The false “little gods” doctrine

The term “exegesis” is mostly used in reference to a critical examination of biblical text in order to determine exactly what the text means. It is by no means flippant or casual. It does not just take another person’s word for it. It seeks, it probes, it searches and it uses the appropriate tools of interpretation to arrive at its conclusion.

So, imagine what my excitement would be if someone walked up to me and assured me that I can be like God, in fact, that I can exercise godlike authority on earth over my circumstances. I mean, if you know my “wahalas” (as a father of 3 kids with one of them about to start secondary school in september) I could really do with some godlike powers. Wow! Such powers could help with my mounting electricity bills, I could get my wife her new car, and save up enough for a holiday.

But, because of the seriousness of these persons’ claims, I would not just take their word for it.
I would ask them to show me EXACTLY where God promised us these godlike powers, and I would critically examine the text (particularly since the person has made the claim that God Himself has promised us that). Because I claim to fear and love God, I would want to “see” this for myself so that it can begin to shape the tenor of my life. Afterall, I am what I think about God. So, off to Psalm 82; but I will not just read verses 5-7 but all the other verses so as to have a proper context for such a great promise (if it is a promise)

Why would I do that?

Well imagine if you had a person who was stalking you and writing romantic letters to you. You were able to ignore him (I am assuming you are female) for a while, but after some time you were no longer willing to stand the harassment. So, one day you decided to write “A LETTER TO END ALL LETTERS” to this pest. You go ahead and write a very lengthy letter, the summary of which was “Look, stop stalking me, I DO NOT LOVE YOU NOW OR FOREVER”. But this stalker decided to remove the “DO NOT” so that the letter now meant, “I LOVE YOU, NOW AND FOREVER” and chose that to be his reality? Imagine how pathetic that would be?

So, it is always important to read things in their context. Especially those things that have both temporal and eternal consequences;

Like Psalm 82:1-8 ESV

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!

One thing that should not escape our notice is that this psalm was written by an Israelite and if there is one thing there is to know about a Jew, is the Shema. What is the Shema?

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Immediately, this helps me understand that whatever was meant in Psalm 82, cannot in anyway contradict the Shema. So, lets follow the text and see whether it has something else to say. The text opens with God accusing “gods” for judging unjustly; this ought to supply us with a clue to whom he has in mind. Judge unjustly? Partiality to the wicked? All this judicial language, widows, fatherless, etc. must be referring to men. But what sort of men? This question should cause me, to search the scriptures for instances where men were referred to by God as gods. And those instances would necessarily predate Psalm 82 (for the obvious reason that it is used as a starting point by the psalmist, so that it must have been an acceptable terminology)

The first instance in Scripture where God alluded to man being “as God” (that is apart from the sad episode of the fall, which by the way should be a caution to those seekers of Godlike powers/influence) is in Exodus 4:16 and the text yields the very obvious intention of that statement:
Exodus 4:10-16 ESV

But Moses said to the Lord , “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord ? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him.

The text above is self explaining.

Also, Deuteronomy 17:1-13 gives a clear explanation of those leaders in Israel whom the Lord had appointed as judges and whose words “in office” were final as though they were the very words of God. It would therefore make sense for the Psalmist in Psalm 82 to refer to these representatives of God (in respect to judicial matters only) as gods. Since they acted on God’s behalf before his people.

So you see, a careful examination of the text starts to dim my prospects of godlike status.

The Psalm itself is broken into clearly discernible parts:

1. The Problem is identified and brought to Heaven’s council.
God’s judicial representatives are perverting justice!
They are perverting Justice against the defenseless and taking up the cause of wicked men.

A double tragedy if you ask me. But God isn’t going to sit back and let justice remain perverted for ever…Oh no! He is going to do something about it.

2. So God declares his righteous standard for justice in verses 3 and 4

3. But these “gods” fell woefully short of the standard and the consequences of their perversion of justice are of cosmic proportions (verse 5).

4. Now, God passes his Sentence on these Judges; these unjust judges, in verse 6 and 7; they would not only lose their privileged positions, they will die like uncelebrated and ordinary men..

5. And because they were no longer fit to Judge, the Psalmist (or some other unspecified third party) pleads for God himself to judge in the place of these unjust men.

The text is not an allusion to humans attaining godlike rights or powers. The only promiser of such an illusion was Satan in Genesis 3. And Adam and Eve found out soon enough how much of a liar the devil was: They never became gods.

The truth is, becoming a god is an appealing proposal. Especially when we are convinced that the only reason we have to deal with all the stuff we deal with is because we are just mere humans. But nothing is further from the truth than that. Our biggest problem isn’t that we are just human, our biggest problem is that we are sinful. And what we need is not to shed our humanity, but to have our sins forgiven.

You see, God is good and we are not! This creates a huge problem for us as the Almighty God who is the righteous judge must needs judge sinful humanity. We are sinners who dwell in a sinful world. And even when the issue of our sin has been dealt with, we still have to dwell in a world affected by the sin of others. Remember Psalm 82:5? The sins of a few judges affect the entire earth to its foundations.

