Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Faith is a hard word to talk about or describe. Hebrews 11:1 defines it by saying, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Jesus taught on the subject of faith as well; the Gospel records:
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).
So faith apparently brings about great power (if you believe, that is). The Bible also notes, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who come to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). It seems then that faith is pretty important, and has an effect on our relationship with the Lord. I’ve read some fairly sharp attacks on the Bible and on Christianity in the past that have had me wondering how something that gives me life can come off as utter nonsense to others. As I pondered this, the Lord brought me to Scripture that might help provide some answers (or perhaps more questions). Let’s take a look and see where the Holy Spirit guides today’s study.
Jesus said a lot of really strange things during his time on earth. So much so that his disciples had somewhat become accustomed to being confused. John records one of Christ sermons that totally flopped because well…it didn’t make any sense. After feeding 5000 people, Jesus was suddenly a pretty popular guy. But he knew that he was gaining followers for the wrong reasons, so our Savior spoke out,
Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval (John 6:26-27).
So far this was nothing out of the ordinary; Christ wanted to clarify the reasons behind belief and make sure people’s hearts were in the right place. The people asked what they should do; and we pick up with his reply, “Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’” (John 6:29). Again, this is nothing earth shattering, pretty standard Jesus for John’s Gospel. Christ then reminds the people not to worship Moses (as a stand-in for the Law) but instead to focus on the Lord as it was God, not Moses who gave the Israelites manna in the desert: “Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven’” (John 6:32). It’s all good so far, right? Suddenly it gets weird. We read, “Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty’” (John 6:35). The people were not impressed, “At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven’” (John 6:41). But Jesus insisted that he was indeed bread, and his blood was also a potable drink as well,
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” (John 6:53-55).
Keep in mind that this sermon predated the invention of communion. But the Lord stuck to his guns and insisted that for eternal life you must eat him:
Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever (John 6:57-58).
The disciples didn’t know what to make of all of this; and so we read in John 6:60, “On hearing it, many of the disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’” And really, can you blame them? Jesus, who clearly wasn’t bread, continued to claim that he was and made no attempt to actually explain what he meant. Rather, the Lord just kept insisting on it and pushing his disciples to say amen to his preposterous assertions,
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:61-63).
Finally, most of the people in the crowd decided they had heard too much crazy for one day and started to leave; history records, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:66). But the twelve stayed,
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69).
Through it all, the apostles stood by their faith.
And here we stand. The Lord says something completely incomprehensible and we’re left insisting that he has the words of life. The Bible says a lot of crazy and difficult to understand things. Things that go against conventional science like, “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:11). Or offensive stuff like when the New Testament says,
For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says (1 Corinthians 14:33-34).
Or when our supposedly loving Lord tells his people,
Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys (1 Samuel 15:3).
And God’s people stand up and hold this book and say, “Follow this and you’ll be saved.” Are we nuts? The Bible and our faith seem so unreasonable at times that even Paul advertised that we might be absolutely crazy and are to be pitied. He wrote,
For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men (1 Corinthians 15:16-19).
Heck, the Bible even acknowledges that those of us who follow Christ look stupid:
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 (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Actually, in 1 Corinthians alone, Paul notes around three different times how crazy believers come off; that’s pretty impressive.
And yet we believe. We take on faith that the Bible is accurate, even parts that had no human witnesses. It’s absolutely true that “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Hebrews 11:3) because there’s no way anyone can actually prove how the universe started since nobody was there. We also accept that the witnesses in the Bible are honest and faithful in their recounting of events; since as John points out, the Bible writers are the only primary source of information we have on such events,
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched- this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete (1 John 1:1-4).
Is it faith or insanity? Do we want believe that there’s more to this life than what we know so much that we ignore all logic and stand by this unbelievable book that talks about an unbelievable (and incomprehensible) God and some dude who claims to be said God’s son?
Peter seems to think our faith is not in vain because he totally believes that Paul’s writings are on the level,
Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:15-16).
Then again, Peter is biased. The whole Bible is biased, so at best it only seems to offer circular reasoning to defend itself, “The Bible says the Bible is true, therefore the Bible must be true.” So what are we to do? Jesus suggests that only some folk are going to “get it” anyway in John 6:65: “He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.’” But is this a sufficient explanation? Is there proof? The answer is yes. Why did Peter and the twelve stick with Jesus? Was it because they understood his teaching? Not at all! Mark 8:21 captures Jesus and his crew in a common scene throughout the Gospel: “He said to them, ‘Do you still not understand?’” Then what was it? Jesus states,
Do not believe me unless I do what my father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father (John 10:37-38).
Miracles; the bible is full of them. In fact, if you notice, all the believers in the Bible experience the supernatural. From small things like strange coincidences in Ruth to people being raised from the dead, the Lord leaves his footprints on every believer’s life.
The wrath of God is being revealed form heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them (Romans 1:18-19).
As I noted before, the Bible is good with circular reasoning. But there’s more, he continues,
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse (Romans 1:20).
According to Paul, the Lord shows himself through miracles (and the natural splendor of the world). But the problem is that people don’t want God, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21). So people follow their own sinful desires,
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless (Romans 1:28-31).
And then these faithless, non-believers pat themselves on the back for turning against God, “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:32). Since they refuse to acknowledge the Lord in their lives, the Lord lets them do as they want,
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator- who is forever praised. Amen (Romans 1:24-25).
This is why it’s impossible for those outside the church to really understand our faith, because God has let them drift away. They can’t see God moving in their lives because he’s stopped doing so while still remaining active in the life of a believer.
And so we find that faith isn’t just pretending really hard, but acknowledging that there is more than what we see, and that sometimes coincidences aren’t just coincidences and miracles really are miracles. The Bible says some weird and sometimes seemingly offensive things. But thus far it has given me life, strength, and direction. And so on faith I take God at his Word, knowing that one day in heaven, I’ll understand it all.
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
-Paul of Tarsus
(1 Corinthians 13:12)