Last week, Dave got up here, and as usual for the end of the year, gave a message exhorting us all to get on a yearly Bible reading plan. As is often stated, for someone to claim to be a Christian, and to claim to follow the biblical teachings, it is near impossible to do so if you do not have a thorough and ever—growing knowledge and love for Yahweh's written word.
Well, today we will be looking at the topic too, but from a different perspective essentially, as we discuss the authority of Scripture. We'll be covering a little background to the idea of what I mean by the authority of Scripture, and also some of the historical uses and misuses of it.
Sadly, in today's world, the authority of the Bible is greatly contested and controversy surrounds it in almost every corner — often, even within the body of the church itself.
It is no surprise that every time you turn around, it seems that secular scholarship is attempting again to dismiss it and disprove it in some way. The masses of non—church goers continue to repeat often erroneous and disproven criticisms against it, and yet the errors continue to spread.
All of that is understandable, because among that crowd, there is no place for an authoritative book that would alter their life and worldview. It is less understandable when we turn to the church — the very people that profess to be the body of Christ — and find the way they handle the very book that is their foundation for belief.
The Word Written
We know the Scriptures are the main source and cornerstone for teachings about Yahweh and related topics of Christianity. It is the basis and source for where we get our beliefs on God, angels, demons, etc. Yet there are those within the church who hold to beliefs on these topics that are not found in Scripture. What sources are they basing their beliefs on?
Some may think their beliefs come from the actual Word of God, if asked what Scriptures they base it on, they often have no answer. It is just what they believe; maybe based on some tradition or view they were taught as truth in the past. Sadly, there are many church going Christians in this category, who know what they believe, but not why or where the believe stems from.
Ask them how many times they've read their Bibles all of the way thru, and chances are, they never have. Yet they have a belief system, one they call Christian, though it may stem from somewhere other than Scripture.
A while back, I was following a conversation on Facebook between two Christians holding to our eschatological persuasion, and was astonished to hear what one of them had to say. This is the tale—end of that conversation that had initially started over one of the more hyper views that many people online tend to argue over. In this case, it was the idea of whether someone is born in original sin after AD 70.
I won't digress with any details on that fringe belief since it is not relevant for today. The original thread starter had posted a meme on the topic, and he was challenged biblically by another. It was the response he gave that was odd, for it was not a biblical defense to the biblical challenge, but instead he stated:
I see that you up hold to all that is written in scripture, and search out what it says to be true for all ages, which means to me that you will forever be stuck in the time frame of the first century.
So, the first implication that he has made is that all of Scripture, since written before the end of the first century, was only relevant to those people in that culture. More specifically, he would have believed that Christ and redemption, as described in the New Testament, would only have been directly applicable to a pre—AD 70 time—frame group of people.
I know, this may be totally alien to you if you are unfamiliar with this view, but it is becoming fairly common sadly, and I used to see it often when I was in these groups. He continued on to say:
Look to Jesus Christ instead, and understand if you become an over—comer, He will reveal to you hidden Manna, not written in scripture, but never the less His Word.
Hopefully, you immediately can see this is quite an unorthodox statement, and feel free to dismiss it with ease, for this is also not related to today's discussion, so I won't go further. But still, such a comment, to a Christian, should none—the—less be shocking to hear.
To me, this is such a demented comment which essentially is an attack upon, and ultimately a dismissal of the authority of the written Word of Yahweh. But wait! There's more. It gets worse, he continues further:
I think those who believe God has not spoken, or that His Word post AD 70 means nothing, and that only scriptures written before AD 70 are true for today in the New Heaven and Earth — that is crazy speculation and Worship of Scripture.
I am not wanting to chase these comments down and try to dissect and rebut them, I am just wishing to show you the arrogance and outrageous comments made by some of those who claim to be Christian and in our camp. Such a scenario as this, is the exact kind of thing that Dave spoke against in his two—part series in March 2019 called "The Dangers Within Preterism."
We cannot align with or walk with those professing to be Christian brothers just because they hold to similar beliefs with us in some important areas, but are totally off the rails in others There has to still be orthodoxy in a majority of other areas of theology.
This online conversation did not go into detail on it, but it makes me wonder exactly what he is talking about. What exactly does he mean by "His Word post AD 70" — where exactly do we have these other words or writings of the words of Yahweh?
Do these supposed post AD—70 Words of God contain prophetic passage? Have they been tested and proved 100% accurate over the year? I'm interested in reading them and comparing them to the written Word, but in this case, he never explains what he meant by that, but he concludes by saying:
I guess we have nothing to talk about then, for you do not believe anything beyond what is written from 2000 years ago, so I cannot help you because of your unbelief. You will just have to live with what you believe and lose out on what you could have had.
