I have written an e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which is free to anyone. To download that book, in several formats, go here.
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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Does the Bible really say that? Excerpt from my book, 52.

Appendix: Bible Interpretation – Some Suggestions

The Bible is a complex book. Some parts of it are difficult to understand. Mark Twain is supposed to have remarked that it wasn’t the parts of the Bible he didn’t understand that bothered him, but the parts that he did. Perhaps he was referring to some of the things Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, where He put forward a radical morality.

I’m not an expert on Biblical interpretation. But I think there are some principles that we should follow in interpreting the Bible. Here they are:

1) Don’t take something literally it if wasn’t meant to be. If a phrase is poetry, or irony, or a figure of speech, then it wasn’t meant to be taken literally. For example, Psalm 46:2 speaks of not being afraid even though the mountains be moved into the sea. The whole Psalm is poetry, and this phrase seems to have been a figure of speech. See Psalm 114, for another example.

2) Don’t use a single verse, phrase, or sentence without considering the context, and what the rest of the Bible says on that subject. For example, in Romans 11:26, Paul says that all Israel will be saved. Does that mean that all Israelis will go to heaven? Certainly not. In chapter 10 of the same book, Paul says that his desire is that the Jews be saved, strongly implying that many of them won’t. He also calls them a disobedient people. And, more importantly, Paul’s message in the entire book, indeed in all his letters, is that salvation comes by faith in Christ as savior, not by birth into a particular ethnic group.

This principle should be applied to many passages in the Old Testament. The Jews were under a different regime than Christians. The Jews were often commanded to destroy other nations. Christians aren’t. In fact, based on the New Testament, God seems to deal much less with nations than in the Old. Instead, He now deals with us as individuals, for the most part. Various Old Testament laws, for example dietary laws, do not apply to Christians, unless they have individual convictions about these matters. The New Testament makes that clear. The context of these laws does not indicate that they apply to non-Jewish Christians today. (Several moral laws, first introduced in the Old Testament, but re-emphasized in the New, do apply to Christians, but that’s another topic.)

3) Be careful in interpreting prophecy. The New Testament points out some examples of fulfilled prophecy about Jesus. Those, it seems, we can understand, because we know how they were fulfilled. The Old Testament has some examples of fulfilled prophecy, that we can understand for the same reason. But be careful about prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled. Very careful.

4) Don’t ignore or reject scripture that you don’t like. In fact, sections of the Bible, for example about gossip being a sin, and that we don’t like (if we like to gossip) are the ones we should pay the most attention to!

Carefully consider that someone else’s interpretation, be that someone an individual, a church, an institution, or a denomination, with doctrines different than yours or mine, might be correct. God may be trying to discipline or instruct us, through scripture, or scripture interpretations, that we don’t particularly like.

Read the Bible carefully and prayerfully. Read it on a regular basis, using some plan, such as those in a devotional guide, or by reading scripture that accompanies sermons or group lessons, in your church.

The above material is an excerpt from my self-published e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which may be obtained free of charge, or purchased from Amazon for $0.99, which is the lowest price Amazon lets an author set. Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible, which is in the public domain.

The previous post in this series, on the matter of a physical body after death, is here.This is the last post in the series. Thanks to anyone who may have read all or part of these posts. I didn't plan that it would take a year to finish this -- it just worked out that way. God willing, next Sunday's post will be from a more important author, whose work is in the public domain.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sunspots 487

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Christianity: R. L. Copple tells us why we are all agnostics.
Computing: Relevant gives some telltale signs that you are on Facebook too much.
Health: Another report, from National Public Radio, on how eating fat isn't as bad for us as we often think it is.
NPR reports that double mastectomies don't really protect against breast cancer any better than other treatments.

Humor: (Not exactly, but I don't have a category for this one) Wired reports on the Crayola Crayon factory.
Science: Wired on what watching movies tells us about how the brain works. The report also mentions experiments on movie watching.
Sports: A two minute, 47 second video of some amazing acrobatic basketball dunks (and juggling).

