Tag Archives: Interpreting Scripture

Tattoos vs. Taboos: Old School vs. New school

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Tattoos have been a hotly debated topic in recent years within the Church. Some say the Old Testament forbids them, as well as piercings, and argue that since our bodies are the temple of God and where he dwells, we must be pristine and not blemish our bodies. On the other hand, it is argued that the Old Testament laws on tattoos are the same as dietary laws: outdated and no longer binding. They may also say that tattoos and piercings are a way to decorate our bodies as the Temple was decorated by the Jews.

Here’s my thoughts on the issue: A) “tattoo” as translated from the OT is not the same thing we mean by “tattoo” today. A “tattoo” back then was what was left after Pagans cut their bodies in god worship, it was a scar. Not “tattooing” yourself meant making sure you looked different than the Pagans. The same goes for dietary laws and circumcision. It was about differentiation. Even if the “tattooing” definition was the same, the fact that Christ and Paul opened up salvation to the Gentiles meant the need for differentiation in the same way as in the OT was no longer needed. It may be useful for some to abstain, but it was not in and of itself a sin.

Point #2: I have a hard time believing that a tattoo of a cross or a Bible verse or praying hands displeases God. A) it’s a permanent reminder to you of your faith. B) it’s a visible display of your faith that others can see. And who knows, maybe it starts a conversation that leads to meaningful discussion!

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Does Christianity Teach Social Evolution or Something Else?

You may think I have skipped Pt. 2 of the first post of this series, but more must be said before jumping in with both feet to answer the question posed at the end of Pt. 1.

Following along in Wright’s book Surprised by Hope, we encounter the question about the future of the “cosmos: progress or despair?”

The first answer stems from Social Evolution. This has its basis in Western thought that developed during the Renaissance with both Christian and secular roots. As science was progressing incredibly quickly, wealth and industry spreading rapidly, these ideas began leaking into social thinking as well. It progressed even more rapidly with the rise of Darwin’s evolutionary theory, as this seemed to give scientific reinforcement that the evolution of the world was unstoppable and inevitable. Progress was simply how things were.

But in reality, this is a myth. There are massive holes in the theory. First, it can’t deal with evil in a number of ways. It can’t stop it. There is nothing philosophical or scientific that tells us that at some point, evil will be eradicated because of the evolution of the cosmos. Along these lines, despite what may or may not be true about biological evolution, there is certainly no such thing as cosmic evolution. In actuality, the universe is running straight toward demise, with an unavoidable heat death at best. Second, it social evolution doesn’t do anything to solve the problem of evil. Even if utopia came tomorrow, what do we make of all of the suffering and evils of today?

And some Christians have bought into this. Rob Bell, who reached his pinnacle of “fame” with his book Love Wins, is one of them. He believes that it is humanity’s mission to bring about the restoration of this world itself. As Wright will show, this is not at all Biblical. He has bought into this social charade that says we will bring about the change, not God. In fact, this line of thought has been so popularized, that we see it on bumper stickers: “Be the change you want in the world.”

So the answer must be despair? Thanks to Plato, the idea that this whole world is evil and the only redemption is to escape it has a place in this conversation as well. This view says that material things, particularly the body, is bad and to rid ourselves of it is to reach what we were meant to be. This is the spiritualization of culture. The idea that when you die, you go “up there” to be in a “better place.”

Again, many Christians have fallen prey to this myth as well. Another view with a basis outside of the Bible, and another view that leads to confusion. Hymns talk about this world “not being our home” and how we are “just passing through.” It is these people that get labeled as those that are “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.” The purpose of Christianity becomes to go to heaven when you die.

So the answer is neither death and demise nor progress and redemption at our own hands. Rather, Christianity affirms “that what the creator God has done in Jesus Christ, and supremely in his resurrection, is what he intends to do for his whole world-meaninf, by world, the entire cosmos with all its history.”

 

 


What and Where is the Kingdom of Heaven? Pt. 1

This will be the first post in a series of post that attempts to answer the question in the title.

