Is There Only One Correct Way to Interpret a Given Passage of Scripture?

white ballpoint pen on book pages

In the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew explains how different aspects of Jesus’ life fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. However, upon examinations, some of these prophecies bring up interesting questions.

Yesterday I addressed one such question: Is There a Prophecy that Says that Jesus Would Come from Nazareth? – based on Matthew’s claim in 2:23 that Jesus was raised in Nazareth in order to fulfill what was spoken by the prophets.

The Issues: Authorial Intent and Multiple Meanings

Another verse in Matthew chapter 2 brings up a different issue: In Matthew 2:13-15, Matthew describes the flight to Egypt, when Jesus and his family fled to Egypt for several years because Herod wanted to kill Jesus. (See also: Advent Meditations: Jesus Was a Refugee) In Matthew 2:15, Matthew says that when Jesus returned from Egypt, it was a fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Here’s why this is interesting: When Hosea wrote these words, he was speaking of Israel as God’s “son” whom he brought out of Egypt in the Exodus. Hosea’s intention was not to speak of the Messiah. However, what Matthew is saying, assumedly under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is that even though Hosea’s intent was merely to refer to Israel, he was also writing (by the inspiration of the Spirit) about the Son of God, i.e. the Messiah, whom we now know to be Jesus of Nazareth – even though he did not realize it at the time.

Furthermore, this means that there are two meanings and interpretations of this passage which are both correct: historically it speaks about God bringing Israel out of Egypt, and prophetically it foretells that the Messiah would sojourn in Egypt for a time.

Polysemy and Multivalence

There are several Old Testament prophecies which are used in the Old Testament in this way: while they have a historical meaning, which corresponds to the authorial intent of the original writer, they also have a prophetic meaning, which the author was unaware of, which found (or still will find) its fulfillment in the future.

For example, several passages in the prophetic books warn of an exile which is to come, but then conclude with a promise of the regathering of the people of both Israel and Judah to the land, as well as a time of peace and prosperity to follow. The return of the people to the land was fulfilled in the time following the Babylonian exile. It could also be said that this was fulfilled again through the Zionist movement in the 19th and 20th centuries. And yet, both of these were only partial fulfillments, since the ultimate fulfillment of promised kingdom of peace, justice, and righteousness will only see its complete fulfillment after the return of Jesus.

What this means is that many biblical texts are polysemic and multivalent. 

  • Polysemic: “multiple meanings”
  • Multivalence: “many appeals or values”

Scholars of textual hermeneutics, like Paul Ricoeur and Hans G. Gadamer explain the polysemy of biblical texts by saying that, unlike scientific formulas and computer codes, the texts of Scripture sometimes contain “surpluses of meaning.” [1]

This is why some texts in the Bible are not entirely controlled in their interpretation by their original human writers (i.e. authorial intent). The Hosea passage cited in Matthew 2 is a perfect example of this. What is notable here is that the different meanings do not contradict each other.

John Goldingay explains, “An element of polyvalence or irreducible ambiguity characterizes parts of scripture.” [2]

Thus, Scripture cannot be used to say anything we want it to, but we would be contradicting Scripture itself to claim that there can only be one correct interpretation of every passage in Scripture. What is important is that the different interpretations do not have contradictory meanings.

Above all, this should leave us in awe of the rich complexity and beauty of the Word of God, and it should leave us all the more convinced of its divine inspiration.

Multivalence and Multivocality

Multivalence means different appeals or values, and Multivocality means that Scripture speaks to different listeners in different voices that say different (but, again, not conflicting) things.

Christian Smith illustrates this by compiling a list of different lessons and applications which can be faithfully gleaned from Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well in John 4:

  • Christians would do well to “get out of their comfort zones” in order to preach the gospel to those who are culturally different or who live in foreign lands, but are “ripe for the harvest”
  • A person who drinks of “the living water” that Jesus offers will never again “thirst” for the unsatisfying “waters” of “the world”
  • Jesus knows every detail about our personal lives, and loves us enough to confront us with hard questions in order to lead us to repentance
  • Jesus knows everything we have ever done, and still loves us and stands ready to forgive us
  • An effective strategy for evangelism is to build relationships, ask questions, and point people to Jesus
  • Those who have truly encountered Jesus and repented will naturally respond by telling others, i.e. evangelizing
  • The fact that Jesus was physically tired shows that he was fully human
  • The fact that the woman left her water jar to go and tell people in town about Jesus models the kind of priorities we ought to have in regard to possessions and the mission of God
  • By speaking to this Samaritan woman, Jesus reveals that he has come as the Savior of people from all the nations
  • Jesus’ reply to his disciples about hunger and food shows us the proper outlook on doing God’s will and God’s work [3]

Again, this is not to say that we can make Scripture say whatever we want; we certainly cannot. Yet any of these above messages – and more – would be faithful interpretations and applications of this text.