Sadly, this type of mentality exists, and is spreading in some areas of Christendom. And yes, this may be an extreme case, but this is the kind of mentality that will ultimately happen when people start questioning little things in Scripture, or ignoring Scripture in general.
This can stem from an issue of not holding to the understanding that the written, received Word of God is authoritative. And the issue is more greatly impacted when someone like this holds to a narrow view of the audience and purpose of the story contained therein.
From time to time, throughout history, churches and councils have had to stop and re—evaluated beliefs and practice, in order to reroute areas that may have strayed off course slowly over time due to tradition. For many people these days, eschatology is being re—evaluated.
Creeds and confessions tend to stem from times when unorthodox views pop up and challenge the church at times in history. So, the church councils meet, they study, discuss, and eventually lay out a concise theological position on the topics. Creeds can build upon the foundations laid by other prior creeds, and systematic theologies can grow that way.
Many scholars and historians will admi though, that eschatology is a topic that very few church councils in the past have spent much time studying out in detail. They just continued repeating what tradition has said. There has been no major council or examination on the topic, and that is one of the reasons there is such crazy and diverse teachings out there.
And so, for quite a few decades now, through the work of many great scholars, as well as lots of archeological discoveries, there has been a ton of new historical and biblical cultural understandings that has shed new light and clearer understandings on many topics shrouded in the past.
As more and most ancient near Eastern and historical material is uncovered, studied and understood, I have no doubt that still further understandings of Scripture will be formulated. Unfortunately, in a lot of the fringe circles, little attention is given to what the actual scholarship is finding or to the skills needed to more properly exegete the conclusions.
Because of that — many self—proclaimed teachers are writing articles and books, and gaining great followings on social media sites. They go about propagating their truncated and erroneous views, leading people into all kinds of odd theological errors. And when they are questioned or challenged with the actual biblical text, we get this kind of silly lack of respect for the written world.
For centuries, the Hebrew Scriptures were revered, studied and applied to every area of life by those seeking a better understanding of Yahweh. Many followers knew these Scriptures inside and out. Maybe they did not always adhere to them or apply them correctly, but they honored them and studied them thoroughly.
Every so often, traditions would grow in importance and lead people astray, and a reformation of thought and practice would come about to repair things for a time. It happens time and time again throughout history from the beginning, yet one thing was a constant — the written Scriptures were the central point that they returned to in the discussion.
When Yeshua came along, he opened the eyes of many of his followers, showing them many important points of the Hebrew Scriptures that tradition had marred, misapplied and pretty much negated. A new reformation took place with the old eventually passing away, and the new taking over.
During that first century, Yahweh spoke through them and new writings were made. By the early second century, those circulated writings started being collected, and were acknowledged and eventually collected into a new set of authoritative Scriptures.
These new writings were revered similarly to the Hebrew writings before them. At the time, some of the greatest Christian minds were studying both portions of Scriptures, formulating creeds and doctrines from their understandings.
They were using these Scriptures as the basis for answering the worldly teachers and authorities around them. These Scriptures provided them with answers and reasons for their faith and belief systems. Preserving these Scriptures even became a life and death matter — and many were tortured and died for their belief, defense and protection of them.
Fast forward to the sixteenth century. The challenge was made that things had again gotten off the path of truth in many areas, and that hundreds of years of forming traditions had become more central to the church instead of the authority of Scripture.
Through a few bold men, the Reformation was born, and many gave their own blood in defense of a proper understanding of Scripture. For the churches and teachers that came out of the Reformation, the Scriptures held the central place of highest authority, and were used to respond to the church's traditions.
For a few hundred years after that, Scripture held a high honorable place in most churches, but as is usually the case, that honor would start to slip as traditions grew. In the early 1800's we find a large amount of activity with different groups that hold to odd, and historically opposing views of Scripture and theology.
Throughout the majority of church history during those times when the Scriptures were given the place of authority, they were never referred to as simply a book of answers to certain questions that arose. They were always given a central place in the church's worshipping life.
For instance, throughout much of church history, many churches used the book of Psalms in their worship. Many saw it as their main source of songs in worship, while other denominations held to the belief that since the Psalms were divinely inspired, they should be used exclusively. Since these songs were divinely given from Yahweh, they felt this was the only authorized song book given from above.
