The Greatest Lesson Taught by a Building

It was interesting to learn in Tuesday’s lesson that the word translated as “to dwell” and the word translated as “tabernacle” are almost the same word, except the first is the verb and the second is the noun. So when John writes in John 1:14, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” he was basically saying that the Word “tabernacled” among us.

And then in John 2:19-21 when Jesus said that “this temple” (meaning His own body) would be destroyed and then rebuilt in three days, He was signalling that the significance of the earthly Tabernacle would be at an end after He died and was resurrected, because it was His body being killed and resurrected that was important now, not the earthly building.

Why Call Jesus a Lamb?

The earthly Tabernacle really only existed to point forward to Jesus. It didn’t have a mystical power in itself. It was a teaching tool. The people before Jesus used it to look forward to a coming Savior who would truly cleanse them from their sins.

The frequent references to Jesus as the “Lamb of God” in the New Testament seem like clichés to us today — they hardly seem to mean anything — but think what it would have been like to everyone in Israel and the surrounding countries in the 1st century AD.

Many of them had actually been to the Tabernacle and seen the Altar of Burnt Offering in the Outer Court where the spotless lambs were slain for sins. Also, they had been raised to look up to Father Abraham, and so they would all have heard as kids the story of Abraham saying to Isaac, “God will provide the Lamb” (Genesis 22:8).

So clearly the New Testament authors were telling everyone that the ancient Tabernacle had pointed forward to Him with its frequent sacrifices of lambs, but now the real Lamb of God had come and replaced that ritual.

Jesus Replacing the Curtain, Furniture, and Light

In Matthew 27:50-52, Matthew wrote that the curtain in the Tabernacle hiding the Most Holy Place was torn in two at the moment of Jesus’ death, again showing that the Tabernacle building, the structure of wood and stone, was no longer necessary.

Also, Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life and the Light of the World. Well, two of the most significant pieces of furniture in the Tabernacle, in the room called the Holy Place, were a table with bread on it and a golden lampstand — furniture providing bread and light. So Jesus the Bread of Life and the Light of the World was clearly replacing those significant objects in the Holy Place.

Then in John 1:14, John wrote, “we have seen His glory.” Well, in the original Tabernacle in the wilderness, Moses recorded that the Shekinah glory of God glowed out from the Most Holy Place (or “Holy of Holies”) — the most private chamber of the Sanctuary where even the High Priest only entered once per year.

And when Solomon’s temple was dedicated, according to 2 Chronicles 7:1-2, fire came down from Heaven, and a glory shone over the whole place so that the priests couldn’t even enter for a time.

So when John says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt (“tabernacled”) among us, and we have seen His glory,” again, it seems like Jesus is replacing a significant aspect of the earthly Tabernacle.

The three main areas of the Sanctuary were the Outer Court, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place. Jesus replaced the slain lamb in the Outer Court, the bread and the light in the Holy Place, and the glory in the Most Holy Place — among other symbols and furniture that He also replaced and we haven’t discussed. Plus, He replaced the High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16)!

All the Riches of God

Jesus said, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39). And Paul wrote that all the riches of God are revealed in Christ (Colossians 1:26-27).

So I hope that more than ever, you see from this how central Jesus is to everything. He replaced the Tabernacle not because it was wrong, but because He fulfilled the message it had been teaching for centuries by dying for us and coming back to life. And now serving He’s serving me and you in the Heavenly Tabernacle and getting ready to come back for us.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

The Face of a Man, the Body of an Eagle?

The throne room scene in Revelation 4 and 5 must be mostly symbolic. If you take the images literally, they seem ridiculous. But as symbols, they’re powerful. Symbols of what? The lesson on Tuesday has some answers.

These Images Could Seem Ridiculous, Unless…

One of the symbols in the throne room scene is the image of the four living creatures in Revelation 4:6-8. They’re completely covered with eyes, even under their wings. How would that be sensible, the sort of thing God would create? What would the eyes under the wings be looking at?

And one of them is described simply as having the face of a man, and another simply looks “like a flying eagle.” Does that last one sit in one place in front of the Throne but still somehow look like an eagle that is constantly flying (while still sitting still)? So these creatures must be symbolic of certain ideas.

