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Exegesis

In today’s Bible reading from Hebrews 5, the writer concludes the chapter with,

Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil. Hebrews 5:12–14 (CSB)

delicious steak meal

I remember when our kids were little. Their first meals were milk. As they grew, we began to introduce formula, then rice, and then baby food as they were ready at each step. As they continued to grow, they began to eat other foods. No longer were they relying on us to prepare their food; they could slap together a nourishing, delicious PB&J sandwich in no time! Today, they are completely self-sufficient. They can buy their own food with their own money and prepare that food in a variety of ways. Their food oftentimes tastes better than mine!

But what would happen if they never prepared their own food? What if they never fed themselves? What if they were completely dependent on us to prepare and feed them? Obviously, something would be wrong!

The same is true in the Spiritual realm. One of the things we did as the kids grew was to prepare them to feed themselves. When a person becomes a believer and is born again, they are completely dependent on other people to feed them spiritually. The goal is to get people to feed themselves from God’s Word. Unfortunately, like many other pastors, I’ve heard, “Pastor, we’re leaving the church. We just don’t think we’re being fed.”

I remember wanting to say, “Well, if you aren’t being fed, it isn’t my fault. I spend hours preparing the meal and setting the table. I do all I can to present the meal that the Master Chef wants me to deliver. Am I supposed to put it on a spoon and stick it in your mouth for you? ‘Open the hangar so the airplane can fly in!’ If you aren’t being fed, it’s your own fault!” But I didn’t say that.

Application

So, what about you? When you go to church, do you feel that you’re being fed a nutritious meal? Unfortunately, it’s entirely possible that you aren’t! A lot of pastors don’t prepare. A lot of pastors don’t know how to feed themselves from God’s Word. A lot of pastors just like to make people feel nice and comfortable. The bottom line is, if your pastor isn’t delivering God’s Message from God’s Word, maybe you need to prayerfully consider looking elsewhere!

But isn’t it also possible that the pastor is delivering God’s Message from God’s Word, but you aren’t benefiting from the prepared meal? Perhaps you aren’t ready for the meat. Maybe you’re just not mature enough. Maybe you need to go back and eat more basic foods.

If you’ve been a believer for more than a few months, you need to begin feeding yourself from God’s Word. No pastor is able to feed a well-balanced diet of what each person needs to everyone in every church.

So how do you start to feed yourself? This is a good place. Read along in your Bible from a translation you can understand, asking God to speak to you. Don’t use an “inspired finger” approach to your Bible reading; read your Bible like you would any other book. Look at a verse in its context within a paragraph and within a chapter.

Yes, it will take time to get used to feeding yourself from God’s Word. But as you read and study, comparing what you’re learning with what other people are learning, you’ll find it easier, more fun, and more nourishing.

You are what you eat.
Are you eating mature food you prepared yourself
or baby food prepared by other people?

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With today’s Bible reading, we conclude our reading through the book of Acts. The book ends rather abruptly, almost as if Chapter 29 has been lost. But of course, that didn’t happen. Some have suggested that Dr. Luke didn’t finish the book and that we are living today in Acts 29.

One very important thing I want to point out from today’s reading is easily missed by reading many of our Bible translations. Now, before I go any further on this, please hear me say this loud and clear: I believe that God’s Word is inspired by God, it is infallible, and it does not err in any way. Having said that, let me add that modern translations of the Bible accurately convey God’s Word very clearly. I encourage you to read from several recent Bible translations in your native language, comparing words and phrases used by the translators. Doing so can bring out nuances that don’t always translate as clearly as they should..* No, I don’t believe that you have to be a Greek or Hebrew scholar to hear God speak as you read your Bible. But knowing the languages can help to bring out a better clarity in your study.

Most of us in the US have at least one TV in our home. A few of the older TVs display shades of black and white, while the newer ones display in color. Some of the newer TVs are digital. And some of the newest (and most expensive) ones have 4K High Definition displays. It’s possible to watch your favorite football game on a 13″ black and white TV and not miss a single play. However, watching the same game on a 60″ high-definition 4K color TV allows you to see more detail as you watch. Reading and studying with most of our modern translations is like watching the game on most people’s TVs. Studying the Bible in its original languages is like watching the game on a high-definition TV.