Using the book of Psalms and other Scriptures in the church singing served another purpose too. Think about this idea for a moment. How many times has a song come on the radio that you knew well many years to decades ago, but hadn't heard for years, and you find that you still know the words to it? It is because music is a powerful tool for instilling things into our brains pretty permanently.
This was also quite a useful aid during those times in history when many of the church attendees lacked education and even reading skills. Not only was singing the songs of Scripture over and over a tool for instilling Scripture into the minds of men, the church also practiced the reading of extended passages of the Scripture as part of the weekly liturgy of the worship service.
This meant the people could hear and ultimately become very familiar with whole sections of Scripture as they heard and often repeated them week after week. They also considered the coming into the presence of Yahweh each week as a serious matter, and that all parts of the worship service should be based upon what the Word of Yahweh instructs.
For centuries, reading and studying the Scripture was seen as the central way in which we can grow in the knowledge and love of God. All of this to say, they considered the Scriptures the central way in which God addresses His people, and used it prominently in every aspect of the worship service to Yahweh.
It was needed in order to grow to understand truth more fully, as well as to develop the moral muscle to live out the gospel in the way Yeshua commands, amongst a surrounding world that seeks to pull us in every other way away from it.
In contemporary culture, things are not always quite this way. We have things like the emergent church, where almost anything goes in the name of love. We have the seeker—friendly churches, where the authority of Scripture takes a backseat for fear of offending or scaring anyone off.
No longer is the Lord high and lifted up and given the place of authority against all worldviews. No longer do churches preach and seek to live lives in conformity to the teachings of Scripture. Now it is all about making the message as palatable as possible, to not offend anyone, and to grow the numbers.
As parts of the Bible become more politically incorrect in culture, many churches do not stand up for the truth. This has caused the church as a whole entity and body to suffer in its efficacy to the world around it. And the division just continues as more and more various teachings and practices divide the people.
Much of this stems from a lack of a real knowledge of Scripture, which cripples the church—goer from being able to spot false teachings as well as the ability to provide a reason in and out of season for their faith. The words of Paul to Timothy should cut them like a spiritual déjà vu:
I do fully testify, then, before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is about to judge living and dead at his manifestation and his reign — preach the word; be earnest in season, out of season, convict, rebuke, exhort, in all long—suffering and teaching, for there shall be a season when the sound teaching they will not suffer, but according to their own desires to themselves they shall heap up teachers — itching in the hearing, and indeed, from the truth the hearing they shall turn away, and to the fables they shall be turned aside. (2 Tim. 4:1—4 YLT)
For many churches, Scripture has become a lot of different things — some see it as nothing more than a book of laws and stories that remind us of people and events far distant from our life and troubles. It takes a place where it has little direct affect or influence on life today.
Others use it as a book of parables, stories or examples to use for making some modern—day application, whether it is related to the Scripture teaching or not. Relevance of many of the teachings has become suspect, and therefore often ignored, twisted, or explained away. Some professing Christians get embarrassed about portions of Scripture, and make excuses for them.
It is very rare to find churches that practice expository preaching verse—by—verse through the Scriptures — because to do so means having to deal with troubling passages. Sadly, many pastors do not even study the Word with any real effort — but simply preach through their store—bought sermons or ear—tingling feel—good pep—talk messages with no meat or teaching in them at all.
Any kind of deep studying of the Scriptures or historical studies is often non—existent, and furthering their understanding of Scripture is dead. I think, over time, people and preachers have gotten comfortable in tradition, and just kind of go along with the flow and keep the peace.
Of course, this is painting with a broad brush, and obviously not all will fall into this type of category — but those that do not fall into this category tend to be the exception, and they tend to make less than a small ripple in the pond of churchianity — having little effect on the progress of things in the end.
So, on the topic of the authority of Scripture — let's start by defining what I mean when I say this. I am not so much saying that the words on the page in a book specifically should be lifted up as the book of authority. The book in and of itself is not the authority — but it is the authority of the triune godhead — who speaks and teaches and is revealed through Scripture.
The Scripture tells us in many places that all authority comes from God. In the old covenant era, God at times spoke directly to people like Moses. At other times, he sent spiritual messengers — angels — to speak for him. He also spoke through his Spirit to the prophets at other times. In all cases, there was authority in what was being spoken.
The opening comment of the book of Hebrews tells of how in times past, God spoke through the prophets, but that at that time, in the opening of the first century, he was speaking through his Son. The Words of God that before came through prophets and others, but now had come directly from the Son.
This is the same Son that John tells us is the Word, and this Word is not the type written down — it became flesh. Then, after the resurrection, Yeshua declares in Matt. 28:18 that all authority has been given to him.