In Revelation 4:8, it says they are praising God constantly — that is, without stopping, ever — and that the twenty-four elders (in verse 10) fall down in front of God every time they do. But since they are always praising God, the elders would have to fall down constantly, over and over. Does that mean they’re bouncing up and down? How does it work?

So this non-literal scene must represent a reality that would be hard to express any other way.

The Ancient Source of the Symbols

As symbols, these images are not ridiculous; they’re powerful and beautiful. The Jewish people who read Revelation when it first was sent out to the churches knew the ancient Sanctuary service intimately. And that’s where many of the symbols in Revelation come from.

They knew the twenty-four yearly divisions of worship in the Sanctuary, which the twenty-four elders represent. They knew about the priests’ prayer offerings that were given in golden bowls, which are represented by the golden bowls of incense in Revelation 5:8.

And certainly they would have resonated deeply with the Slain Lamb in Revelation 5, because lambs were slain all the time in the Sanctuary services. But in Revelation 5, the symbolism is taken a step further to explain the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood.

The scroll, introduced in Revelation 5:1-2, that no one is worthy to open, I think represents all the promises of a Messiah, of salvation, that are recorded in the Old Testament. John weeps because it can’t be opened, but then it’s found that the Lamb can open it because of His sacrifice (Rev. 5:9,12), His divinity (Rev. 5:13), and His triumph (Rev. 5:5).

Constant Praise

So this strange scene of the Throne Room of God actually shows us a picture of the Good News, of a salvation that can regenerate us: Revelation 5:10 states that the goal of God’s plan is to turn us into a new kingdom of priests who reign over the Earth.

The throne room scene  reminds us of the rituals in the Old Testament Sanctuary services, which in turn were simply reflections of the constant worship of God that happens in Heaven. The four living creatures represent all of universal creation constantly praising God for just being Who He is. They don’t say, “Thank you, God, for this new car, this nice house, these clothes, this food.” No, they praise Him for His glory, wisdom, strength, and love — character traits of God that are constant no matter what situation of life we’re in.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

A Throne or Throne Equivalent

One of the most ridiculed of all religious ideas is the image of God as a bearded man sitting on a throne. We sense that an all-powerful Creator would have to be something much more than that. So let’s use the Bible passages in Monday’s lesson to think differently about God’s throne.

What a Throne Meant to Ancient People

Psalm 47:6-9. The throne in verse 8 doesn’t have to be a literal throne. This first verse seems to emphasize the fact that God rules over all kings and owns all kings — a fact difficult to understand for ancient people who had a god or three for every tent. A throne up in the sky is a great symbol for the idea of a single Entity ruling over all other authorities.

Kingship From Before Time

Psalm 93:1,2. The thrust of this second passage seems to be that God is from eternity, beyond time, so again this verse doesn’t have to be teaching a literal throne but rather teaching kingship over all time from before time. Since His “throne was established long ago,” back before literal thrones even existed, it seems like the word “throne” is a symbol of authority rather than a real, physical object. Besides, God is not physical, so He wouldn’t need something physical to sit on.

A Throne Built of Virtue

Psalm 89:14. Righteousness, justice, love, and faithfulness are the foundation of God’s throne in this verse. Again, rather than thinking of a literal throne made of wood and gold, the throne here represents God’s rulership that is always based on values such as righteousness. His power is always guided by love, so we can trust that He won’t abuse it.

Also, His authority is supported by the fact that He rules with justice, righteousness, and faithfulness: that inspires His people to want to obey Him, in contrast to human rulers who control people through power, strength, and fear.

This is the opposite of what people often think of God. Those who are opposed to the idea of God think of Him as a bully, a tyrant, an unfair ruler, an angry or vengeful God. They think He rules on power alone. He certainly could.

But we’re told He is adored and worshipped by angels and other beings. And you know from your own experience that adoration is not something that can be forced by violence or fear. Adoration is spontaneous, and it’s a response to kindness, love, and integrity.

What’s This “Human Spirit” You Speak of?

More than just having all these good qualities Himself, He also created us to reflect His righteousness and love. And He didn’t set up the world so that we’re forced to act like Him with no choice. No. He set it up so that we perform loving acts if we observe Him. Why?

Because He’s the example of love. The Bible says that He is love. And as we contemplate Him, our innermost thoughts are transformed to be more like His thoughts. And new actions flow from new thoughts.

