Interpretation of Bible
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Exodus 18:20 (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)
The word translated “walk” is halakhah in Hebrew. Israel had to walk "in the way."
The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Volume 2, reads under "Judaism":
The authoritative Jewish way of life as expressed in moral law and ritual precept. It embraces the whole body of Jewish teaching, legislation, and practices that proceeded from interpretation and reinterpretation of the laws of the Bible. . . . Although legalistic in content, the Halakhah is designed to bring all human occupations into relationship to the service of God and to establish the supremacy of the divine will as the measure of all directions and strivings of human life.
On the surface, this sounds good; we should search and meditate as to how the Scriptures apply to every aspect of life. However, these interpretations were merely human opinions. Some of them were right on, but others were grossly off the mark. The Halakhah was not the Word of God.
Over the centuries, the Jews first gradually elevated these interpretations to be equal with Scripture, and then to be more important than Scripture. Mark 7:3 describes such a tradition that did not come from God's law but from Halakhah. Jesus says that they rejected the commandments of God so that they might keep their own tradition (verse 7). He also said their traditions destroyed the effect of God's Word (Mark 7:13). Halakhah was their tradition—the Jewish way of life.
In addition, not only were they zealous in collecting these interpretations and putting them into books, but in their zeal, they encouraged each other to live rigidly according to these interpretations. They were also zealous in proselytizing. Jesus says in Matthew 23 that they would encompass land and sea in order to gain one proselyte, and then they would make him a child of hell.
It became a major problem for Jesus and the church when the Jews did not have the humility to admit that many of their interpretations were wrong. They did not agree with God's Word, and they viewed Jesus, and then the church, as enemies to be obliterated.
Halakhah, the Jewish way of life that Paul called "the traditions of my fathers" in Galatians 1:14, had been his religion. It was in question in the book of Galatians, not the law of God. It was the Jewish way of life, the Halakhah, with ascetic, demon-driven Gnosticism added to it. This was the yoke of bondage that could not be borne.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 25)
Matthew 13:52 (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)
One can tell immediately that this parable is different from the others; it does not start with "the Kingdom of Heaven is like." Obviously, it deals with the Kingdom of Heaven, because it says so within the context. Also, it is aimed directly at the disciples. Jesus says to them, "Because you said you understood this, here is My instruction." We could say it is aimed specifically at the ministry.
The word "scribe" may cause us a problem at first, because we normally think of a scribe as someone who writes something down for another person. For instance, a king would have an official court scribe. All that took place in his throne room would be written down by the scribe as the official record of the kingdom.
That is not what is meant here. Among the Jews in the first century, the scribe had an important position in the community. Ezra was the proto-typical scribe 450 years before Jesus spoke this parable. Ezra 7:6 tells us that the specialty of a scribe was the law of God or the words of God, the Bible. His job was to know the Bible. A scribe spent his life studying the Bible and knowing just as much as he could about its content (see Nehemiah 8:2,5,7-8). He stood before the people and expounded and explained it until they understood. Ministers fill the same function today. Jesus sent His disciples out to preach the Kingdom of God (Matthew 10:7; 28:19-20); it is the church's commission. He says to the apostles, "Teach everything that I commanded you to the people."
"Instructed" is a very interesting Greek word. It is the verb form of the noun that means "disciple." So Jesus really means, "every scribe discipled concerning the Kingdom." This depicts the scribe, the minister, as a student. He has been taught, but the word contains the idea that he is continuing to learn. Not only is he a teacher, but he is simultaneously a student. The preacher is under judgment too. He must continue learning so he can continue teaching.
The parable gives us a third description of this person: He is called "a householder." It literally means "house despot." It means "the ruler" or "the master of a house." "House despot" implies a great deal of authority as well as responsibility over his house. The buck stops with the householder, with the master of the house. Jesus says a scribe/minister is like a householder, meaning that the minister of God has been charged with being an authoritative interpreter of Scripture.
The more independent Christian probably does not think that a minister has much authority, but this parable bestows upon a minister a great deal of authority in expounding God's Word. Back then, "despot" did not have quite the same negative connotation as it does now, but it still meant a master or a person with great authority. Nevertheless, a minister is a teacher, a student, and a leader—one who has authority, but one who also at the same time has a great deal of responsibility.
His responsibility: "This householder," Christ says, "brings out of his treasure things new and old." "Treasure" may remind one of the same word in verse 44, but it is only the same English word. The word in verse 52 does not mean "treasure"—as in precious metals, jewels, and gems—but "treasure house," "treasury," "storehouse," or "storeroom," where one would store valuables. It is clear in the Greek that it means "a place" and not the actual treasure itself.