So, the authority of Scripture is not such an easy thing to define, and is further confused by our current understanding and use of the term authority. For some, when you say the authority of Scripture, they think along the terms of inspiration of Scripture. To others, authority of Scripture may be related to a specific translation of words, for instance, those who believe like I used to, that the KJV translation was the only divinely inspired and authoritative edition.
The authority is in the story on the pages. However, that story, or major pieces of it, can be condensed and packed into theological terms that are not always fully understood. Unfortunately, packing them this way can sometimes cause the details to get lost over the years.
We have built whole doctrines around words that are not contained within the biblical text, true, but we use these words to more concisely contain our biblical theology. Words like the trinity, or the atonement — these are words not really found in Scripture, yet are words we use to condense a larger body of work so we can carry it around in conversation more easily.
I like how one writer describes this — using the symbolism of suitcases. Suitcases enable us to pack a bunch of complicated stuff into one easily carried container. However, we must never forget that the purpose of doing so is that we then can unpack those things once we get where we're going.
He goes on to state how too often, debates take place where people end up hitting each other over the head with the locked suitcases, rather than unpacking the theological terms to lay them out and inspect them.
Long years in a suitcase may have made some of the contents go moldy, and they would benefit from some fresh air, and perhaps a hot iron. However, when that starts to happen, it sends off red flags in the minds of people who feel their traditional understandings are not worth reconsidering — and another battle ensues.
When we speak of the authority of scripture, we must unpack that suitcase, and realize that we are speaking of authority that is mediated from that which Yahweh possesses, and from which Yeshua possesses as His Son. So, it is to be seen as the authority of God exercised through the story of Scripture.
As I mentioned before, the authority of scripture does not mean that we just honor a book filled with quaint teachings, sayings and answers to problems as they occur. The scripture does contain elements of that, but that is not what I mean of what we actually have in the scriptures.
What we do have is a whole story — and within that story we find the authority of God given to us, if only we care to dig in, unfold it and understand it in its context. Unfortunately, the church has divided the large story into neat little pieces of out-of-context sayings and smaller stories, and misapply them to all sorts of unrelated problems.
In order for the Bible to have the authority and the effect it was designed to have, it is necessary that we hear it as it is, we understand and apply it as it was intended to be applied, and we do not chop it into things it was never meant to say.
Plenty of examples can be given, and I know you all could share numerous ways people have taken pieces of the Scripture out of context to make it say things it does not. I hear this kind of usage almost daily from the Christians around me that I work with. That is NOT an exercise of the authority of scripture.
The authority comes from the whole, as we understand the inner working story — which is a road leading to the saving work of Christ that ends a very long story of Yahweh's working in history. This authority is the concept of God's sovereignty and rule — or better stated — His Kingdom.
The Kingdom Breaks In
Scripture reveals to us the story of God dealing with his people, and the ultimate ending of the story, is his triumphant victory against the sin, the death, and that which had been a wedge in the relationship from the beginning. By the time of the first century, many of the Hebrew's had an expectation that God would usher in a physical, political kingdom, overthrowing their physical enemies and establishing them as earthly rulers.
However, we know that they were misunderstanding the promises of God, and for that, they missed the true essence of the kingdom breaking into their world at the time.
For us today, the present kingdom in which we are living and seeking to expand is done so based on the same authority of scripture — based on what we see as that story of how God revealed working in times past — and relying on that for our current work.
We must see therefore, that when we speak of the authority and place of scripture today, we speak not just about the true information contained within the scriptures about how God has and is working in the kingdom, but we are to see the scriptures as an active part within that continuing kingdom process.
When read frequently, read properly in all areas of context, understood more accurately, and applied more properly, the Scriptures reveal and stand as the authority by which Yahweh actively changes lives and advances the kingdom.
There are many extremes methods that people use when dealing with the scriptures. They may look at them as strictly a historical account of the story told at the time it was written, or they butcher and abuse it to make points with it that were never intended to be made.
Another extreme is when they ignore the fact that there are multiple types of literature contained in Scripture, and they seek to understand and explain them all the same way. When they ignore things like the metaphoric, the parabolic, the apocalyptic, or the spiritual, and seek to just see it all as one, or worse, try to make them all conform to a woodenly literal meaning.
A proper handling of the scriptures will reveal to us the way God not only has, but how He does work in dealing with mankind. What his plan was and is for further expanding his kingdom to the world around us, and ways that we can be transformed and used along the way.
The people of Israel were a people that heard from God. However, we cannot reduce their scriptures down to just a simple record of revelation. This was not their intent and should not be ours either.
