The Bible is a rare book which embraces its reader’s heart with love. It knows its reader and it receives its reader with the same knowing love Jesus had when he spoke in parables. Our heart’s deepest questions are not just answered, but they are loving accepted and left unanswered until our fears are laid to rest by the testimony of God’s faithfulness, and then we find that the answer isn’t just in the Bible, but the answer is out there seeking the questioner. The book is like its author: loving, truthful, humble, and wise. Through the book, the reader comes to know what the Author knows about the reader, and then invites and excites gratitude to the Author for how well the Author understands, searches out, and resolutely stretches out its arms and his hands to bring the willing heart into right relationship with Himself. When reading it, one wonders, is it a book or is it a person? The Bible is obviously a book of books, but the Author’s love and truth so saturate every page that the Word– the message, the thought, the meaning– of the book come alive in the heart– as alive in the heart as the Author of both the heart of the reader and of life itself. O that every student of the Bible would learn the Bible’s ways of embracing the heart of the reader with all its questions, doubts, and fears, and of showing them knowing love that invites them to be saved!
As I watched a video on the Bible being historically accurate, I creatively learned this diagram to make sense of these three descriptors, and why they are important.
As a way to show it to people, the explanation of the “Snowman” diagram starts at the bottom with just the word “Narrative” in its spot at the start. Each word is put in quotes, it is filled into the diagram.
The Bible is “Narrative” which means it is “Story.” And what does a story have? It has “characters,” it has a “plot,” and it has “meaning.” That part of the story that really gets us. And a story is crafted by the imagination of a man, yes?
Now a lot of people are content to accept the Bible as a wonderful collection of stories for the most part, but the debate will really start to come into the next level up. Because the Bible isn’t just Narrative. It is
“Historical” Narrative. When I say Historical it means that the things in this story, “Really happened.” And in history we don’t have just any characters or plots, or meaning, we have real “People,” “Events” of history, and as we look at history we start recognizing patterns in history. Case in point: Roman Empire’s rise and Fall. This pattern of rising and falling has prevailed throughout history.
A lot of educated people will debate if the things in the Bible really happened, but evidence supports the Bible’s historical account, just like the Senacherib’s Prism. Some people who don’t accept the Bible as God’s word will say, “It is Man’s recording, and Man’s crafting of the story.” The debate may convince them that there is historical evidence, for the story, but the final part of the Bible’s descriptors, is the part that people who are not Christians will not accept at a heart level. Because the Bible isn’t just Historical Narrative. It is
“Theological” Historical Narrative. That means it reveals things about “What is really going on. The Bible gives voice to the part of us that knows this world is more than the world we can see, taste, smell, and hear. There is an unseen “God” and there are unseen “Spiritual realities” which are moving in the world: Angels, demons, blessings, curses, and at this level we actually get to the “Truth.” Now while The Story is Man Crafted, and History is Man recorded, Theological means it is “God revealed.”
The Bible is all three levels, and in order to understand the Bible, you have to accept it at all three of these levels. It is Theological, Historical Narrative. Because The Historical Level is written at the level of “Earth”: The events that concretely happened in time and space here on this planet. But the Bible also accounts for and describes the real of “Heaven.” And because it is story it also speaks at the level of the “Heart.”
Please get this: God has revealed something to Man about Heaven and Earth which He had Man record and craft so that it could reach your heart. This is why the Bible is the best and most all encompassing book ever written. It is Heaven and Earth, and the Human heart all wrapped into one Volume, and it sets all of them back into right relationship with God.
So yeah! The Bible is Theological, Historical Narrative. Isn’t that awesome?!
Recently, a friend of mine told me that he believed the church should prioritize Paul’s teachings over Jesus’. Another friend told him that can’t be right. After all, if Paul learned from Jesus, we should prioritize Jesus’ teachings right? I believe this is a wonderful question and I believe the answer can be found by comparing the Old Testament Law and Prophets.
