David Grabbe, cautioning us to avoid using Strong's Concordance as final arbiter of the meaning of a Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic word, points out that all words have multiple meanings and consequently do not yield to the faulty "one meaning" or "exact meaning" assumption. The meaning of the noun spirit, for example, is highly variable, based on context. The meaning of the Ephesians' "losing their first love" can in one context refer to their loss of original enthusiasm, but the phrase can also refer to their gradual reprioritizing, lowering God to a less dominant position in their lives. It is improper to build a doctrine on one Scripture. We need at least two reliable Scriptures (and hopefully more) to establish any doctrine, a lesson we learn from God's standard of evidence—that any important matter must be decided "at the mouths" of at least two witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15). Strong is correct to assert that the Greek words agape or agapeo can mean in one context "social love," but sadly, because a decadent culture has distorted the concepts underlying the meaning of the noun social, Strong's definition is too general to be reliable. It is best to rely on the maxim in Proverbs 11:14: "In a multitude of counselors there is safety."
David Maas, continuing his sixth (penultimate) installment of the W's and H's of Meditation, returns to the topic of Scripture memorization as an integral part of meditation—the necessary fuel in the absence of an electronic or paper Bible. The admonition to remember is one of the most dominant themes in both the Old and New Testaments. Jesus' brother James has taught us that the most important spiritual agronomy and horticultural project we can engage in is the cultivation of our minds, submitting to the implanted word which can save our souls. When we plant the Word of God into our nervous systems, we are ensuring that the genotype (the earnest payment of His Holy Spirit) grows into a mature spiritual phenotype (the glorified spiritual body we will have at our resurrection). By investing in a mere 15-20 minutes per day, we can stockpile entire books of the Bible, providing the precious nutrients or plant food to ensure an abundant crop of the Fruits of Righteousness—the mature fruit of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh gives an antidote to the ubiquitous trait of human nature—the proclivity to complain and express impatience with God. The story of the wealthy philanthropist watching the construction of his home shows the importance of point of view. He asked two masons what they were doing. One replied, "I am laying bricks," while the other retorted, "I am constructing a mansion." Our forebears in the Wilderness were the most blessed people on earth, having God's daily presence, but they let their carnality "limit the Holy One of Israel," often railing against Him as the clay metaphorically argues with the potter. This same carnality led the Jews to crucify Christ in total rejection of His teachings. God, in order to continue to work with them, provoked them to jealousy by calling the gentiles into the Israel of God. Paul declares that (1.) God's judgments are unsearchable, (2.) absolutely no one knows the mind of God, and (3.) no one could ever qualify as His counselor. God's highest goal is not salvation, but sanctification into godly character, leading to membership in His family as co-rulers with Christ. As God equipped Adam and Eve to successfully respond to their environment and trials, so He also equipped His called-out ones. Still, they need to conquer carnality, which is corrupted human nature, an entity originally free from sin. God created human nature with a mild pull toward the self for the purpose of self-protection. However, sin (with the prodding of Satan) corrupted the wholesomeness of human nature, distorting it toward self-centeredness and vanity. We must set our minds on spiritual things while resisting the deadly pulls of the flesh.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that, in these times when innovation and knowledge are increasing, time appears to be speeding up as well, and that the emerging, Satanically-inspired Beast is already beginning to wear out the Saints. If we have not yet experienced persecution, it is around the corner. To combat our weariness, we must turn to God's Word, a document which is totally enigmatic unless we have the power of God's Holy Spirit to put it together slowly like a jig-saw puzzle, understood a little bit at a time. To the carnal mind, the Bible reads like gibberish. But, God's Word has both story line and theme, most prominently including 1.) the prophecy of the promised Seed, 2.) the holy line, beginning with Seth and culminating with Christ, and 3.) the "I will" promises to Abraham. The Bible also contains mysteries (best understood as God's