When we read the words of Jeremiah as if they were just his, and not with the understanding that they are the words of Yahweh, then we are reading things the incorrect way. While Jeremiah was dealing with a distinct people at a distinct time, with specific issues, that does not mean that we cannot glean much about the attributes and purposes of Yahweh that can be applicable to our own understandings of His working with us.
The Scripture Story & Use
Scripture was never to be considered simply the imparting of information or to remind them of a specific religious experience of old. It was not just an old story book, or a book of rules, or a book of proverbial teachings — it contained the words and works of Yahweh with His people.
It contains the story that was written to the people as a reminder of their place and purpose in the world — of their calling to serve the God who brought them out of the land of Egypt and bondage. It was written so that it would direct and shape the life of God's people. It was written to reveal the character, attributes and working of Yahweh through the working He had with His people.
If you do a quick word study on the scriptures use of "remember" — you'll find it was something Yahweh was continually telling his people. They were to remember the things in order for it to continue to shape their lives and the lives of their children and future generations. Many of the things in Scripture are written down so that we too will remember what Yahweh does.
Scripture was the authority because it contained the controlling story that told Israel its identity and destiny as a people of God. They were a covenant people through whom the power and justice of God would ultimately break through into the world as a whole.
The story and authority called them to obedience to the call of God; making them the model that later all of the world would be called to live under. Scripture was to be the controlling narrative and guide for daily life, and it is likewise to be so for us today.
The Scripture was read, studied, taught, prayed and sung by them in the Temple and early synagogues, and was the key factor shaping the people who were longing for the coming kingdom. Of course, by the time Christ appeared, things had gotten mucked up. There were many different groups having varying interpretations of what was truly meant by following the Scriptures. This has unfortunately been the way mankind has always fallen into, and that is why we see so many different views and denominational practices today.
Let us move on into the days of Yeshua. The time had come for the ultimate consummation of the promises throughout the long story — the time when all that was promised had actually began breaking into the world.
Israel had continued to fail time and time again not only through disobedience, but in understanding, following and fulfilling the ways Yahweh had laid out for them in the story. Due to that, the promised Messiah had arrived to bring the story of scripture to its climax, and he would do what they failed to. He would be the means of complete obedience to God through which the kingdom would be accomplished.
Yeshua comes upon the scene and at times he challenges and reveals that the leaders had strayed and forgotten the story. Their view of the authority of scripture was skewed. At one session he directly pointed out:
You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. (Mat 22:29 ESV)
Another time he berated them for making tradition above the scripture:
So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' (Mat 15:6-9 ESV)
And of course there is the time where he criticized Nicodemus for his lack of knowledge of scripture:
Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? (Joh 3:10 ESV)
Things were beginning to happen. The word which beforehand was authoritative to the life of the covenant people was being fulfilled before their eyes, yet they were missing it. A call to accept the Spirit's life—changing power was being offered, yet many of them were missing that too. Salvation was being offered — both physical and spiritual — and they missed that too.
By following tradition and man—made religious desires, they were robbed of the promise they longed for. In 1 Cor. 15, Paul proclaimed:
I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures… (1Co 15:3-4 ESV)
In doing so, he was not saying that if he tried hard enough, he could scrounge around and find some pieces of scripture texts that would sort of relate to or be stretched to make his point on his discussion. No, he was saying this was always part of the whole story, the climax of the story — the promises of Yahweh fulfilled in the promised Messiah.
The authority of the Hebrew Scriptures, during that early church period, was pointing to the central figure in the story — it was Yahweh and the works he was doing through his Christ.
Here is the key figure that was promised — here is the fulfillment of the promises given beforehand — yet even with their past history of a high view of the authority of scripture, many were more influenced by modern tradition, and were therefore missing what was going on right before their eyes.
God's Kingdom promises were not about empowering the covenant people to overcome their political enemies. It was not about setting up a physical kingdom with an earthly king. That may be what they were envisioning at the time, and sadly what people are longing for today, but the kingdom was focused on righting the wrongs, bringing forgiveness and reconciling with Yahweh, and bringing in a new life — a new heavens and a new earth relationship with the ruler of all.
The powers of the world were being confronted by the authority of the reign of Yahweh through the preaching of the Apostles — and that preaching was bearing fruit by the transformation of the lives of many people, showing that the start of God's reformation of the world was present.
The Word was being preached — the story of Israel was reaching its finality in Yeshua — the call of God was now being extended further unto a new and renewed people as promised — and that Word was flesh, and his authority was powerful.