So, we are best served by being made to realize that as long as we are in this world, we would have tribulations but our hope should not dim, nor our resolve fail because Christ has overcome the world. It may not look that way, as we go through tough times, but we can trust the one who not only gave up his life as a ransom for many, but was raised from the dead, as infallible proof of mission accomplished!

I will not bother with the other scripture references because I trust that if this one thing is clear, then the others cannot piece together coherently; as all of them depend on the misreading of Psalm 82:5-7

On Boko Haram – How I see things as a Christian

I have largely stayed away from commenting on the kidnap saga that is currently the buzz in Nigeria, due mainly to the fact that there have been conflicting details regarding the whole episode and a lot of controversy has generated due to the sketchiness of the information which until recently came in trickles.

It had also become clear that we as a people were beginning to lose our sense of shock, not only at the brazen violence inflicted on Nigerians by the Boko Haram sect, but also at the total inability of the government to arrest the situation and stopping it from assuming the dangerous dimension that it has now taken. I guess this is borne out of the fact that week after week of news of bombings, killings and kidnappings had begun to take its toll on all of us and we were all beginning to accept it as normal.

As shameful as that may sound, it pretty much sums up our “collective response” to the happenings in the North due to Boko Haram, until now.

It is however not my intention to “psychoanalyze” Nigerians or presume to speak for over 160 million people. My desire is to examine the issues on hand, not only as a Nigerian, but especially as a Christian who lives in a Nigerian context.

So then, what do I, as a Christian, make of all of this?

God is Sovereign (Psalm 115:3; Daniel 4:35 NASB):

God is Sovereign

Well, what did you expect?

This is my basic starting point and it is at the heart of all that helps me to make sense of everything.

But what has that got to do with Boko Haram?

God, the Scriptures say, “HAS MADE EVERYTHING FOR ITS PURPOSE, EVEN THE WICKED FOR THE DAY OF TROUBLE.” – Proverbs 16:4 This clearly shows that God is in fact in control of the situation, as troubling and out of control it may seem, and that Boko Haram, with all its murderous rage, will not (because it cannot) take one life more than has been decreed by God. The truth about God’s sovereignty also means Boko Haram’s days are numbered. That there will be an end to all this. Despite the gross evil perpetrated by this group or its seeming invincibility, despite all the cache of weapons the group may claim to possess (or in fact possess) and despite all its intention to establish its agenda through bloodletting and wanton killings, it will pass from the scene at the appointed time. “YET A LITTLE WHILE AND THE WICKED MAN WILL BE NO MORE; AND YOU WILL LOOK CAREFULLY FOR HIS PLACE AND HE WILL NOT BE THERE.”Psalm 37:10

 

God is Just (Deuteronomy 32:3-4 NASB):

Justice

A caller on a call-in program I was listening to on the local radio station, expressed very cautious optimism about the latest news by the DSS (Directorate of State Security) on the capture of those behind the Nyanya bombings. He said something to the effect that, “I hope they don’t go ahead and release them after they have publicly paraded them”. Now that may sound a bit far fetched, but one thing is clear; Nigerians do not exactly have great confidence in our Justice system. I can imagine the frustrations of those who have lost loved ones since this insurgency began, either at the hands of Boko Haram or at the hands of the authorities, in the case of mistaken identity. I can also imagine the frustration of those who have hoped for speedy justice against the killers of their relatives but instead have to endure the very slow grind of the “wheels of justice” in our nation. All this coming together makes one wonder whether these murderers will ever face justice. Well, as a Christian, I am comforted by the fact that God is not only sovereign, God is also just. The Scriptures affirm, in 2 Chronicles 19:7 “NOW THEN, LET THE FEAR OF THE LORD BE UPON YOU. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU DO, FOR THERE IS NO INJUSTICE WITH THE LORD OUR GOD, OR PARTIALITY OR TAKING BRIBES.” I therefore know that not one of the perpetrators nor their collaborators, will escape God’s righteous judgment. It is rumored that these terrorists have support from people in government and this means some of them may escape justice. But as a Christian I rest in the knowledge that NO ONE will escape what they justly deserve from God. “ASSUREDLY, THE EVIL MAN WILL NOT GO UNPUNISHED…” – Proverbs 11:21

 

God is good (Psalm 100:5, 145:9 NASB):