invisible activities on our behalf) which have been 'hidden' in plain sight, but made clear by revelation from God's Holy Spirit. The spiritual cleansing and grafting in of the Gentiles, motivating Judah to jealousy and, ultimately, to repentance, is an example of one such mystery. Another mystery is the revealing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that is, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, attended by God's granting to those He calls the ability to understand the Gospel's message—God's reproducing Himself, creating the family of God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on Paul's declaration that he would become all things to all men, suggests that Paul had the capability of seeing the truths of the Bible from several different cultural paradigms, namely an honor-shame continuum and a power-fear continuum, familiar to Hebrew and Middle-Eastern cultures, and an innocence-guilt continuum, familiar to those of us in the Western world, influenced by an admixture of Judeo-Christian ethic, Roman law, and Greek philosophy. Without a working knowledge of all three cultural paradigms, we have major blind-spots in interpreting and understanding the scriptures, culturally insulated like a fish out of water. Those of us in the Western world, steeped in the guilt-innocent paradigm, have a keen focus on right and wrong and tend to be highly individualistic, abhorring group-think and collectivist behavior. The language of this paradigm includes justice, pardon, works, wrath, mercy, right actions, doing what is right as measured against an abstract law. Those at home with the honor and shame paradigm define right and wrong in terms of group relationships. Whatever behavior brings shame on the group is to be shunned, as exampled by the shame the older brother felt as a result of the actions of "the prodigal son." In this parable, Christ enlightens us about the paradox that suffering shame for the sake of righteousness is in honor. A profoundly ingrained "pecking order" characterizes a power-fear culture, which is by definition fiercely hierarchical, with a strong man at the top. Each person below must either cower or put himself under the power of a protector. The language of Ephesians 1:15-23, combat language describing Satan as the adversary and Christ putting everything under His feet, resonates with individuals living in a power-fear culture. As we read the Bible, we find that God employs a blend of all three cultural paradigms, encouraging us to free ourselves from the bondage of cultural myopia and ethnocentrism in order to get more out the scriptures.
David C. Grabbe: In Part Two, we began to consider the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree: "He also spoke this parable: "A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none...."
Martin Collins, reviewing the significance of Christ's final post-Resurrection sayings, "Feed My sheep" (appearing thrice) and "Follow me" (appearing twice), emphasizes that these words apply to all of God's called-out ones). We have a mandate to study the Bible comprehensively and responsibly, not becoming self-proclaimed 'experts' in prophecy or esoteric mysteries. When we pray and study, we should be conscious we are meeting with God, allowing us to be sensitive to God's purpose for our lives. Like the apostle Peter, we are admonished not to compare our spiritual lot with that of our brethren, riveting our attention on Christ rather than on ourselves or on our spiritual siblings. God has called individuals with different temperaments (impetuous activists, contemplative thinkers, etc.), giving them a variety of spiritual gifts to work interdependently. If we take our eyes off Christ, we run the risk of bumping into someone else and becoming unprofitable. Following Christ involves self-denial and taking responsibility for what God has crafted in us through the power of Christ living in us through His Holy Spirit. John's Gospel provides a comprehensive witness from Christ's contemporaries. As the recipients of this reliable testimony, we are obligated to add our testimony, feeding God's sheep and following Jesus Christ.
Mike Ford, acknowledging that learning is a never-ending process, maintains that senior citizens have just as much capability of learning as younger people do, but "seniors" utilize different parts of their brain. To be sure, because we lean towards resting on our laurels and coasting, learning as we get older tends to slow down, but it does not have to be that way. As we systematically and daily ingest God's holy Scriptures, including the Psalms and Proverbs, we might be well-advised to arm ourselves with a highlighter or pen to mark those new insights we have previously overlooked. Proverbs 1:5 assures us that a person mature in the faith can always learn more; it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks.
