Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Scriptures

Read the Bible for all it’s worth

people-2604834_640I recently came across a statistic that stated that only two per cent of those who call themselves Christians have read the Bible through. If we would read any other book the way most Christians read the Bible we would soon lose interest in it.

We say that we believe we are children of the Almighty God and citizens of His Kingdom. We say the Bible is God’s message to us and all mankind. And yet we only read the parts that we find most interesting and claim that the rest is too hard to understand. Might it not rather be that people find it hard to understand because they don’t read it?

John Newton said: “I know not a better rule of reading the Scripture than to read it through from beginning to end; and when we have finished it once , to begin again. We shall meet with many passages hard to understand; but not so many in the second reading as in the first; and fewer in the third than in the second.”

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Pietists, Quietists & Anabaptists

I have been reading some of the writings of François Fénelon and find some moving passages. I plan to post some excerpts in coming days.

Fénelon was a Quietist, that is a Roman Catholic who believed that salvation had to come through a personal relationship with God, rather than through the forms of liturgical worship. So far, so good. Yet, there is a niggling little thought that troubles me – Fénélon appears to have had a genuine faith, but was that faith passed on to following generations? He remained a Roman Catholic all his life. The same question applies to those who were Pietists within the Lutheran Church.

The Anabaptists took a different approach. They believed that Scripture and Spirit called them to remain outside the established state churches and maintain a pure church. This often led to persecution and they accepted that as a necessary consequence of their commitment to God.  Menno Simons wrote:

“Reader, understand what I mean. We do not dispute whether or not there are some of God’s elect in the before-mentioned churches; for this we, at all times, humbly leave to the  just and gracious judgment of God, hoping that he has many thousands unknown to us, as they were to holy Elijah. But our dispute is in regard to what kind of Spirit, doctrine, sacraments, ordinance and life it is with which Christ has commanded us to gather unto Him an abiding church, and how to keep it in His ways.”

It is my conviction that Menno’s faith has more fully endured and been passed on to subsequent generations than has the faith of Fénelon.

The world turned upside down

The scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus with a woman who had been caught in adultery, reminded Him that the law required that such a person be stoned, and asked what He had to say. Jesus only answer was to stoop down and write on the ground. One by one the accusers left.

The story is familiar, but gives rise to the question of what Jesus wrote on the ground. Evidently it was not aimless doodling. There was a purpose to His action and it made the accusers feel that they were better off elsewhere. But why? That has been fodder for many an interesting discussion where various speculations were shared and we came no closer to understanding just what had taken place.

Several weeks ago I had coffee with an acquaintance who has given much time to studying Scripture and history. He mentioned that he had purchased a commentary on the New Testament written by a Jew. This commentator said that the scribes and Pharisees, being very well versed in Scripture, would have immediately associated Jesus’ actions with Jeremiah 17:13:

“O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.”

Now, I cannot say for certain that this was the case, but it is really the most plausible explanation that I have heard. The AV translation says “in the earth” in Jeremiah and “on the ground” in the Gospel of John. The Louis Segond French translation says “sur la terre” in both places.

The implication would be that the scribes and Pharisees, who were so well versed in the law, and so scrupulous and righteous in obeying the law, had their names written in the earth. Then, when Jesus told the sinful woman “neither do I condemn thee,” the inference was that her name was now written in heaven.

This is the world turned upside down; and that is what Jesus came to do. We need to be reminded often that Jesus did not come for the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance.

The fulness of the time

Galatians 4:4: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son.

This phrase, “the fulness of the time,” indicates that Jesus came at the most opportune moment in history. What were the conditions that made this the right moment for the Saviour to come into the world?

The last king of David’s line was carried away captive by Nebuchadnezzar. Since that time Judah and Jerusalem had been vassal states in turn of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. Herod the Great became king in 37 BC, the first king of Judah since the Babylonian conquest. However, Judah was now a province of the Roman Empire and Herod was not a descendant of David. In fact he was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau, not Jacob (later named Israel).

The great empire of Alexander the Great was split into three parts after his death and there were many years of war between the three kingdoms. Judea suffered much from these wars, as did the other parts of the empire, but the Greek language was firmly established as the common language over all the conquered territory.

The Hebrew alphabet was the first phonetic alphabet, but consisted only of consonants, the Greeks added vowels. Now there was a common language and a complete, easily learned, writing system that could be used to spread the gospel. The Old Testament was translated into Greek and this was the version of the Scriptures in common use in the time of Jesus.

When the Romans conquered southern Europe and Asia Minor, they built roads to link all the Empire. In addition, they established the rule of law and placed Roman detachments over all the territory. Now the whole Empire was readily accessible by the Roman highways and travel was safer than at any time in the past.

All the conditions were now in place for the rapid spread of Christianity throughout the Empire by itinerant preachers and by the written word.

“Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times” (Daniel 9:24-25).

If we date the beginning of the seventy weeks from the time Artaxerxes commanded Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls of the city, then the baptism of Jesus and the beginning of his messianic ministry was exactly the beginning of the seventieth year of Daniel’s prophecy. God had been at work amid the confusion and strife of the preceding centuries to prepare the world for this moment – the fulness, or fulfilment, of the time.

What does the Bible say about — the Bible?

Before going too far, we should understand the Bible used in Jesus’ time. The Old Testament was not a book like we use today, but consisted of a number of scrolls, grouped as the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. The Law consisted of the first five books of the Bible, from Genesis to Deuteronomy, the books written by Moses. The Prophets were the scrolls containing Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the scroll containing the minor prophets, from Hosea to Malachi. The Writings consisted of the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Chronicles. This group was sometimes called the Psalms as that was the first and the largest scroll in this group.

Thus when New Testament writers refer to the Law, they are referring to that whole group of scrolls, not only to the part of it which contained laws. Likewise, when referring to the Prophets, they meant all the scrolls in that group, including those which we consider historical writings. Since all the writers of Scripture were considered prophets, The Law and the Prophets included the whole Old Testament. Jesus once said: “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me,” meaning the whole Old Testament. The quotation is found in Luke 24:44.

One more historical fact needs to be mentioned: these scrolls had all been translated into Greek about 200 years before Jesus’ day. All the quotations from the Old Testament that are found in the New Testament come from this Greek translation. This explains some differences in names: Eli for Elijah and Elias for Elisha. In addition, Jesus is the same name as Joshua, Mary the same as Miriam and James the same as Jacob.

The apostles clearly understood the whole of the Old Testament writings to be divinely inspired. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

The Word of God is eternal and unchangeable. “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2). “ For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).
“For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

Parts of the Bible can be understood by non Christians, but to truly understand it, one must have the Holy Spirit. “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:13-14). “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost” (2 Corinthians 4:3).

One verse written by the Apostle Paul has given rise to the idea that the Bible is all a jumble and it is up to us to put things together in the proper order: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The Apostle Paul was not telling us that the Bible is like a jigsaw puzzle and we need to puzzle out what piece goes where. What he is actually saying is that we should handle the truth honestly and correctly. The Apostle Peter gives a corrective for the modern misinterpretation of Paul: “As also in all his [Paul’s] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). Peter uses the word wrest, which means to twist, or tear apart. Also note that Peter is already considering the epistles of Paul to be part of the Scriptures.

Peter also writes: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). Differences in interpretation of the Scriptures are not the fault of the Holy Spirit, who inspired the writers and who will also inspire our understanding of what was written.

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