Biblical context leads us closer to truth
Without proper biblical context, I can prove the unthinkable straight from scripture. Watch this…
There is no God. ~ Psalm 14:1
See how easy that is? The Bible itself says there is no God. What’s that…you cry foul? Have I used that verse wrongly? Perhaps…out of context? Let’s see the whole thing:
The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt,
They have done abominable works,
There is none who does good. ~ Psalm 14:1
That’s a more complete picture. That’s a fuller context of the psalmist’s meaning. I took the first quote from this out of context from both the entire verse and the entire Bible. Many church doctrines originated from someone making one or both of those mistakes.
Similarly, many rabbinical decrees in the Talmud were born from ignoring immediate context.
“For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it. ~ Deut. 30:12
Long ago, someone ripped apart this verse and interpreted that to mean, “it’s not in heaven, so it’s here with us. We decide what the law means.” That interpretation meant that rabbinical councils were free to interpret and/or add to the law as they saw fit. For the full story, read this documented account. But that’s not what the verse says at all, neither is it implied in its proper context.
The full meaning here is clear: you have God’s instructions, and you are capable of keeping them. No group of spiritual leaders can legitimately redefine God’s instructions.
Given how much “oral law” the rabbinical system added through the centuries, we should consider their interpretation in a larger context. We don’t have to go beyond Deuteronomy.
“Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.” ~ Deut. 12:32
Part of the Torah itself is a command to leave it as it is. It doesn’t need man-made traditions to add to or take away from it. It’s already perfect as delivered by God through Moses.
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; ~ Psalm 19:7
But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. ~ James 1:25
I’m not trying to pick on the rabbis. Even though they got this basic tenet wrong, we can still glean wisdom from them. But let’s look at what the early Christian church did by taking away from God’s law. Because of the anti-semitism of the early church, Christians no longer keep the Sabbath, they don’t keep the feasts, and they ignore dietary laws. They’ve taken away from God’s clear word. And then they added lots of their own “laws” as well.
In a similar move, early church leaders claimed the power to declare their own truths. They read Matthew 16:19 out of context. Don’t believe me? Check out Canon 29 from the Council of Laodicea (this includes some of their other additions to and subtractions from the law as well). This was further codified and explained in the Convert’s Catechism of Catholic Doctrine.
Q. Why do we observe Sunday instead of Saturday?
A. We observe Sunday instead of Saturday because the Catholic Church, in the Council of Laodicea, (AD 336) transferred the solemnity from Saturday to Sunday.
Q. By what authority did the Church substitute Sunday for Saturday?
A. The Church substituted Sunday for Saturday by the plenitude of that divine power which Jesus Christ bestowed upon her!
Yeshua is our only authority
Our Judeo-Christian leadership—no matter whose particular leadership you follow—got it wrong. Individually, we get it wrong when we allow a false mediator between us and God. The only authority we have is Messiah.
But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. ~ Matt 23:8-10
When we hand over headship (authority) to other men, things always seem to go wrong. Read the Bible—the entire Bible—for yourself. Read it through quickly (within 3-4 months) so you can better keep the entire Word in context. When you finish, start over again. And again. Most importantly, ask God to help you understand as you read.
If you find what seems to be a contradiction, please trust me that it’s in your understanding, not in the scriptures. There’s no need to use any dispensational nonsense to explain away anything. Examine troubling passages further to see if your problem lies with preconceived notions about the text. Until we’re willing to let go of our own traditions, we can’t fully see God’s truth clearly. This is an ongoing struggle, one that will take a lifetime of study to work through. Our study of his truth should never end.
Historical and Cultural Context
There’s a simple fact about the Bible that we tend to forget. We read it as if it were written to us. Don’t get me wrong…it was written for us…but not to us. Far too often, we read the Bible from our 21st-century perspective and miss the intended meaning completely. We forget about the historical and social context. We generally ignore the fact that the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek, and that the translators might have had their own biases. To truly study the Bible, we must try to learn more about the people, the times, and the languages actually discussed in the Bible.
Here’s a quick example from Romans:
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. ~ Romans 10:4
If we read this only from our modern viewpoint, we might assume (as most of Christianity does) that Christ’s sacrifice means we don’t have to worry about all that Old Testament law stuff. But is that what it really says?