We know that God is loving, because the best things that human beings do, the things that we really admire, are loving and fair and full of integrity. It wouldn’t make sense for us to be better than God. The good things we do must be reflections of His goodness.

Some people trust in the power of “the human spirit.” But the good things humans do are just reflections of God’s goodness. And they’re only possible because His Spirit is working in us.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

P.S. God does seem to maintain a literal location where He interacts with His created beings. See the previous blog post.

The Unlimited Limited

We know that God is everywhere at once, so it would be impossible for Heaven to be His only dwelling place. But we’re also taught that He lives in Heaven, that He sits on a throne, that Jesus stands beside Him, and so on.

So I’ve wondered before whether God in Heaven is just a limited manifestation of Him, like a protuberance into our universe that He extends, like He’s reaching an arm into Nature. Sunday’s lesson’s author almost agrees with that, but shows a refined view of it from the Bible.

The Logistics of Being Everywhere and Right Here

God isn’t lying to anyone if He has a local form of Himself while also being everywhere at once, because He most likely just tells everyone something like, “This is just one aspect of my infinite Self. I am actually everywhere at once, and I just give you this appearance of myself here as something for you to understand.”

And they must have a direct experience of Him being everywhere in the universe: anywhere they go, I’m sure they can sense His promptings in their minds, so they know that He isn’t just in the throne room in Heaven.

God the Indivisible

Here’s a little-known attribute of God you can use to impress somebody: He’s indivisible. That means He can’t be divided into different parts; He’s not made up of different pieces; He’s a single, indivisible whole. So that appearance of Him in Heaven’s throne room would be totally undiluted; it wouldn’t be a part of Him, because He has no parts!

Keep in mind also that He is infinitely powerful in every place in the universe. And He has infinite attention; nothing can ever use up His attention or divide it.

What this all means is that that aspect of Him in Heaven would be fully Him, have 100% of His attention, and have all His power. He would be able to create a whole new galaxy with a single word. It’s really Him.

And at the same time, there’s an infinity of Him out there doing other things, such as sustaining the whole universe (through Christ), keeping every atom and photon in motion, and maybe interacting with strange and exotic beings we know nothing about.

God Has His Own Country

God has a whole life we don’t even know about and can never really understand. He’s uncreated. He’s infinite. We are so tiny compared to Him that we’re almost infinitely small: He’s infinite and we’re finite, and any finite number divided by infinity is practically zero.

So we’re like tiny little thoughts off in the corner of His mind somewhere, like a grain of sand on the beach in front of His summer home in His true country that is really Himself.

He wasn’t obligated by someone above Him to come to Earth on that grain of sand to die for our sins, but He did it anyway, because He is loving and principled.

And that appearance of Him in Heaven is another example of that love. He meets beings in a special way there. He is so infinitely immense and different than us that we could never understand Him, but He gives us something we can understand because it is loving to do that for us.

Solomon: God is Uncontainable yet Chooses to be Near

1 Kings 8 expresses these concepts perfectly. In verse 27, Solomon (the wisest man who ever lived) states that Heaven can’t contain God (so how much less the temple on Earth that Solomon built, he says). And then in verses 30, 43, and 49, he also asks God to hear them from His special dwelling place in Heaven.

In other words, he acknowledges this strange reality that God is both everywhere at once (and above and beyond our physical reality) and is specially present in a place that we call Heaven.

His true mode of existence is unimaginable, but because He constantly sustains our universe and also maintains a local home for His people to visit Him, we know that He loves us.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

Looking Down on Deathbed Confessions

We think the wrong way about the thief on the cross, Pastor Mark Welch explained this weekend.

Someone He Could Trust Forever

You remember the story: as Jesus behaved in a gracious and forgiving way to people who were hurting and killing Him for no good reason, one thief being crucified beside Him had a change of heart. “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom,” he requested. And Jesus promised He would.

Graham Maxwell wrote that maybe that thief thought that if this Man was going to have a Kingdom, he wanted to be there. He would be a great King! He’d be Someone you could trust.

Pastor Welch stated that we normally think of this thief as a “deathbed confession,” someone who sees death approaching and only decides to repent because of it. And we think it’s great that God is able to save someone like that, but we think it must take a special effort to do so and that we are better because we repented earlier in our lives, not on our deathbeds.