God is Good

In January of 1971, Idi Amin, the then commander of the Ugandan Army overthrew the government of his boss, Milton Obote in a military coup; about 8 years later, between 300,000 to 500,000 Ugandans had been killed, murdered at the hands of their own government. In April 1975, the Communist Party of Kampuchea, led by Saloth Sar (later known as Pol Pot) came to power in Cambodia; in just 4 years of his rule, an estimated 1 to 3 million of his own people lost their lives due to the policies of his government. Need I speak about Adolf Hitler, who saw to the annihilation of nearly 6 million Jews within a period or 4 years or Josef Stalin who also murdered many of his countrymen. All these murders were carried out by governments that were “ordained by God” for the purpose safeguarding their citizens. (Romans 13: 1-7) As humans, our starting point in nearly every calamity is that we are recipients of what we do not deserve and that if God was truly good, He should not have let this or that evil befall us.  We have become so used to God’s mercy, so used to being spared the consequences of our individual and collective rebellion such that whenever the Lord sees it fit to refrain his hand and allow us reap the fruit of our actions, we are quick to point the finger at the Divine. In spite of how deserving we are of a government akin to the ones described above, in spite of how utterly devoid of the fear of God our rulers have proved to be, the Lord has been pleased to spare us the pain of being led by a murderous government. God is indeed good. Furthermore, God has spared this nation from the calamities that a government unprepared to fight terrorism could impose on its people. “OH GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD, FOR HE IS GOOD, FOR HIS LOVINGKINDNESS IS EVERLASTING.”- Psalm 107:1

 

 Governments are ordained by God (Romans 13:1-7 NASB)

government

Not only does the Bible make this very startling assertion, it goes on ahead to state exactly what purpose any government is ordained by God for. In verse 4 of Romans 13 it says, “…FOR IT IS A MINISTER OF GOD, AN AVENGER WHO BRINGS WRATH ON THE ONE WHO PRACTICES EVIL.” The Bible also does not state any further task for governments beyond this task of punishing the practitioners of evil and thus, by implication, commending those who are law abiding. This singularity of purpose is also clearly implied in verse 6 of Romans 13, “FOR BECAUSE OF THIS YOU ALSO PAY TAXES, FOR RULERS ARE SERVANTS OF GOD; DEVOTING THEMSELVES TO THIS VERY THING.” It is therefore amusing to see governments attempting to do everything except the singular purpose for which it exists, while it fails woefully at its reason for being, “punishing evil doers”. I am therefore often amazed when I read or listen to people attempting to “sell” administration after administration as successful on the basis of its “economic policies.” Imagine commending a government for staying out of what it has no business doing in the first place and ignoring the ONE THING for which the Lord God Almighty ordained it. Of course this means that men who are in authority and yet fail at their duty will be judged by the righteous Judge.

 

Governments fail because they are peopled by men who at their very core are rebellious against God (Romans 1:18-32, Romans 3:9-16 NASB)

failed

There is no other reason why governments fail apart from the fact that there is no fear of God in the hearts of those who govern. While I don’t believe that a person must be “a Christian” to rule a local government, a state or the nation; I believe that a fundamental criterion of some modicum of morality is required for anyone to successfully rule a nation. Now, the bible does not give the qualifications required for holding political office the same way it does for those who would seek to either lead a family or shepherd God’s people (I guess the reason is that the mandate for rulers is quite simple – punish evil doers); that is why I am not particularly interested in where a man comes from or what he professes as his faith as long as he has a track record of making morally sound decisions and he has enough fear of God in him to confront evil.

 

As a Christian, I speak against all this (Ephesians 5:11-12 NASB),

Light shining through Especially against the lack of will on the part of government to confront evil, not because I think they will listen, but as a witness against them so that they have no excuse. I have nothing to say to the Boko Haram sect, because the Boko Haram sect has been appointed for destruction; and the instrument of God, with the duty to bring about that destruction is the government (Romans 13:4). So, if government does not rise to its responsibility, as a Christian, I have the duty to point it to its complacency as a witness against it.

 

 

 

 

On Scriptures’ Sufficiency

How can it be said that the Bible is sufficient, yet it does not address every conceivable scenario that will ever confront even one person, let alone that of the nearly 7 billion people on the face of the planet at the moment or even the billions more that have passed into eternity since the world was created?

How can something be sufficient but not exhaustive in the information it provides?

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Well there are people who may say that it must cover every issue for it to be considered sufficient, and since it doesn’t it can’t be sufficient and so they conclude that we need something else, “a voice in our head” (aka “God told me”),

There are others who never even ponder the question and therefore never seriously weigh the challenge a lack of understanding of, and confidence in, the sufficiency of Scriptures poses for their ability to properly and accurately understand the Bible.

Others still attempt to solve this problem by creating the concept of ‘hidden meaning” that there is “the letter of the word” (which kills) (also referred to as logos) and “there is the spirit of the word” (which gives life) (also referred to as rhema).

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They create this false dichotomy and they seek out these “hidden meanings” as the solution to their everyday issues. Such issues as “what course should I read, where should I live, whom should I marry, what church should i be a part of etc.”

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Some see the flaw in the approach of dichotomizing scriptures and therefore rather they dichotomize life into the “sacred” and the “secular”. They now think of “everyday decisions” as secular and those they think have to deal with the faith as “spiritual”

Bottom line is, everybody who says they are Christian, whether they know it or not, have to at one point or another deal with the issue of the sufficiency of Scriptures and whatever conclusion they come to on the matter will affect their view of life.

But is the bible truly sufficient?
Does it have an answer to every single issue we face as humans?
Can the Bible be sufficient but not exhaustive in the information it provides?

I will deal with the surprisingly simple answers to these questions in a subsequent post; but for now, think about which side of the argument you are.