This is a question that has been on my mind recently, especially as I’m reading through Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright. Many people criticize Christians for being ‘Too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.” And, unfortunately, there tends to be some truth to it. We often have the tendency to talk about what happens after death, as if it is an escape from this life. And while there may even be some truth to that, as well, that is not the whole story.

Wright has helped me refine my understanding of what exactly the New Testament writers meant by “Kingdom of Heaven” or “Kingdom of God.” Instead of some future place of residence, as it is often depicted, it is something that we create and live out now.

When we analyzes the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven/God,” we must define our terms. A Kingdom is the area reigned over by a King. The “Heaven/God” aspect is more often simply associated with God. So the interpretation would be stated simply as “God’s reign.” When we “parse” this out in this way, the “Kingdom of Heaven/God” can hardly be said to be some future place, because that would be to deny God’s sovereignty over us now.

The answer to the question in the title isn’t that simple, however. A reigning king also has servants that abide in his will, and a people to reign over. He must have real power, not just a feigned power like many see the monarchy of England as having, since it is no longer the singular governing body. We must ask ourselves, then, is this the case, and how is it accomplished?


How Long Did God Take to Create?

I have been listening to a lot of debates recently between Christians on old earth vs. young earth creationists, and I wanted to get some thoughts out and hopefully some feedback as well.

Much of the debate seems to stem around the Hebrew word “Yom,” which has multiple meanings, one of them being a 24 hour day, another being an age or extended period of time. Each takes a different meaning of the word in Genesis and other places where creation is spoken of. I find that the argument favors the young earthers here: whenever the word “yom” is used in conjunction with a numeral(first day, second day, etc.) it means literal 24 hour day. Even more so when it is in context of evening and morning. One old earther tried to point out the oddity of the order here: evening to morning? Well, that was a failed argument, given that a Jewish day does indeed follow that order.

But on the other hand, the science is pretty much completely on the side of old earthers. The universe, by all appearance, is about 13.7 billion years old. The earth is much younger, s=but still much older than the 6-10 thousand years young earthers claim. There are so many problems that a young earther has to overcome in order for the view to even be scientifically possible, like the speed of light, carbon dating, etc. The speed of light being the important one. They either have to say that the speed of light has changed since creation began, or that it travels faster to earth than away from it. These are their only options to try to explain why the universe appears to be so vast in size, since we measure astronomical space in light years, which is where the age of the universe is derived from. But neither of the two options have any real weight.

So where do we go from here? Is the Bible wrong? Do we have to give up inerrancy?

My answer is simple: We go where we always go, to God. Here’s one of the fascinating things about how God works, He’s truly marvelous. Like when David writes his psalms, or Isaiah prophecies about Israel. They had their original intended purposes. But then Jesus comes, and all of the sudden, what they said in one context now is fulfilled in another. Clearly God changes the interpretation of the Bible through History. If there is no Jesus, these things still have meaning, just not the meaning they have for us. Think of Passover, animal sacrifice for atonement, they all made sense in the day, but make sense in a much different way today. What am I getting at?

If we look at Genesis and how “yom” is used, we would be write to interpret it as it was intended, which is most likely as a literal 24 hour day. But given what we know now, it seems to mean something different. In fact, now, there is a pattern. One debater that I heard, despite arguing that the intended meaning was to be age, made this point: God is still in rest in regards to Creation. We no longer see major works of creation. But herein lies the rub: We will one day again. There is going to be a New Creation, a time when God will stop resting, and create once again. I like this. But the Jews did not have this concept nearly as defined as we do now.

Some will argue that this is reading what we know back into Scripture… Indeed, it is. But guess what, Paul did too. And so did Mark. And Matthew. And Luke. And the early church fathers. And so do we. Again, the psalms that David wrote were not intended by David to be prophetic. But that’s certainly how we take them now. Isaiah, in many of his prophecies, did not intent to prophecy about Jesus, but rather Israel. Many of hos prophecies have dual fulfillments. Yet we do not say that this is unacceptable and deny that this is the correct interpretation of the words. In the same way, we can use this line of logic when we look at the Creation story. The author was ill-informed compared to how we are today when it came to time, days, creation, space, nature, etc. He was describing things as he could in his day(pun intended). But looking back, God had another intention, and God’s intentions always win out.