In this place one would store what is necessary, like food or clothing, for the house's provision. One would have a certain storeroom for grain, fruits, vegetables, and meal. One may have another room or closet to store valuables—the family papers, jewels, silver, or art. All the good things that a person would want to put away for safekeeping would be put into the treasury, storeroom, or storehouse. In the context, then, the minister is to use what he has learned and experienced in his life for the good of his house. He is to bring out all the things he had stored up to present to the people. A minister's treasure is mainly in his head—what he has witnessed and come to understand as he has lived and studied God's way.
Jesus instructs the scribe/minister to bring out "old and new." This becomes more understandable if we think of "old and new" in terms of foodstuffs. The master of the house is in charge of ensuring that his storeroom is full and had everything in it necessary to feed the family. A wise householder would balance serving his oldest store with fresh produce so that the old or the new is not wasted. If he served only the new, the old would go moldy and be ruined; it would have to be thrown out and wasted. But if he served only the old, then the fresh and the new would also be wasted because the family would not receive the benefit of the flavor and nutrition that is in fresh produce. So the wise householder serves his family old store as well as fresh-off-the-farm food, and he mixes them in balance so that neither is wasted.
This is how Jesus says a minister should teach the people: by carefully balancing the teaching of, say, the Old and the New Testaments. That would be "old and new." Or, old and new could be balancing traditional understanding of God's truth with new insights and applications of how it could be used in our time and situations.
He does not mean that the old is thrown away or that the old is wrong. It means that a minister may see an angle to a subject that has not been seen before in his experience, and he needs to preach on it because it will help the people in their present situation. This is exactly what Jesus did in the parables. He had taken the old truths of what the Kingdom of God is and shined new light on them so that people would understand that He had come as the Savior and have a hint about how events would transpire in the establishment of His Kingdom. He had taken old truth and put it in a new context.
Notice the Parable of the Faithful and the Evil Servant:
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. (Matthew 24:45-46)
To summarize, a minister's duty is to make the truths of God clear, fresh, and living so that the church may grow.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 3): Hidden Treasure
Mark 7:6-9 (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)
In the religious Jews of His time, Jesus faced man's proclivity to add to and take from God's Word. The Jews added thousands of regulations in a sincere effort to make their obedience to God as complete as they possibly could. Their traditions were different from ours, but the principle is the same. Their religious life did not depend on listening to God but upon clever arguments and interpretations of the experts, the rabbis. They substituted human ingenuity for God's law. Jesus called their ingenuity vain and hypocritical, and their additions resulted in nothing good in terms of the Kingdom of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Christmas, Syncretism, and Presumption
2 Peter 1:19-21 (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)
It is from verse 20 in particular that we derive the principle that the Bible interprets itself. This means that somewhere within the pages of Scripture, the timing, the location, the characters, and the symbols employed in symbolic texts like parables and prophecies are explained or defined. It is our job to search them out.
When we add the following three vital verses to our understanding of this principle, however, we end up with a very significant corollary:
» For I am the LORD, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. (Malachi 3:6)
» Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
» Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (James 1:17)
Each of these verses proclaims God as constant, consistent, unchanging. It is this quality of God—that He is faithful to what He is—that allows us to trust Him. We can have confidence in God and His Word because He never changes! Could we rely upon a double-minded God (see James 1:6-8)? Could we have faith in a Being who constantly blew hot and cold? Never! With our God, though, we need not fear inconsistency.
Thus, if God is constant and His Word interprets itself, the corollary principle is that the Bible's interpretation of its symbols is consistent. This must be true! If the Bible gave us two contradictory interpretations of a symbol, how could we ever feel confident that we understood its meaning? This corollary underscores II Peter 1:19, where the apostle informs us that "the prophetic word [is] more sure" than even eyewitness accounts! We can have confidence in our understanding of the prophecies and parables if the symbols we interpret match what we understand in other areas of Scripture. Otherwise, we could never be sure!
This means that every symbol from Genesis to Revelation is consistent in its interpretation. If a rose means something in one part of the Bible, it will mean the same elsewhere, though the context may modify it slightly. If God is consistent, His Word—His revelation of Himself to us—must also therefore be consistent.
This conclusion may raise some questions. How can that be? How can, for instance, a lion represent Satan in I Peter 5:8 and Jesus Christ in Revelation 5:5? Is that not contradictory? Not at all! Our understanding is correct, but the meaning we give to the symbol is wrong. We have defined it too narrowly.
A study of the symbol of the lion brings out several characteristics the Bible emphasizes: It represents strength, predatory ferocity, majesty, and leadership. The lion is the symbol of a ruler, a king, and often a very fierce and powerful one. These are the general meanings of the symbol based on a lion's traits. They help us to comprehend what God wants us to focus on in the context. Thus, a lion can represent both Satan and Jesus because they both have a lion's characteristics.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables and Prophecy
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