Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Using the Literal Principle to Understand the Literature of the Bible

You are called to interpret the Word of God just as you interpret other forms of communication in the most obvious, the most natural sense. As it has been well said, to interpret the Bible literally is to interpret the Bible as literature. Thus, when a biblical author uses a symbol or an allegory, we do violence to his intentions if we interpret him literally.  

Consider, for example, the Lord’s words in John 2:19: “Destroy this temple,” said Jesus, “and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews understood Jesus in a wooden, literal fashion. They thought He was saying that the temple, which had taken forty-six years to build, could be destroyed in three days, and rebuilt again in that period of time. Jesus, however, spoke figuratively, as John explained the temple He had spoken of was the temple of His body. Likewise, when the apostle John describes Satan as a dragon, or variously as an ancient serpent (Rev. 20:2), we’d be seriously mistaken to suppose that he intends to communicate that Satan is literally a smoke-spouting snake!  

My point is simply this: a literalistic method of interpretation does as much violence to the text as does a spiritualized interpretation that empties the text of objective meaning. So to avoid either extreme, you as a believer need to adeptly employ the literal principle of biblical interpretation. You need to pay careful attention to what is called form, or genre, figurative language, and even the kind of fantasy imagery that the apostle John uses in the Book of Revelation. Now when we talk about Satan being a dragon, dragons are obviously the stuff of mythology, not the stuff of theology.  

So you need to exercise your mind to grasp what the author is driving at. Metaphors, when we use them, even in common parlance, are used in ways that have significant meaning. They have sharp teeth. It doesn’t mean that when you use metaphorical language that you’re not pointing to something concrete, or something substantive; it means that you have to use your mind to get what the author is driving at. This is certainly true with biblical forms or figures of speech. As a believer you need to learn to read the Bible for all its worth.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Thus Far, No Further

I recently heard Speaker of the House John Boehner as he talked about the circumstances in our country, and the fact that we are mortgaging the future on the backs of our children. It was a pretty scary message. It was the first message that John Boehner gave outside of Washington since taking over his new post. I also recently participated in a celebration of the King James Version of the Bible. It’s been 400 years now.
I think all too often we take for granted the Bible. We take for granted men like John Wycliffe, who was willing to translate the Bible into the English tongue against opposition to the contrary. Some of you may recall that forty-four years after he had died, his bones were exhumed, his bones burned, and the ashes unceremoniously scattered to the wind.

No doubt some of those ashes made their way to a man named William Tyndale, who likewise began translating the Bible into the English language. He believed the boy who drives the plow should be as familiar with the Bible as was the pope. So he too suffered from the wrath of the Church. October 6, 1536, he was burned alive. While he was dying in flames, he cried out, “Oh God, open the eyes of England’s King!”

Tyndale’s prayers were answered, ironically, by King Henry the VIII, who had Bibles of largest volume chained to pulpits throughout the land. People would come and listen to the immortal words of Scripture.

Then in 1604 King James I commissioned the King James Version of the Bible, which was completed in 1611. There were three versions. I spent some time with a man who actually owns three original copies that were produced between the 1611 version and the 1769 version. What an incredible passion he had for the Word of God as he was collecting old Bibles and recognizing what people went through so that we could have the Bibles we have in every color, size, and shape—every kind of study Bible you can imagine. Yet the apathy in the Christian world towards the Bible is criminal, quiet frankly.

Now you have people who are trying to undermine the Bible in very sophisticated fashion. You have people like Bart Ehrman, Chair of the Religious Studies Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has written a book titled Forged: Writing in the Name of God--Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. Not only does he believe that the copyists who copied the manuscripts were animated by anti-Semitic motives, but he thinks that the very manuscripts that we hold dear were forged. I predict that his book will be another blockbuster bestseller and people will buy uncritically into his nonsense. All the more reason that people who genuinely love the Word of God must become equipped to communicate that nothing could be further from the truth. If you get into Ehrman’s arguments, even though they sound sophisticated, they’re really quite dumb. I point this out in my new book, Has God Spoken?, which is with the publisher and will be released in the autumn. It will be a good corrective to these kinds of attacks on the Bible.

Do you really love the Word of God enough, or do you just say you love the Word of God? Do you genuinely love the Word of God, or do you give mere lip service to it?

The secularists are saying that “we don’t even read the Bible we pretend to defend.” Maybe they have a point there. We are becoming a biblically illiterate church, and its time to stem the tide. Just as Boehner was talking about it being time for us to reign in our debt in the U.S., it’s time for us Christians to say, “Thus far, no further.” We live in the shadow of the Bible, but we can get back to the Bible, and that’s what we’re called to do.