In seminary I learned that the Old Testament has three sections (Torah or Law, Prophets, and Writings) but the last two of those sections are exposition or explanation of the first section. One professor put it this way. “The Old Testament is the Torah and the rest of it is exposition of the Torah.” Another way to say this is that the Torah gives us the definition, the boundaries, the seed of what is to come, and the rest of the writings (The prophets and the writings, or just “the Prophets” for short) just explain how it happened in real life. Example: In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people, “You are going to go into exile, and God is going to bring you back.” (Deuteronomy 29-31). Read 2 Kings 17. You’ll see why He sent them into exile, and read Nehemiah and you will see what happens when God brings them back. Again, I will say it. The Old Testament = Torah + Exposition of the Torah.
Now if this is the case, which should we prioritize in the Old Testament? My answer is this: The Old Testament is set up in such a way that you need both of them to make sense of it. If you just prioritize the Prophets, chances are you’re not going to have much guidance to understand the plot of what’s happening. Why after all, did Elijah shut up the heavens in 1 Kings 17? (The Prophets) Because in Leviticus 26:18-20, God said he would shut up the Heavens if the people disobeyed. (The Law). If however we just prioritize the Law, then we will get lost in semantics and not know how it is rightly to be applied. Example: Leviticus 25 said you should give your land rest every 7th year. (Law) but we see in the Prophets what happened to the land when the land was NOT given rest every seventh year. (The Prophets) Within the Old Testament God does not leave us in the dark but gives us not only the seed of the tree, but also what the tree looks like when it is full grown. The seed of the Tree is God reaching out to love Israel. The Tree itself is God being faithful, and the people of God being faithless. We need both of these to rightly handle the word of Truth. We also need to use both rightly so we don’t get the cart before the horse.
Now, this wonderfully simple pattern of understanding God’s word couldn’t possibly be the pattern for the New Testament could it? What major sections of the New Testament are there? The Gospels and the Writings (History, Epistles, and Prophecy) In essence, we have a repeated pattern of the New Law and Prophets.)
Does it work the same way? Is the New Testament, the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament exposition on the Gospels? Yet again, we find that God’s Word in the New Testament not only gives us the seed, but also the Tree. It shows us the Teachings of Jesus in their powerful demonstration and the proof of their truth, and then we are given in the writings what those teachings applied looked like in historical and instructive ways. Paul applied the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 6 during the sermon on the mount about worry when he wrote tot he Philippians, “Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” But Jesus’ teachings about how to treat your neighbors would not make as much sense to us who are not Jewish unless Paul and Luke expounded on them for us who are the nations outside of Israel.
So then, which do you prioritize? The teachings that directly apply to the nations (The New Testament Prophets) or Jesus’ words themselves (The New Law)? I see how I would lean personally, but once again, I must keep the whole in perspective. Just as the Torah is expounded in the Prophets, and both are essential for a right understanding of God’s Word, so the Gospels are expounded in the Writings, and both are essential for a right understanding of God’s Word. Both have a relationship that must be rightly kept in humble interpretation of each other.
But still there is one more layer to peel back, which I find rather wonderful and sobering
Now that we have a canon of Scripture, the Church is interpreting the Scriptures to the World in every culture, tribe, tongue, people, and nation. We have, in both Testaments, the pattern of the house, and now we are responsible to enforce, to explain, to bring into reality God’s Word as it is revealed through both Testaments. The question left to us is how is this Scriptural revelation of God going to brought to full expression in the world. Or to put it in another way:
What is the Kingdom of God today? Our blueprints are established, and the writings of the Prophets both old and new have shown God’s way of bringing His word to fruition. It is the power and leading of His Holy Spirit that brings God’s kingdom here on earth among his people. And this Kingdom is going to be the final testament to the nature and character of the God we serve before He comes again.
What a tremendous privilege and responsibility!
To show it visibly, I came up with this Analogy of the Testaments. Can you solve the analogy?
