Weekend Message Q&A

Here are the questions I received based on the weekend message.

Q – I've been using a reading plan to read through the Bible for the first time. How do you be attentive while reading from different books in the Bible? I'm using YouVersion app yearlong reading for reference.

A – There are two ways to go about this: (1) Read the Bible several times through until you begin to see the basic story line and can learn to be attentive to where you are in the story whenever you read it; or (2) find a good resource that helps  you get the framework of the Bible story and gets you to read the key passages. I suggest you start with my book because it gives a framework for the whole Bible before you read the whole Bible. If you’ve done that already, then just keep the two acts and 10 scenes in mind whenever you read.

There may be another issue you’re addressing in your question. It’s hard to read attentively when you’re covering a lot of material in one reading. It might be good to combine a yearlong Bible reading program with something like the Group Life study that drills in to a shorter passage of Scripture. A good devotional can help in this way too. If that’s too much, I suggest taking three years to complete the Bible so you have time for reflection.

Another suggestion for getting more out of large passages of the Bible: Wayne Cordiero has his church read through the Bible every year and they use an approach called SOAP. It will help you get more out of your reading. Check it out here.

Q – (1) How do you deal with Christians who insist that the old laws still must be followed in part to prove/justify their hatred? (2) What of those non-believers who point to the marriages in the Bible as being non standardized who argue against the "traditional marriage" view that the right wing are arguing to keep? What do you say to them especially since marriage is not just a Christian/Jewish institution? Sorry if this is a bit vague.

A – I’ll be brief, but you’ve hit on a lot of issues that really require a lot more attention than I can give it here.

(1) I’m never quite sure what to do if I suspect someone is using the Bible to justify their hatred. I have to be careful not to read motives into their words and actions (not to judge), but if hatred is what they are communicating with their words and actions, I have to call it what it is and I may need to call it out. It’s hardest for me to know what to do when it’s an elderly family member or an old friend. That said, the old laws are never old if they express God’s will. So the moral laws of the Bible still express the character and will of God. But they should never be used to hit people over the head, to be self-righteous or to be hateful.

(2) The Bible defines marriage in terms of one man and one woman. Yes, several key people in Bible times married multiple wives (although not as many as you think), but the Bible doesn’t condone it. Nor does it purport to hold these guys up as examples for marriage. The underlying premise of almost every passage is that THIS is the material God worked with—flawed, broken, sucky humans like you and me. God put the standard for marriage out there in Genesis, Jesus and Paul underscore it and the rest of the story records how we mess with his directions. And here’s one thing that becomes clear as the story unfolds: polygamy never works and only makes things worse. This happens in story after story.

Q - In your teaching tonight at service on Saturday 9/22, you mentioned that the new testament has one or more references to the meaning of the animal sacrifices performed in the old testament.  Can you call those out for us in your blog?

If I'm being honest, I'm still unclear as to why the animal sacrifice and ritual cleanliness / uncleanliness is part of the old testament. If the answer was just that people of that time had a different culture or different rituals, then I could accept it (or more accurately, dismiss it), but it seems like these acts were influenced by God and the prophets.  Why would God want his people to do these things? They seem completely foreign to what Jesus asks of his followers in the new testament, and I'm struggling to see the logic behind these specific portions of the old testament.  If this is addressed in great detail in the story of God series, then I will look forward to that.  I'm praying that I can come to some understanding on this topic.

A – The NT book that deals with this most extensively is Hebrews. But this subject really permeates the entire NT. For instance, you can’t fully understand or appreciate the Lord’s Supper without understanding the “cutting” of covenants, the need for bloodshed involved in sacrifice and the original Passover. Likewise, the Gospel of John is written with a focus on Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem during various OT prescribed festivals, and Jesus’ teaching in John ties closely to those festivals and how he is the fulfillment of each one. In addition, only John records the words from John the Baptist about Jesus: “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That’s a reference to the sacrificial system and Passover in particular.

The Story of God study deals with the sacrificial system extensively, but not as much with the purity laws.

In actuality, you suggest a lot of this OT purity/ritual stuff is completely foreign to what Jesus taught. I don’t agree at all. It’s preparatory in his teaching. Most of his teaching doesn’t make sense if you ignore the OT. And he never says the OT rituals and such were wrong. In fact, after many of his healings he tells the healed to go and get the proper cleansings and clearances from the priests.

Essentially he does three things consistently when it comes to the ceremonial (purity) laws and the moral laws of the OT: (1) He attacks his contemporaries misunderstandings and abuses of the rituals and laws (including their focus on externals, which the OT did not do; see e.g., Luke 11:42); (2) he deepens their understanding of the laws (as he does in Matthew 5:21-48 regarding several OT laws); and (3) he shows how the laws are fulfilled in him and only by him. There’s more he does, but that’s a start.

One more thing: The exact nature of the rituals were often shaped by God within specific cultures. So, yes, the culture influenced it. If you keep in mind that culture includes language, you see that the whole Bible (literally every word) is conditioned by the culture in which it was revealed and delivered. But there is no other way of doing it. You can’t communicate with anyone outside of culture and time. And the Bible is self-aware of this fact.

So if you easily dismiss anything that is conditioned in some way by the culture, you’ll have to dismiss the entire NT as well. It’s also filled with weird things from our cultural perspective. Theologians speak of things in Scripture that are indeed culturally conditioned (and therefore not binding) and those that are transculturally normative (they apply in any culture even though they are given in a particular culture's language and thought patterns). Think, for instance, of the command to love your neighbor as yourself. The exact meaning of that in the OT referred to loving fellow Israelites. I might be tempted to dismiss it as culturally irrelevant since I’m not an Israelite, or I can see what is clearly there: a love ethic for my life as well. Of course, this isn’t the only passage that talks about love in the Bible either. So as I read the whole Bible it becomes even clearer that this is a central, transculturally normative command.

On the other hand, when it says “greet one another with a holy kiss” there is nothing in the text or the whole Bible to suggest this is transculturally normative. Kissing isn't portrayed as central to the character of God revealed in the Bible or central to the great commandment.  But we do know that this was the common way of greeting each other in Paul’s culture. If you're not sure about this and decide to greet me with a holy kiss, go to youtube and search "will smith slaps reporter." Let that be your warning. :-)

There’s a great chapter on this in a book I highly recommend: How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. Great book by two former professors of mine.