Category Archives: Scripture

Genesis 3:1-7

A closer reading of mankind’s great fall in Genesis 3 has brought a number of things to my attention that I have not seen in the past. One of the greatest aspects of Biblical study is that you never reach the bottom.

Here are some notable things that jumped out in a group discussion as well as some of my own “original” observations.

  • The story starts out describing the snake as more crafty than the other beasts of the field. God obviously made the snake so we don’t know if crafty here is supposed to be a good thing.
  • The identity of the snake is never connected with Satan in this passage. For starters, it seems strange to us that a snake would talk. But Eve doesn’t seem to be affraid or give any sense that a talking snake is odd. The snake could have been possesed by Satan or possibly influenced by demons. On the other hand, there is no textual proof to indicate that the snake acted in malice except Eve’s accusation when confronted by God. Could this merely be a snake that innocently asked the wrong questions?
  • The NT book of Revelation cleerly states the snake in its prophecy is Satan. The concept about Jesus crushing the head of the snake suggests that the snake symbolizes Satan. This issue is hotly debated by Biblical scholars and preachers.
  • The snake framed its question to focus on the liberty of the individual. I find this interesting in a society that focuses on individual rights.
  • Eve replied that they could eat of all the fruit of the trees except for one. Then, she added that they couldn’t even touch the fruit. This goes beyond what Adam was told. He received the instruction before Eve was created. We don’t know if Eve added to what God said or Adam did it. We don’t know if God added some additional parameters to help protect Adam and Eve. This brings up the rabbinic concept of hedges and fences around the law. These extra little rules made it difficult to transgress the law. Maybe this was the first law hedge.
  • No where in the text does it tell us what kind of fruit it was that Adam and Eve ate. Literature has developed the notion that it was an apple. But it could have been almost anything. This shows us that some of our general concepts about a passage may be wrong because we have been more influenced by tradition than what the text actually says.
  • The snake said that you will not surely die. The Hebrew indicates that the snake mentioned death twice in this response. That is where we translate the “surely” part. But this could have meant to describe more than one type of death. The original Hebrew is not clear.

Slavery in the Bible

One of my favorite Christian artists, Michael Card, recently said at a concert that he is working on a book that explores the concept of slavery in the Scriptures. Some mistakenly discredit what the Bible has to say on the topic because it doesn’t outright prohibit the practice.

It can be easy to forget that the Bible is the redemptive story of God’s interaction with humanity. God knows that you cannot completely change everything over night, and He always meets people where they are to take them where they should be. We must be patient with societies in the past just as we will need people in the future to be understanding of us. Each new generation has its practices that future generations will find odd or outright immoral.

Here are some quick thoughts on the Bible and slavery:

  • Everyone is a slave to something or someone.
  • All true Christians are “slaves” to Christ so that we may be free from the grip of sin and death.
  • God brought the Israelites out of Egypt “the land of slavery.” But when things got tough they preferred the familiarity of slavery over the hardships of freedom.
  • God desires obedience not sacrifice.
  • Jesus didn’t have an entitlement attitude neither should His followers.
  • After the introduction of the Law, the Israelites were not to enslave each other because they were to be a nation of slaves to God.
  • God provided for humane treatment of slaves in the Law.
  • Slavery in antiquity was somewhat different than modern slavery. Some people even sold themselves into slavery to pay off a debt for a period of time.
  • Jesus came to set the captives free.
  • Paul encouraged Philemon to treat Onesimus (his slave) as a brother. This was as close to prohibiting slavery as Paul could get without completely sidetracking the greater purpose of his mission. Slavery during the Roman Empire was a central part of the world’s economic system. Calling for the outright end of slavery was something that Paul didn’t seem to want to overtake.
  • Jesus forever set aside the distinctions between slave and master.
  • The Year of Jubilee was a gift from God to the Israelities that we don’t know if it was ever practiced. This year long celebration and the forgiveness of debt is a foreshadowing of Christ’s work on the cross. 

The Gospel IS…

The gospel is…

The power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16), God judging the secrets of men by Jesus Christ (Romans 2:16), veiled to those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 4:3), light that shows the glory of Christ who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4), not another gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4), is not man’s gospel (Galatians 1:11), to be proclaimed among the Gentiles (Galatians 2:2), justification by faith (Galatians 3:8), the word of truth and a sealing of believers with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), standing firm in one spirit with one mind (Philippians 1:27), the hope laid up for you in heaven (Colossians 1:5),  proclaimed in all creation under heaven (Colossians 1:23), come in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction (1 Thessalonians 1:5), preached with boldness in the midst of much conflict (1 Thessalonians 2:2), sharing ourselves to others not just words (1 Thessalonians 2:8), the infliction of vengeance on those who do not know or obey God (2 Thessalonians 1:8), the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light (2 Timothy 1:10), Jesus Christ risen from the dead (2 Timothy 2:8),  preached to those who are dead (1 Peter 4:6), is to be obeyed (1 Peter 4:17), proclaimed to every nation and tribe and language and people (Revelation 14:6).

More Carsonisms

Here are a few more gems of Hebrew insight from my Hebrew teacher, Dr. Carson Brisson.

“Hebrew is a revealed religion. They are not interested in what you have to say if you have not listened.”

“In the Scriptures, the land becomes the personification of the people.”

“In Hebrew, you don’t turn light on and off. You open the light and close the light.”

