Month: December 2015

How to Read: Acts of the Apostles

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This is part of a series of posts based on the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. To see the previous posts in this series, click below:
Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?
How to Read: New Testament Letters
How to Read: Old Testament Narratives 


The Book of Acts is unique in the Bible. It is the story of the early church; its birth, conflicts, and expansions. The Book of Acts is a very readable book and seemingly easy to understand. While this is true for most of the book, there are still principles you must keep in mind.

First, the guidelines I shared on reading the Old Testament Narratives also hold true for the book of Acts:
1. You are not the hero of the story, God is.
2. The narratives to not explicitly teach moral truth.
3. The narratives to do not directly teach doctrine.

Keeping those three guidelines in mind, let’s see how they uniquely apply to the book of Acts.

1. Keep in mind Luke’s purpose for writing Acts.

Luke, the author of the book of Acts, was a highly educated Gentile who had a keen interest in recording history. For those specifically interested in history, the book of Acts is an excellent Hellenistic historiography. For those of you who are terrified of words with more than three syllables, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Luke wrote the book of Acts in order to
– encourage Christians in their faith
– be entertaining
– inform readers about the early church
– offer an apologetic for this new ‘sect’ of Judaism

In other words, Acts is not a theological treatise that addresses baptism, tongues, or other theological disputes that tend to divide Christians today. Although Luke speaks into these issues through narrative, they are not the main goal of his book.

2. Understand the ‘movement’ of the Book of Acts.

Through Acts, Luke shows the abundant power of the Holy Spirit in the early church. Specifically, he shows the expansion of Christianity from a religious sect to a movement that encompasses multiple continents and people groups.

One of the best ways to understand specific passages in Acts is to note where it is in the overall movement of the book. There are six different parts to this movement contained in Acts:

1. The primitive church in Jerusalem: Acts 1:1-6:7
2. Movement carried out by Greek speaking Jews: Acts 6:8-9:31
3. Movement that includes the Gentile people: Acts 9:32-12:24
4. Movement into the Gentile world led by Paul: Acts 12:24-16:5
5. Movement into Europe led by Paul: Acts 16:6-19:20
6. Movement into Rome via trials in Paul’s life: Acts 19:21-28:30

3. The narratives in Acts do not bind us to a certain form of ‘doing’ church. 

Many people have read about the “house churches” in the book of Acts and wrongly concluded that house churches should be the norm of the 21st century. Many zealous Christians have built entire organizations on a restoration mentality based on the book of Acts (oddly enough, these same people use microphones and sound systems in their gatherings..).

The principles illustrated, rather than the specific church models, are normative for us.

  • Today the Church is to be a movement that cannot be crushed by persecution, racism, death, or martyrdom.
  • The Church is to encompass multiple people groups by tearing down the dividing wall of hostility between them.
  • The Church is to be a fellowship of people devoted to the teachings of the Bible and to one another.

Rather than trying to restore specific models from the early church (such as house churches and feeding programs), we need to keep in mind the timeless principles of Scripture. The narratives written in Acts are to encourage and inform God’s people; not lay unrealistic burdens on us from the 1st century.


I am only able to cover these principles very briefly in a blog post. For further reading and greater explanation, I highly recommend purchasing the book!

 

How to Read: Old Testament Narrative

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This is part of a series of posts based on the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. To see the previous posts in this series, click below:
Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?
How to Read: New Testament Letters


Narrative is the most popular literary style in the Old Testament. Roughly 40% of the entire Old Testament is narrative. Below are some narratives that you may be familiar with (and ones we often interpret wrongly):

  • Noah and the Flood
  • Abraham’s Migration
  • Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
  • The Exodus of Israel out of Egypt
  • Joshua conquering Jericho
  • Samson deceived by Delilah
  • David defeating Goliath
  • Daniel in the Lion’s Den

A narrative is simply a story. There are characters, plots, conflicts, and resolutions. The narratives of the Old Testament are about real people that lived real lives. As you are brought from scene to scene in the different narratives, there are three important concepts to keep in mind.

