Christianity 201

October 9, 2014

Problems in Old Testament Interpretation

Today we want to introduce you to the writing of former missionary and pastor Eric Carpenter.  This is actually the first in a series on the subject of Old Testament interpretation and you’ll have to click through to find some newer ones.  When you’ve finished, hit the “home” button in the top left corner and then read more recent entries. Click the title below to link directly:

Poor Interpretation of the Old Testament Always Leads to a Multitude of Church Problems

Bible 4The Old Testament is wonderful. It is as much a part of the bible as the New Testament is. In fact, it makes up about 2/3 of the scriptures. From its pages we learn much about who God is, who we are, how the world began, what our problems are, how God plans to save us, who the suffering servant is, etc. Above all else, the Old Testament reveals to us who our wonderful, majestic Creator is and what He is like. It is God’s revelation of Himself to us. We can learn much from the Old Testament and do well to spend much time in it.

That being said, the Old Testament is not a manual for how to live church life. If we treat it as such, we run the risk of the same poor interpretation that has plagued much of the church for centuries. Poor O.T. interpretation always leads to a multitude of church problems. The reason for this is that most of the O.T. focuses on God’s relationship with Israel. The majority of this information deals with the Old Covenant. It no longer applies to those of us who are part of the New Covenant.

The O.T. itself points ahead to the New Covenant as something being far different from what was going on at that time. Jeremiah 31:31-34 tells us:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

We see in these verses the New Covenant contrasted with the Old Covenant. It is something far different.

Please let me be clear about one thing: the Old Testament is not the same thing as the Old Covenant. However, much of the information contained in the Old Testament focuses on the Old Covenant. Therefore, when Christians today make direct application from O.T. passages to church life, they frequently do so incorrectly.

Frankly, much of what has been going on for hundreds of years is a form of reverse interpretation. This occurs when Christians enjoy a church practice that is, in fact, based more in tradition than anything else. These Christians look in the New Testament to find support for this practice but cannot find any. Therefore, they then turn back to the Old Testament to find something to base their current practices upon. This is when the problem rears its ugly head. These believers use things found in O.T. Israel as a way to support what they are doing today.  This happens again and again despite the fact that they are pointing back to the Old Covenant.

Let me point out one stark example of this: the large, expensive church building. The New Testament provides no support for this idea whatsoever. Therefore, those who want something to base today’s buildings upon point back to the O.T. temple for support. This is incredibly bad interpretation. It is using the Old Covenant to support the New Covenant even though Jeremiah has told us that they are two completely different things.

I’m deeply concerned about the church today. Even though it is a wonderful thing, it has many problems. Some of these problems stem directly from exceedingly poor interpretation of the Old Testament.

This is the first post in a blog series I’m writing on O.T. interpretive problems. These are problems that still directly impact the church today.

I believe that if the church will stop pointing back to Old Covenant forms and practices it will become a much healthier church. My hope is not simply to discuss problems but also solutions. In order to be a healthy church, we need to look to the correct place. That place is the New Covenant, which is largely found in the N.T. as opposed to the O.T.

Good interpretation is a necessity for a healthy, thriving church. I have no doubt that this is what God desires.


Here is one of the more recent articles in the series which I also appreciated: Genre, Genre, Genre

September 13, 2012

Why Didn’t He Call The Light “Light”?

For several weeks now at Thinking Out Loud, I’ve been encouraging people to check out the Phil Vischer podcast.  Phil’s name may register with those of you with children as the creator of Veggie Tales.  There are 16 podcasts so far, and Phil is joined each week by Skye Jethani, a name familiar to both bloggers and readers of Christianity Today, and by producer Christian Taylor. Phil is a naturally funny person, and the whole show has a “radio morning zoo” feel to it; but Skye, as a pastor is more focused and while he often adds to the levity, he also rarely wastes words.  Many weeks they are joined by a guest. But why are we mentioning it here?

This past week, the guest was John Walton who teaches at both Moody and Wheaton, and specializes in Old Testament studies. Apparently he and Phil have had some previous conversations regarding Phil’s newest children’s series, What’s In The Bible, especially about the creation narrative in Genesis.

One of the comments was about this verse:

Gen 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

John then asked, “Why didn’t God call the light, “light.”?  He said that what we’re seeing in this verse is not the creation of light, but the creation of the separators or periods of separation between light and its absence, that what we’re witnessing in this book is the creation of time.  You could say, “And God said, “Let there be time.”

I’d never thought about that before.

Much discussion early on also had to do with the apparent ongoing tension between theologians and scientists on the creation of the world.  John compares this to the difference between you telling your friends about the origins of your house versus the origins of your home.  The former has to do with land, and construction and the physical features. The latter has to do with family, and usage, and traffic patterns.  They are two entirely different stories, and he says that the Bible does not attempt to answer the house questions, and we shouldn’t expect the Bible to serve as a science textbook, because those issues are not raised in its pages.

There was also the issue of death coming into the world. John looked at the creation narrative again and told of having his students focus on this verse:

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

He then asked them if Adam was clothed in skin, and reminded them that skin is epidermis and epidermis is dead cells. In other words, there was death from the beginning.

This then led to a discussion of predation. That was a new word to me.  The question is whether or not in a “new earth” — a doctrine that’s a given when you get academics together — animals would survive through killing other animals or whether as Phil asked “whales would strain plankton.” John responded that the new earth would involve a new order, and that he does not believe this will be a replication of what existed in the garden, but will involve an entirely new set of possibilities.

This particular podcast — their longest — is 67 minutes long. After the usual banter, John Walton is introduced at around 22:00, and the interview really kicks in at 23:15.  You also have to endure Phil playing the ukelele at the beginning and end of the show; once in children’s ministry, always in children’s ministry, I guess.  So even if you skip the frivolity at the beginning, you’re still looking at 45 minutes; but well worth it.  (We listened to it twice already.) This is the kind of material I love personally; what this blog’s tag line is all about: Diggin’ a little deeper.

…You might also enjoy the previous episode (# 15) which deals with the issue of heaven and the issue of the rapture. You can find that easily enough once you’re at the site; and I also wrote a set-up for that piece Tuesday at Thinking Out Loud.

Time to Re-Address The Issue of Comments
It’s been awhile since I discussed this on any of my blogs, but the time has come to revisit this thorny subject.  What we’re looking for here is comments that stem from the content of the day’s topic, and that then add something to what’s being said.  I call it “added value comments.” We’re also looking for comments that will form part of a discussion that others will want to join. If you disagree with what’s being written, say so politely; at least you will be engaging the written material. If you do agree, don’t just say “That was very good,” because Akismet, the filtering system at WordPress will shut you down every time. (Some day I’ll copy and paste a bunch of spam comments at TOL so people know what not to do.) Instead, say why a particular verse or commentary resonates with you.  If you posted something in the last month, check back, it may not be there because it was just a bunch of random verses, or it did not seem to tie in to the day’s topic. And if you find it’s not there, but you feel you have something to say, may I encourage you to start a blog of your own.