The Layman's Bible

Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation

On the Ethics of Harmonizing the Bible

Ever since I started reading the Bible daily it has been on my heart to arrange and organize it in such a way that one could read cover-to-cover instead of Genesis to Revelation. What I mean by that is I’ve been compelled for some time now to set the Bible up in such a way that things like the Psalms, prophecies, and epistles would be integrated into the historical parts. Also, repetitive parts would be melded together. For example, the Gospels are all different versions of the story of Christ, and each have overlapping parts as well as unique parts; these would all be combined into one big Gospel. The final version of the harmonized Bible would be more fluid and it would theoretically make things like the prophecies easier to comprehend (as you’d be reading them within their context). Such a Bible would not be intended for church use, but rather for private study, maybe just a one-time read through to get a better idea of the bigger picture. In November of 2014 I started; first with combining the Gospels. I’ve heard the process of combining and organizing the Gospels referred to as “harmonizing” the Gospels, and the finished product is called a “Gospel Harmony.” Therefore, I’m presuming that on a larger scale, what I’m trying to do is a “Bible Harmony” (hence the title of today’s article).

On the Ethics of Harmonizing the Bible (Gospel Knot)

Did you know that sometimes Matthew and Luke tell events in opposite order of each other? Because they do!

Right away I realized just how ambitious this project is. I reasoned that the Gospels would be the easiest to start with as they are less complicated than the train wreck that is Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and –oh yeah- the prophecies and Psalms. Also the Gospels don’t really require outside dating information, such as the headache of trying to figure out who the king in Esther is. Even how, combining the four Gospels required me to make a color-coded map of stories that I keep next to my computer. And, after that, I had to eventually move all of the information onto an actual flow chart program so I could see things more clearly and have a bit more freedom moving parts around while organizing the whole thing. You can see in the picture to the right what the Gospels look like from a flow-chart perspective. I call that part in the middle the “Gospel Knot.” If you have any questions about the process, feel free to ask in a reply.

What I really want to discuss, though, is whether or not it is okay to do such a thing as harmonization to the Holy Scriptures. Revelation 22:18-19 clearly states,

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy in this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

Does this warning only pertain to the Book of Revelation or can it be applied to the whole Bible? After all, there’s tons of prophecy in the Word, not just in Revelation. If it’s just Revelation, then there’s no need to worry since Revelation will still just sit at the end of the harmonized Bible (as it was written long after Acts finishes). However, if the curse is applicable to the whole Bible, I’m a little worried because when I’m folding repeated parts into each other, stuff gets deleted (story repeats) and stuff gets added (usually “[and]”s to connect words from different versions of the same story).

You see, after Jericho was destroyed by the Israelites, Joshua uttered a curse over the fallen city. Scripture records,

At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: “Cursed before the Lord is the man who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho:

At the cost of his firstborn son
Will he lay its foundations;
At the cost of his youngest
Will he set up its gates” (Joshua 6:26).

But there was a problem. As Israel expanded, they needed more cities, and so eventually Jericho was rebuilt. The curse held:

In Ahab’s time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the Lord spoken by Joshua son of Nun (1 Kings 16:34).

"I warned you, Layman!"

“I warned you, Layman!”

Although Hiel had done what seems to be a good thing; because of the curse he had to pay the price. This is troublesome because almost assuredly he had been motivated to do this great task out of a clean heart. Then again, maybe I’m projecting my own feelings, because I certainly feel I am acting out of a clean heart while harmonizing the Bible. After all, the goal is to aid in Bible study and promote Bible reading. The conflicting feelings aren’t made any better by Job, who suggests that although Hiel was cursed, he may have been motivated by the Lord to build Jericho. Job tells us about God, “To him belong strength and victory, both deceived and deceiver are his” (Job 12:16). That is to say, even the people who are doing wrong might be doing so out of the motivations of the Lord; and since something good came out of Jericho being rebuilt (Jesus had a few adventures there), then God may have been the one motivating Hiel to rebuild the city. And yet, Hiel still had to pay the price.

Am I risking curse while on the earth and potential denial in heaven by doing something I feel God has compelled me to do? I find some comfort from Paul, who reminds me that “Christ redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13). Does Jesus’ sacrifice cover a post-Gospel, totally informed, sin? (The answer is probably yes, for those who believe in Christ anyway.) And what of Romans 8:28-29? Paul writes,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:28-29).

With this clause in effect, what am I supposed to think? Am I being set up by God to harmonize the Bible, only to be thrown down by the curses pronounced in Revelation, so that the Lord could have it result in something great for me? The Bible is indeed a challenging book.

All that aside; the process has been amazing. The Gospels have never felt so fresh and new, and just thinking about the next step gets my heart racing with excitement. Can something that helps me feel so close to God be anything else than a work of the Holy Spirit? Take Hezekiah’s Passover for example, there were issues with it all over the place. First of all, it was on the wrong date;

The king and his officials and the whole assembly in Jerusalem decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month. They had not been able to celebrate it at the regular time because not enough priests had consecrated themselves and the people had not assembled in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 30:2-3).

And after the people finally did show up for the Passover, it turns out none of them were ceremonially clean enough to actually handle the work of the Passover. History records,

Since many in the crowd had not consecrated themselves, the Levites had to kill the Passover lambs for all those who were not ceremonially clean and could not consecrate their lambs to the Lord (2 Chronicles 30:17).

Wait; hold on, they weren’t clean at all? They shouldn’t even be participating in the Passover at all! But Hezekiah held the Passover anyway, with a right heart, hoping the Lord would overlook all of the problems associated with it. Sure enough, we read,

Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God –the Lord, the God of his fathers –even if he is not clean by according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people (2 Chronicles 30:18-20).

So the question then is: If I’m doing this with a right heart, is it okay in God’s eyes? Man, I really hope that curse is just about the book of Revelation. That would make things much less complicated.

If you have any thoughts on this, please chime in! I’m very interested to hear other people’s perspectives on the subject.

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This entry was posted on August 29, 2015 by in Bible Stuff and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .
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