How I’m Like a Pharisee

But that’s similar to the attitude that the Pharisee had in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. A tax collector and a religious leader are both praying out loud in the temple. The religious leader loudly thanks God for not making him like this sinner standing beside him. But the tax collector just sinks to his knees and pleads with God to have mercy on him, because he knows how bad he is.

And maybe we’re like the Pharisee when we look down on deathbed confessions. The fact is that God uses just as much grace to save me as to save someone who confesses on her deathbed. We both required the infinite sacrifice of His Son.

I was an enemy of God when He saved me. Up to that moment, I had wasted my life just as much as everyone else — even a deathbed confession person. I had no chance to save myself.

Grace is never based on our good works, the Bible says, so that no one can boast. So repenting a little earlier than someone else can’t make me better than them.

The Greatest Need in the World

Finally, the person who thinks he has the least need for grace needs it most.

We all need God’s grace throughout our whole lives, every day. It’s the universal human desire. People all over the world want to be let off the hook, to be treated with mercy, with leniency. We want a judge at the moment of sentencing or a police officer standing at the window to take a deep breath and say, “You know what? You’re free to go, get out of here.”

Someone who knows they’re helpless and lost and humbly asks God for help makes Heaven ring with shouts of joy, no matter when they ask.

So don’t worry about when someone else repents or is born again. We’re all nothing without God. Instead, realize that all people, from the deathbed confession person to you, need grace every single day.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

What is the Worst Motive for Repentance?

I didn’t agree with the author in the third paragraph of Wednesday’s lesson when he wrote that Esau’s motives weren’t pure. I mean, when is any human motive totally pure? I wouldn’t want anyone to get the idea that they need perfectly pure motives before they come to God and repent; people might never go to God then!

Esau: Basically Feeling Bad He was Caught

You’ve probably heard someone say that someone else wasn’t sorry for what they had done; they were just sorry they had been caught.

Well, Esau’s motives for confession were like that. He didn’t want to be changed. He didn’t see anything wrong with himself. He just wanted money.

Hebrews 12:17 states about Esau, “Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.”

Esau had sold his whole inheritance to his brother for a bowl of soup one day! He didn’t think ahead about the consequences of his actions, and so he would have been a very bad manager of all that wealth. He truly would have had a happier life if he allowed God to change his character.

The Prayer Esau Would Never Pray

Imagine if he had actually repented instead of just crying about his mistake. He might have prayed, “God, I see that there is a character flaw in me, that I act before I think too often. And maybe it even gets in the way of my relationship with You and with the service I could do for other people — I don’t know! When I see how faithful and kind and humble You are, I see how much I need to improve. I need You! I need You to help me to be more like You! I can’t do it on my own! I want to change, to have a better heart and character transformed by You.”

That confession doesn’t sound like Esau. But the point is that repentance is about deep personal change, whereas Esau was just sad that he made a mistake that cost him his dad’s money. He wanted the money and a more comfortable life and that’s it. He didn’t want to be changed into the kind of person who could manage money well and could be more patient in making decisions.

Can You Feel Bad Being Close to Jesus?

My understanding is that when we get closer to Jesus and spend more time with Him, we find that suddenly our own character looks worse by comparison. You feel good about being forgiven and loved, but you also see your own flaws more clearly. And the beauty of His love, His perfect character, lead you to repentance, to wanting to be a better person, to be more like him.

Is Being Really Sorry What God Wants?

Judas’ confession was similar to Esau’s. He regretted that his mistake was going to kill his leader who he thought was going to mount a military revolution. His whole idea for his future of wealth and power was about to perish. He went to the priests who had paid him to betray Jesus and threw the money down at their feet.

He showed passion and anger there, but it didn’t motivate him to ask God to change him into a new kind of person who wouldn’t make that kind of mistake again, a person who would have a heart more like Christ’s, not concerned with worldly power. He didn’t turn his life over to God. If he had, he would have been forgiven and transformed.

He was just sorry that things weren’t working out for him.

Repentance: Turning Around and Heading the Other Direction

The Biblical concept of repentance means “to turn around.” You don’t just feel bad about your own discomfort; you feel bad because you did something wrong that shows that you’re farther away from God than you thought. And you ask Him to change you into a new person who doesn’t do that thing anymore.