Unfortunately, several modern English translations miss a very important point in Acts 28:8-9. This is one of those cases where comparing translations, and perhaps using some language tools can help to bring God’s Word into clearer focus.

Ok, I’ve spent a LOT more time prefacing this than I intended, but here’s the point. Let’s compare a few translations of Acts 28:8-9.

Christian Standard Bible
8Publius’s father was in bed suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went to him, and praying and laying his hands on him, he healed him. 9After this, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed.

English Standard Version
8It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. 9And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.

Did you catch the difference? The CSB uses the word healed twice, but the ESV uses two different words: healed and cured. Dr. Luke was very precise in how he described what Paul did with Publius’ father and what he did with the other islanders.

When Paul visited Publius’ father, God gave a miraculous, instantaneous healing. However, the rest of the people were given therapy which led to their restored health over a period of time. The end result was the same. Publius’ father and the rest of the islanders were restored to a healthy state. And Dr. Luke points out that God just restored them differently.

Application

So what difference does it make? It makes a huge difference!

Someone may tell you that you don’t need to see a doctor; all you have to do is believe and pray. Another person may tell you that there are no miraculous healings; the way God heals today is with doctors and medicine. Each person prays differently. One prays that God will miraculously, instantaneously heal you. The other prays that God will use the medicine and guide the surgeon’s hands during surgery to restore you to health.

I pray both ways because both ways are Biblical! And you can’t (or you shouldn’t!) do either one without the other. Know that regardless of how He does it, God always heals!

God may choose to heal you miraculously. God may choose to cure you through medicine, surgery, or some other therapy. Either way, praise God for restoring you to health! But don’t neglect praying for healing, and don’t neglect going to your doctor and taking your meds.

What about people who aren’t restored to health miraculously or cured over time? Great question!

A couple of paragraphs back, I said that regardless of how He does it, God always heals! But God doesn’t always restore people’s health the way we want Him to and He doesn’t always restore people’s health when we want Him to. Sometimes God brings healing when the person crosses over to the other side of eternity, where there is no sickness, no pain, no suffering, and no tears.

The bottom line is: God is God. Let Him accomplish His work His way in His time. Yes, pray for healing! Yes, pray and seek medical help.

Do both … and trust God to be God.

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* I don’t want to get distracted too much by this, so please refer to my other posts on Bible translations for more information.

Cover Page of the 1611 King James Version, First Edition

A recent Facebook discussion centered on the question of which Bible translation we should use. Specifically, the question was, “Which is better, KJV or NKJV?”

Some of the respondents commented that their pastor or some other leader had recommended (or insisted) that he should use the KJV.

Here’s my response with a few clarifications.


The way I approach this topic is to consider that when God spoke to the people in the Bible – both Old Testament and New Testament – He spoke in the language of common, ordinary people of the day: Hebrew, Aramaic, and KOINE Greek. I highlighted Koine because Attic (“Classical”) Greek had been replaced by this new “common” Greek. Latin was spoken by the more educated people, mainly in Rome. But the common, ordinary people of the area of modern-day Israel spoke Koine Greek.

Given that fact, wouldn’t it be in our best interest to use the best manuscripts available to produce, read, and study God’s Word today?

And given that fact, wouldn’t it be in our best interest to read and study God’s Word as translated into the common vernacular used today?

So where does that leave us?

If you can’t read the original languages (which, contrary to KJV-Only proponents is not late 16th/early 17th Century English), then American adults are BEST served with a translation along the lines of the CSB which does a really good job of balancing formal equivalence (“literal”, word-for-word) and functional equivalence (thought-for-thought) in translation. American teens may be best served by the NLT, which uses a more functional equivalence translation philosophy.

Assuming you can’t read the original languages and you’re studying the Bible, perhaps it’s better to use something along the lines of the ESV alongside the CSB.

Having said that, let me state unequivocally that I believe that any believer can hear God’s voice in any language he/she can speak.


A very long time ago, I read something that still resonates to me about which translation is the best: The best translation is the one that you’ll read, study and apply to your life. (Unfortunately, I don’t remember who said it)

One point from today’s Bible reading in Mark 9 has been misapplied by many modern-day disciples, in search of a closer walk with God.

