Inspiration and Incarnation (Book Review)

Enns_InspirationIncarnWhen Israel was a child, I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son.
As they called them,
So they went from them;
They sacrificed to the Baals,
And burned incense to carved images.

I taught Ephraim to walk,
Taking them by their arms;
But they did not know that I healed them.

~Hosea 11:1-3 (NKJV)

Above is Hosea’s brief history of God’s loving call of Israel out of Egypt and their unfaithfulness to Him. The chapter goes on to say that though God continues to love Israel, and though they will not go back to Egypt, they will still be put under the Assyrians for their backsliding and refusal to repent.

Matthew, in his gospel, writes this:

Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”

When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

~Matthew 2:12-15

Matthew’s quote of Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my Son,” is a complete misuse of scripture, taken out of context, and used by Matthew in a dishonest way. Or is it? Not if you understand that Matthew was writing to a specific audience (Jews), and he had a theme in mind when presenting the life of Jesus to that audience. Matthew wanted his readers to understand that Jesus is the true Israel and was acting as a new Moses.

The other three gospels are written by different authors to different audiences, and have different themes, and therefore present Jesus in different ways. This phenomenon is not only true for the four gospels. It is true for every book written in the bible. The bible is full of different authors writing at different time periods to different people with different worldviews, customs, and philosophies.

Therefore, when reading the bible, it is necessary to have some idea as to what the historical, grammatical, and hermeneutical context is for each book. When was it written? To what audience? What is the style of literature? What were the customs of the initial readers/hearers? What was the hermeneutical norm (the way scripture is interpreted) of the original audience? For example, what Matthew did with the Hosea passage might bother a modern Baptist preacher if done today, but apparently it was okay in Matthew’s day.

In 2018, we are as far from king David in the past as we are are from the year 5000 in the future. Think about that for a minute. Imagine if the canon of scripture was still open (it’s not), and that books written today will be a part of the bible in the year 5000. Would the readers in the future need to have some understanding of today’s world in order to fully understand what they were reading? Of course they would.

This reality of reading scripture leads to problems. What does it mean when we say that scripture is inspired? If some proverbs of Solomon are found similarly written in earlier Egyptian writings, are they still inspired? If the structure of law given to Moses in Exodus resembles the structure of law written by other near east cultures written earlier, is it inspired? How much should we take into account the existing culture that the books of the bible were written in?

Peter Enns attempts to address these issues in his book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. I have read other work by Peter Enns before, and I would say he comes to a lot of wrong conclusions in his thinking. He seems to be a part of that crowd which is quick to condemn the O.T. actions of Israel based solely on modern day zeitgeist morals. Which is strange as it goes against his own teaching of biblical interpretation. Perhaps I am wrong about him.

This book, however, I liked more than I thought I would. Enns suggests that, just as we understand Jesus as being the incarnation of the Son of God — meaning He is both God and man at the same time — so should we view scripture. Scripture is both divinely inspired, but also written by flesh and blood (and imperfect) men. That, of course sounds controversial and dangerous, but in this book I found Enns to be a formidable defender of scripture. Here he doesn’t deny the truthfulness of any of the biblical stories (as he might in his other work), but rather he successfully explains that there were real worldly reasons for the authors of the bible to write what they wrote, and how they wrote it.

The basic theme of the book is: Yes the bible is inspired and from God. It is what God wants it to be, and we need to trust God. The bible is also written by real men who are products of their time and place and so is their writing. Don’t let your doctrine and hermeneutical method get in the way of letting God be who He presents Himself to be in Scripture.

One illustration by Enns to support the above:

And [God] said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” ~Gen. 22:12 (NKJV).

The story is of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. God told him to do it, and God stopped him at the last moment. Then God says, “Now I know that you fear God…” Did God not already know? He’s God isn’t He? He declares the end from the beginning, does He not? Some would say of course God knew, but the whole sacrifice test was for Abraham’s benefit. God knew, but Abraham wasn’t so sure of himself, so God pushed him to the edge to convince him. But, that’s not what the text says. The author of Genesis could have written that if it was true, but he didn’t. The text says God didn’t know, and the purpose of the test was for God’s benefit. And we need to read it as it is. This is what God wants us to see. It’s up to you to figure out why.

Even though I can’t recommend Enns’s other work, I’m giving this book a positive review — 3.5/5 stars. I recommend it to anyone who has questions about the difficult and seemingly contradictory or confusing passages of the bible.

Unicorns in the Bible

unicorn 001
The Bible (King James Version) mentions the unicorn several times: Numbers 23:22, 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9; Psalm 22:21, 29:6, 92:10; Isaiah 34:7.

Other versions of the Bible, such as the New American Standard Version, will instead use the term wild ox, as the Hebrew word, rê’em [pronounced: reh-ām’], probably refers to a wild bull.

Atheists like to bring up the Bible’s use of unicorns to attack its validity. Surely, if the Bible mentions unicorns, a mythical beast lacking any evidence for ever existing, then the Bible itself is a mythical document not to be taken seriously.

