Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
From an outside perspective, Christian beliefs don’t really make sense. I think Paul’s take on it sums up the situation best,
Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).
People want to either see something amazing to be swayed or are looking for something that sounds intellectually pleasing. However, Christianity doesn’t really deliver either one of those and yet the believers are always shouting about how spectacular Christ is. You have to remember, for those who have never come into contact with God through the Holy Spirit, Christianity can come off as a little wacky. I mean, let’s look at the story of Jesus: Some guy comes and then dies, which somehow saves everyone, after which he comes back to life but goes to heaven anyway. As a follower of Christ this may seem basic, but for those outside the church the story of the Gospel doesn’t really make much sense.
But such is the way of the Word. During some other strange stuff in Ezekiel, we read,
Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.
And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.
Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth (Ezekiel 2:9-3:3).
For an outsider, the Bible is a book of rules, regulations, death, mourning, and rebuke- and yet, most Christians agree that the Bible brings life. So we happily listen to the life-giving Word, while those who don’t understand think we’re crazy, masochistic, or oblivious. Actually, Hebrews 4:12 actually states that the Bible itself is alive,
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
As if the Bible wasn’t hard enough for a nonbeliever to fathom already, try telling them it’s alive.
When Ezekiel tries to describe heavenly things, he sounds totally nonsensical and crazy. I mean, have you read some of this stuff? Once, when receiving a message from God, Ezekiel described what he saw before him. Check this out,
I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north- and immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man, but each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had the hands of a man. All four of them had faces and wings, and their wings touched one another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved (Ezekiel 1:4-9).
After this, Ezekiel tries describing their faces (which ends up being something akin to the Quintessons in the older Transformers works). I’ll spare you that headache and focus instead on what he writes as he once again tries to describes the creatures as a whole,
The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning (Ezekiel 1:13-14).
That’s right, lightning and fire- and these are the creatures from heaven that poor Ezekiel is tasked with explaining. Oh, and they get weirder too. A few chapters later, Ezekiel is again tasked with having to explain what’s going on in his life to us,
I looked, and I saw beside the cherubim four wheels, one beside each of the cherubim; the wheels sparkled like chrysolite. As for their appearance, the four of them looked alike; each was like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the cherubim faced; the wheels did not turn about as the cherubim went. The cherubim went in whatever direction the head faced, without turning as they went. Their entire bodies, including their backs, their hands and their wings, were completely full of eyes, as were their four wheels (Ezekiel 10:9-12).
Yeah, these creatures have wheels, and eyes- eyes everywhere. Now, at some point the reader has to go, “Ok, Ezekiel is crazy; how he got in the Bible is a mystery, but this is getting out of hand.” However, when John describes his experiences in Revelation, a familiar motif presents itself,
The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stopped saying:
“Holy, holy, holy
Is the Lord God Almighty,
Who was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:7-8).
Apparently animals in heaven are covered in eyes, even in places where it wouldn’t seem to be necessary. Oh, and they sing too. Of course none of this makes any sense- even for most of us in Christ. Jesus once alluded just how confusing heavenly things are to our earthbound minds. He said in John 3:12, “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” Yeah, no kidding J-man.
Now I’ve highlighted something that is confusing for everyone. However, for most people outside the church, the Bible, Gospel, and lessons from believers are just about as incoherent as Ezekiel trying to describe his visions of heaven. This is why Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” It is no wonder, then, that when the Holy Spirit caused the early church to break out in tongues that we end up reading, “Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine’” (Acts 2:13). I’ve been saved and I still cock my head when I hear people speaking in tongues. There’s also a distinct lack of logic present in the Bible. We preach that people should be washed in the blood of Jesus and made clean by it- but, um, doesn’t blood leave a stain? This isn’t just church rhetoric either; it’s actually featured in Revelation 7:13-14,
Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes- who are they, and where did they come from?”
I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Most of us in the church don’t really think long on such passages, but for those untouched by the Spirit, it completely defies logic.
However, when the Holy Spirit makes it click, it’s amazing. Remember back in the last paragraph when I mentioned the Spirit giving people the power of speaking in tongues? Well although some people figured the disciples were drunk, many people there were amazed. Check out the scene in Acts 2:5-11,
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs- we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
For those who didn’t understand what was being said, the whole scene must have been madness. But for those who heard the Lord being praised in their native language, it must have been amazing. Actually, I’m pretty sure it was awesome, because after Peter gave a little sermon about what was going on, the Bible records, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41).
I love the way Ezekiel describes the amazing things he sees, “Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice, and awesome” (Ezekiel 1:22). You know it’s good when a professional orator and prophet can only muster, “It was awesome.” When we first come into contact with the Spirit, the reaction is similar to his as well,
Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking (Ezekiel 1:28).
When we feel the presence of God, there’s really no more arguing about logic, just straight up worship. The Bible (and really the whole of the Christian faith) doesn’t really make a lot of sense on the surface. And honestly, trying to describe salvation to someone outside the church can feel like Ezekiel trying to explain heavenly creatures (for both you and your hearer). But when the Spirit shows up, it’s something you can’t deny. Paul put it like this, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). We’re handling the Words of eternal life. But for someone who’s hell bound, it’s not gonna make a lot of sense at first. So if you’re out spreading the Gospel and your hearers don’t really get it, don’t feel down. After all, you’re pretty much speaking nonsense to them. Rather, remember where you were in life when you first heard about Christ, and try to understand their side of things with love and patience. Paul writes to us, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). Although some are saved young, most of us have spent some time in the world, so we have to remember those days when we encounter problems in our ministries. Remember how nutty all of this would have sounded to you back then. But never give up, because you also know how it feels to cross from death to life. Paul continues,
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7).
Never give up on those you’ve been called to preach to but keep in mind that you might just be there to plant the seed or water it; whereas it is the Lord who will make it grow.
Rock on God!