile.

Wrong.

By doing so, the parable no longer answers the question “who is my neighbor?”

The truth is hypocrisy and that truth doesn’t completely hinge on the Samaritan history.

And thus, by denigrating the context of the story, you completely and utterly miss the point, since hypocrisy isn’t even an element of it.

(NOTE: “hypocrisy” doesn’t answer the question posted – “who is my neighbor?”)

44   Phil Miller    http://pmwords.blogspot.com
May 29th, 2009 at 8:50 am

My contention is, simply put, many times the deep Hebrew investigation adds little to the truth that is presenteed in parables. I feel much the same about the Greek language, it can add clarity, but since most of us fall very short in obedience to the English, the importance of Greek study is many times overstated.

I would say it’s the opposite, really. Not knowing the Hebrew context of the parables allows us to take meanings from them that may be very different than what was originally intended. Pretty much all of the parables are re-workings of Jewish folk tales or ways of looking at everyday Jewish life.

The best example I could give would be if someone started a story in our culture like (and I realize this is probably too simplistic an illustration), “there was a beautiful princess who lived with seven dwarfs”, we would immediately realize that the speaker was referring to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Now if someone had never heard or seen that story, the reference would seem quite weird.

45   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
May 29th, 2009 at 8:51 am

Who is my neighbor? The parable reveals it is evryone, and the behavior of the priest and Levire reveal their hypocrisy. But you are correct in this, the parable may also be directed toward Jews.

The Gentile understanding is general hypocrisy, the Jewish truth may be another brick concerning the coming universal offering of salvation. Apparently Peter, who heard this parable, missed the point and he knew the context.

46   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
May 29th, 2009 at 8:58 am

What is the hypocrisy?

Where is it?

Hypocrite (adj): a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings

Which character is acting in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings?

Which one?

Not the beaten up dude.

Not the Levite.

Not the Priest.

The only potential “hypocrite” is the Samaritan – but only if he makes the same interpretation of Torah as the Priest.

The parable reveals it is everyone – but makes the point my making the neighbor the one and only person even the most liberal of Jewish teachers declared was not a neighbor – your worst blood enemy. But you’ve glossed over this.

Apparently Peter, who heard this parable, missed the point and he knew the context.

And Peter did not miss the point. His issue was not one of “who is my neighbor” and compassion on the poor/dying – his issue was just how far down on the totem pole ceremonial cleanliness went. Which was NOT the point of the parable.

47   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
May 29th, 2009 at 9:03 am

And just how does this apply to modern Gentile believers? If it is as complex as you suggest, I’ll leave it to the experts.

I just thought it was racism, religious hypocrisy, concern for humanity, and being a servant to others. I am too old to become sophisticated.

48   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
May 29th, 2009 at 9:15 am

Rick – you are being taken down a rabbit hole by these guys. Sure there is some value in understanding some of the intracacies, but they are not essential – I believe “essential” was the word you posed earlier.

Anyone – even a child – from any culture, could understand the premise of this parable. Of course, God would have to touch one’s mind.

The question: who is my neighbor?

The answer: human beings – therefore don’t uphold piety above charity. Essentially, make yourself a neighbor to others.

Interesting enough, last night the Scripps Spelling Bee was televised. You know something? The announcer made a profound statement regarding the words being posed to the contenders.

“The most difficult words are not the words you and I would typically hold as difficult. The most difficult words are the simpler words that are spelled as they are sounded. Why? There is a strong temptation to over-complicate what is simple. This is the #1 reason these bright contenders get tripped up.”

49   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
May 29th, 2009 at 9:18 am

Hey Chris, this is what Spurgeon said the parable represented:

“It has long seemed to this writer that Luke 10:30-35 sets before us an exquisite picture of the sovereign grace of God unto those who have no claim upon Him.”

I hope you are not claiming to be superior to Spurgeon??

**********

Good comment, Paul.

50   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
May 29th, 2009 at 9:19 am

And BTW, their religion had become a hypocritical religion. This is the point of the tirade in Matthew 23 or Jesus highlighting alms, prayer and fasting in Matthew 6. Several other places as well (highlighted when he healed the blind man or resurrected Lazarus).