Bible Study Series – Practice Session 1b (John 3:16-21)

Last time, I began an inductive study of the Biblical account of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, which was recorded in John 3:1-21 and a lot of things have begun to surface from the text. It is my hope that we have come to the realization that it is imperative to give more than a cursory glance to Scriptures, that is, if we ever hope to “draw out” all that God put in it for us to know about Himself.

In this part 2, I hope that I would be able to quickly bring the story to its conclusion without compromising the substance.

  1. Some have argued that Nicodemus, undoubtedly understood that Jesus was demanding some sort of radical transformation of an individual’s entire character, but could not possibly see how an old man, shaped by his heritage and set in his ways, could turn back the clock and start all over again. He therefore poses an equally metaphorical question to Jesus’ metaphorical challenge. But he unwittingly drives home a point that I am not sure even he realized at the time. For with his question he admits that man, by nature, has nothing in him to actualize this new birth. Of course the Greek word translated as “again” could also have been referring to “above” (That is “born from above”) Nicodemus clearly thought it meant born “again.”
  2. Jesus restates this challenge to Nicodemus in yet another way, drawing on the Scriptures (something Nicodemus clearly ought to have understood). Now while references to water and spirit are scattered all over the Old Testament verses, none so forcefully drive home the point like Ezekiel 36:25-27: “I WILL SPRINKLE CLEAN WATER ON YOU, AND YOU SHALL BE CLEAN FROM ALL YOUR UNCLEANNESSES, AND FROM ALL YOUR IDOLS I WILL CLEANSE YOU, AND I WILL GIVE YOU A NEW HEART, AND A NEW SPIRIT I WILL PUT WITHIN YOU. AND I WILL REMOVE THE HEART OF STONE FROM YOUR FLESH AND GIVE YOU A HEART OF FLESH. AND I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT WITHIN YOU, AND CAUSE YOU TO WALK IN MY STATUTES AND BE CAREFUL TO OBEY MY RULES.”

After stating this, Jesus, immediately corrects Nicodemus’ misconception about the new birth by taking it out of the realm of the human will or activity. “The wind (an allusion to the Spirit) blows wherever it wishes…” In spite of these clear allusions to the Old Testament, Nicodemus still didn’t understand and thus asks, “How can these things be?” exposing his ignorance in spite of his intimidating theological credentials. Now, for “The Teacher of Israel” this is saying a lot.

So, then Nicodemus has not only unwittingly admitted that this new birth, this birth from above, of which Jesus speaks is not in the nature if man to achieve, he also exposed his ignorance, further placing it out of the capacity of the natural human mind to even comprehend.

  1. Whilst Nicodemus had effectively shown that he could not cause the new birth because his nature and his inability to understand prevents him, Jesus shows that unlike Nicodemus, he is speaking of things “He has seen and heard” and since He is by nature, the Son of Man who “alone has come from heaven” He is eminently qualified to cause the new birth in men. He then indicts Nicodemus, not just that he is by nature unable, or in spite of his training ignorant, but that he does NOT receive Jesus’ testimony (Jesus would later reveal the real reason why Nicodemus (or any man for that matter) rejects his testimony. But before he gets there, there is one more thing Nicodemus had to understand.
  2. Jesus used a historical account of Israel’s wilderness wandering to further illustrate what he had been saying (found in Numbers 21: 4-9). As the foremost teacher in Israel, Nicodemus probably knew the story well, and what would likely have come to his mind would be the images of rebellion, judgment and redemption. So then, as those rebellious lot in the wilderness who were rightly judged by God, found grace when they believed Moses and looked at the brazen serpent, so also anyone (including Nicodemus) would find grace if they believe in the Son of Man. Wait a minute! Does that not make Nicodemus also rebellious, under judgment and in need of saving? Absolutely! But not only Nicodemus, but the whole world. The whole world is rebellious, the whole world is under judgment and thus like those who were bitten and looked up, anyone who “looks at the Savior” will not perish but have eternal life. This is why God’s love is SO AMAZING!!! Now, please imagine with me for instance that the story in Numbers 21 was slightly different, and It just happened that the Israelites were just minding their own business, when suddenly they were attacked by these venomous snakes and as they were dying, they cried out to God and God told Moses to make the brazen snake and that anyone who looked at it would be saved. Now, even if that was what happened, God’s love would still have been great. But think how much more magnificent God’s love is in that He rescued blasphemers who had just called manna which God graciously supplied, “this worthless thing!” In the same way, the Love of God is displayed in John 3:16 as exceedingly great because it is expressed towards wicked rebels; so wicked that we deserve eternal damnation. Yet God makes a way of escape in his Son whom he gave and grants ETERNAL LIFE to whosoever believes!  So the most glorious thing about John 3:16 is the extent (not in size but intensity) of God’s love.  So amazing is God’s love which is made even more amazing in light of the utter sinfulness of the world He loved

The beauty of God’s love is magnified in light of whom he loves,

It is magnified in whom He gave, and

It is magnified in what He saves us from what He saves us for.