Considering Inspirational Intent

We must not only consider authorial intent, we must also consider the intent of the inspirer: God. To do this, we consider canonical, or biblical theology: i.e. the message and narrative of the Bible as a whole.

This is what Matthew is doing  in several instances where he re-interprets Old Testament passages and applies them to Jesus; he is considering the grand narrative and message of the Bible as a whole, as a story which – in all of its “sub-stories” – is about Jesus. He applies a Christo-centric hermeneutic, in other words; one that he likely learned from Jesus himself after the resurrection when Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45), and “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)

May God help us to understand, interpret, and apply His Word faithfully and accurately – according to His intent!

Is There a Prophecy that Says that Jesus Would Come from Nazareth?

jesus christ figurine

Matthew chapter 2 tells one of the most overlooked and skipped-over parts of the Christmas story: the mass killing of innocent infants and toddlers by king Herod “the Great.”

When you read the Christmas story to your children, you might likely leave this part out. Chances are that if you attend a school Christmas pageant, the kids will not act out this part of the story.

And yet, it’s an incredibly important part of the Christmas story, because in effect, it tells us what Christmas is really all about: God came to us in order to rescue us from the tyranny of evil, sin, suffering, and death.

This past Sunday we studied this story to kick off our Advent series, “God With Us.” You can listen to the message here: “The Hopes and Fears of All the Years”

One of the most interesting parts of Matthew chapter 2 is that Matthew points out several prophecies which Jesus fulfilled. However, Matthew 2:23 says that Jesus was raised in Nazareth to fulfill what was spoken by the prophets. However, you can look through the Old Testament all you want, but you won’t find a prophecy which mentions Nazareth as a city directly. What then is this verse referring to?

Mike and I sat down for our weekly Sermon Extra video to discuss this topic, and answer that question. Check it out:

If Satan Has Been Defeated, Why Is He Still “Prowling Around”?

lion painting

In 1 Peter 5:8, Peter the Apostle told us: Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

This is interesting because in Colossians 2:15, Paul the Apostle tells us that Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them.”

If Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection, defeated and disarmed Satan and the demonic powers, then how is it that the devil is still prowling around like a lion?

A Toothless Lion

Being that Satan has been disarmed, the real danger he poses is his “roar.”

A roar by itself can’t actually hurt you. Similarly, the devil can’t do anything to you without God’s permission (remember Job chapter 1). But whereas the devil needs God’s permission to harm you, you don’t need anyone’s permission to mess up your own life.

Jesus said this about the devil: “there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44) Ever since the Garden of Eden, one of the devil’s main strategies for our destruction has been deception. The serpent couldn’t hold Eve down and force her to take a bite of the forbidden fruit in order to destroy her. Instead, he had to talk her into destroying herself by falling into a trap.

For a look at some of the common traps the devil tries to lead us into, check out this message on 1 Peter 5:1-13 titled “Know Your Enemy”

Suffering According to the Will of God

Twice in 1 Peter, Peter speaks about people who suffer according to the will of God.

If Satan has been defeated, then why has God not yet destroyed him? We know that Satan’s fate is sealed: his final demise has been foretold in Revelation 20:10.

But why let him continue to exist and do destructive things, including testing / tempting people? The reason is because although God is not the author of evil, he is a redeemer, who uses bad and even terrible things to accomplish good purposes and carry out his plans.

One of my favorite examples of this is found in the genealogy of Jesus in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, where we see multiple stories of how God redeemed people and situations in the family through which Jesus came. Check out: Redemption: The Knots in Jesus’ Family Tree

For more on this, check out this message on 1 Peter 4:12-19 titled “Suffering and the Will of God”

The Ultimate Humiliation

One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to thinking about the devil, is that the devil is God’s counterpart.