Richard Ritenbaugh, realizing that although some people regard approaching the Bible as literature to be demeaning or perhaps even heretical, contends that the literary approach can be a powerful tool to understanding and appreciating it more fully. A good story does not lay itself, but it takes a lot of work on the part of the narrator to make it impelling, memorable, or riveting. A successful play, a short story, a novel, or a poem unfolds as a three-part formula of (1) setting up the structure, (2) providing an intense complication, escalating the conflict between hero and villain until the situation appears hopeless, and (3) resolving the tensions, a process called the denouement. The book of Esther can certainly be dissected into these three elements, but because it follows the Oriental tradition rather than the Western tradition, the chiastic "X" structure provides a better paradigm of the plot. This structure can be seen in Psalm 64, in which the first five verses set the situation, reaching a massively disturbing complication at the middle, only to be overturned by the last five verses, which provide a corresponding set of positive circumstances cancelling out all the negative circumstances in the first five verses. Each verse in the second set of five verses systematically annuls a corresponding verse in the first set of five verses—6 overturns 1, 7 overturns 2, etc. The structure in the Book of Esther shows a similar pattern, with the negative events moving to a high point of tension when Esther decides to enter the King's presence uninvited, followed by a turning around and cancellation of all Haman's evil plans for the Jews and the restoration of Mordecai's honor, a truly dramatic reversal. The invisible God evidently loves a cliff-hanger.
Ryan McClure, acknowledging that our culture is in a 'post trust' and 'post truth' period with the majority of mankind not yet called, reminds us that God's called-out ones cannot stop proving all things, even though they may think they have proved everything already. Our entire spiritual walk requires that we exercise the gift of the Holy Spirit, continually testing, retesting, proving, and reproving all things. By doing this, we continue to grow spiritually. By perennially proving all things, we will be convicted and able to teach others. The days of deception are here. God is allowing us to be tested on a daily and yearly basis to see if we are willing to prove all things again.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: When studying a biblical topic, it is always helpful to begin with a plain, unambiguous statement that provides a fundamental understanding of the subject. ...
Mike Fuhrer: For some inexplicable reason, some mainstream Christians—and even some true ones—will read a verse of Scripture and assume that it applies to them personally. ...
John O. Reid (1930-2016): A well-known principle of Bible study is that repetition is among the best forms of emphasis. If God states something once, it is important, and if twice, ...
Martin Collins reflects on the time of Satan's restraint, which will be a time vastly different from today due to his present ability to reach into our homes through the media and Internet. Our Christian warfare cannot merely consist in maintaining a defensive holding pattern, but instead we must go on the conquering offensive, using the sword. The victories of God's life are achieved with a lifelong spiritual struggle against our carnal mind, the world, and Satan. The real problems of this world are not confined to the material world, but are also against spiritual hosts of wickedness. The secular media, controlling the world's processes, receives inspiration from the forces of evil, as do a great many of today's political leaders, threatening to turn the world into a new Dark Age. Christians cannot remain in a holding pattern in the midst of this onslaught of evil; we must arm ourselves with God's spiritual (defensive and offensive) armor. The life of a Christian is not easy, as it goes against the culture of the world. We are instructed to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might before we put the armor on. We are living in an evil day, needing the whole armor of God in order to stand, avoiding falling into sin which would bring disrepute on God's name. We have to recognize our weakness and need for help from God's Holy Spirit. Willpower is woefully inadequate for the spiritual battle. The name of God is strong and mighty, a strong tower for those who trust in Him.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the metaphorical aspects of work and walking, suggests that these activities play a major role in overcoming and sanctification. We must have a higher regard for Christian works than our everyday job, realizing that work is a wholesome activity toward the production of something. The first picture we see of God is that He is working or creating. If we are going to be in the Kingdom of God, work is important. Adam was never granted a welfare existence. The command to work preceded Adam and Eve's sin. The curse was not defined as "having to work," but the curse of thorns and thistles made work more difficult. Solomon emphasized in Ecclesiastes 2 that we should enjoy and derive pleasure from our work. The way that we work is a visible witness of God before the world. Technically, we do not work for our employer, but for God. We serve as Jesus Christ's bond-slave. We work for Jesus Christ regardless of what our daily tasks are; we must assiduously avoid indolence or laziness, but instead to be profitable servants. Profitability applies just as much to the attaining of skill as attaining money. The body of Jesus Christ has many skilled functions; not everyone has the same function. We can hone our skills in prayer, Bible study, and meditation, systematically involving all of our sense modalities, compiling notes and study references, making our studying time incrementally more valuable. Work does involve sacrifice of time and energy in order to produce value; we give up our entire lives to produce profit. Work is a costly investment of our life producing a profit for God.