1. You are not the hero of the story, God is.

Unfortunately, many people read the Old Testament narratives from a man-centered perspective. What I mean is people try to place themselves into the story as the hero. One example of this is concluding that you are David and the problems you face are Goliath.

Let’s be real – You are not a hero. If you want to place yourself in the story, you would probably be the Israelite army who cowered behind the shepherd boy.

As you read the different narratives, keep in mind that the stories are meant to highlight the greatness of God – not the greatness of man. This is also true for the actual characters in the story.

Moses is not the hero of the Exodus, God is.
Joshua is not the hero in his conquest, God is.
Daniel is not the hero in the lion’s den, God is.
You are not the hero in your own story, God is.

2. Narratives simply record what happened – not what should have happened. In other words, they do not explicitly teach moral truths.

One of the reasons I treasure the Old Testament is how realistic each of the stories are. Rather than showing a highlight reel of each person’s life, God has inspired people to record all of it- especially the bad. From rape to murder, all of it is included throughout the narratives. This shows that we live in the same fallen world that David and Noah inhabited; one in which people do what is right in their own eyes and thus disregard God’s commands.

The problem is when people read a certain narrative in the Old Testament and conclude that is what God is calling them to do. There are some cases where a moral principal is explicitly taught but the majority of the narratives require you to have an understanding of the Law (the first five books of the Bible) in order to decide whether or not a certain action is moral.

One narrative that is often taken out of context in this regard is Gideon and his fleece. If you do not know the story, Gideon lays out a fleece in order to test God to see if God is really calling him. Many well-meaning Christians have concluded from this narrative that is is morally right to set out a “fleece” of our own and test God. When the narrative is read in its proper context and compared to the explicit moral teachings in the rest of Scripture, you will be able to understand that God honored Gideon’s fleece not because Gideon was righteous by doing so but because God is gracious.

This does NOT mean God will honor your “fleece” because you lack the faith to trust Him when He calls you.

3. Old Testament narratives do not directly teach doctrine.

The narratives in the Old Testament DO teach truths about God. Yet we need to keep in mind that these truths are illustrated rather than explicitly stated.

One example is regarding God’s faithfulness. As you study the rebellion of Israel in the Old Testament, many of the stories illustrate the doctrine that God is faithful. This is shown through the way he raises up Judges to deliver His people and the pattern of restoration given throughout the narratives.

On the other hand, if you are using a single Old Testament narrative in order to dogmatically believe in a certain truth, you are on extremely shaky ground.


I am only able to cover these principles very briefly in a blog post. For further reading and greater explanation, I highly recommend purchasing the book!

 

 

How to Read: New Testament Letters

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This is the second post on a series based on the book “How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth“. Click below to read the first post. 
Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?


The majority of the New Testament is made up of Epistles or letters. These letters were sent from a church leader(s) to a specific church (or churches) in the first century (with the exception of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon which were sent to individuals). While keeping this in mind, the challenge is to put each letter in its context in order to understand the broader meaning for our lives today.

Think for a minute about listening to a phone conversation. As you listen to another person’s conversation, you can only hear what they are saying and how they are responding to the person on the phone. By using some critical thinking, you can get a pretty good idea of what the conversation is about from the one side. This is the same goal when we read the Epistles. You are hearing one side of a conversation so the challenge is to reconstruct the situation to the best of our ability.

Below are a list of the Epistles (or letters) in the Bible:

  • Romans
  • 1 Corinthians
  • 2 Corinthians
  • Galatians
  • Ephesians
  • Philippians
  • Colossians
  • 1 Thessalonians
  • 2 Thessalonians
  • 1 Timothy
  • 2 Timothy
  • Titus
  • Philemon
  • Hebrews
  • James (could have also been a sermon)
  • 1 Peter
  • 2 Peter
  • 1 John
  • 2 John
  • 3 John
  • Jude

As you can see, most of the books you are probably familiar with are Epistles. Although many of the passages are relatively simple to understand, there are also numerous verses people have taken out of context and built dogmatic beliefs around.