But what an intellectually lazy argument it is to automatically assume that the KJV Bible, a document translated over 400 years ago from Hebrew, Greek,* and Latin sources,** would use the word unicorn in the same way it is used today. Indeed, all you have to do is go back 200 years to find unicorn defined differently than today. The 1828 Webster’s Dictionary defines it as this…

unicorn

A rhinoceros. And the same dictionary defines rhinoceros as this…

Rhino

This does not mean that the KJV Bible is talking about rhinoceroses when using the term unicorn. But, it does make it rather obvious that the definition of unicorn is not the same today as it was 400 years ago, and the argument to write-off the Bible as myth due to its use of the word unicorn is unfounded.

Here is a good video which inspired this article…

* The Greek of unicorn is μονόκερως transliterated as monokeros [one horn].

** The Latin version of the Bible (the Latin Vulgate) uses the term rinocerotis in Deuteronomy 33:17 and rinoceros in Job 39:9.

Use a Transformer

electricity-transformer-300x235If you live in the west and travel to the east, you have to be careful with the electrical devices you bring.

In the west, the voltage at an outlet is 120 volts, whereas in the east it will be 220 volts. If you plug your western electric razor in without an adaptor, you will fry your razor.

I like to use this illustration when teaching hermeneutics. You have to be careful when taking texts written thousands of years ago and applying them to today’s world.

All the so called “end-times” texts come to mind. When someone writes “the end of all things is at hand” two thousand years ago (1 Peter 4:7*), you don’t read that in 2015 and go out into the streets shouting the end is near.

You have to figure out what the original author meant by his words. What was coming to an end for him two thousand years ago? Then, once you’ve figured out his meaning, you can then apply the principles of what he was saying to your own time.

Sometimes you can take texts and plug them right in without the transformer (like with the wisdom literature), but the bible itself will teach you when and when not to do that.

And… just plain common sense.

*Also see: 1 Corinthians 10:11; James 5:7-9; 1 John 2:18; Hebrews 10:25; Jude 17-18.

The Five-fold Gifts

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The terms found in Ephesians 4:11 are often used to describe the different types of ministry work we Christians do today. And that’s exactly correct. But, these terms were not invented recently, nor were they invented by Christians. These terms were used by anyone living in the first century Roman empire. So, in order for us to understand how these words apply to us today, it is helpful to see how they applied to regular people living at the time of Jesus, 2000 years ago.

Greek was the common language of the Roman empire. Before the Romans were in power, the Greeks were in power. And once the Greeks were in power, many of the nations began to adopt Greek culture, gods, and language. Below are the terms as listed in Ephesians 4:11, and defined as people would have used them in Jesus’s time. One word that seems to stand alone is ‘prophet’. This word was used mainly in the Old Testament, and so it’s best to get its meaning from there.

1) Apostle: (Greek: apostles) Envoy, ambassador, or messenger commissioned to carry out the instructions of the commissioning agent. An apostle was sent by someone in authority to give instructions to a specific person or group of people. In relation to the Church, an apostle is one sent by King Jesus to give instructions to the churches on how to conduct themselves. An apostle’s life was somewhat expendable.

2) Prophet: (Hebrew: nâbîy’; Greek: prophētēs) One who speaks for God and knows God’s plans. One who God listens to. One who can declare the future. One who can destroy old worlds and create new worlds with his words. The word is first used in Genesis 20:7 (Abraham, the prophet, had to pray for Abimelech’s life – God would only listen to the prophet).

3) Evangelist: (Greek: euaggelistēs [yoo-ang-ghel-is-tace]. The word is very similar to the Greek for ‘gospel’: euaggelion [yoo-ang-ghel-ee-on]. The prefix “eu-” means joyful and this is connected to the Greek word ‘aggelos’ [ang-el-os], or ‘angel’ in English, which means messenger.) A herald who proclaims a gospel (joyful message).

4) Pastors: (Greek: poimēn) A shepherd. One who takes care of the believers under his care both spiritually and physically. One who works to keep his people in the Church as a shepherd keeps sheep in the flock. One who works to see his people grow in maturity and Christ-likeness.

5) Teacher: (Hebrew: bîyn; Greek: didaskalos) An instructor. One who teaches the word and commands of God. One who works to ensure that his people are hearing the truth and not led astray by deception. One who works to see his people grow in maturity and Christ-likeness.

• Note: Pastors and Teachers are actually one item in this list. In the Greek the two are put together, and an acceptable translation of Ephesians 4:11 could be this:

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors/teachers…”

•Note: It’s important not to confuse an apostle with an evangelist. An evangelist proclaims a gospel to a general crowd of people, while an apostle delivers a king’s instructive message to a specific group of people so that they know what they’re supposed to do.

Consider this as an example (historically accurate or not):

In 30 BC Augustus Caesar defeated Mark Antony and became the new ruler of the Roman empire. Once this was done, the news (the good news – euaggelion) of his victory and rise to power had to be made known to all the people all over the empire. The euaggelion was proclaimed to the people by the euaggelistēs (the evangelists). The evangelists were heralds who went through the towns and villages crying out the gospel message: “Hear this message all you people! Augustus has defeated his enemies and now rules the Roman world! Those of you who supported Augustus in the war will be rewarded! Those of you who opposed him – now is the time to turn away from your support of the enemies of Augustus and submit to him!”