  1. Furthermore, that illustration also reveals the manner by which Jesus would achieve this “granting of eternal life (Gk: zoe aionios – life of the age to come)”. Just as the serpent was lifted up, the Son of Man will also “be lifted up”. This “lifted up” undoubtedly has a double meaning for it combines the notions of being physically lifted up on a cross, and the notion of exaltation. The one who came from heaven will return to the glory which he shared with the Father by being lifted up on a cross.
  2. Like the men in the wilderness whose refusal to “look at the brazen serpent” sealed their fate, so also men who do not believe in the only begotten Son of God seal their own fate. They go on into the condemnation that was already pronounced on them by because of their rebellion. The Son of God didn’t come into the world to condemn it (the world was already effectively under condemnation – That is why He is SAVIOR) but TO SAVE IT and those who must be saved must not only believe him, but also BELIEVE IN HIM!
  3. The reason why Nicodemus (or anyone for that matter) did not and does not receive this testimony is finally exposed. It is not just about the fact that man is by nature unable to effect the new birth, or the inability of the natural mind to comprehend the truth of God but primarily because “men love their sins and therefore would not come to the light for the sin to be exposed”

Application:

There are many ways in which these texts apply to us. When it comes to matters of the Scriptures, it is first and foremost important that we rightly interpret the text; once we do seeing how it applies to our circumstances would be easy.

What immediately becomes obvious is that this is a model for evangelism, we must, like Jesus strip the sinner of any and every confidence in self and point them to where any confidence should be, that is, Christ who is the True Witness, the Perfect Mediator and the Savior.

Stepping back a little to consider other stories in light of what the Apostle points out in John 2:23-25, we are able to see the 3 classical responses to the presentation of the gospel.

  1. Some delay their decision but eventually believe the gospel, repent and believe in Jesus Christ. We see this in Nicodemus, of whom nothing was said again, but we see him in later verses described first as a secret follower, but then said to have openly anointed the body of Jesus, after his death, along with another disciple, called Joseph of Arimathaea (John 7:50; John 19:39)
  2. Some believe the gospel, repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ once it is presented to them. We see this in the woman at the well in Samaria and the people from her village ( See John 4 [especially 29-30 and 39-43])
  3. Some reject, outright, the gospel. We see this in the man at the pool of Bethesda (See John 5: 1-16; John 5:19- 6:71)

I hope this has somewhat encouraged you to “search the scriptures” and seek to “rightly divide the word.

Please if you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with me privately and if you live in Port Harcourt, endeavor to join us for Bible Study every Saturday between 11am and 1pm (contact me privately for details) where we seek to further explore these bible study methods.

In our next lesson, we will be looking at “Why Accurate Interpretation of the Scriptures Is Necessary

Bible Study Series – Practice Session 1 (JOHN 3:16-21)

The last time on the Bible Study methods series, I had said that we would be considering “Why Accurate Interpretation of the Scriptures Is Necessary”. However, It occurred to me that it was important that “practical sessions” would be required from time to time, to help those following these series appreciate how these techniques help us better understand the Scriptures.

To that end, I have decided to do a brief study of John 3:16-21 using the inductive bible study method.

It is my hope to conclude it in one session, however if that is not possible, I will break it into two or more parts.

(Please note that in being able to study the Bible, we must recognize, not only our limitations, with respect to a thorough understanding of the biblical text, but also what “tools” the Holy Spirit, who is the author of the Bible (2Peter 1:20-21) has supplied us with for this purpose [see Ephesians 4:11-16])

Now there are those who would read 1John 2:18-20 [especially verse 20] and say, “see I don’t need anyone to “teach” me since I have the Holy Spirit”. Such people fail to see that there was a context in which what the Apostle John said was required, and that context can be understood by the fact that the entire first epistle of John was written to refute a new, growing and extremely dangerous threat to Christianity. That threat was “Gnosticism” [derived from the Greek word “gnosis” which meant knowledge].

One of Gnosticism’s main tenets was that people had to be “initiated” into some sort of “secret knowledge” (hence the term Gnosis), which was only available to the “few initiates” and not to all. The Apostle John refuted this falsehood by saying that there was NO such secret knowledge, and that every Christian had “The same anointing” (here a reference to the Holy Spirit) and thus everyone had “the same body of truth available to ALL of us”.

In fact, his function as a teacher was to teach, not because Christians were ignorant of the truth [as these Gnostics wanted them to believe] but because they in fact knew the truth [remember the Bereans who confirmed what Paul taught with the Scriptures so as to ascertain its authenticity]. The Holy Spirit therefore didn’t give us these “tools/resources” [see Ephesians 4:11] to replace our need to study, but to aid and enhance our study.

To this end therefore, we have sermons, bible commentaries, articles, books, study guides, concordances, bible encyclopedias, dictionaries, lectures etc. that have been produced by diligent men, who understand the weight of the responsibility they bear as teachers of God’s word (see James 3:1) and have therefore given the “most earnest heed” to understanding the biblical text and clarify its meaning.