The rule of humor is you give two similar things one after the other, and then the third, you bend slightly to get a laugh. May the church not make God’s Kingdom the biggest cosmic joke that will make those watching to mock our God! Instead, may we be led and empowered by the Spirit to make of the church what the Spirit seeks to make of the Kingdom of God.
– – I have mentioned nuances a lot so far. What I mean is the combination of denotative and connotative meaning: meaning that is directly expressed and meaning which is subtly implied. A silly example of this is if a girl introduces a guy to . . . no . . . those are too messy . . . If a friend tells his friend, I now, know that you care about me.” the Denotation is: At this moment I know you care. The connotation is: At one time I did not know you care. The English Bible brings out some of these denotations and connotations from context, but one thing it can’t make up for is the use of syntax in Hebrew and Greek to establish emphasis in communication. One example off the top of my head is Romans 10:3, “Being ignorant of the of God righteousness and seeking their own to establish they did not submit to the righteousness of God.” The contrast denoted in English and Greek is clear, but the fronting of “The Of-God” righteousness reemphasizes the point of the whole letter about the righteousness of God being revealed English flattens this and misses some of the nuances pointing back to God’s righteousness in the OLD Testament.
– – It is at this juncture I want to introduce a point about God’s word I have never heard expressed by anyone else, but I think it will be widely agreed upon just by common sense. The Word of God is not just What He says, but also How He says it. It is the same in communication between people isn’t it? One man says “I love you” to a woman he is proposing to. Another time he says, “I love you.” to a co-worker who just got him coffee. Is the word communicated the same? No. Same words, different relationship, different tone of voice, different inflection, different situation, etc. This is the way it is with human communication, and human communication of humans writing to humans in human ways with shared understandings is the way God chose to communicate His divinely inspired word. The Mystery of Jesus’ incarnation is not dissimilar.
– – What I have discovered after 8 years in Greek and 3 in Hebrew, is that the Word of God rings out so much clearer in the original languages, and He is very lovely in His leading, very brilliant in His glory, very true in His tone. Because I am still not a master of either language, I do read English and because I am in relationship with English-listeners I read English, but when I do, it reminds me of watching a VHS tape when you’ve seen Blue-ray. The picture still comes through, but the color, the sound, and the quality is sometimes lacking in the clarity to tell the story in the most meaningful and appropriate way. And I am still learning not to apply my English nuances to the Greek and Hebrew texts; it is something I wonder if we ever unlearn, or if we just humbly accept our own frailty and incapacity to get it right alone.
– – One more illustration which I sheepishly borrow from Kate and Leopold, but those who have actually been to Paris may attest to: The most famous art gallery in Paris is the Louvre. But some people don’t know that only a fraction of the paintings are on the walls, the real art show is in the basement. All the revered works of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and so on.The Bible is like the Louvre, in English you will only get a fraction of all that it contains.
This is my call of exhortation. If you are content with the paintings on the walls of the Louvre, then by all means enjoy them, but if you seek to know the source of their art better, if you hunger for a richer depth of appreciation for the soul and ethos of the art before you, I invite you to come down into the basement, where the fragile treasures preserved timeless await the witnesses who have the heart to enjoy them.
– – But do not go without a guide. Art is best appreciated in conversation. You need bring nothing with you accept humbleness in your humanity, and a heart to seek out Him who is truly good. Let an expert in these paintings teach you so you can enter into the joy, anguish and love that rests deep in the art before you and the heart within you.
– – To do this for the Bible in the original languages, I recommend Mounce’s Biblical Greek, and Van Pelt’s Biblical Hebrew to get you started! And find a good teacher or a fellow student to go through it with you. Languages live between people and die when unspoken; but God’s Word will never die. Enjoy the world you discover in the text; I guarantee it will be bigger than your current one and it is not very far at all from where you live out each day. Be patient, resilient, sentient, and repentant, and His Word will come alive in you to mold you into the shape of the Word: Jesus Christ our Lord.