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Most Bible students realize that most of the New Testament books are letters—epistolé in Greek and our “epistle,” which is a written communication between parties. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on our mind's tendency to wander when the details get too fast and furious, losing bits and pieces of the unfolding time-element, warns us that, if this happens when we study prophecy, we could be off by hundreds or thousands of years. The understanding of the "when" of prophecy is absolutely crucial. Regarding the return of Jesus Christ, commentaries classify the following views: the pre-millennial view (Christ will return before establishing His thousand year rule), the post-millennial view (Christ made plans for His thousand year rule when He ascended to Heaven in 31 A.D., leaving the work to convert the entire earth to Christianity to the church fathers), and the a-millennial view (the thousand year rule was just a metaphor). Other views consist of: idealism (insisting the prophecies are merely metaphors standing for greater principles, such as the ultimate eradication of evil), historicism (a religious explanation for historical events, showing God's hand in historical events, regarding prophecy as human constructs), futurism (believing that most prophecies have future fulfillment, suggesting duality—type and anti-type in prophecy), and preterism (reflecting on what has already taken place, suggesting that all prophecy has already been fulfilled in AD 70.) Some preterists will admit that some prophecies, like Christ's Second Coming, have not been fulfilled. Preterists hang their entire philosophy on the interpretation (or misinterpretation) of "this generation" in Matthew 24:34. Any speculation about the future is about as certain as meteorological "predictions." Interpretation of prophecy is open to many variables. We cannot be sure about any of our speculations. Herman Hoeh's and Herbert W. Armstrong's speculations (as sincere as they were) had a high degree of error. We cannot be fixed on a trajectory (as we have in the past) of interpretation which obliviously ignores vital signs. Language (and the interpretation of language) is a slipper
Scholars believe that Mark was the first gospel from which the other gospel writers lifted and added things to, focusing on different audiences and different purposes. The text of Mark is the shortest of all the gospels, with the emphasis on action more than narrative or long discourses of the others. The apostle Peter had a kind of paternal relationship with Mark, who perhaps had knowledge of Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. Papius writes that Mark served as Peter's interpreter. Clement of Alexandria states that the early church commissioned Mark to provide a permanent record before memories would grow dim. Mark, as the spokesman for Peter, wrote bluntly and forcefully, addressing a Gentile audience, providing them with a primer for new Christians who had little or no knowledge of Jesus Christ, completed probably before the Council of Jerusalem. Mark describes the miraculous transformation of crude 'unwashed' disciples (who nevertheless responded enthusiastically) to develop (under Christ's meticulous tutelage) into mature converted teachers and fishers of men. Mark emphasizes that Jesus hand-picked 12 individuals from the marginally accepted groups of society, an aggregate who would become a brand new family, united by righteous action. Mark demonstrated Jesus' exasperation and frustration with His disciples for their slow comprehension and their rudimentary development of faith and spirituality. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of this gospel, they are ready for marching orders.
In his book, Figures of Speech in the Bible, E.W. Bullinger describes a staggering 217 different figures of speech in God's Word, each used multiple times. A figure of speech is the stylistic use of language ...
It can pose quite a quandry: Do we answer a foolish question in an attempt to help, or do we refrain from answering, not wanting to legitimize the fool and his foolishness? David Maas demonstrates that Proverbs 26:4-5 is not a biblical contradiction, providing advice on how we can apply its wisdom.
An important key to correct biblical interpretation is to understand a verse or passage as the author intended, not according to our own prejudices. Richard Ritenbaugh explains that Genesis 6:9 has suffered such a biased interpretation and shows what the Hebrew really implies.