Now to the task at hand:

Recall that in our last lesson in these series, I outlined 4 elements of the inductive Bible study methods as follows:

  1. Observation
  2. Interpretation
  3. Application
  4. Proclamation:

We would apply these elements to our sample text and see what truth the word of God will yield to us.

A note of caution here: As one who is just learning these Bible Study methods, it is obvious that you would not observe as many things in the text as the person who has spent many years either in training or at handling the word. The immediate goal isn’t for you to observe ALL that is in the text, but for you to ACCURATELY observe what the text actually says.  So, don’t be discouraged if you don’t immediately see as many things as someone who is mature sees (Hebrews 5:12-14). God’s word is milk and it is solid food. You need the milk so, take it easy, give yourself to studying God’s word, relying always on the Holy Spirit; and I assure you that as you spend time in the word, your insight into God’s truth will increase and so will your joy

John 3:16-21

“For God so loved the world; that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

John 3:16 is one of the most popular and often quoted text of Scriptures on the planet. In fact, even those who may have never opened a bible in their life, know this verse. But it is also often misunderstood by very many people.

However, the task at hand isn’t just to address these ‘misconceptions’ (although I fully expect that they would be addressed as we progress).

Observation:

There are a number of things that one can notice from these verses; some are immediately obvious, others, not so obvious and would therefore require “keener eyes” and skill (see my “Note of Caution” earlier in the article). I will enumerate these observations so as to make it easier for the reader to follow:

  1. One of the first things that one observes is that these verses are an excerpt from a larger narrative that begins in verse 1. So, to better grasp the “gist” of the texts, we have to look at it in light of the entire narrative (vv. 1 – 21)

[Because of space constraint, I have not quoted the entire 21 verses here, but since I would be referring to them throughout this study, I encourage you to have a bible handy]

  1. The first verse starts with the word “Now”. This is quite easy to miss, but it is a significant observation. All bible students must take note of such words like “Now”, “Therefore”, “And”, “Then”, “But”, “For”, “Yet”, “Even”, “Or”, “After these things” etc. All these words, called “Conjunctions” serve to “connect” Sentences, Words, Phrases, Thoughts, Clauses and so on.

So then, what is the “Now” in our text connecting to it? Well, It obviously connects it to the previous verses; especially  John 2:23-25 which says “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in his name, observing his signs which he was doing. But Jesus, on his part, was not entrusting himself to them, for he knew all men, and because he did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for he himself knew what was in man.”  The import of the “Now” becomes even more profound when one considers what Nicodemus’ opening remark to Christ was, “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him”.

It is as if John put this story of Nicodemus’ encounter up as one of the examples to further drive home the point of his observation on how Jesus didn’t entrust himself to them which he noted in the previous verses of John 2:23-25. Notice that all these happened in Jerusalem and “many observed his signs which he was doing”. It was, at least, on the basis of these observations that this Pharisee, Nicodemus, had come, having drawn the partial conclusion about the uniqueness of Christ as evidenced by his statement, even though the assessment, to be honest, was a very disappointing one; as Nicodemus didn’t even think that Jesus was a prophet, let alone the Messiah; but rather a teacher who was mightily endowed by God]

  1. Another thing to observe is that the nature of the ensuing conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus especially what was said, and how this provides us with a lot of insight into Jesus’ method of evangelism; the firm yet loving manner in which he strips Nicodemus of any sense of self confidence. Notice that Jesus launches straight into the “heart of the matter” (something he did with the Samaritan by the well, and with those who sought him after the miracle of loaves). “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” Jesus was able to see exactly what Nicodemus needed to ask but which he himself didn’t even realize. Recall what John said there about Christ, “He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for he himself knew what was in man.

Nicodemus, like every Jew, fully expected to participate in the “Kingdom of God”, which they understood as “coming at the end of the age”, to refer to experiencing eternal, resurrection life, but Jesus made it clear that the kingdom (God’s saving transforming reign) had in some sense been inaugurated in His message and miracles [Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 11:20]. Now here is Nicodemus, claiming that he can see something of who Jesus is in the miracles, but Jesus insists that no-one can “see” the saving reign of God at all, including the display of the miraculous, unless they are born again.

To Be Continued…

When Stating Positions- Thinking Biblically!

In an email I wrote in 2010, I shared the foundational presuppositions that guide the formulation of my arguments i.e. the premises upon which I base my positions regarding the Christian faith (which as Jude put it, was delivered once and for all to the saints!)

Firstly, I believe that the Bible alone is the word of God (this does not in anyway invalidate Christ as the Word of God as some would say). I believe that all that is required for life and godliness is either clearly expressed in Scriptures or can, by good and reasonable consequence, be deduced from Scripture. I do not believe that the Scripture is opposed to reason, but rather makes truth statements that we can trust as our premises for the conclusions we draw once we use the right tool i.e. faith and logic

(Please notice that I used the words GOOD and REASONABLE, to show that God is not opposed to the laws of thought (or logic) but rather, has given us the faculty required to establish premises, and draw accurate conclusions based on his Scriptures)

Secondly, I believe that all human beings have a starting point (axiom) from which all their arguments are built up; and that as long as these axioms are faulty (i.e. badly presumed) then, their consequent arguments will be flawed. To this end, I believe that all the truth statements made in Scriptures are without fault (i.e. inerrant and infallible and non-contradictory). It goes without saying that:

  1. God is True
  2. The Bible is the Word of God
  3. Therefore the Bible is true.

This is my starting point, and just like the atheist who would reject this syllogism, I also have a right to affirm it. I do not believe that the authenticity of the Scriptures relies on the credibility of any man, but rather on itself.