Thank you for reading this introduction, contemplation, explanation, and invitation.
– – Here comes the point I am making: No translation is clear cut. Not even the English word “No” is an adequate translation for the three Hebrew words for “No” or “Not” or the three Greek words. For example, the First of the Ten Commandments as they have been numbered in the Protestant Western tradition is “No other God’s before me.” But what kind of “No” is this? Or in Romans when Paul said, “Shall we continue in Sin that Grace may increase?” What was the emphasis conveyed in his words, “No.” English is a beautiful language with a substantial collection of words to choose from, and yet none of them mean “exactly” what the words in another language mean. And when people dig deep into the dictionaries of Noah Webster and Oxford, they are digging wells of deeper understanding that tap into underground rivers not flowing with the same intensity or even direction as the authors ever intended.
– – This is why, as my hermeneutics professor taught from Moses Sylva’s book Biblical Words and Their Meaning “Meaning is at the clause level” not the word level. In other words, “Context is king.” Words and context in language are like teammates in a team. The team is the sum of what each individual contributes, and and the individual is defined by his role in the team. So context helps fit the right meaning to the words, and the words make up the context. So, then, if one reads in English the verse “No other God’s before me.” and does not see the Hebrew expression, “No other God’s before my face.” then he lacks a deeper nuance which actually clarifies whether “before” in that verse means “ahead of me” or “in my presence.”
– – So many passages in various English versions are difficult when trying to juggle English nuances with a Hebrew or Greek flow of thought, especially if it is in archaic English which we don’t even use anymore. I mean, what does Lovingkindness *really mean anyway? It escapes me how people can hold so strongly to an English translation with outdated English, perhaps they enjoy the taste of “sweeter water” in their own English language. While I can sympathize with this enjoyment, achieving insight into the original meanings of the Word of God in Old English is limited at best. Why trade the perfectly valid nuances of modern English for outdated ones in search of richer meaning when both are utilizing an emotional and relational communicative manner completely separate from the original author?
(Continued in Part 4)
The Bible is one of those rare books in which the heart of the reader is transformed while he reads.
The things the heart did not know are added into the mix
The things the heart thought it knew are shown to be multifaceted
The things that seemed complicated become more simple
The things that seemed simplistic become deeply rooted in deeper layers
And each layer of the Bible into which the heart breeches becomes at the same time a deeper layer of the heart of the reader.
So that whatever the Reader’s heart is searching for is found here in this book, and is found to lead to richer and more beautiful realities upon which all relaity is based.
The treasure of all treasures, the source of all meaning, the wisdom of eternity strung through time.
And all of this is brought forth from the mouth of One.
Who made Himself known to all the earth in Jesus Christ,
He is the Word, the Wisdom, the Way, the Wonderful.
And He is my Savior, my Lord, my friend, my beloved.
I am His and He is mine.
He is I am
יְהוָה Ἰησοῦς Χριστός.
Jesus Christ our Lord
– – To read the Bible honestly in any language is to dig deeply into the soul of humanity; because of this, every person who considers the intent study of the Bible must be willing to be honest with the darkest parts of himself. And he must approach it with the reverent care-filled trepidation of a man who has unsteady hands performing surgery on his loved one; perhaps an even better illustration would be a regular patient frequently returning to the operating table with a weak, sick heart, trying not to Jerk around while the Doctor performs surgery on him.
– – In this humble posture, the empty hands are filled with the riches of God’s goodness, one little piece at a time. Each piece can enrapture the reader with the warmth of solidified volcanic rock fresh from the mantle. Over time even this rock cools and the heart cools in response; it must feel His fire again. It must grow with the heat of the All-Consuming fire of God’s holiness, which is the only fire hot enough to keep the chilly emptiness of the World’s vanity at bay.