When Paul says in Colossians 2 that Jesus put Satan to “open shame” through the cross, he using a metaphor which his ancient readers would have been familiar with: it’s the picture of what a victorious army would do to the soldiers of the army they had defeated. They would not only bind them and lead them, humiliated, through the streets of every town on the road back to their capital, but they would often be sold as slaves.

The ultimate humiliation for a defeated soldier was something they might consider a fate worse than death: being forced to serve as a slave those by whom they had been defeated. This, Paul says, is what God now does with the devil: in his sovereignty and providence, what God allows the devil to do, He then uses to accomplish good and His purposes.

Mike and I discussed this in more depth in our Sermon Extra video this week. Check it out:

A Father, Not a Genie

selective focus photography of child hand

There are at least 11 instances recorded in the Gospels of Jesus stating that whatever we ask for in his name, will be given to us. And yet, if you are a praying person, it is likely that you have asked for things in prayer which you did not subsequently receive.

Furthermore, there are several stories recorded in the Bible in which people prayed and God did not grant their requests. In one of these cases, it was Jesus Himself whose request to the Father was denied! How then can these statements of Jesus be true, that whatever you ask for in His name, it will be given to you?

Many people ask: “If God makes these great promises and has all this power, then why am I not getting the things I ask for?”

A Father, Not a Genie

Timothy Keller explains that in order to understand petitionary prayer, you have to understand that it works on Father-Child terms. (see: Petition: Our Daily Bread)

We pray to “Our Father” not to “the Genie of the bottle”. The genie of the bottle gives you whatever you wish, even if what you wish for is not ultimately good for you. A father, on the other hand, gives you what is best for you; because He loves you, He gives you exactly what you would have asked for if you knew everything He knows.

A Safety Catch

When you have small children around, you have to baby-proof your home. The reason children are a danger to themselves is because they think they know what they are doing, even when they don’t. Children often ask for things they think will be great, even though they will be harmful to them.

The more powerful a machine is, the more important it is that the machine have safety features, to protect people (not only children) from hurting themselves with that machine.

Imagine what might happen if you gave Aladdin’s lamp to a toddler or a young child. They would likely make requests which were not the result of long-term thinking, sage wisdom, or perspective. Their requests might be too shallow or simple, on the one hand – or even dangerous, petty or spiteful on the other, depending on their mood.

Prayer without a safety catch is like giving Aladdin’s lamp to a child.

Many of us assume that we know what we need, or what would be best for us, but the truth is that we don’t have the wisdom or the full scope of knowledge necessary to make those determinations. The good news is that we have an all-knowing (omniscient), and loving God, who relates to us as a Father, not a genie.

The Magic Words?

“In my name” means “according to my will”. If I asked you to go to the pharmacy or the post office “in my name”, it would mean that you were acting on my behalf, according to my will and desires. To pray in Jesus’ name, and to say “Amen” are not the Christian versions of “Abracadabra” or other magic words; they are to submit your requests to God’s will, wisdom, and plans.

There have been times in my life when I have prayed for things which I now thank God He did not give me. I’m thankful that I have a Father, not a genie.

Psalm 84:11 says: “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Knowing that you have a father, not a genie, helps you to understand that when God doesn’t grant a request, it may be because either that thing is not good for you, perhaps not right now, or that He has something else good, perhaps even better than what you asked for.

Come to Him as a good Father, and trust Him with your needs and requests!

What is a Beatitude?

man jumping from a rock

The Beatitudes are the name given to the opening lines of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”, found in the Gospel of Matthew 5:3-12. They consist of 9 statements which all begin with the words “Blessed are…”

So what exactly is a “beatitude”?

Not the Be-Attitudes

One common explanation is that the beatitudes are the “be-attitudes”, i.e. “the attitudes you should be.”

Not only is this atrocious grammatically, it’s also incorrect linguistically.

The Happy Sayings

The word beatitude comes from the Latin word beati, which means “happy”, because in the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible, each of these sayings begins with the word, “Beati” or “Happy are…”

In the original Greek, each of these sayings begins with the word makarios, which also means “happy”.