Maybe that’s what the author of this lesson meant by “pure motive.” But remember that only God can give us repentance. It’s a gift from Him. It doesn’t come from some purity that you have inside you. No, His love and beauty motivate us to repent, make us want to have a life that is turned around to be more like His, and then He changes our hearts for us.

We just have to accept it.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

Jesus’ Unfair Advantage

It’s fascinating that Jesus was born with His will surrendered to God. He was born obedient. Hebrews 10:7 says that He said, “I have come to do your will, O God.” In other words, His only purpose for existence was to do God’s will, to be obedient to Him. He turned His will over to the Father before He left Heaven to come to Earth to be a human. (See the Thursday lesson from last week.)

Comparing Jesus Sinning to Crashing a Bike

We’re each born with a will that is turned away from God in rebellion, but Jesus was born with a will that was turned toward God. Of course, He still had a free will so He freely chose to obey God and could have chosen to turn away from God if He wanted.

But it would have taken a special effort for Jesus to turn toward sin, whereas each of us is born with a natural tendency to turn to sin. For Jesus, His life was like a man riding down the street on a bicycle who could choose to suddenly wrench the handlebars to the side and go flying off his bike, but he has his balance and has no desire to injure himself.

Jesus’ Unfair Advantage is Good News for Us

I think C.S. Lewis wrote that analogy. He also wrote that some people say Jesus had an unfair advantage, that He wasn’t on a level playing field with us. Well, Lewis writes that if you’re drowning, flailing around in some white water rapids and you can’t reach the shore under your own power and someone on the shore who is standing on a solid rock throws you a rope, you wouldn’t want to refuse their help because they have an advantage over you.

If everything were fair and equal they would be flailing in the water themselves and not be able to help you. If you’re going to be helped, you need someone who has a special advantage. It’s not about fairness.

Jesus’ Life Wasn’t a Test Run

Some people who don’t understand Christianity very well say that Jesus came to Earth to test if it were possible to live a good life. But Moses, Elijah, Joseph, and people in other cultures had already lived good lives.

The infinite, all-powerful God didn’t set aside all His powers and come to Earth and get tortured to death as an experiment! He wasn’t unsure about it; He didn’t think, “Well, this might not work out — oh, well, I’ll try it anyway.”

No. Philippians 2:8 says He only came to Earth to be obedient and to die on the Cross in order to do something new, to do more than just teach morality.

He was protected by angels. He had the Holy Spirit in His life at His conception, at the start of His ministry and throughout every single day. As we discussed before, He was perfectly obedient because He gave His will over to His Father before being born. But He was on a mission! He was doing all of it to redeem humans — you and me — not to give life a test drive.

The Danger of Treating Jesus Only as a Moral Example

If people think Jesus came to Earth just to try to live a good life, that encourages them to try to be good in their own strength without relying on God. But that’s impossible. Even just to repent of sins, we need a special act of Divine power — just to ask for forgiveness and for help! The prideful heart of a natural human doesn’t want to ask for help or to admit to being wrong.

Our repentance is not our own virtue shining through; no, it’s actually a miracle from God that is made possible through Jesus’ life. We also need His power to be born again, to be a new creation, as the Bible promises, and to keep growing every day.

So it doesn’t make sense to think that Jesus is just a guy who lived a good life and is a good example to us. No, through His blood and His grace, which are imparted to us through the Holy Spirit, we get the power to live a new type of life. His mission to Earth, His perfect obedience, was to accomplish that.

We don’t know exactly how it works — the Bible says even angels are interested in studying that mystery — but all Christians agree that it does work.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)


Feeling Confident Reading the Bible (Part 3)

Let’s continue with our hermeneutic principles (see the previous post for the first four). Remember to practice just one at a time for a while and don’t get overwhelmed. Author Josh Kaufman has found that twenty hours of practice can make you pretty good at something, if you’re focusing on key ideas like these.

5. Circumstances alter meaning.

In response to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” the Bible gives two different and contradictory answers in Mark 10:17 and Acts 16:30. In Mark, Jesus tells the rich young ruler that he needs to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, pick up “his cross” and follow Jesus. In Acts, Paul tells his jailer that all he needs to do is believe in Jesus. So is the Bible contradicting itself here?