51   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
May 29th, 2009 at 9:25 am

Another point. I lived and pastored a church we started in Africa in 2005 & 2006 in a tiny village located on the equator in Kenya. Some of the people were illiterate, had no more than a primary grade education, and they were very simple. My wife, Melinda, taught Sunday school.

I am smiling to myself thinking that if ONLY I had dispensed the Koine Greek to them – everything would have been clear. If only those little children sitting under the tree could have grasped the depth of Jewish custom, the parables would have jumped to life.

I think the Lord, in His wisdom, provided timeless parables, independent of historical timeframe or culture, because He knew something even early on:

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

The gospel would spread globally, spread mostly by “ignorant and unlearned” (in the world’s eyes) people who didn’t know a lick of Greek or Hebrew.

Truly, it is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes.

52   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
May 29th, 2009 at 9:28 am

#51 – A wonderful comment, Paul. God is not against scholarship, but I believe we must guard against creating barriers in communication. Hebrew background can help, but it is not an essential.

53   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
May 29th, 2009 at 10:12 am

And just how does this apply to modern Gentile believers? If it is as complex as you suggest, I’ll leave it to the experts.

It’s not complex, at all. You’re on the right track w/ racism – but it also applies to any type of descrimination, including your favorites – nationalism and politicism.

Sure there is some value in understanding some of the intracacies, but they are not essential – I believe “essential” was the word you posed earlier.

The intricacies are not “essential” – if you’re talking about salvation.

They very well MAY BE “essential” if you’re trying to get at what is being said for the purposes of teaching. Both you and Rick keep moving to absurd extremes to justify idiocracy in the study of Scripture.

I hope you are not claiming to be superior to Spurgeon??

I’d say on this one, Spurgeon was wrong, b/c the Samaritans may not have been apostate in the eyes of God. Their argument with the Jews was about interpretation of Scripture and Temple worship.

I am smiling to myself thinking that if ONLY I had dispensed the Koine Greek to them – everything would have been clear.

Great job of completely missing the point, Paul.

I’m not suggesting THEY need to understand Koine Greek. I’m suggesting that if you want to be the best teacher to them, you ought to have a working knowledge to the original contextual meanings, so that when faced with cultural contradiction (like Gene’s with the snake), you can make an accurate cultural translation of the principle.

54   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
May 29th, 2009 at 10:15 am

A wonderful comment, Paul. God is not against scholarship, but I believe we must guard against creating barriers in communication. Hebrew background can help, but it is not an essential.

Actually, it’s completely essential – where do you think your English Bible came from?

You’re just depending on someone else to have expertise in Hebrew instead of you.

55   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
May 29th, 2009 at 10:28 am

I will accept some of your suggestions, but I will completely embrace the racism and nationalism perspective. That makes sense to me as it concerns gleaning the Samaritan/Jewish particulars. They may not be the core truth, but they are obviously embedded to the deeper student.

PS – If any of you vote, you HATE the Godd Samaritan. :cool:

56   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
May 29th, 2009 at 10:30 am

Good Samaritan”

57   Phil Miller    http://pmwords.blogspot.com
May 29th, 2009 at 10:47 am

I don’t think anyone is saying that you a person has to be a Greek or Hebrew scholar to understand the Gospel, but there are certainly things that require a certain amount of cultural understanding for the original meaning to be understood.

One example that comes to mind is this passage in Matthew 24:

36″No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,[f] but only the Father. 37As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. (emphasis mine)

Now, to a lot of American Christians reading that they take being left behind as the negative thing. But to a first century reader, being taken away would have been the scary thing. Being taken away implies being taken captive from an invading army – taken into exile again. To the Jews hearing this, this would bring back to mind the time of exile, and would be even more shocking than being “left behind”.

58   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
May 29th, 2009 at 11:02 am

#57, Yes Phil, I agree completely with your assessment there of being taken away (being bad) and being left behind (good). I’ve never read/seen the LB series, so perhaps that accounts for my understanding paralleling yours.

But I didn’t come to this understanding because I’m a Hebrew scholar. The verse prior shows the evil people “taken away” in the flood. There are other references in the scriptures as well showing being “taken away” is not the ideal position to be in.