– – Such began my own “addiction” to reading God’s Word. That is the word that first came to mind: “addiction.” but it’s probably more like drinking soda all your life, and then one day you try just plain water; and it supplies all your body’s needs for replenishment of oxygen and hydrogen through the digestive system, and all without a sugar coma, or the slavish cravings for more. Soda was the “addiction.” Water has offered the freedom from that addiction, and allows the drinker to enjoy all other beverages better. And in spite of every other option being open and enjoyable, water becomes my favorite drink for as long as I live. This is more like what God’s Word is to me, in contrast to the empty philosophies and ideologies of movies, books, and stories which today’s world commandeers to assuage our soul’s deep thirst for meaning, value, purpose and identity. God’s Word is the Water of the World, by which all who drink of it may live.
– – I live out in the country with my family in two houses and a mobile home, and we all use well water. My Grandmother’s house has a well that was dug to a dept of 100 feet, with a water softener. It’s alright, but this water tastes like a tad of sulfur, and this iron-nasal taste that when I was a kid always tasted to me like boogers. Then there’s my parent’s house where I live, the oldest of the houses. And this house, built in 1960 had a well dug in the back yard all the way down to about 200 feet. They didn’t usually drill that deep unless they had to, but I will tell you, as all others will say who have lived in my family, and as visitors with fresh taste buds attest to us: It is the best tasting, sweetest water around. No sulfur taste; no iron. Just good hard water.
– – You can gather by now one of my points: The deeper you go, the sweeter it gets. The same is true of the Bible. The English Bible translators have done a tremendous job at reconstructing the flow of meaning in another language. It is now possible to read all the way through from Genesis to Revelation the Gospel of God in a language easy to grasp! What a depth of gratitude we owe to those who have interpreted for us God’s Word. God’s blessing be upon them.
Continued in Part 3
My Dear Readers, known and unknown,
– – I hope all had a very Merry Christmas celebration. Jesus is the reason for all the seasons and family and friends are the most precious gifts. My most prized gift I received this year is a close but definitive race between my very own blue ceramic, 12-hole, song-bird, “Ocarina of Time.” (Zelda fans will understand my glee!) and my very own black, single-bound, silver-edged, double ribbon-ed Readers Greek and Hebrew Bible! The Bible won by two words.
– – I am a student in Seminary and have learned to read, translate and exegete Hebrew. it’s a slow process, but I am gradually getting more cozy with it. I also took Greek in Seminary, but I had been translating in Greek since my Junior year in High school when my Dad taught me. As a result of studying the languages, the Word of God has opened up to me, like petals of a rose to expose the aromatic bloom of Jesus’ radiance! As Jesus said to the Religious Leaders in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures [Old Testament] Because you think that you have life in them, but it is these that testify of Me.”
– – Some of my friends, while they confess admiration for the scholarship, don’t see any reason or feel sufficient motivation to learn the original languages of the Bible. They have expressed to me different reasonings:
- “I don’t need it to do what God’s called me to do.”
- “I understand the Bible fine comparing different English versions.”
- “The English Bible I use is all I need for faith and practice and that’s good enough for me.”
These among other reasons are not bad reasons at all. In fact, I’d agree with the first reason that some people are called specifically to areas that learning to read the Bible in the original voice would be a superfluous expenditure of energy. And as for the second reason, the same way two eyes see three-dimensionally, so two or more English versions add a depth to anyone’s reading of the text. And the third reason does not have anything inherently wrong with it. they are right: understanding God’s word in a language of the heart and mind is really all one needs to be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
So, then, why learn to read one even two old languages just to read a book that is much easier to read in English? If you are a person who holds to the first reason, then by all means remain in that condition as God has specifically equipped you. If you are of the other two reasons or another and you are not sure why you would want to learn Greek and (or) Hebrew, allow me to share what I have discovered from my own personal study of the holy written Word of God in Greek and Hebrew.
Continue to Part II (I broke it up into four posts because it was getting long when I wrote it in my journal last night.)