The Apostolic Period
Following the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, the spirit—assisted ministry of the Apostles became the extension of that authority, as they went about turning the world upside down as it says in Act 17:6.
Over time, the words and writings of these early teachers began to be acknowledged as also authoritative based, and therefore the New Testament scriptures were compiled and placed alongside of the Hebrew Scriptures in importance and authority.
The early church was therefore a community created by God's call to hear and obey the word of the gospel — being that of the fullness of the written Hebrew Scriptures, embodied in the Word — Yeshua — announced to the world through the authoritative New Testament writings, and taught as truth within the church assemblies.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Act 2:42 ESV)
Recent studies have shown that the letters and writings of Paul and other New Testament writers revealed that they were indeed self—conscious of the fact that what they were doing, saying, and writing was by a calling from God, and was being done as an authorized teacher by the guidance of the Spirit.
They were shaping and energizing the new people of Christ through their written word. They knew that they were not simply writing about the Kingdom of God, but what they were doing was actually designed to be a means to bring it into the world around them.
Whether they ever envisioned a time when their writings would be compiled into a book along with the others like we have today, is uncertain — but they do seem very conscious of their unique vocation in what they were doing and writing, and the impact on the situation at the time.
The Early Church
The early church continued to believe that the Hebrew scriptures were still the writings by which God had given his people their story, and was the focal point for His work in the world, and his revealing of the Messiah which had come. It contained what was needed and was authoritative, and they used it as the key means of preaching the plans and power of Yahweh.
However, they read these scriptures in a new way — recognizing that some parts of these scriptures may not have the same relevance for them as a new covenant people. But this was not because they felt these parts were wrong, or bad, or not actually God—given.
They understood that while parts simply belonged to the part of the story that was now completed — having reached its climax in Christ, yet they were still authoritative in that they still revealed the power and character of Yahweh in the story as a whole.
Sadly today, most Bible readers ignore or give much less weight to understanding much of the Hebrew Scriptures. Viewing them as "old" and/or obsolete, they see them as having no real application to modern, new covenant saints.
Their lack of understanding them as the bulk of the main story, causes them to totally miss many key aspects of what is going on, which ultimately causes them to misinterpret many of the happenings occurring later on in the latter parts of the story.
The authority contained within the Hebrew Scriptures is still there — if properly understood through the story of Christ. The story of Christ, however, makes less sense when it is stripped from its context in the full story.
Oftentimes, we as modern readers are amazed at how some New Testament writers actually use some Hebrew Scriptures to make a point. We look and wonder to ourselves — "how the heck did they get that understanding out of that verse?" Part of this may come, of course, because we are not as steeped in Hebrew culture as they were.
Many people like to accuse the New Testament writers of treating the Hebrew Scriptures as a grab bag from which they could pick and choose pieces of what they wanted to use, while leaving pieces they did not need.
But because of this erroneous view, many people feel we can do the same with the whole of Scripture, tearing things out of context to use them as we wish. This comes from a failed understanding of how the early Christians understood the authority of Scripture in their use of it.
While most of us are well aware of many of the major verses often used out of context that happen in the realm of eschatology, it is the common, more innocent ones that can tend to slip right by us, if we're not well—aware of things as a whole.
Here are a couple of them that always kind of get under my skin. People will say at a prayer group for instance — "well you know, where two or three are gathered together, Christ is there with us." Of course, they are attempting to claim this verse where Christ says:
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (Mat 18:20 ESV)
Like some fortune cookie statement of theology, they treat it as a blanket statement that when two or more Christians come together for any reason, Christ is there. Is that what this is saying?
No, this comes at the tail end of a discussion in Matthew 18, which is a detailed description of how the church leaders are to judge and apply church discipline. So, this is relevant to making judgment in a disciplinary situation, and not to be understood as a blanket belief that if two or three of us are hanging out, Yeshua is hanging with us.
Another one that irks me is a truncated use of Isaiah 55:11 — which is usually stated after someone has just been a part of some form of evangelism. They'll claim — "well, God's word will not return void" — as if to teach that anytime part of the Word of Scripture is repeated, it will inevitably be effective.
Is that what the verse promises — a return of goodness each and every time Scripture is used, spoken or taught? Let's read what the verse actually says:
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isa 55:11 ESV)
Kind of a different sense is seen when actually read in context. It is all about God sending his own words forth — in the context of the story this is contained in and because of his sovereignty, they will not fail to accomplish what he sets them to do.