John Ritenbaugh insists that if we use clear, unambiguous scriptures to clarify ambiguous scriptures, and if we don't try to establish a doctrine on the interpretation of one word, we can avoid the doctrinal blindness caused by presumptive, vain, carnal reasoning. Difficulties some have had about the time of Passover, the Wave sheaf offering, and the time of Pentecost resulted from reversing the process, making assumptions unwarranted by clear scriptural evidence. If we follow the clear instructions about offerings (given to Joshua) in Deuteronomy 12, it becomes abundantly clear that Joshua absolutely would not have made a wave-sheaf offering in Joshua 5. There is also no scriptural basis for assuming that the Wave sheaf offering must occur within the Days of Unleavened Bread.We dare not add to or subtract from God's clear instructions.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the technological and linguistic changes that have occurred in the short span of one century, marvels at the drastic decrease of our attention span and the corresponding degradation of language. The dramatic shift in orientation from words to pictures has weakened thought and the transmission of ideas, "dumbing down" our culture toward drabness, unaesthetic plainness, and imprecision. Because virtually everything we know about God comes through words, this denigration of language (the vehicle transmitting spiritual truths, metaphorical bread or food) could prove highly detrimental to our spiritual welfare. Spiritually, relying exclusively on images leads to shallowness of thought at best and idolatry at its worst. The Word of God, however, provides depth and nourishment leading to salvation and eternal life. Through God's Spirit, we need to learn how to process the Word of God effectively and efficiently.
One of the most widely occurring metaphors in the Bible involves eating. David Maas contends that it is not just what we ingest spiritually that is important, but that we also develop the ability to feed ourselves properly.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: As managing editor of Forerunner magazine, I occasionally receive unsolicited articles from readers who want their work published. ...
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that Old Testament activities picture New Testament realities, far from done away, but raised or elevated to their spiritual intent. As a parallel to the Aaronic priesthood, the church has been chosen as a royal and holy priesthood (in training) offering up spiritual sacrifices and proclaiming praises of God (I Peter 2:5,9). Paul insists that our sacrifices (reasonable service) should extend to everything we do in life (Romans 12:2), including prayer, study, meditation, as well as sharing goods and experiences (Hebrews 13:15-16).
Although some people have mistakenly used the Bible as a cookbook, a marriage manual, a financial planner, or a childrearing book, it was not designed for those purposes. Herbert W. Armstrong referred to the Bible as a jig-saw puzzle or a coded book, seeming like gibberish to most of the world, but with the aid of God's Holy Spirit, God's elect can put all the pieces together, finding all the essentials for salvation. Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that while it does not contain all knowledge, it does contain foundational principles, enabling people imbued with the mind of Christ to function independently in a godly manner- expanding the law beyond the letter into a more spiritual dimension.
The ancient Bereans have a wonderful biblical reputation. Just how special were these Macedonian Christians?
We take for granted that the parables of Jesus are prophetic as well as instructive, but others may not be so sure. Have we just read our recent history into them, or are they truly prophetic?
At its base, gluttony is nothing more than a lack of self-control. Martin Collins shows the more spiritual side of this too-prevalent sin.
God provided physical Israel manna to eat every day for forty years. Now we, as spiritual Israel, have the Bible, God's Word, as our daily bread. Are we taking advantage every day of this wonderful blessing God gives us, or are we allowing God's Word to spoil through neglect?
In this keynote address of the 1997 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh warns that people are not going to understand the significance of prophecies until the prophecies are being fulfilled or have been completely fulfilled. Understanding prophecy is secondary in importance to overcoming, growing, developing character, and being in the image of God. One significant event, the scattering of the greater church of God, reflects a more general trend on the world scene—the disintegration of the major religions into millions of pieces (reflecting a general world wide disdain for hierarchical structure), making possible a post-modern syncretistic reconstruction of millions of personal private religions, incorporating feel-good palliatives and allowing for moral laxity. In the wake of this pernicious self-expression, we must desperately hold fast, contending for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
John Ritenbaugh compares the multi-faceted, infinite, marvelously complex, and perfect works of God with the limited, flawed works of man. Like geodes, hiding magnificent structural and aesthetic designs, the biblical types, emblems, or allegories are deceptively simple on the surface, but deep, complex, and awesome as one begins to scrutinize. Sometimes the least favorite scriptures yield the most profound lessons. As Christ is represented in the sacrificial types of Leviticus, we must apply these principles, examples, and lessons to our own lives, applying intense effort and diligence to extract the meaning that these densely packed types have for us.