Just a few people can make a difference. Hopefully you’re one of them. That’s one of the reasons we ask you to stand with this ministry, because we’re willing to stand for truth no matter what the cost. If you examine what goes under the rubric of religious studies today, you might well think, “It’s a circus.” But we can make a difference. We can stem the tide. Just a few people willing to stand for truth no matter what the cost eventually became a catalyst for the Bible to be available to us today. Like those who lit the way many years ago, we can light the way today. It’s just a matter of whether we are willing to do for the truth what so many others are willing to do for a lie.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Is the Bible Just a Book of Parables?

The pun-meister Bill Maher says some amazing things. “The Bible was not meant to be history; it was not meant to be literal,” he opines. “They were parables; people read it back then and read into it something that was not literal; we’re the dummies who read it literally.” Well, is he right? Is the Bible merely parabolic? Is it true that the Bible was not meant as history?

Interestingly enough, the answer is found in the word genre. Grasping genre or form is crucial in understanding what a text means by what the text says. In other words, to interpret the Bible as literature, it is always crucial to consider the kind of literature that you are interpreting. Where visionary imagery is the governing genre, it’s foolhardy to interpret it literally. On the other hand, where historical narrative is preeminent, it is imperative not to over-spiritualize. Bill Maher is right to associate parables with the Bible, but to do so exclusively is absurd.

No one, of course, applied the power of parable with greater effect than Jesus. Luke 16 chronicles the parable of a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus who was covered in sores and longed to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. In time both died. Their roles immediately reversed. The beggar found himself comforted in Abraham’s bosom. The rich man experienced the foretaste of eternal torment…

Too late…he paid attention to the beggar lying by his gate

Too late…he postponed repentance

Too late…he heeded the testimony of the Law and the Prophets

Too late…too late…too late…

Like a heat-seeking missile, the parable of Jesus Christ always hits its mark. Hopefully the heart of a pun-meister will be next.

The point here is to acknowledge that the Bible is replete with parables, but that is hardly the extent of the matter. Scripture is a treasure chest that abounds in literary genres, ranging from poetry to psalms to historical narratives, didactic epistles, and apocalyptic revelations. We must see the Bible once again as a treasure chest.

Tragically, our postmodern culture does not appreciate literature the way our ancestors did. We do science well, but we don’t do literature well. We know how to read Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, but seem ill-equipped to read William Shakespeare and Dante Alighieri.

One must remember that the language of Scripture is a heavenly condescension so that we might apprehend both the nature and purposes of an infinite God. Failure to consider genre leads to a host of unintended consequences. This is particularly so when it comes to apocalyptic portions of the Bible. When Jesus says that the stars are going to fall from the sky, He hardly intends to be taken literally. A single star, of course, would obliterate the earth, let alone a hundred billion stars. Instead, the Heir to the linguistic riches of the Old Testament prophets and a Greater Prophet than them all used the symbolism of stars to pronounce judgment within His own generation. Failure to consider genre might lead to laughs in a comedy routine, but from an eternal perspective the effect is not nearly as funny. We have to look at life, of course, with eternity in mind. If we do, the consequences are life with a Savior. If we don’t, the consequences are condemnation, as the rich man found out. There are only two kinds of people in the world, those who follow Christ and those who deny Christ— those who are Christians and those who are anti-Christians. Which one are you? If you are a Christian, are you committed to making your life count for time and eternity?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Clean Up Job of the Present Abortion Holocaust

For decades we have been sacrificing our children on the altars of hedonism. Even now the axe of God’s judgment has been laid to the root. 2000 years ago Christ warned, “the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breast that never nursed’” (Luke 23:29). The present day abortion holocaust has driven those words home in dramatic fashion.

Think for a moment about what spiritual and secular leaders in our day are now saying. Beverly Harrison, a professor of Christian ethics, says, “Infanticide is not a great wrong.” Ester Langston, a professor of social work, says, “What we are saying is that abortion becomes one of the choices, and the person has the right to choose whatever it is that’s best for them in the situation which they find themselves, be it abortion, to keep the baby, to adopt it, to sell it, to leave it in a dumpster, to put it on your porch, whatever, it’s the person’s right to choose.” Margaret Sanger, who was the original founder of Planned Parenthood, famously said, “The most merciful thing a large family can do for one of its infant members is kill it.” Nobel Prize Laureate James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA—hardly fringe—said, “Because of the limitations of present detection methods, most birth defects are not discovered until birth; however, if a child was not declared alive until three days after birth, the doctor could allow the child to die, if the parents so chose, and save a lot of misery and suffering.”