And then, one of the main ones you hear all of the time, is the use phrases like "in Jesus name." Here is the magic phrase for everything thing. Need to pray, close with these words. Need a demon gone — cast him out with this. Need to claim something you want, make sure you say these words after asking. After all, Scripture says:
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (Joh 14:13-14 ESV)
Is this saying that simply saying the name will produce the effects spoken of here? Is asking "in his name" the magic that binds God to honor our will? If so, what name are we to use? If so, what name is most magical? Is it the more modern English translation of J—E—S—U—S that today's Christians are most familiar with?
Or is it a Greek translation of His name? Or maybe a Latin one? Or maybe the original Hebrew since he came from a Hebrew family that never heard or spoke the English name Jesus?
It seems that if we have to literally speak his name to get these benefits, then we need to use the right one, right? Or does God just honor any name we say, because he knows what we mean? Or could it be that maybe literally saying this phrase and name is not the point being made?
Time does not allow here to go into detail on this, and there are messages on the church site on these topics. Hopefully you can easily see that we are not being told to end our thoughts and prayers with some magical phrase by literally saying "in the name of Jesus," though that is what our modern tradition has taught us.
When Christians go around stripping pieces and parts of Scripture out to make use how they please, that is not honoring the authority of Scripture. And in the end, does more damage to Christianity when continually doing so.
As mentioned, there are parts of the old that are no longer actively applicable to new covenant living, but as I said before, it is not because they were bad, it is because their purpose has come to completion.
I like the way N.T. Wright illustrates it. When a group of travelers on a ship on the sea reach land, they leave the boat to continue their travel on land. They did not leave the boat because it was bad, malfunctioning, or of no use, but only because that portion of the journey requiring it is over.
The travelers go on, but the ship portion is never forgotten. It is still a vital part of their story and necessary in understanding how they got to their destination.
Those Hebrew Scriptures are the core to everything the New Testament writers used and preached on. It is that necessary part of the story that gets us to the newer section. Without a thorough understanding of the Tanach, it is near impossible to grasp the gravity and importance of the things happening in the New Testament.
The written and spoken word was a summons to the people to make a costly decision to live on the basis of the story, and to reflect the image of the creator. It was a call to Kingdom living, as apposed to the typical worldly/cultural living. It is about renewal through the reign of God that was breaking into the world around them.
The New Testament period understood itself to be the new covenant charter — the word that would form the new covenant telling of the story — and by which humanity would be formed, reformed, and transformed into God's people for his new world. That is what they left for us — and by which we can consider what the authority of Scripture looks like in practice.
For centuries, Scripture furnished the church with the power and authority to proclaim and live within the new reign of God. It sustained them through prayer and guidelines for righteous living. It gave them the answers to questions and attacks. It was honored, protected, and defended.
Scripture remained the central focus throughout much of the time. And because of this centrality and authority of scripture, with their understanding of the way the whole story works, and of their renewed—Jewish status, they did not easily fall prey to other gospel messages that strayed from the real story.
Tracing the story from the beginning, through the call of Abraham and the creation of Israel, through the transforming period of Christ's day, and into their own time — they understood they were being obedient still to the one world—transforming call.
These people knew the authority of scripture, and stood up for it — and oftentimes in those early years, it led them to a horrible death as a martyr for their beliefs. We hear of similar atrocities for the sake of the Scriptures even today, from the stories we read weekly of the persecuted church.
Unfortunately, in later centuries of the church, the whole renewed—Israel dimension of the story began to fade, and with it, a detachment of the scripture authority and its narrative concept that led to the goals of kingdom life. As was often seen in the lifetime of Israel, tradition began to triumph over the Scripture.
Instead of the overarching story dealing with the corporate goals of the reign of God breaking into and overcoming the world, the story was divided into the old vs the new. In the place of the whole story, things like individual faith, individual holiness and personal salvation became the goal. Individualism became more of a focus.
Instead of the continuing story of God's Kingdom reign spreading through the vehicle of scripture, some traditions became more centralized on using Scripture for two main functions.
First, Scripture became regarded as a "court of appeal" — basically a source or rule book from which doctrines and ethics could be pulled from as needed, and from wherever needed, in order to make the case. Proof texting became the game, and the full story began to fade.
Secondly, it began to be used as a tool which individual readers could use in order to hear God speaking to them personally, to nourish them spiritually in their own devotions. Again, more individualism, where individual application and proof texting took precedence.
Slowly the whole story aspect began to fade, and it became more personal, and in many ways, it began to be looked at as being more allegorical than probably intended.
Allegory has its place in Scripture, but some uses of it go too far, and are applied erroneously, because they misunderstand the culture and times of the writing. That can cause things to be steered away from the Jewish world understandings in which the first century writers were living and teaching.