The beatitudes, therefore, are not a laundry list of attitudes you need to muster up, rather they are a group of sayings, in which Jesus shows us the pathway to true happiness.

Blessed or Happy?

The English translators of the Bible chose to translate the word makarios as “blessed” instead of “happy”.

Other languages, however, retained the simple, straight-forward translation of makarios as “happy” – such as the other language I speak: Hungarian, which translates it as “boldog”, the regular word for “happy”, as opposed to the word “áldott” which means “blessed”. In Hungarian, the beatitudes are called “A Boldog Mondások”, literally “the happy sayings” – which is what beatitudes actually means.

Recently I was teaching at Ravencrest Bible College in Estes Park, and asked a student from Scandinavia how her Bible translated it, and sure enough, makarios was translated as a word meaning “happiness” rather than one referring to “blessedness”.

So, why did the English translators of the Bible translate makarios as “blessed” rather than as “happy”? Many people believe that it was because they felt that the word “happy” was too trite, and not religious enough. Some English translators have translated makarios as “happy” – such as the Good News Translation, but most have kept with the tradition of using “blessed” instead because it is so engrained in the English linguistic heritage.

However, I believe that translating makarios as “blessed”, something is lost in translation. The word “happy” has a different tone than the word “blessed”. After all, you can be blessed without being happy. Blessed doesn’t communicate elationit doesn’t evoke the image of a smile on your face and lightness in your heart!

When Jesus spoke these words, he was using a word that was common and relatable, and not a religious word: “happy”!

The Pathway to Happiness

The beatitudes would have been surprising to their original hearers! They would have caused people to do a double-take, and listen closely, perhaps wondering if maybe they had misunderstood Jesus in what he said!

Think about it:  “Oh how happy are the poor in spirit.”  “Oh how happy are you who weep.”

The first listeners would have said, Wait…what?! Poor people aren’t happy! People who weep are literally NOT happy!

It was a set-up, for Jesus to instruct them about his “upside-down kingdom”.

In the beatitudes, the “happy sayings”, Jesus is laying out the pathway to true and lasting happiness. Unlike what many people in the world popularly believe about how to attain happiness, Jesus shows us the true and better way:

Happiness begins, Jesus said, with recognizing and acknowledging your spiritual poverty, and then weeping over that spiritually poor condition. It continues by you humbling yourself before God and hungering and thirsting after righteousness: which if you do, God will give to you as a gift of his grace (His righteousness, not your own!).

For more on how the beatitudes, the “happy sayings”, show the pathway to happiness, check out this message I taught on this section called “How to Be Happy – Matthew 5:1-12”

May we be those who hear what Jesus has to say in these Happy Sayings, and may we follow him down the pathway to true, lasting happiness, which begins with humility and repentance!

Further Reading

Is Christianity About Denying Yourself or About Being Happy?

woman wearing grey long sleeved top photography

Jesus said that his desire was that we would have his joy in us, and that our joy would be complete (John 15:11). He also told his disciples that if anyone wants to come after him, that person must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24).

So, which is it? Is Christianity about being happy, or is Christianity about denying yourself and dying to yourself?

In my previous post, I talked about happiness and whether there is a difference between “joy” and “happiness”. Check that post out here: Does God Want You to Be Happy?

One question I received in response to that post was how self-denial and taking up your cross to follow Jesus fits into this idea of happiness.

A Means to an End

Is self-denial the goal of Christianity, or is it a means to another end?

This is a very important question, as it shapes the way we think about the purpose of following Jesus.

I believe the answer is quite obvious: self-denial is not the end goal of Christianity, it is a means to another end, which is: joy.

In order to experience greater and increasing joy, we must deny ourselves in some areas. After all, it was for the joy that was set before him that Jesus endured the cross. (Hebrews 12:2)

For Jesus, dying on the cross was a means to an end, not the end in itself. The end goal, the purpose of that act of literally dying to himself and taking up his cross, was the joy of redeeming his creation, and everything that would bring in the future.

Likewise, the purpose of denying ourselves – even to the point of taking up our “crosses” and following Jesus is: joy.

Liberating Constraints

This is true in all areas of life; if you indulge every desire you have, you will end up less-happy, not more-happy. Anyone who wants anything practices self-denial, because there are some things they want more than other things.