While pondering this horrific reality, remember that the present-day holocaust is government funded. In other words, you and I are footing the bill. Now I’ve said this before and it made me controversial, but I’m going to repeat it, abortion is not the real problem. Abortion is the clean up operation. The real problem is sexual promiscuity. And sexual promiscuity is the direct result of how people view their origins—how one views their origins, determines how they live their life. If you believe you are a function of random chance, you’re going to live your life by a different standard than if you know you are created in the image of God and accountable to Him. If there is no objective North Star, morals and ethics are determined on the basis of the size and scope of the latest lobby group. When that happens, chaos breaks out in a culture. You have the sovereignty of self replacing the sovereignty of God. You have survival of the fittest, and the struggle for existence. And, yes, you have a sexual revolution that demands a clean up operation, which has led to a multi-billion dollar government funded plan of taking the lives of the most innocent and vulnerable among us. And now, we can even at times have the privilege of experimenting on them.

Do ideas have consequences? Yes! But we are not here to curse the darkness. The Christian Research Institute exists to equip you to make a difference while there is still time. You can make a difference.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Watching the Unrest in Egypt Remembering the Persecuation of Christians

Hard to believe but we’ve already had a month and a week pass by us in the year 2011, and we are now glued to our television sets watching turmoil unfold in Egypt. I was arrested by an article in the forum of USA Today. That article by Joseph Bottum, by the way he’s a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard, says that, “Perhaps the situation in Egypt will resolve itself peacefully. Or perhaps we'll see a long stretch of public unrest before the nation finally stumbles its way into a new form of stable government. But there's one easy prediction to make: Whatever happens, Egypt's Coptic Christians are going to be hurt, unless the United States makes a major diplomatic effort to help them.” [1] The article goes on to say that “the current unrest, which began with a car bomb in Alexandria killing 21 at a Coptic church on Jan. 1 and continued through the massacre of 11 Christians in the village of Sharona on Jan. 30.” [2]

It was Ironic, just before I was reading this article I was thinking about some of the persecution I personally endured as a result for standing for truth no matter what the cost. Then I read this article. Immediately, I fell to my knees thinking, “There’s persecution and there’s persecution. Egypt’s Christians are hardly alone in their persecution. “Catholic bishop stabbed to Death in Turkey." That’s one of the headlines we read not all that long ago. Here’s another, "Islamist hard-liners in Indonesia target Christians." Here’s another "Iraqi Christians mourn after church siege kills 58." Iraqi Christians mourn after church siege kills 58. The Christmas season saw 48 killed in Muslim attacks in Nigeria.On Christmas Day, Iran opened its campaign against conversions by arresting dozens of evangelicals. Bombs left on the doorsteps of Christian homes in Iraq killed two and injured 14 on Dec. 30” [3]. That’s five weeks ago.

The article goes on to say that “the single most dangerous thing in the world to be, right now, is a Christian in a Muslim country…Up to 1.4 million of Iraq's Christians have fled since the war began in 2003…America foreign policy has been little concerned with religious persecution…Barack Obama has systematically watered down U.S. diplomacy: Where we once demanded ‘freedom of religion,’ a public liberty, we now speak only of ‘freedom of worship,’ a lesser and private right.” It then says, “Nearly every day since Christmas, Christians have been murderously attacked for the simple fact of being Christians,” and “Our willful blindness is shameful, and our inactivity is wrong. The United States must preface every diplomatic exchange with an Islamic country by demanding religious liberty and a halt to persecution. And we need to do it now — while there are still a few Christians left to defend in their ancient homelands.” [4].

All of us, as we participate on the Bible Answer Man broadcast today by listening or calling in need to be aware that even as we speak there is real persecution going on around the world. And we must not only pray for the pesecuted church, whether in Asia, or Africa, or even in America. We must pray for the persecuted church, and we must simultaneously recognize that the church has always been forged in the cauldron of persecution. That’s when real Christianity manifests itself. It’s when real Christianity impacts empires. It’s why in China right now there may be as many as 130 million Christians growing and thriving in the cauldron of persecution, not looking to mere earthly vanities, but elevating their gaze to eternal verities.

It is time for us in America to begin living with eternity in mind and, if we do, we may well make a difference not just for time but for eternity. If we do, we’ll stop listening to the conspiracy theorist, who are concocting all kinds of conspiracy theories on television, watched by millions of Christians, which are the kind of conspiracy theory that titalates. They’re sensational. They’re great for ratings. But they do very little for the cause of Christ.

1. Joseph Bottum, “Who will Defend Mideast Christians,”

2. Ibid

3. Ibid

4. Ibid