When Misinterpreting the Bible Leads to Tragedy

On Saturday, an apartment fire in NYC claimed the lives of 7 children. When you find out why it happened, you realize just how dangerous it can be to misinterpret the Bible…

Recently at White Fields church I have been teaching on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This past Sunday I taught Matthew 5:17-30, where Jesus refutes the misinterpretation of the Law of Moses by the Pharisees.

The Pharisees made 2 basic errors in regard to their interpretations of the Law of Moses. On the one hand, they would add rules to the Law of Moses, to make sure they didn’t accidentally break any of the commandments. On the other hand though, they created a system of loopholes to circumvent the very rules which they themselves added to the Law of Moses. The purpose of this was so that they could claim that they had “technically” kept the Law, while still making sure they had ways to do all the things they felt the need to do.

Modern day Judaism has had to deal with technological innovations, such as electricity and motor vehicles, which has greatly complicated the question of what constitutes “labor” on the Sabbath. In broad terms, they have landed on the definition that the breaking or building of anything constitutes “work”. So, practically, they have determined that it is not permissibly to drive a car, since combustion happens in an engine, nor are they allowed to turn on or off electricity, because it breaks an electrical current.

To circumvent this rule, especially in cold places, modern ultra-orthodox Jews, have tended to turn on a hot plate or an oven the night on Friday afternoon, before the start of the Sabbath, and that way they can heat food and keep their residences warm without technically doing “work”.

During my sermon this past Sunday, I mentioned a news story about an apartment fire in Jerusalem in an orthodox neighborhood, where – because people considered it not forbidden to use a phone on the Sabbath – the fire spread to 2 surrounding buildings before fire fighters were alerted and got to the scene to put it out.

Right after church, someone told me about the tragic events which had happened for very similar reasons the night before in New York City, in which an orthodox Jewish family had left a hot plate on in the kitchen, a common practice for those who adhere to the “Talmudic fence” which Pharisaical Judaism put around the Law of Moses; when the hotplate malfunctioned and caused a fire in the middle of the night in the apartment which left  7 children dead and the mother and oldest child in critical condition.

This is a tragic example of how misinterpreting the Bible can lead to tragedy…

One of the saddest parts of the news report was the final line:

“We believe that being buried in Israel is important because all of your sins are then absolved,” [Rabbi Alon Edri] said.

These Jews, who take the Law and the Prophets (Old Testament) seriously, understand that the fundamental need of the human soul is for our sins to be dealt with and wiped away. The problem is that they have no way of obtaining this, especially since for almost 2000 years now they have had no temple in which to make the sacrifices of atonement prescribed by the Law of Moses. The idea that being buried in Israel will absolve one’s sins is not found in the Bible; it is something they have created to deal with the problem that they deeply feel and see: that they need their sins to be forgiven, yet they have no way of having their sins atoned for. They have done something similar with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), on which, according to the Law of Moses, a sacrifice was to be made to atone for the sins of the nation – but instead of doing that, modern Judaism has settled for telling people to make “sacrifices of contrition” (read: feeling really bad about yourself and your sin) in order to make atonement. However, this, according to the Law itself, is not enough, for we know that “life is in the blood” and “there is no atonement of sin apart from the shedding of blood.”

Oh that they might come to see that Jesus came to fulfill all of the Law and the Prophets! That He is the atoning sacrifice which God provided for them.

We pray for this family, for the community and for the mother and daughter still in critical condition, that God would comfort them and that they would come to know the righteousness that God has provided for them apart from the Law, since “by the works of the Law, no one will be justified”.