Real freedom comes from a strategically forfeiting some freedoms in order to gain others. Greater happiness always comes as a result of giving up some pleasures in order to greater pleasures.

Happiness is not the result of the absence of constraints but is found in choosing the right constraints and giving up the right pleasures and freedoms.

For example, if you want to have the freedom and pleasure which comes with having a good income, you will need to sacrifice many other freedoms and pleasures in order to get a good education, improve your skills, or build your business. If you don’t deny many of your impulses to go hang out with friends, spend money, travel, party, etc., you will not succeed in getting your degree, or building your business.

If you want to experience the elation that comes with being a top performer in sports or the arts, you will need to accept many constraints on your life. You may give up the freedom of where you live; you may have a coach who dictates what you will do with your time, what you will eat, etc.

Having children certainly restricts freedom. I have had to do some pretty gross things for my kids which I did not enjoy. More times than I can count, I have had to not do what I wanted to do in order to do things for them. But what has been the result of all this self-denial for my kids? Greater joy than I would have known without having them in my life.

Imagine a person who loves eating anything he wants, but also loves playing with his grandchildren. He goes in to the doctor, and the doctor tells him: “Unless you stop eating those foods you enjoy, you are going to die.” Obviously death would mean not being able to spend any more time with his grandchildren. So he is faced with a choice: which of the things that give him pleasure will he need to forfeit in order to enjoy the other? To deny himself the foods he enjoys will be driven by his desire for the greater joy of spending time with his grandchildren.

This principle can be found in almost every area of our lives: greater joy and happiness is always the result of denying ourselves something in order to gain something better.

Greater Joy

Why would Jesus tell us to deny ourselves? Because he wants us to experience greater joy. Because there is a difference between momentary pleasures and long-lasting elation.

God loves you, and he wants you to experience the true and lasting joy that your heart longs for, and because he loves you he guides and instructs you on how to experience that greater joy.

Trust him, and follow his lead into that greater joy!

Does God Want You to Be Happy?

silhouette photography of group of people jumping during golden time

Maybe you’ve heard someone say it before: “God doesn’t care about your happiness, he cares about your holiness.”

Is that true? I don’t believe so.

Recently at White Fields, I taught on the subject of holiness from 1 Peter 1:13-25. You can listen to the message here: 1 Peter 1:13-25, “The H Word”. As I talked about holiness, I made the claim that the reason why God wants us to be holy is because holiness leads to happiness, and God wants us to be happy.

Holiness vs Happiness?

I have sometimes heard people say things along these lines: The world offers happiness, but God doesn’t care about your happiness, He cares about your holiness!

I completely disagree. Not only does it send the absolute wrong message, it is not accurate biblically.

Sometimes people think that holiness is opposed to happiness. “The worse something makes me feel, the better,” this thinking goes, “because the more miserable I am, the more holy and godly I must be,”

Friends, that is not holiness, that is self-righteousness.

While there may sometimes be an aspect of self-denial involved in holiness, the purpose of that self-denial is because it will lead to more happiness, not less, in the end. I will elaborate on the relationship between self-denial and happiness in a future post.

For Christians to pit holiness and happiness against each other is a fundamental error, and a misrepresentation of the heart of God and the gospel.

Jesus: Holy and Happy

In Hebrews 1:9, we are told that Jesus was: 1) holy (he loved righteousness and hated wickedness), and 2) the happiest person who ever lived (anointed with the oil of gladness beyond all his companions).

Furthermore, this verse tells us that Jesus’ happiness was the direct result of his holiness (“therefore…”).

Holiness is not opposed to happiness, rather holiness is the pathway to happiness.

Therefore, when God says “be holy as I am holy” – he is inviting us to be happy as he is happy!

But Isn’t “Joy” Different than “Happiness”?

Sometimes people have tried to make a distinction between “joy” and “happiness.” They claim that whereas “happiness” is momentary and fleeting, “joy” is something which is unemotional and doesn’t depend on circumstances.

Furthermore, this line of thinking tends to say that “happiness” is what “the world” has, but “joy” is something that only Christians can have.

This is a false dichotomy. It is well-intentioned, but incorrect, both linguistically and biblically.

Joy and happiness are synonyms. Not only does Jesus use the word “happy”, but it is found throughout the Bible. Furthermore, the Bible talks about the “joy” of the wicked (see Job 20:5), and it talks about the Pharisees having “joy” when Judas betrayed Jesus.

