Michael Boling – Anyone Seen My Dictionary?

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There exists today a rampant problem of biblical illiteracy. Dr. Albert Mohler, in addressing this grave issue, recently noted, “The larger scandal is biblical ignorance among Christians. Choose whichever statistic or survey you like, the general pattern is the same. America’s Christians know less and less about the Bible.”[1] While biblical illiteracy can present itself in many forms, one blatant example I have observed over the past several years is the issue of the proper definition and application of biblical terminology.

Part of the problem is quite frankly a matter of translating from one language to another. While the bible translators for the most part over the centuries have done an admirable job of relaying the intent of the words used in the original biblical languages, there are admittedly occasions when important matters are lost in translation. Furthermore, there are many instances when an improper approach to a word, phrase, or overall pattern/principle in Scripture can have a marked impact on how we interpret what God is saying in His Word.

Matthew 5:17 is a perfect example. In this passage, Jesus says:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

This passage is often used as a proof-text for the idea that the law was done away with at the coming of Jesus. It is argued that we now live in an age of grace and the age of law is no more meaning all of the requirements noted in the law have been abrogated. This approach is rooted in the word “fulfill”. Does the word “fulfill” really mean what so many have come to think it means? This is an instance when our understanding of fulfill is disconnected from the understanding inherent in the original language. Let me demonstrate why.

For starters, Jesus begins the verse by clearly noting he did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. There are two points that must be made regarding that statement. The first is the word abolish. Now in English, abolish is a good translation given to abolish something means to do away with it. Some translations use the word destroy. Both abolish and destroy appropriately define the Greek verb katalyō which is defined as “to dissolve, disunite”. What we have here is Jesus telling us he did not come to dissolve or disunite the Law or the Prophets. This leads us to the second part of what must be examined in the first portion of this passage. The phrases “Law and the Prophets” or “Law or the Prophets” refers to the Old Testament. The Law of course refers to the portion of the Old Testament often referred to as the Torah. The Prophets was a term typically used to refer to the Old Testament. There is no lack of clarity on the part of Jesus here.

This brings us to the second part of the passage, the section most often quoted and most often incorrectly interpreted. Jesus says that while he did not come to dissolve or disunite the Law or the Prophets, he did come to fulfill them. The term fulfill most often is understood to mean completed with the additional idea connected with it of doing away with the Law. After all if Jesus fulfilled the Law, he took care of it all for us and we no longer have anything to do with that which he took care of, right?

The answer to that question is unequivocally no. This is again a prime example of where biblical illiteracy rears its ugly head. The promotion of the term fulfillment as proof that God’s Law has been completely abrogated in all aspects in the life of the New Testament believer is rooted in the aspect of biblical illiteracy known as dictionary aversion. If one looks at what the original word means, in this case the Greek verb plēroō, it would become rather clear as to what this idea of fulfillment actually means. While plēroō has a variety of meanings, language experts agree the meaning of the term as applied to Matthew 5:17 is “to cause God’s will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be, and God’s promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfilment”.

Do we see any element of God’s Law being abrogated? Not in this passage. Jesus makes it quite clear he did not come to dissolve or disunite or abolish the Law. What he came to do was to demonstrate how to follow God’s Law perfectly and to fulfill the promises of God made through the prophets in relation to the coming of the Messiah. Certainly Jesus came to do that which we can never do, namely perfectly follow God’s Law. However, this does not mean that obedience to God’s Law is not a part of nor should be a vital element in the life of the believer. We are commanded to be holy as God is holy. Jesus showed us what that looks like, thus fulfilling the Law in all respects.

The purpose of this post is not to get into a dissertation on the purpose of the Law. Rather, my desire is to provide a typical example of biblical illiteracy as revealed in the form of dictionary aversion. We have to be cognizant of properly defining terms. If we fail in this pursuit, we will more often than not incorrectly interpret and apply these terms. Matthew 5:17 is a perfect example of what happens when a single term is misunderstood.

Defining terms in original languages is not the sole purview of the academics or Greek and Hebrew language experts. There are many tools available, both online and in print that provide excellent help in understanding word meanings in their immediate context and how those terms are used throughout Scripture.

Do not become a victim of dictionary aversion. Search out with diligence what words, phrases, and concepts in Scripture truly mean. There will be times when the previously held beliefs and perceptions you have held may be challenged. When that happens, be willing to accept the challenge and if need be, alter your understanding to a more correct position, one that maintains consistency with the biblical message.

References:
[1] Albert Mohler, “The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem,” Albert Mohler, January 20, 2016, accessed January 25, 2016, http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/01/20/the-scandal-of-biblical-illiteracy-its-our-problem-4/.

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Michael Boling – Avoiding Sound-bite Theology and Bible Study

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There is a recurring theme I notice when engaging in conversations with people on social media. This theme presents itself when a passage of Scripture is being discussed, more often than not, a verse or set of verses that is typically well known. Perhaps the issue resides in our familiarity with such passages. Have we read them so many times that our minds tend to gloss over the details and the underlying message being presented, let alone any connections to other similar passages with related themes found elsewhere in Scripture?

I often wonder if this is a result of our sound-bite approach to approaching God’s Word. We tend to think of passages of Scripture in short tweet like concepts, hoping to some degree to have a clever quip to provide someone on social media to win an argument or to demonstrate that we can pull a verse (or at least a portion of one often out of context) from the back of our minds to demonstrate our knowledge of Scripture.

The question we must ask ourselves is this a demonstration of a real commitment to studying the Bible? Are sound-bites the answer or is spending time digging deep into the pages of Scripture, analyzing the details while paying attention to how those details form the mosaic of the larger presentation what God expects from us? I submit it is the latter and here is why I make such a suggestion.