Revelation

Dr. Brian Blount, the new president of Union-PSCE, spoke in my NT2 class today. As a respected African American New Testament professor, he brought an interesting perspective to Revelation, the last book of the New Testament. He wrote a book called Can I Get a Witness? that connects the struggle of blacks in the USA with the events and imagery covered in Revelation. While I am more interested in pure Biblical exegesis than cultural studies, Blount’s connection of Revelation with modern struggles flushed out some new ways to look at a somewhat familiar and bewildering text.

I have always been suspicious of anyone who has everything in Revelation worked out. When somebody walks toward me with an End Times chart, I want to run. At the same time, I don’t want to be lumped in with scholars who downplay the prophetic nature of the text believing it is merely imagery. I think all sides in this discussion have some valid points. And it seems that all too often the real key issues get lost in disagreements over lesser details or wild goose chases trying to figure out specific pieces of the apocalyptic puzzle. I tend to think that God uses mystery as much or more than specific instruction to get our attention and motivate us to His holy goal.

Dr. Blount made many interesting points during his lecture. Here’s some of the highlights:

  • There are many visions in the book but only one Revelation. Blount stated that the key theme of the revelation is that Jesus stands as sovereign Lord over all human history.
  • Revelation can be dangerous book for those who don’t heed its warnings or misapply its message. Some people have wrongly taken the text to mean that this world does not matter. But Blount insisted that is completely contrary to what John wanted his reader to think.
  • In John’s day, it would have seemed ridiculous to those in the natural world for Jesus to be declared Lord of all. Rome was the ruling power on the earth.
  • Blount stated that if more people today understood John’s Revelation, there would be more daring action and transformation in the Church.
  • Revelation does not flow in linear progression. It is a series of conic spirals that interweave. There are flashbacks and different spheres going on at the same time. Blount called it a “3-ring apocalyptic circus.”
  • John’s visions in Revelation pick up on some important themes and characters from the Hebrew Scriptures, including Jezebel, Balaam, plagues of Egypt, Eden imagery, Ezekiel’s visions, etc.
  • Another key concept is that John was calling the early Christians to be “witnesses” of the Gospel. He wanted them to be willing to do things that made them stand out even if it caused them persecution or death. The goal was to live as a witness of Christ not to die as a martyr. John wanted Christians to stop passing as normal Greco/Roman citizens who believed in the emperor cults.
  • Even when God is unleasing plagues on the earth, His aim is repentance and restoration not destruction.
  • The Lamb is portrayed as both a gentle sacrifice and a warrior. 
  • Blount said that the imagery in Revelation was meant to frighten its readers into fearing eternal judgment more than any earthly pain imposed by Rome.
  • Blount explained the imagery of Satan being released after the millennial reign of Christ as a sign of sins stubborn ability to keep coming back to deceive humanity.
  • The restoration of the garden imagery from Eden closes the loop of history from Adam to Eve.
  • John doesn’t want the reader to try to calculate or flowchart the last days. It is not about knowledge as much as action, devotion and striving to be a witness to God’s kingdom here and now. It is a call to be radical for the cause of Christ because Jesus said He was coming soon.
  • Instead of trying to figure out who the beast is, John would want modern readers to be motivated by the imagery to act in such a way that upholds Jesus as Lord and seeks to bring godly transformation to this world here and now.
  • Blount pointed out that the term antichrist is not in the book of Revelation. That is pretty interesting since antichrist is one of the first things that many Evangelicals think about when you mention the book of Revelation.

I may blog on some of those points later. For now, I hope they give you something to chew on.

Beyond the “Faith vs. Works” Debate

In Galatians 2:15-21, the Apostle Paul outlined a clear argument explaining why sinners can only be justified before God by faith in Christ and not following the Law or doing good works. This is one of the classical passages in the debate about the “new perspective” on Paul and the age old discussion about what a person must do to be saved from God’s wrath against sin.

Following Paul’s rebuke of Peter, the passage makes it clear that 1.) no one will be justified by works, 2.) in trying to justify ourselves, we discover our sinfulness, 3.) believers are nailed to the cross with Christ and die to the law, 4.) Christians live in the flesh by faith in Christ, and 5.) works nullify grace and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

The new perspective on Paul stems from research by E.P. Sanders. And the crux of the debate revolves around what exactly did Jews believe about salvation and works during the time of Paul. This reflection helps modern readers better understand Paul’s chief concern with the Judaizers. Sanders maintained that the Jews were not looking to works to save them as many Christian scholars had suggested.

I partially agree with Sanders that not all Jews held this belief while some obviously did or at least Paul saw it as a threat to Gentiles converts. I believe all people are somewhat hardwired from the beginning to default to work’s based righteousness even if we start out claiming “Grace, Grace.”

It is not as much as a Jew/Gentile thing as a human condition. Thus, it is impossible to concretely say one way or the other what Jews believed during Paul’s day, and more than likely, there was a wide variety of experiences and opinions on the subject.

Cool Online Bible Resource – YouVersion

Have you ever had an idea that you wanted to see come to fruition but you had no idea how to make it happen? That is what I thought when I saw YouVersion a few weeks ago. This is a collaborative Bible site where people can share insights, links, video, audio and other resources connected with various Bible verses. I have been talking about this idea with some friends for more than a year, and I am glad to see someone actually did it.

The design is smart, clean and intuitive. YouVersion provides access to multiple Bible versions as well as other resources that users post. Think of YouVersion as a really big small group discussion complete with text, audio and video. The site has reading plans and the ability to create a personal Bible journal.

I  suggest you check it out. This is the next big thing in Web-based Bible exploration.

http://www.youversion.com/