John Ritenbaugh provides a summary of the Covenants, Grace and Law series: 1. Realize the position carnal man comes from: completely under Satan' sway, antagonistic to God's law (Romans 8:7). 2. Always work from clear, unambiguous scriptures (Matthew 5:17-19). 3. Be strengthened by the examples of Christ and His apostles keeping specific laws, including the Sabbath and holy days (I Peter 2:21). 4. Paul explains the means of justification (not salvation but the first step in a process; God imputes righteousness where it does not logically belong). 5. God's overall purpose is to create us in His image, including His righteous character. He is reproducing Himself (Genesis 1:26)! 6. God's purpose for the Old Covenant is as a bridge leading to Christ (Galatians 3:17-24). 7. The way Paul and others use terms important to this doctrine (bondage, circumcision, yoke, law, etc.) should be seen in their correct context.
Nothing is more confused than the state of religion today. God's people can stay above the fray by being firmly grounded in His Word. Included are seven principles of Bible study.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the emotional dimension of love, reiterating that love doesn't become 'love' until the thought, or the feeling, motivates the person to act. Love is an act. If we don't do what is right, the right feeling will never be formed, because emotions are largely developed by our experiences. The right emotions require God's Holy Spirit. Like a marriage relationship, our relationship with God grows more and more intimate as we give it time and attention, conforming to the other person's preferences in the relationship. We are never going to know God unless we do the same kinds of things with Him, keeping His Commandments, devoting time to prayer, Bible study, and meditation. If we are working on our relationship with God (giving it our time and attention), then God's love for us will be reciprocated back to Him in the form of obedience, totally trusting in Him to shape our lives for His purpose.
Of all animals, the sheep is the most dependent on its owner for its well-being. From the viewpoint of the sheep, the extraordinary care of the shepherd comes into sharp focus. If sheep are not provided with fresh, flowing water, they will drink from stagnant puddles, contracting diseases. Likewise, if we attempt to drink from sources other than God's Word, we risk spiritual contamination. Sheep left to self-indulgence become cast down (immobile, unable to get up) and must be turned over—set again on the right paths. Similarly, habit-driven humans, because of our self-indulgent constitutions, can also become immobilized both physically and spiritually. Fortunately, our heavenly Father uses various means to exercise us spiritually to keep us from becoming cast down. To safeguard the health of the sheep, the shepherd must keep the flock moving—in paths of righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh observes that ancient Israel had at the core of its religion (as well as its dominant cultural norm) an obsession to serve or please the self at the expense of justice and truth and the best interests of the socially disadvantaged. Because of Israel's excessive self-seeking and self-serving pride, God threatens to remove His protection, allowing its people to go into captivity. Pride (the catalyst for Laodiceanism) causes people to reject God and to follow idolatrous ways. Israel's leaders should 1) never be content with the way things are, 2) never let care and concern for self take priority over the welfare of others, 3) covet peace with God, but only on His terms, 4) choose things that are more excellent, and 5) embrace morality.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the healing of the man at Bethesda, cautions that when God removes an infirmity or gives a blessing, He also gives a responsibility to follow through, using the blessing to overcome and glorify God in the process. As Jesus healed this man, He continued to reveal His identity as the prophesied Messiah, reflecting God the Father's proclivity to work ceaselessly on behalf of His creation, extending mercy and relieving burdens, traits we must emulate as God's children. Through total submission to the mind, will, and purpose of God the Father, Jesus (being totally at one in body, mind, and spirit) attained the identity and the power of God. Obedience (submitting to God's will) proves our belief and faith. If we compare ourselves to men, we become self-satisfied or prideful and no change will occur in our lives, but if we compare ourselves to God, we feel painfully discontent, and will fervently desire to yield to God's power to change us, transforming us into His image. Understanding the Bible will never take place until we yield unconditionally to its instruction. As metaphorical lamps ignited by God's Spirit, we must be willing to be consumed in His service.
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