The circumstances of the persons asking the question were far different. The rich young ruler’s problem was greed. In order to be happy and able to follow God, he needed to be freed from the love of money that blocked his love for humanity and for God.

But the jailer, in contrast, didn’t have that particular problem. As a pagan, his challenge was that he believed in many different gods, and it would require a new way of life for him to acknowledge and follow only One and to admit that what he had believed all his life was not true.

This principle is similar to studying the culture of the Bible, but it’s more specific: studying the particular circumstances in which a Biblical statement was first made, including the unique people involved.

6. A word may have different meanings even in the same book, written by the same author.

This is a tricky one. Once we figure out that a word means something, we want that meaning to stay the same, but that doesn’t always happen. A modern example is the word “bow,” which can refer to a curved weapon, to a part of a violin, to the act of bending down in front of someone, and other meanings. So when reading the Bible, it can take work to figure out which definition of a word is meant each time that word is used.

For example, the word “glorified” can refer to the state of Jesus’ body when He was first resurrected. But it can also refer to His new status in the universe when He ascended to Heaven. So we can say He was glorified when He came out of the tomb and the Roman soldiers saw Him, but He was not yet glorified in His new position of power and authority on the Throne in Heaven until later. Same word, different meanings.

7. A given act or a given word may be interpreted quite differently by the same person, or by two persons (or more) who approach identical data from different perspectives — different cultures, different contexts, etc.

This reminds me of when creationists and evolutionists can look at the same data in nature and come to very different conclusions about what they mean based on their different theories. In reading the Bible, too, people get very different ideas of it depending on where they’re from or how they were raised. So we shouldn’t expect interpreting it is easy.

Deep, Complex and Simple?

But remember that some parts of the Bible are very simple to understand. For example, all Christians agree that salvation comes through depending on Jesus. So don’t get hung up on the tough parts!

I heard a story about a guy in the 1800s who traveled on ships to various parts of the world, often stuck in small rooms for weeks on end. The only book he had with him was the Bible, and he ended up reading it all the way through five to ten times, if I remember right.

Well, he said that it was the greatest thing he had ever read, that the incredible story of love and truth and salvation changed his life. So the overall story of a loving God is what’s most important.

A Tiny Bit of Interest Plus Practice

Most of us mere mortals won’t be in that world traveler’s situation. But remember if you have even a tiny amount of interest in the Bible right now and you read just a little bit following that interest, your interest will grow as you get to know the Bible better and better. Your journey may take a long time, but that’s okay.

And I really I hope these principles of hermeneutics show you that even if the Bible seems confusing or self-contradictory sometimes — and if someone is trying to discourage you and make you feel that the Bible is just a relic that should be discarded along with bronze spears and chariots — remember that these principles show that it just takes some work (sometimes a lot of work) to understand something written by someone thousands of years ago.

But the God behind it all is still exactly the same as always, just as willing to help you grow in wisdom and happiness and in the knowledge of Him.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

Feeling Confident Reading the Bible (Part 2)

Here is some powerful information that can help you understand the Bible better and therefore can make you more comfortable and confident with it. (I compiled this while reading this lesson.)

It doesn’t guarantee that you will always understand the Bible perfectly. But you can use it to help you think of what questions to take to your coach — the books or other resources you use that help you focus on the most important information (see my previous post).

The science and art of interpreting a text and getting meaning out of it is called hermeneutics. Here are the first four of seven reasons we need hermeneutics, as explained by pastor Noel Nadado.

1. Although the words may be intelligible, the meaning of the statement may still be unclear.

Nadado explained that meaning isn’t actually in the words themselves, it’s inside of human brains. We assign meaning to words; we agree in a society and culture what they mean. So it takes work to find out what a text or a word means when it was written in a different culture thousands of years ago.

2. Some people make the mistaken assumption that a part always equals the whole.

This happens when people read a single verse and then assume that is sums up the message of the whole Bible. When some single verse seems super confusing or illogical or judgmental, you need to look at more of the Bible to see what the entire message is.

I think it’s a good rule of thumb usually not to try to decide an issue using a single verse. In my experience, when someone ends an argument with one verse and walks away with an attitude that says, “There, that one verse proves you’re wrong,” it ends up diminishing the love between the parties and painting a harsh picture of God and of the Bible.

Jesus’ example is best, from Luke 24:27, when it says, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.” He showed the message of all of Scripture, not just one verse.