In order to properly understand each Epistle, you will need ask three specific questions. These same three questions apply to the rest of the Scriptures but in varying ways:

1. What is the historical context of the letter?

As stated in the previous post, each section of the Bible was written to a specific people (or person) at a specific time in history. Although the Bible itself is timeless, one needs to understand the historical nature in order to understand the timeless nature of Scripture.

You can learn the vast majority of the historical context by reading through the entire letter and taking note of what the author is addressing. As you are taking notes, I recommend trying to answer the following questions regarding the historical context:

1. Who is the author? What is their relationship to the church in question?

2. Where is the church located and what is its background (it would be best to consult a commentary or Bible Dictionary for this information)

3. What is the attitude of the author? Are they happy? Angry? Frustrated?

4. What do you notice about the church itself? Are there specific areas being addressed?

2. What is the literary context of the letter?

When it comes to understanding how to read the Epistles, I cannot emphasize enough that you need to THINK PARAGRAPHS!!! In other words, you need to consider the overall passage that each verse is located in. As a letter, the individual verses were not meant to be thought of outside of the sections they are in.

The best way to ‘think paragraphs’ is to read a section of Scripture and then ask yourself, “What is the big idea”? Once you figure out what the main point of the paragraph/section is, look for the supporting points. This will enable you to understand each verse as it was meant to be understood; as a logical part of a greater whole.

3. What did the passage mean to the original hearers of the letter?

Once you have a basic understanding of both the historical and literary context of the passage you are studying, you can start to figure out what the passage meant to the original hearers. Even if it is a passage that is relatively clear (such as Romans 1:16), understanding the context of the church in Rome will give you a greater appreciation of the text.

A rule of thumb is that the passage CANNOT mean something entirely different than what the author meant for it to mean.For example, the purpose of the Epistles is not to encourage your insane conspiracy theories about the government as the United States did not exist (this is a pet peeve of mine – rather than trying to justify your wacky beliefs with the Bible, go collect some canned food for the apocalypse).

Once you understand what it meant to the original hearers, you are able to accurately ascertain what the application is for today. For most passages it is easy; other passages are incredibly difficult (see 1 Corinthians 11:2-16).


Once again, I am only able to cover these concepts very briefly. For a more in-depth understanding that includes example from the Epistles themselves, go order How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth!

 

 

Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?

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There’s a good chance you are reading much of the Bible incorrectly.

The Bible is the most powerful book we have access to. Rather than just being a beautiful work of literature, it is God’s very Word. It is primarily through the Scriptures that the Living God speaks to His people.

While keeping that in mind, we also need to understand that the Bible IS a book. Actually, it is a collection of books, letters, prophecies, and various other types of literature composed over a vast period of time. Every part of the Bible is originally from an ancient manuscript. This displays the tremendous power and uniqueness of the Biblical text as it still has direct relevance for Christians today.

Unfortunately, many Christians are content to allow their Bible to collect dust rather than to study it. OR, they are content with some guy in a suit telling them what they should think about the Bible.

Yes,  I know all Christians CLAIM reading the Bible is important but the evidence proves otherwise. The church today is biblically illiterate even through we live in a time when solid resources are literally a click away.

As part of my study at Sioux Falls Seminary, I just finished reading How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart.

This is an excellent book accurately explains how to build a bridge from the 21st century to the ancient text in order to understand the relevance and power of the Bible for today. Sadly, many Christians misread and misapply the Bible to their own ruin.

Over the next 10 blog posts we will discuss the basics of reading the following types of literature in the Bible (click the links to be directed to the finished posts):

I will be writing very briefly on each of these topics. For a much better understanding, I highly recommend purchasing the book. I pray that these posts encourage you to pursue God with all your mind, heart, and soul.


What do YOU think is the most difficult part of the Bible? Let me know by leaving a comment!