Consider this quote from Joni Eareckson Tada:

“We are often taught to be careful of the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness, it is said, is an emotion which depends on what happens to you. Joy, by contrast is supposed to be enduring, stemming from deep within our soul, and which is not affected by circumstances surrounding us. I don’t think God had any such hairsplitting in mind. Scripture uses the terms interchangeably along with words such as “delight”, “gladness”, “blessing”. There is no scale of relative spiritual values applied to any of these. Happiness is not relegated to fleshly minded sinners nor joy to heaven-bound saints.”

Our Happy God

1 Timothy 1:11 says: “…in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.” (1 Timothy 1:11)

The word translated “blessed” is the Greek word markariou, which means: “happy”. In other words, a direct translation of the Greek text would be: “…our HAPPY God”

Furthermore, this word makarios (Greek for “happy”) is found in other places:

Happy are those whose sins are forgiven, whose wrongs are pardoned. Happy is the one whom the LORD does not accuse of doing wrong and who is free from all deceit. (Psalm 32:1-2 GNT)

Happy are those who reject the advice of evil people, who do not follow the example of sinners or join those who have no use for God. Instead, they find joy in obeying the Law of the LORDand they study it day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2 GNT)

Lost in Translation

As to why the English translators of the Bible in the Middle Ages chose to translate the word “makarios” as “blessed” rather than “happy” is because they considered the word “happy” to be too trite, and not religious-sounding enough. However, in the process, we have lost the sense of mirth that these words were originally intended to have!

In other languages, such as Hungarian, the word “markarios” is translated as “boldog” – which is the normal Hungarian word for “happy”, rather than the word “áldott” which means “blessed”. This more faithful and straight-forward translation conveys the heart and feeling of happiness which has been lost in translation for those of us who read in English.

Charles Spurgeon and Amy Carmichael on God and Happiness

Amy Carmichael was a missionary to India who worked with exploited girls in horrendous situations, and rescued over 1000 of them in the name of Jesus. She spent the final 20 years of her life mostly bedridden. Here’s what she said during that time:

“There is nothing dreary or doubtful about this Christian life. It is meant to be continually joyful. We are called to a settled happiness in the Lord, whose joy is our strength.”

Charles Spurgeon, “The Prince of Preachers” asserted:

“God made human beings to be happy.”

“My dear brothers, if anyone in the world ought to be happy, we are those people. How boundless our privileges, how brilliant our hopes!”

Redeeming the Word

The problem is not with the pursuit of happiness, it is with the pursuit of happiness in the wrong places and in the wrong ways. This is the essence of sin. But rather than throwing out the baby (happiness) with the bathwater (sin), we should redeem this wonderful word which is truly ours as the people of God, and pursue holiness and happiness – the former leading to the latter.

Resources

Randy Alcorn wrote a fabulous book on this subject, which I highly recommend: Happiness by Randy Alcorn

Check out this video in which Mike and I discuss happiness and God:

Here is the video of my sermon from 1 Peter 1:13-25: “The H Word”:

 

“Preaching” or “Sharing”?

architecture bible blur book

Dictionary.com defines the word “preachy” as: “tediously or pretentiously didactic.”

Apparently this is what the word “preaching” evokes in the minds of many people. Perhaps for this reason, some people I have encountered have suggested that churches abandon the word “preaching” in favor of the word “sharing.” Rather than someone “preaching a sermon,” they suggest we ought to have someone “share a message.”

Is this just splitting hairs? Does it even matter?

A Matter of Semantics…

Semantics: the branch of linguistics that deals with the meanings of words and sentences

Words do matter. Words not only convey meaning, but the reason we have synonyms, i.e. multiple words for a given thing, is because each of these words relates to a slightly different way of thinking about or portraying that thing, and different words convey different feelings.

At the same time, words are culturally shaped, and the meaning of a word can change over time – even if it refers to an objective reality which does not change. Western society, with its emphasis on equality, tends to be more inclined to a word like “sharing” as opposed to “preaching.”

A Biblical Matter

However, we must also recognize the fact that the Bible uses the word “preach” over 150 times (in the NKJV), and doesn’t use the word “share” at all in the sense of speaking with other people about God.