Thirdly, I believe and affirm that people can actually know exactly what God intended to say in any verse of Scripture, and that given the existing set of arrangements (i.e. how Scriptures is currently arranged) no verse can contradict itself even if it may say different things under different relationships for example:

  • David was the King of Israel is true
  • David was the King of Judah is true
  • David was the Father of Absalom is true
  • David was the Father of Ammon is true
  • David was the Father of Solomon is true
  • David was the Husband of Abigail is true
  • David was the Husband of Bathsheba is true

Notice that it is one David, but different relationships, each one true, but none is mutually exclusive.

However, the Bible does not affirm a position in one place and then contradicts itself in another. E.g.

  •  David the King of Israel was the Father of Solomon the King of Israel- True (written in Scriptures)
  • David the King of Israel was the Son of Solomon the King of Israel- False (non existent an made up)

Bottom line? The Bible has no contradictions whatsoever!

Fourthly, I have come to realize that correct thinking (good logical reasoning) is a skill that can, and must be learned. Unfortunately, a lot of folks do not follow the steps of thinking (proper syllogism) when drawing their conclusions but will rather resort to fallacies (faulty logic) when attempting to draw their conclusions. As sad as this is, it is by far the most popular means employed by people when drawing conclusions for instance:

Argument 1:

  •  Tunji always takes things too personally so, he cannot be right!

Observation:

  • What has Tunji’s disposition to an argument to do with the validity or otherwise of his position?

Argument 2:

  • Tunji said,  “Because I feel strongly about this issue, it must be right!”

Observation:

  •  What has Tunji’s feelings got to do with the validity or otherwise of the issue?

Argument 3

  • Some people just want to be right at all times; they are not worth listening to!

Observation:

  • While this may be a valid accusation, this assertion does not in anyway take away from, or add to the validity of their argument!

The conclusion of this is that people should endeavor to refrain from personal attacks and rather refute the points been made, by pointing out:

  1. The faulty premise (which could result from a misinterpretation of God’s Word )
  2. The faulty Syllogism
  3. The Faulty Conclusions

For example:

Mark 2:7  “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Putting this in a syllogism, it would read

  • This Jesus is just a Man
  • Only God can forgive Sins
  • Therefore He blasphemes by Saying “Your sins are forgiven”

Notice that the argument is very valid, but the conclusion is wrong because the premise “Jesus is just a man!” is faulty and untrue.

Fifthly, I have also come to realize that people, in defining terms don’t always mean what you think their definitions mean. So, it becomes imperative to clarify meanings when relating with people.

For instance “Bible believing Church” may have a different connotation from its denotative meaning! It is therefore vital to clarify. Also the term “I am a Christian” could have different connotations that have no semblance to the definition of who a Christian really is as explained in Scripture.

 2John 1:9  Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.

Please note that this is by no means a glorification of the intellect over a passion for God (as some would assume). As a matter of fact, Jesus taught that a right understanding engenders worship and adoration:

 John 4:10  Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

Notice how her request for living water was contingent upon her knowing who he really was.

 John 15:11  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Notice also how their joy was contingent upon what God spoke to them

 John 17:8  For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

Notice again how the disciples glorifying of Jesus, as sent by the Father, was contingent on their knowledge of “all the words” that God gave to Jesus for them!

A clear and accurate understanding of Scriptures is our weapon , which is mighty through God, to the pulling down of strongholds and every argument that opposes the knowledge of Christ.

 2Corinthians 10:3-6  For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

God bless you!

Bible Study Series: Lesson 2 (Dealing with the Basics 2)

In continuing our look at how to study the Bible, I want to say a number of things about the issue of Presuppositions, one of the things I stated that we need to be aware of whenever we intend to study the word of God.

Like was stated the last time, “Presuppositions are not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, some of the time, our presuppositions are more or less in line with God’s word but some are much less so.

As promised, I want to further explore this concept of “presuppositions” so that we are, hopefully aware of them, and awakened to their impact on our study of the word of God.

What is a Presupposition?
Wikipedia defines it as follows: “a presupposition (or ps) is an implicit assumption about the world or background belief relating to an utterance whose truth is taken for granted in discourse. Examples of presuppositions include:

• Jane no longer writes fiction.
PRESUPPOSITION: Jane once wrote fiction.

• Have you stopped eating meat?
PRESUPPOSITION: you had once eaten meat.

• Have you talked to Hans?
PRESUPPOSITION: Hans exists.

An important fact about presuppositions, which I believe will be very important to our ability to accurately study and understand the scriptures is this:
A presupposition MUST be mutually known or assumed by the speaker and addressee for the utterance to be considered appropriate in context.