Once Augustus had secured his rule, he returned to the capital city of Rome and took his throne. From there he worked to expand the influence of the empire by setting up colonies of Roman people in the places he recently defeated. Once these colonies were established, he gave instructions to the colonists by sending apostolos (apostles) – messengers from the king.

King Jesus has done the same thing, but on a much greater scale. Jesus was the first evangelist for His own rule when He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) Jesus was calling the people to turn away from their allegiance to the enemy (to repent) and to turn to Him as their true king. Jesus proclaimed His gospel even before He died on the cross – He had no doubt of His own victory.

After Jesus rose from the dead, He ascended up to heaven and took His throne at the right hand of the Father. From there He will rule until all His enemies have been put under His feet. Jesus is now in His capital city ruling His empire. We, the Church, are establishing “colonies” for His empire by planting churches and starting up other Christian ministries all over the world.

Our evangelists continue to go out and proclaim the good news of our King’s rise to power, and to warn anyone who would choose to oppose Him. Our apostles continue to deliver orders from the throne room of Jesus to instruct the churches on how to worship, serve one another, build, expand, and make new disciples. Our pastors and teachers continue to care for their flocks and teach them all the truth of our Lord Jesus. And finally, our prophets continue to speak words of guidance based on God’s word, and to speak more words which would tear down anything holding us back.

Which of these gifts do you believe you are called into? It’ll most likely be more than one. Paul was first an evangelist then an apostle. Timothy was both an apostle and a pastor/teacher. You’ll probably walk in different gifts at different times in your life. Which are you most passionate about now?

Whatever you choose to do, don’t forget the instructions Paul the apostle wrote:

…(these five gifts are) for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:12-16)

* All scripture quoted from the NKJV.

Some Methods and Tools to Read the Bible

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There are two ways, I think, we should read the Bible. One is to study it deeply. This means choosing a chapter or a couple of verses at a time and reflecting on each word carefully. The second way is to read it in a more general fashion, like how you’d read a novel. The first way is to get you to understand fully what each specific author wanted to get across to his readers. The second is to get you intimately involved with the whole overarching plan of God.

One handy way to deeply study the Bible is to use a Hebrew and Greek lexicon. This way you can look up the original meaning of the words you’re currently reading in English. I wouldn’t recommend getting too caught up in this though. The people who translated the different versions of the Bible were experts in the Greek and Hebrew, and so, took great care in getting the proper meaning of the original into English. But still, if you’re curious about a word, you can look it up, and you might be surprised at what you find.

Here’s an example:

Romans 8:15 says,
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'”

We read the word ‘adoption’ and assume that it simply refers to kids with no parents getting parents. But it means something different. The Greek word, ‘uihothesia’, means the establishing or setting in place a male child into the position of being a son. And what Paul was likely referring to is the Roman practice where a father would officially set his oldest son into the place of being the legitimate heir to the family. A male child didn’t automatically become an heir simply for being the oldest biological offspring, and the father could cast him out of the family if he wanted to. It wasn’t till the boy was older, and had proven to his father that he was worthy of the family name, that the father would officially name him the heir. Once the boy was set in place he had all the rights, privileges, and burdens of that family. He was seen as being one with his father and having the authority of his father.

Now when we apply this analogy to the modern Christian, the term ‘son’ becomes gender neutral, and the ‘adoption’, or setting in place one as God’s heir who has rights and authority as His heir, appertains to all believers. This changes our understanding of adoption from being, “I was an orphan and now I have a daddy who loves me” to being, “I was not rejected by my Father, and now I have all the rights and privileges of being His son, His heir.” And when you begin to study what having His authority means, you will begin to understand how profound this ‘adoption’ really is.

A tool I use for this kind of study is “eSword“. It is free for PC, and there is an app for iPad, which is not free, but I bought it and use it all the time.

A tool I use for my general reading of the Bible is a reading plan called “Professor Grant Horner’s Bible Reading System”. This plan is designed to get you to read from all over the Bible each day. The plan suggests you read ten chapters per day, but you can set your own pace. Click here to read about the plan. I like this plan because it gives you a good bird’s eye view of the whole Bible and you will see scripture supporting scripture — all of the Bible tied together.

Another tool is, as you’re reading the New Testament, when an author quotes an Old Testament passage, you may have a Bible which gives you what that OT verse is. For example, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:27, quotes Psalm 8:6. Now if you flip to the Psalm verse you won’t see in your Bible a reference to 1 Corinthians. So, write it there yourself. Now, every time you read the NT and see a reference to the OT, go to the OT and write in the NT verse yourself. Once you’ve done that for awhile you’ll find as you’re reading the OT all sorts of references to the NT. Why is this helpful? Because then you’ll have Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, and the other NT writers teaching you how to understand the OT passages. Every time you come across one of your written references in the OT to the NT, go and look it up, and the NT writer will tell you what that OT verse is really saying. Now, again, you have a tool to give you a clear overarching view of the plan of God.

There are lots of good ways to read and study the Bible. I love studying the Bible and can spend hours doing it. These are just a couple of ways I do so.