I remember talking to someone once who claimed that Jesus only “taught”, he didn’t “preach”. Her point was that Jesus wasn’t “preachy”; the only problem with her argument is the fact that there are dozens of verses which tell us that Jesus preached. In fact, not only does it say that Jesus preached, but Jesus himself said that the very reason He came was to preach, and then he trained and commissioned his disciples to preach.

“I must preach the kingdom of God…because for this purpose I have been sent.” (Jesus in Luke 4:43)

A Practical Matter

To preach means to proclaim. It means to announce and declare something.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that what makes preaching unique, is that the one who preaches “is there to ‘declare’ certain things; they are a person under commission and under authority… an ambassador [who] comes to the congregation as a sent messenger.” [1]

To preach, in the biblical sense, therefore, is not to speak on one’s own authority, or to share one’s own thoughts. Preaching, in the biblical sense, is to convey a message from God to people.

For this reason, I believe we should hold onto this biblical term. However, I believe it is important that our preaching should not be preachyi.e. “tediously or pretentiously didactic.” It should not be condescending, and it should come from a person who understands and conveys that they are the equal of their listeners – and yet, they come to them not with their own ideas and musings, but with a message from God which deserves their utmost attention.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the Role and Importance of Preaching

Here are some further quotes from Martyn Lloyd-Jones on preaching, from his classic Preaching and Preachers:

The most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and the most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also.

You cannot read the history of the Church, even in a cursory manner, without seeing that preaching has always occupied a central and a predominating position in the life of the Church.

At this point, Lloyd-Jones clarified that ministry to and care for the poor and marginalized is a ministry and a duty of the church, it must happen simultaneous to, not in place of, the proclamation of the Word of God. He points to Acts 6 to make this point, where the apostles appointed deacons, capable people full of the Holy Spirit, to ministry to the needs of the needy in their community, so that they could devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word, deeming it improper for them to neglect those things.

Paul’s last word to Timothy was: ‘Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.’

What is it that always heralds the dawn of a Reformation or of a Revival? It is renewed preaching.

Preaching is logic on fire. It is theology coming through a person who is on fire.

The chief end of preaching is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence.

Preaching should make such a difference to those who are listening, that they are never the same again.

The preacher cares about the people they are preaching to; that is why they are preaching. The preacher is anxious about them; anxious to help them, anxious to tell them the truth of God. So they do it with energy, with zeal, and with obvious concern for people.

May God use us to preach, teach, and share His truth with others, so that hearts, minds, and lives will be changed for the better.

Thoughts on Prayer: “God is Most Glorified in Our Dependence On Him”

Recently I sat down with Matthew Spencer of #LongmontPrays, a local initiative to encourage prayer in Longmont.

In this interview, I share some thoughts on prayer, such as that intimacy is created through shared experience, and we get to share experience with God through prayer, thus building intimacy.

We go on to talk about Jesus and how he was the embodiment of God’s glory, and that he showed us by example what it means to be dependent on the Father.

Check out the interview; I hope it encourages and blesses you!

Gilgamesh, Richard Dawkins, & the Problem of Facts

Earlier this year I added a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics. Recently I’ve received some questions both on that page and on Calvary Live regarding the Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient Near East text which contains a flood narrative.

Some people claim that this text proves that the biblical story of Noah and the flood is just borrowed, or stolen, from other ancient Near Eastern mythology, and is not to be taken literally. This is part of a larger conspiracy theory which claims that much of Christianity is actually borrowed, or stolen, from other ancient Near Eastern mythologies, e.g. that Jesus was just borrowed from the Egyptian story of Horus and Isis.

Over the course of the next several posts, I will address various aspects of this conspiracy, and show why no real scholars believe this is true. The reason? Because it is simply not factual. It requires building a narrative which only sounds plausible until its claims are checked, at which time it becomes clear that they are not based on actual facts, research, or history.

Richard Dawkins & the Folk Religion of the New Atheism

Richard Dawkins is what you might call an “evangelical atheist”, which means that he isn’t content with just being an atheist himself, he is on a mission to convert the world to his views.

In his recent book, which is aimed specifically at converting children and young people to his brand of atheism, he claims that the Old Testament story of Noah comes from a Babylonian myth, the legend of Utnapishtim, which in turn was taken from the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh.