The word translated as “the end” is “telos.” One of its meanings is “termination, the limit at which a thing ceases to be,” which would support the modern view. But another definition is “the end to which all things relate, the aim, purpose.” Which of these meanings is correct? To be certain, we should look at the larger Biblical context to see which definition fits with scripture as a whole. Here are a couple of points to consider:
Surely the Lord God does nothing,
Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets. ~ Amos 3:7
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not burdensome. ~ 1 John 5:3
Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. ~ Revelation 14:12
Did God speak through the prophets to tell us his law would come to an end? If the love of God is keeping his commandments and they aren’t a burden, should we ignore them? Doesn’t it seem that future prophecy supports keeping the commandments?
And how do we harmonize the modern “end of the law” view with Yeshua’s (Jesus’) own words?
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:17-19
Because of prevalent modern views, many think that by “fulfill,” Yeshua (Jesus) means that “he did them all so we don’t have to.” But that would be the same effect as destroying the law, wouldn’t it? Besides that, heaven and earth are still here. They haven’t passed away, and they are not the new version mentioned in Revelation 21:1. The word translated as “fulfill” in the greek is pronounced “plēroō.” Its proper meaning here is more a sense of being fully taught. In short, he came to let us know the true meaning of the law.
We miss so much meaning in the Bible because we don’t understand the language in which it was written. Even the Greek of the New Testament misses out on meaning in translating the Hebrew (possibly Aramaic, but most likely Hebrew) to Greek. Consider this selection:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! Matthew 6:22-23 ESV
These verses are so misunderstood that “if your eye is healthy” is translated several ways in the many modern translations. But we don’t understand the meaning of it until we understand the Hebrew idioms used. To have a “good eye” means to be a generous person. Likewise, a “bad eye” means to be stingy with money. Knowing that, we can see that the verses before and after are a complete thought, and not Yeshua being flighty with his teaching. Read the whole passage together with this knowledge and you see that the entire section speaks about our relationship with money.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Matthew 6:19-24
It’s all about me
We try our best to make passages about us when it clearly isn’t. Take this example:
So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” Matthew 21:21-22
Are you moving any mountains? On a smaller scale, are you at least healing the sick in Jesus’ name? Unless you’re a TV charlatan preaching a false gospel, I’m pretty sure you answered ‘no’ to that. (Those “faith healers” on TV aren’t doing it either. They’re just liars and thieves.) Does this mean that we have no faith? Does it mean that Yeshua’s promises aren’t true? Of course not! It only means that he was talking to his disciples rather than us!
The disciples needed miraculous intervention after Yeshua left them. They needed a platform upon which to spread their message. Miracles not only gave them a platform, but it authenticated that their message came from God. I believe what Yeshua said was absolutely true. He said it to his disciples in the first century…not to us.
There may come a time when God’s power is revealed in this way again. We will certainly see such things at Messiah’s second coming…and that could be soon. Any of us might have miracles happen in our lives. I don’t doubt that for a second. But the types of public miracles seen from Moses, Elijah, and Yeshua and his disciples aren’t happening now.
Something that I believe Christians often miss—or at least misunderstand—is why Yeshua (Jesus) berates the Pharisees. Some Christians mistakenly claim that Yeshua (Jesus) didn’t like their overly strict adherence to the Mosaic law. I’ve seen this sentiment expressed by Christian writers as “those goody-two-shoes Pharisees.” No…not making that up. I’ve read it.
Others twist scripture even further, claiming that Yeshua (Jesus) started the trend of ignoring the Sabbath during his interactions with the Pharisees. The missing element leading to these mistaken notions is knowledge of the so-called “oral law.” The Pharisees (and nearly all other Jews) held to the teachings of the oral law from the rabbis, as mentioned earlier. Yeshua called them out on holding to man-made doctrines, often more so than the actual Mosaic law. He was calling them (and everyone else) back to obedience to God by following the true law.
But if you don’t know about the oral law and the teachings of the rabbis—more to the point, if you don’t know the Torah, and that it forbids adding to or taking away from it—you miss the real meaning of Yeshua’s interaction with the Pharisees.
Clearly, a better and fuller context can provide the true meaning of scripture where it might have been misunderstood before. Whether or not you agree with me fully, please consider testing your current doctrinal beliefs against the entirety of scripture. If all scripture isn’t true or there are contradictions in the text, we’re not worshiping the great God we think we are. My firm belief is that we have misunderstood his message for us.Our sin and selfishness blinds us and keeps us from seeing it clearly.
If you want to talk through any difficult passages, please comment below and I’d be happy to discuss it with you.