Notice that a presupposition must be mutually known or assumed by the speaker (or writer) and the addressee (or reader).

So then, it means that in this case of accurate Bible study, we have a duty, as readers, to first and foremost, seek to understand the “presuppositions of the author of the Scriptures” (God) and be clear about them, before we can say that we understand exactly what God is saying in a particular text of Scripture.

It is remarkable how many people impose their own prior assumptions on the Scriptures and thus make a horrid mess of its interpretation.

For example, let us say you grew up in a home where the father was clearly “in charge” and ruled with a rather heavy hand at times—failing to acknowledge his wife’s feelings in various family situations. Now, years later as an adult, you come to the text, “wives, submit yourselves unto you own husbands…” (Ephesians 5:22ff). Your immediate mental image of “submit yourself” is based upon your early home life. This mental image is a presupposition. Most likely, the given example is not an accurate portrayal of the author’s intended meaning regarding husband/wife interaction.

At this point you must be careful not to read into the text your presupposition of what “subjection” (and the husband’s headship-leadership) should look like. In the case of the text under consideration, the subjection of the woman is clearly voluntary and “as unto the Lord,” with the husband loving and leading his wife in the same manner “as Christ also loved the Church” (Ephesians 5:25, 26). In order to understand God’s true meaning, the biblical words demand our impartial study without presupposition

The thing we must understand about presuppositions is that they affect “our view of anything and everything, whether or not we realize it, or that we are aware of what type of presupposition is affecting us, or even the grammatical form the presupposition takes.

An assumption, will generally remain a necessary assumption whether the utterance is placed in the form of an assertion, denial, or question, and can be associated with a specific lexical item or grammatical feature (presupposition trigger) in the utterance.”

As Christians, there are certain basic presuppositions that we MUST necessarily hold in order to be confident that we are accurately interpreting God’s word.

1. The Bible is God’s word. It does not just contain God’s word (as some people may want us to believe), IT IS GOD’s word – (2Timothy 3:16-17)

2. The Bible is a revelation of Jesus Christ – (Luke 24:27,44; John 5:39)

3. ALL that we need to know about God and about God’s will is either explicitly stated in Scriptures or can be implied from it by good and necessary consequence – (Deuteronomy 32:46-47; Joshua 1:7-8; Psalm 119:9-11; 2Timothy 3:16-17)

4. The Bible is infallible and it is inerrant (it has no errors and it is exempt from errors) – (John 17:17; 1 John 2:21)

5. The Bible is the final authority in ALL matters of faith, life and godliness – (Deuteronomy 32:47; Joshua 1:7-8, Psalm 138:2; Isaiah 8:20, Isaiah 66:2)

6. The Bible is CLEAR, it is not some dark secretive/ mysterious book which can only be understood by a few “in the know” people – (Psalm 36:9; Psalm 119: 9, 11; Psalm 119:104; Psalm 119:130) as the Scriptures clearly show, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do ALL THE WORDS of this law” – Deuteronomy 29:29

When all these are assumed as given, we can then set about the task of seeking to understand EXACTLY what the author intended in any given text, we would be careful NOT TO IMPOSE our own presuppositions on the text; and by so doing, we show ourselves to be “diligent workmen who have no reason to be ashamed because we rightly divide the word of truth” (2Timothy 2:15)

Inductive vs. Deductive Study

There are two broad methods or approaches for reading and studying the Word of God.

The Inductive approach begins with the text itself. It looks carefully at word order, sentence structure, and context to understand clearly what the author was communicating, and then seeks to explain and apply that idea. By its very nature, this approach tends to be more “textual” and tends to deal largely within the realm of “discovery.”

The Deductive approach on the other hand, begins by making an assumption or proposition which is believed to be found in Scripture. It then seeks to undergird that assumption by finding support in various texts of Scripture. By its very nature it tends to be more “topical” and to deal largely in the realm of “proof.” For our purposes, we will be setting forth the inductive approach to Bible study, though admittedly at times there will be an interchange back and forth between the two methods.

4 Important Steps in Inductive Bible Study
Before embarking on any study of the Word of God, it is important to keep the following four steps in mind. Every time we study the Word we want to do these four things

Observation
Look at the text, examine, read, ask questions of the text (who, what, where, when, why, how), take notes, and anticipate the questions and objections raised by your target audience. Probe, probe, probe! Compare and contrast! Notice as many facets in the text as possible.

Interpretation
What do these words mean according to their definitions? What did the author mean when he wrote these words? Your goal is to get at the author’s intent or meaning.

Application
How might these words be applied? Of what significance are they? What practical difference does this text make in life? What areas in my own life need to change in order to conform more completely to the meaning of the text?

Proclamation
Closely related to application, proclamation answers the question: “How can I share this teaching?” What are the cultural or societal issues that may be addressed by this text? Who do I know that needs to hear this? How can my family benefit? To do this well, we need to be able to understand both the culture and our audience.

We will continue our study next time, by looking at “WHY ACCURATE INTERPRETATION OF THE SCRIPTURES IS NECESSARY”