This claim caught the attention of George Heath-Whyte, a researcher at Cambridge who specializes in Assyriology and Near East history. Heath-Whyte then took to Twitter and wrote a scathing thread of tweets exposing the slew of factual errors in Dawkins’ book.

This was recently covered in an article on The Spectator titled, “If Richard Dawkins loves facts so much, why can’t he get them right?” The article summarizes the inaccuracies identified by Heath-Whyte in his chain of tweets.

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Here are a few highlights:

‘Well let’s start with “The Utnapishtim story … comes from the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh.” WHAT. The version of the Gilgamesh story that contains the flood narrative of Utnapishtim is NOT written in Sumerian, but Babylonian (Akkadian).

‘There are older Sumerian stories about the character Gilgamesh, none of which contain a flood story. There is even a Sumerian flood story too, but it’s not the flood story he’s talking about.

‘It seems he’s talking about a weird mix of one Babylonian flood story about a guy called Atrahasis and another Babylonian flood story about Utnapishtim (the latter being a part of the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh)…

‘… but come on Dawkins, even Wikipedia could have told you that neither of these were written in Sumerian.’

That’s pretty embarrassing for a man who had just told Krishnan Guru-Murthy that he wants ‘to rid the world of all claims that are not evidence-based’. But Heath-Whyte was just getting into his stride.

‘Problem no. 2: “Arguably the world’s oldest work of literature, [Gilgamesh] was written two thousand years earlier than the Noah story.”

‘So he’s just stated that Genesis was written “during the Babylonian captivity” (sixth century BC), and now he’s stated that (what we assume he means to be) the epic of Atrahasis, or the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, was written 2,000 years earlier – so roughly 2600-2500 BC.

‘Most likely Atrahasis was written less than 1,300 years before the Babylonian captivity, and the version of Gilgamesh that included a flood story was probably finished less than 1,000 years before the Babylonian captivity, and likely quite a few centuries less than a thousand.

From the above-linked article:

Other mistakes identified by Heath-Whyte: Dawkins mixes up the animals in the Gilgamash and Genesis flood stories, and claims that the Sumerian flood legend, like the story of Noah’s Ark, ends with a rainbow. 

‘There’s no rainbow mentioned in any Mesopotamian flood story. Anywhere. There just isn’t,’ says Heath-Whyte, adding that in any case the former Oxford professor for the Public Understanding of Science has misidentified a Sumerian god. 

I think we can take Heath-Whyte’s word for it. Not only can he read the cuneiform in which Gilgamesh is written, but he can also write it.

If These Claims Are Not Historically Accurate, Where Do They Come From?

Continuing from the above-mentioned article:

Just when Dawkins must be wishing that a non-existent God would send a flood to cover his embarrassment, he delivers the killer blow. As he says, even Wikipedia would have put the professor right on these matters. So what was his source? ‘A quick Google search suggests that Dawkins’ source for a lot of this stuff may be a cute little website called HistoryWiz.’

I checked, and he’s right: this is the version of the Gilgamesh as mangled by HistoryWiz, which invites you to ‘step into the past… Let the wizard take you to a different time’. 

Alas, it looks as if you really do have to step into the past in order to consult the wizard. The site is ‘copyright 1998-2008’, there are loads of broken links and the design, c. 2000, is quaintly rudimentary. 

It seems clear that Richard Dawkins and others who make these claims about Gilgamesh are so committed to the conclusion they already religiously believe, that they are not concerned with real scholarship when it comes to creating their narrative.

The “New Atheism,” we might say, is a kind of folk religion which has its own shared beliefs, stories, and mythos, which are not actually based on fact or history.

In my next article I will explain what the Epic of Gilgamesh and Utnapishtim character are, and how we should understand them in relation to the Bible.

Following that, I will discuss the “Jesus Myth” and the theory that what the New Testament says about Jesus is borrowed from ancient Egyptian and Near East mythology. What I hope to show in the end, is that these theories do not hold up to even the most basic fact-checking scrutiny, and are part of a mythos created by New Atheists and other who would try to discredit the Bible and erode faith in it.

A further question which follows from this is: Why are some people opposed to Christianity and the Bible? – a question which I plan to address as well.