Recently I have been spending a great deal of time digging into the first four chapters of Genesis. Now these are chapters most believers would readily admit they are quite familiar with, especially since most valiantly begin their pursuit of reading through the Bible in a year with these chapters. Most have likely lost count of the number of times they have read the creation story, the account of the fall, or the murder of Abel at the hands of his brother Cain. These events (i.e. creation, fall, etc.) are familiar to us and we can recite from memory the “big ideas” if you will regarding what those events are all about. However, there are a plethora of important details that are often overlooked and questions that often go unasked and unanswered again likely due to our familiarity with these chapters. Questions such as “Why was Eve not surprised when a “Serpent” engaged her in conversation?” or “Why was it important that Adam and Eve saw they were naked and made fig leaf garments to cover themselves?” or “If God said when they ate of the fruit they would die, why did Adam and Eve not immediately die?”. These are just a few questions I have been asking of late and exploring. I will readily admit the study of these questions has resulted in some informative and important connections being made to key issues that flow throughout Scripture.

If taking the time to ask some simple yet probing questions about the text in the first four chapters of Genesis can lead to such depth in Bible study, just imagine what taking the time to engage the rest of Scripture on that level will lead you. Such an approach of course requires far more than sound-bite theology and Bible study, It requires time, patience, the honesty to rethink at times our positions, and a desire to follow the trail of truth wherever the Holy Spirit takes us through the course of our studies.

Here is an example of how this might work. The topic of the New Covenant often comes up in the course of discussion on many Facebook forums I belong to. The statement many make is that Old Covenant being labeled as old necessarily implies this Old Covenant has zero value or relevance for the New Testament believer. A response I typically provide to such a statement involves a series of probing questions designed to focus the conversation on investigation of the text or texts in question. I often ask “What is new about this covenant?”, “Who does Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 10 state this new covenant is made with and why is that important?”, “Where is this new covenant being written and by whom”?, and “What are the terms of this covenant and why is it significant to understand it in terms of a marriage covenant?”. Given these questions interact with key statements in Jeremiah 31:31-33 and Hebrews 10:15-16, the purpose of asking these questions is rooted in focusing the discussion back on the text instead of what we often think the text is saying.

After these questions are addressed and some discussion takes place, the next step in the process is to start looking at what key words such as “new” and “covenant” mean. All this requires is taking a look at a quality Bible dictionary or perhaps an online tool such as www.blueletterbible.org where words meanings and other instances where that same word has been used elsewhere in Scripture can be analyzed. This also provides the opportunity for patterns and principles to be recognized and for the overall flow of thought in Scripture to impact our understanding. This may also require reanalyzing the answers to the questions that were initially asked. Do our answers still remain valid based on the further study of the passage in question and related passages.

This necessarily leads to a focus on application. Once again using the new covenant concept as an example, how does the understanding that has been gained impact how I love God and others? If this covenant is a marriage covenant, how am I being faithful to the terms of that covenant or am I? If the answer is I am not being faithful, what changes need to be made and what does Scripture have to say about that? What is the foundation upon which this marriage covenant is established and why is that important? This of course may certainly lead to another set of passages, another series of probing questions, another analysis of word meanings, and another set of questions regarding application.

This is the nonstop flow of what it means to study, understand, and apply the truth of Scripture to our lives. Does this take time and effort? Absolutely but this is after all what God commands of His people and if we truly love God, spending time in His Word should be a joy and not viewed as a chore. Digging into Scripture versus sound-bite/one-liner Twitter type study should be a no brainer. Spend time in God’s Word. There is a lifetime of treasures to be discovered. Sound-bite theology more often than not leads to half-truths and confused theology. It must be avoided.

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George Guthrie – 4 Reasons Why Every Bible Reader Should Do Word Studies

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One of the greatest comedy sequences in a contemporary movie has to be the kidnap and escape scene from The Princess Bride. Inigo, Fezzik, and Vizzini, a band of mostly-good bad guys, kidnap Princess Buttercup, taking her across the sea and up the cliffs of insanity. They are pursued, however, by the mysterious man in black. When he is first seen and is gaining on the outlaws, Vizzini responds, “Inconceivable!!” Then when the giant Fezzik hauls the other two kidnappers and the princess up the cliffs of insanity by a rope, Vizzini says, “Only Fezzik is strong enough to go up this way!” Then Inigo points out that the man in black is climbing the rope, to which Vizzini responds, “Inconceivable!!” Finally they reach the top of the cliff, cutting the rope, thinking the man in black will plunge to his death. When he doesn’t and continues to climb the cliff with his bare hands, Vizzini shouts in exasperation, “Inconceivable!!!!” To which Inigo replies, “That word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Words are strange and wonderful things. They make communication possible, from mundane, day-to-day fact sharing, to the richest literature. Yet, at the same time, the flexibility of words can make us struggle with discerning the exact meaning of a passage of Scripture. Consequently, words demand attention, challenging us to probe their secrets.

In this post I want to make a case for learning the basics of doing word studies, whether we are pulling out the shovel of deeper Bible study or the trowel of basic Bible reading. Here are 4 motivations.

1. Words matter. Words are the threads woven together to make up the fabric of Scripture and thus are foundational to any faith that claims to be biblically based. In a 2010 blog post, Justin Taylor, co-author with John Piper on The Power of Words and the Wonder of God, wrote the following on the importance of words for Christianity:

“What do words have to do with Christianity? Almost everything. At every stage in redemptive history—from the time before time, to God’s creation, to man’s fall, to Christ’s redemption, and to the coming consummation —“God is there and he is not silent” [Francis Schaeffer].”

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