When pushed too far, it can remove the continuing story aspect of Scripture, therefore removing the Judaic context, which is already strained by the heavy Hellenistic mindset that most Christians approach Scripture from. This leads to further confusion of the story.
During the medieval period, allegorical exegesis continued, but became more refined and imaginative. Even apologists from the time period noted how if allegory is allowed to take over, then almost anything can be "proved" from Scripture — which results in some highly speculative theories. That is not hard to imagine at all.
Taken too far, this takes away the authority of the whole story, and again makes the scripture more of a set of tools filled with various pieces that are used and twisted to prove whatever the point of contention happens to be. The important question to ask in such situations should be — is scripture being used to serve an existing theology, or vice versa?
Over time, this type of approach led the church to develop many doctrines that became solidified into tradition. Over still more time, those traditions began to be looked at as a parallel authority next to scripture, because those tradition "suitcases" have been packed so long ago, that no one took time to unpack them to see where they originated from.
Early on, when the church spoke of tradition, they used it to mean simply what the church has said as it has historically expounded scripture. By the time of the sixteenth century though, the authority of tradition was regarded as essential — and actually an interpretive framework for understanding the Bible.
While the reformation did much to break that trend — tradition continues to rear its ugly head over time, and has done so in recent centuries again — even in most Reformed denominations that were strongholds against it.
Of course, even way back in early Hebrew scripture this was an issue. They had the written Torah as well as the unwritten Torah that was supposedly given on Mt. Sinai as well.
In essence, the belief is — if something is a well—established tradition — even if there is nothing about it found in Scripture — it is often still taught as authoritative — EVEN if shown to be against the actual teaching of Scripture.
However, turning back to the Reformation, their view of sola scriptura was a protest against the strength of tradition in the church at the time. It was a call to go back to scripture — to unpack the suitcase — in order to prove or disprove the established traditions.
It was not a call that required one to know and understand everything in scripture in order to be saved, but it was a call to return to the confines of scripture and limit doctrinal teachings to only those things found therein.
To the reformers, scripture trumps tradition — as it should. They also set out to restore a "literal" sense to scripture, over against some of the other ways the medieval church had been viewing things. And of course, they restored to Christians the right to have and read the Word of God in their own language instead of the previous view of keeping it in the hands of the Latin—reading elite.
Now, when the Reformers speak of the literal sense of scripture, we must understand that they are not speaking as most today would use the term. The dispensationalists cry for the literalism of scripture, but then they hyper—spiritualize so many other aspects to make it fit their view. But their view of literal is not the same.
No, when the Reformers speak of scriptural literalism, they speak actually of the literal understanding that the writers and listeners of the time would have approached it with. This means that if the original intent of a section was being metaphoric, then a metaphoric view is the literal understanding. It meant they took each different literally type as they literally should be taken.
This can become confusing to us and the way we use the word currently, but that is something we must learn to overcome. Let's look at an example — in Psalm 18:8, speaking of Yahweh, we are told:
Gone up hath smoke by His nostrils, and fire from His mouth consumeth, Coals have been kindled by it. (Ps. 18:8 YLT)
If we use the language of literal as some use it today, it would lead one to believe that we are saying physical smoke came out of Yahweh's physical nostrils and literal fire from his mouth.
But, to the Reformers, a literal view of this verse is actually seeing the beauty of metaphor and understands it to be speaking of the indignation of the living God against the enemies.
I am sure most of us here should already grasp that, as we see this type of usage throughout Scripture, especially within prophetic verses. But many "literalist" readers do not understand it that way — and miss many of the nuances and beauty that is found written in the various types and sections of Scripture.
It is this type of understanding of literal that allowed the Reformers to understand the metaphor behind Yeshua's words when he speaks at the Last Supper of taking and eating of his body — which the Roman Catholic Church understands as being more of a modern literal approach to it.
I could go on and on with other examples of types of Scriptural usages of different writing styles, but the whole point of the message today is to get us all to think more rightly, and more highly of Scripture.
To seek to instill not only a respect and desire to properly handle it in general, but also to have a greater desire to read, study, and stay in it regularly to continue growing in understanding all that Yahweh has provided within it for our benefit.
This is not a new or novel concept coming from this pulpit. We hear it again and again, and today you're hearing it yet again. Read the Word, read it often, study it regularly. If not, you will surely mishandle, misquote and misuse it like so many others do in this day and age.
Scripture must be restored to the place of authority it by nature is, but that is not going to be done until the people of Yahweh read it, understand it better, and use it more properly to be the authority for the kingdom age we live in.