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Does the Bible really say that? Excerpt from my book, 51

What about the bodily existence of believers, after death? There are some hints about this in scripture, especially in 1 Corinthians 15:

1 Corinthians 15:35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised?” and, “With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish one, that which you yourself sow is not made alive unless it dies. 37 That which you sow, you don’t sow the body that will be, but a bare grain, maybe of wheat, or of some other kind. 38 But God gives it a body even as it pleased him, and to each seed a body of its own. 39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds. 40 There are also celestial bodies, and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial differs from that of the terrestrial. 41 There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown perishable; it is raised imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body and there is also a spiritual body.
45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However that which is spiritual isn’t first, but that which is natural, then that which is spiritual. 47 The first man is of the earth, made of dust. The second man is the Lord from heaven. 48 As is the one made of dust, such are those who are also made of dust; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. 49 As we have borne the image of those made of dust, let’s also bear the image of the heavenly. 50 Now I say this, brothers, that flesh and blood can’t inherit God’s Kingdom; neither does the perishable inherit imperishable.
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must become imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable body will have become imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then what is written will happen: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

Paul seems to be describing a physical body, although he uses the term “spiritual body”. The NIV Study Bible (Zondervan, 1995) says this, in a note on verses 42-44:
. . . the apostle says that in the case of the resurrection of the dead, God will take the perishable, dishonorable, weak (and sinful) body – “a natural body” characterized by sin – and in the resurrection make it an imperishable, glorious, powerful body. “Spiritual body” does not mean a nonmaterial body but, from the analogies, a physical one similar to the present natural body organizationally, but radically different in that it will be imperishable, glorious and powerful, fit to live eternally with God.

When Jesus appeared to the twelve, on one occasion, He told Thomas to touch Him:
John 20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Reach here your finger, and see my hands. Reach here your hand, and put it into my side. Don’t be unbelieving, but believing.”
28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas didn’t seem to have done so, but apparently he could have, and this, of course, indicates that the body of Jesus, after resurrection, was present in physical form, and was not merely a spirit. Jesus invited the twelve to share breakfast with Him in John 21. He sat at the evening meal with the two disciples in Emmaus in Luke 24. It is not clear as to whether or not He ate and drank in either of these episodes, but it seems to be at least possible that He did so. If He did eat or drink, again, this would be evidence of a physical body, and, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, we will be like Jesus, the last Adam.

I conclude that Jesus had, upon His resurrection, a glorified, but physical, body, and that He still has this, and that believers will also have a glorified physical body.

The above material is an excerpt from my self-published e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which may be obtained free of charge, or purchased from Amazon for $0.99, which is the lowest price Amazon lets an author set. Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible, which is in the public domain.

The previous post in this series, on the topic of the idea of a new heaven and new earth, is here. God willing, the next post in this series will continue with the appendix to the book. Thanks for reading.

A recent post, not from the book, considered this topic a little more thoroughly.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Why is there evil in the world?

The classic Christian answer is this: When God created people, He gave them the power to choose. If the power to choose was real, then people could choose bad things, with bad consequences. The first, and most profound, bad choice was when Adam and Eve disobeyed God about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, whatever may have happened then. That choice resulted in a fallen creation, with human death, necessity to work, diseases, extinctions, parasites, hurricanes, earthquakes, pollution, wars, exploitation of other people, and of animals, other types of sin, and violence of all kinds.

God’s answer to bad human choice (sin) is Himself. Christ, who was God and man, paid the price for our sin by personally suffering on the cross, a voluntary, sinless sacrifice. (The resurrection shows that the sacrifice was acceptable.)
There will come a time when human suffering, for those who have chosen to accept Christ’s sacrifice, and accept Him as Lord, will be over. Our bodies will be restored to the state God planned for them in the first place, free from aches and pains, aging and death. The earth will also be restored to the state God planned for it.

God doesn’t send anyone to hell, a place of eternal suffering. People choose to go there, and God honors that choice.
Suffering builds character. We can’t achieve salvation by suffering, but undergoing suffering may help us serve God better.

“I ended my first book with the words no answer. I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?” – Orual, the main character of Till We Have Faces, by C. S. Lewis.

The book of Job is largely about the previous paragraph. Bad things happened to Job. They weren't his fault. He blamed God. (See here, for example.) But, in the end, Job realized that God was infinitely more wise, and good, than he was. (See here.) God also allowed Job to live a long time, restored his health, and replaced the possessions and children that he had lost. (However, there is no promise of that sort of earthly recompense for the suffering of all of God's followers. See Hebrews 11.)

Thanks for reading. Bad things will happen. The most important result of them is what my response will be.