So here’s my conclusion: Young earthers are right. The word “yom” was probably intended to mean 24 hour day by the earthly author. The old earthers are right. The word “yom” today should be correctly read as age, because that is the way God, the heavenly author of the Bible, intended it. Unfortunately, some of the people on either side will bicker about this angrily, looking down upon the other side. Neither will want to change their stance, neither will want to admit defeat, even if that means coming to an agreement. Neither are completely wrong. Both are right in some sense. If only they could come together to realize that they need to combine what they are both right about, and admit that how they were going about things was wrong.

This debate will probably never end. But in my eyes its pointless. Either way, God created ex nihilo with a purpose. How, why, when is not a big deal. But if we want to make it a deal at all, it seems to me that since God gave us the ability to use science and reason, that we should use them, looking at the evidence openly(since it doesn’t matter either way), and coming to a conclusion. It seems that as Christians, sometimes we hold the Bible as a scientific textbook when it was not intended to be that. We want our science to match our interpretation, rather than the other way around.


Left on the Dock, how NOT to interpret the Bible

So most people know about the Left Behind Series by Tim LaHaye. Even my dad was a big fan. It’s just disappointing that such a non-biblically backed idea, like the rapture, would become so popular and mainstream. There is so little biblical evidence for the rapture, and the “evidence” that is often used is based on taking things out of context and giving them a new interpretation(though I won’t go into that in this post, but hopefully another one soon),which is ALWAYS wrong.

This leads me into the topic of this post, reading the Bible.

I enjoy some of Greg Koukl’s work, and recently his essay on never reading a Bible verse. The title is catchy. It seems un-Christian-like. But he goes on to explain that both critics and proponents of certain views take verses by themselves, which leads to them being taken out of context, and getting wrong ideas. A new idea in the evangelical sphere is to read the Bible and allow the Holy Spirit to call up a personal interpretation for what you are reading. And this is where I am left on the dock. They have set sail into this dangerous, misguided style of interpretation that leads only to confusion and ruin, while I am left standing on the dock trying to tie up as many ships as I can, trying to keep people from making this grave mistake.

The authors of the Bible had a specific purpose for writing what they wrote. It is supposed to be personal, and affect your personally, but while the effect may be different from person to person, the meaning NEVER changes. There was an original intent, and it needs to be preserved. This destructive path that these ships are sailing towards is often liberalism. This is where doctrine becomes wishy-washy, loses the Christian essentials, and allows for personal interpretation of sacred texts. Now this is a fine line in a way. In no way do I espouse, nor should you, the idea that lay people should not be able to read the Bible and ponder on it themselves, for, when done correctly, this is extremely fruitful. This is the route that some have gone, saying that only priests or ministers or those who are “qualified” can interpret scripture. This leads to grave results as well, like people being prohibited from rational thought, and basically being brainwashed (how about some of them JW’s).

So what can we learn from this? Read a passage in its entirety. No one would start right in the middle of a page in the 10th chapter of a 30 chapter book and expect to have an idea about what is going on. And we should not approach the Bible in this manner either. If Jesus is talking in some end times language, what prompted this talk? Was there a question, or two, that he is answering? When Paul is speaking of the dead rising, why is he addressing this issue, since he is writing letters to a church, and he is addressing worries and issues that church has. How should a prophecy be interpreted? What is the context? Context is oh so important, and losing it causes everything else to become worthless.

I think that if Christians all approached the Bible in this manner, there would be far less disagreements, far less controversy, and a lot more love and encouragement in the Church. So the next time you see/hear someone taking a verse by itself, ask them how it is being used and what point it was meant to address, and you could have a very fruitful discussion on your hands.