3. Word meanings change over time.

For example, the King James version of the Bible has over 850 words that mean something quite different today than they used to. If you enjoy the King James, it’s good to be aware of these changes.

For example, a confusing word is “meat.” In 1611, “meat” meant any kind of food, whether flesh fruit, nut or vegetable, but today it means only animal flesh. This is a minor issue for some people but a major issue for others. So when a word seems confusing or seems to contradict the rest of the Bible, more research is needed to understand the original meaning of the original word.

4. Cultural factors affect meaning.

Apparently, a prominent Christian author wrote an article in the 1890s renouncing people who bought bicycles. Over a century later, she seems unreasonable. But apparently at that time and in that culture, a bicycle was a luxury item, like buying a nice BMW today — seriously.

So when Christians bought them instead of giving money to missionary work, they were, for a hobby, neglecting souls who were dying without hearing about Jesus. Today, you can buy a bike for $5 at a yard sale, but not back then.

Similarly, in the Bible we find verses that seem extreme to us today. Idolatry comes to mind: we don’t understand today how horrifying some religious practices were back then, especially when human sacrifices and fire were involved. Studying the ancient culture using a commentary or through another resource makes some difficult passages suddenly simple.

Take One Hermeneutic Principle and Practice It

You can’t become a Bible expert overnight. It takes practice to develop a skill. So I recommend taking just one of these principles (or a principle from part 3 of this series) and try to notice it in action when you are reading the Bible. Then, move on to another principle after you have gotten some skill in the first one, and so on.

Stay tuned for the last three principles!

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

Feeling Confident Reading the Bible (Part 1)

Imagine sitting down and reading the Bible for, say, a whole hour. Someone has asked you to study it and understand it and really get something out of it. How does that make you feel? If you rate your feeling on a scale of 1, reluctance, to 10, excitement, what is it?

I’m at a 4 sometimes, scared to read the Bible. Part of why reading the Bible doesn’t seem appealing is we don’t totally understand it and so are not confident that it’s worth spending time on.

Passion Comes After Learning

I heard an author, Cal Newport, last week explain that people who are really passionate about their jobs often get that way because of long experience in which they developed rare and valuable skills that they then enjoy exercising.

They didn’t start out with great passion — they weren’t good at their jobs at first — but they had just enough of a seed of interest that it could grow into great skill and then passion later.

Remember that point when you think about reading the Bible. Don’t expect to have great passion and amazing positive emotions right away. That takes time and growth in certain Bible-reading skills. But if you start with at least a small seed of interest, that can grow if you give it time.

It Takes Time To Learn

How much time? Well, some research says it takes 1,000 hours of practice to get pretty good at something. For example, if you work at a job for eight hours per day for six months, that gets you to 1,000 hours.

But in reading the Bible we might read for ten minutes per day. Getting to 1,000 hours could take years at that rate. So we need some special techniques to get better at understanding the Bible as soon as possible. And I’ll reveal some of those tricks a little later.

In the meantime, cut yourself some slack. It’s not realistic to expect to be a Bible expert if you’ve only read the Bible for a few hours total. But also remember that God is patient; in His grace, He gives us time to grow instead of expecting instant excitement and perfection.

Be Like Mike: Coaches Focus on What’s Most Important

Also, people have found that you can cut 1,000 hours down to 100 to 200 hours if you learn shortcuts — even to 20 hours, in some cases. The Pareto Principle, also called the 80/20 Rule, says that 80% of results come from only 20% of the effort, from focusing on the best, most important parts of any skill and ignoring the rest.

How do you learn what to focus on? Well, you need coaches — people who have gone before you and done the trial-and-error work to find out what works and what doesn’t so you don’t have to. Even great sports stars still use coaches.

For you, coaches can be books, online Bible commentaries, pastors, Bible teachers, and YouTube sermons, as long as they are trustworthy: they need to express the ideas of the whole Bible, not just their pet part of it.

Two of my favorite authors of this type are C.S. Lewis and Graham Maxwell. Maxwell’s book Servants or Friends? is powerful; Lewis’ book Mere Christianity is another good one.

In the next post, I’ll reveal more of what I shared with the class last weekend when we discussed this lesson: some key ideas about how to understand the Bible much better that you can practice for just a few minutes per day.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)