Mark 9:43-48 records Jesus telling His disciples that if their hand causes them to fall away, they should cut it off because it’s better to go to heaven without a hand than to be cast into hell. He says the same about plucking out their eye if it causes them to fall away.

I believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible. Yes, I know that’s a radical idea these days, especially when you come to passages like this.

Now, by “literal interpretation”, I mean that I try to determine and apply the original message of the original Bible speaker/writer to his original hearer/reader in their original context. I do not mean that I believe that God intends us to take the “inspired finger” approach to Bible reading and Bible study.

I remember a professor in seminary who pushed the “inspired finger” approach to its absurd application of someone asking God for a Bible character he should emulate. He closed his eyes, opened his Bible, and dropped his finger randomly onto the page. When he opened his eyes, he found his “inspired finger” on Matthew 27:5b, “[Judas] went and hanged himself.”

Confused, the sincere young man asked God for confirmation, closed his eyes, opened his Bible, and his finger dropped on Luke 10:37b, “And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise.’”

Really confused, he asked God for more confirmation since he had been told by his pastor, “Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” (2 Corinthians 13:1b).

Again, he repeated his steps for finding God’s will and his finger landed on John 13:27b, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.'”

Like I said, my professor noted that this was an absurd example of attempting to hear God’s voice. God speaks in normal ways just like we do. Occasionally, we’ll find Jesus using figures of speech like hyperbole, which I believe He is making in Mark 9:43-48.

Notice that in all of my Bible references above, all of them were at the end of a sentence or paragraph. Just like we speak today, what we say can best be understood in the context in which it was said. We can’t just pull out random parts of sentences and think we’re getting the intended message of a love letter from our spouse. The same is true in God’s “love letter” to His people.

Can God speak in partial sentences discovered by an “inspired finger” dropped on a random page of the Bible? Absolutely! However, that’s not how He normally speaks. Just because God spoke through the mouth of a donkey doesn’t mean He normally does. (Numbers 22:28-30) Actually, because this is the only place in the entire Bible that He did, I think it’s safe to say that God very rarely speaks through a donkey. If you think God is speaking to you through your donkey, it’s a safe bet that you are not hearing the voice of God! And yet, that is precisely what Mormon missionaries encourage their hopeful proselytes to do when they tell them to read the Book of Mormon, asking God for a “burning of the bosom” (Luke 24:32) to confirm that the Book of Mormon is a divine book.

Application

When Jesus tells you to cut off your hand or to pluck out your eye, He is using a figure of speech to tell you how seriously you need to deal with sin. Sin is deadly and it must be dealt with accordingly. But you don’t need to look for a knife to whack off your hand.

As you read your Bible, read it as you would read anything else: read it as regular words in regular sentences in regular paragraphs in regular books. (Note: The chapter and verse divisions are not inspired and began to be used only about 500 years ago.)

Such was the question posted by a Facebook Friend. It’s a great question — or series of questions. Here’s my response to his post.

 

For an “academic” answer to your question, I’m an inerrantist. I take it at face value as I read it, trying to take into account the author’s original message to the original audience in the original historical context in the genre it was written. And – not wanting to get into a translation debate – this requires that you use a modern language translation if you don’t know the original languages.

History (much of the OT, the Gospels and Acts) describes what happened.
Didactic (teaching like we find in the NT epistles) prescribes how things are supposed to happen.
Poetry (Psalms) uses imagery and figures of speach.
Apocalyptic (parts of Daniel and Revelation) uses very picturesque language and more figures of speech.

We can easily run into problems when we read an apocalyptic or history passage through a didactic lens. Taking into account the context (historical, culture, and genre) — as best as possible – will give us a proper theological framework to understand the passage in question.

Having said all of this, you don’t have to be an academicians, have a bunch of advanced degrees, and be fluent in the original languages to get the message God wants you to hear.

Adding to what [another commenter] said above, read [the Bible] as a love letter from a holy, merciful, just, gracious God Who relentlessly pursues His people in covenant.

 

Just as I posted my response, I saw an excellent article that was linked by the commentor. You may want tocheck it out!

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