59   Phil Miller    http://pmwords.blogspot.com
May 29th, 2009 at 11:22 am

But I didn’t come to this understanding because I’m a Hebrew scholar. The verse prior shows the evil people “taken away” in the flood. There are other references in the scriptures as well showing being “taken away” is not the ideal position to be in.

Well, that’s good you take that level of care when reading. Unfortunately, my experience has been that most people don’t. And what is hurting most Christians isn’t too much knowledge, but a lack of it. Certainly it is possible to make theological education an idol, but I think most Christians in the pews have a long way to go before that happens.

What I typically see when it comes to people and personal Bible study is that they read a small section of Scripture, think they know what it means, and take the “what does this mean to me” approach. When in reality, they may be missing the point entirely or just creating their own construct based on what they think they know.

I guess to me it’s almost a type of arrogance that we can get if we take the tact of, “I don’t need to learn from someone else, I just let the Holy Spirit teach me”. Now of course the Holy Spirit can guide us of course, but I also believe God works through His people throughout history. I would think that in even reading a translation we are operating out of this assumption.

60   Phil Miller    http://pmwords.blogspot.com
May 29th, 2009 at 11:36 am

By the way, this debate has been going on in American Christianity for, well, about as long as there’s been American Christianity. The Pietists were largely influential in early America, and they insisted that personal experience and holiness were kind of the end-all, be-all in Christian life. Well those certainly are important things, it can lead to a sort of anemia where people forget why they do what they do.

I’d say the other extreme is the staunch Reformed version of Christianity which almost goes to point of saying that a personal experience with God means nothing. Of course, this isn’t Biblical either, since the Scriptures are full of people interacting with God personally. Certainly, though, the Scriptures we have today are available to us because of God working through people with good heads on their shoulders.

So I guess in some ways, it’s one of unending debates because the answer requires moderation and balance.

61   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
May 29th, 2009 at 11:50 am

I guess to me it’s almost a type of arrogance that we can get if we take the tact of, “I don’t need to learn from someone else, I just let the Holy Spirit teach me”.

You’re right – that is absolute arrogance, and again, not what I am proposing in the least.

And what is hurting most Christians isn’t too much knowledge, but a lack of it.

Sad, but very true.

But Phil, you seem to be mischaracterizing the debate – at least as far as I see it. AGAIN, not advocating ignorance at all. But it is getting a little tired when we over-emphasize our own self-importance by thinking that what could only be gleaned by the Lord touching one’s mind can now be gleaned by scholarship.

Remember, people heard it straight from Jesus’ lips in the most original form you can get, and yet most had no idea what He was talking about most of the time.

AGAIN, I am not saying the 2 are necessarily opposed, but I will submit (like the Spelling Bee example #48) that we have a tendency to over-complicate things as our head-knowledge increases. All of a sudden, vast, new understandings emerge (like all the junkie new books written) that claim some new, special angle.

With a neat little Bible program, you have untold numbers of commentaries at your fingertips, hundreds of translations, historical texts ad nauseum… but is all of this knowledge really drawing us closer to the Lord?

I think there is an unhealthy lust for ‘new’ in religion, especially Christianity, today. This explains our rapid embracing and discarding of any new fad that pops up and then down again.

Just as many people go over the edge claiming to be led of the Spirit, many more people go over the edge with their new-found knowledge. It is the story of religion.

62   Nathanael    http://www.borrowedbreath.com/
May 29th, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Remember, people heard it straight from Jesus’ lips in the most original form you can get, and yet most had no idea what He was talking about most of the time.

But that does not justify laziness on our part when we have tools at our disposal to help us better understand the context of what is being said.

Both sides of this discussion have a point.

I’m just jumping in to say that I have thoroughly benefited from others much smarter than I (an innumerable multitude) who can help me understand the background of certain scriptures.

One example on this site is Chris L’s series on the churches in Revelation. Some of what he shared was brand new to me, and it helped me better apply the Word to my own heart and life. It wasn’t learning for learning’s sake alone. It was edifying and challenging, and I appreciated it.

63   Phil Miller    http://pmwords.blogspot.com
May 29th, 2009 at 12:10 pm

I think there is an unhealthy lust for ‘new’ in religion, especially Christianity, today. This explains our rapid embracing and discarding of any new fad that pops up and then down again.

I don’t disagree with this, really. Although, I’d say the thrust for everything to be the newest and best was something that really reached it’s pinnacle in the Boomer generation. I actually think that’s something that turned off many of the children of Boomers to Christianity. If faith is presented in terms of keeping up with MTV or whatever, it will lose its appeal just as quickly.

What I see people my age and younger wanting now is something that isn’t just a fad. So the “new” they are after is actually the old. It’s for the same reason Nirvana became popular in the early ’90s. People were sick of the over-produced, hyped-up stuff studios were putting out, and they wanted something closer to the roots. So I think that’s why there are so many books being written today about the Jewish roots of Scripture, and the historical faith. People want a faith that’s more grounded.

Just as many people go over the edge claiming to be led of the Spirit, many more people go over the edge with their new-found knowledge. It is the story of religion.

Maybe, but once again, something that’s “new-found” to us may be something our ancestors in the faith intuitively knew. What is worse is thinking that we as 21st century Christians have it all figured out.

64   John Hughes    
May 29th, 2009 at 4:59 pm

The Holy Spirit established and gifited individuals for the specific office of “teacher” for the Church so that we all can grow in the knowledge and unity in the Lord. Although personal study and prayer are vital (and commanded) for Chrisitan growth, God never intended for that to be the exclusive source of spiritual growth, else why establish and gift this definitive office in both the old and new covenants? Our faith does not exist in a vacuum. There is a historic body of teaching which is our heritage and within which we exist as the Church no matter how many branches exist. No man is an island and certainly a Christian is not. Scholarship is commended in Scripture and has been part and parcel of the Jewish and Christian faith from the beginning. But as always, in all things – balance.

65   nc    
May 29th, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Actually, I think there is a healthy hunger to make sure we are handling the Scripture correctly.

And some of these contextual helps bring to light mis-readings that have been done by those purely relying on English translations with no outside aids to ensure we aren’t reading the text in a vacuum.

On a lesser offense, sometimes readings emphasize secondary or tertiary “principles” or concerns as the essential meaning of texts.

The sad thing is that people and communities that claim to be the only ones who actually care about the Bible, “uphold the Word of God”, etc. etc. are the very ones most guilty of these things. Because they claim that moral highground, they deserve more criticism when they’re lazy with the Word–especially by spiritualizing that laziness with appeals to “The Holy Spirit”…not saying that’s what happened in this thread…but just say’n..

66   John Hughes    
May 30th, 2009 at 5:01 pm

NC. #65 some good points.

You know, I always wondered whenever someone says “well in the Greek the word **really** means “this” ‘, if it really means “this” instead of “that” why didn’t all those scholars on the translation team have it say “this” instead of “that”?

67   nc    
May 30th, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Great question…

I think sometimes it’s political…

sometimes it’s the work of the translator to approximate and the preacher to make sure s/he does the contextual work.

Like the passage in Galatians that says it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

Well, the problem there isn’t philological at the level of the Koine greek when I hear a sermon (true story) where the pastor goes on a rant about how that verse was written for us and the witness of American culture for liberty.

The problem isn’t the greek, it’s the English and the irresponsible semantic/contextual transfer of a enlightenment Lockean political idea of freedom into the english translation of a text wherein such ideas and conceptions do not obtain at any level.

68   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
May 30th, 2009 at 6:26 pm

Just remember, you can take 25 different Greek scholars and Bible teachers and all 25 end up forming a different denomination, some with serious variances from each other.

OK class – What does that tell you?

It tells you that you can be taught personally the truths of Scripture and you will be held to account, not the teacher you “follow”.

69   John Hughes    
May 31st, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Rick: It tells you that you can be taught personally the truths of Scripture and you will be held to account, not the teacher you “follow”.

True and True. However, teachers are held to a higher standard in Scripture and will be held more accountable just because of the negative affect they can have on their disciples. Teachers are still divinely mandated in scripture.