Monday, September 28, 2015

How to Gain Deeper Understanding of Bible Text via Blueletterbible.org

In my last post I talked about the dangers of  becoming a zombie by swallowing what we are taught about the Bible and Jesus' teachings without learning to think or research for ourselves. Yes, most pastors have more Biblical training than the average lay person, but with so many resources at our fingertips today, there is no reason we can't be good biblical scholars.

Knowing the historical and cultural context in which a passage is written is crucial. Just as important is understanding what the original words mean. Sometimes they do not translate well into English.
Today's technology makes it much easier to research these days. Even I can do it!

I invited my husband, Jeff, who holds a Masters of Divinity and who is the one who first told me about blueletterbible.org,  to explain how to use this resource. As I've been walking through the gospels to dig down to Jesus' teachings and what he really means, I sometimes use blueletterbible.org to better grasp a concept.

How to Use Blueletterbible.com

by Jeff Stewart

Blueletterbible.org is a great resource for breaking down biblical verses and passages. The most valuable feature is the tools link that helps you look at the original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek word used from historic manuscripts used to translate the King James Version of the bible. The tool makes use of Strong’s Concordance of the Bible (originally published in 1890 and revised several times since). This not only enables you to see what the various English translations used, in deciding words and concepts, but you can also see what other words the original may suggest.

 I will guide you through the process I use with graphics provided from the website. I will use 2 verses to demonstrate the use of the Old Testament Hebrew (Psalm 23:3) and New Testament Greek (John 1:1).

Let’s start with Psalm 23:3. Let’s say you read this verse and wonder what the word “righteousness” comes from.

                
Type “Psalm 23” in the “Search the Bible” box and click the magnifying glass icon. Notice, you can also select an English translation in a pull-down menu.



   Go to verse 3 and click on the “Tools” icon.



  Select the word “righteousness” on the Strong’s reference number.



 The Hebrew word will appear. You will see the Hebrew word, followed by the phonetic “transliteration” English pronunciation. If you want to hear the pronunciation, you can click on the wave bar and some old man will say it twice with a hoarse voice as he is on his 6,664th verbalization. You can also learn the part of speech used and you can see the root word and learn about it by link.



Scroll down for more information. You will see Strong’s definitions of the word as well as a PDF graphic from the Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon.




Scroll down farther and you will see how this Hebrew word is used in other verses. This is helpful and it gives you a broader idea of what the word originally meant. This information can provide some insight and surprises that can result in a transformation of what you’ve held about an English concept. Notice how Leviticus 19 uses the same word (H6664), but the translators choose the word “just” instead of “righteous.”



 Now let’s look at the New Testament use of Blue Letter Bible. I’ve typed “John 1” in the search box. As before, click the magnifying glass icon.




 Now you see John 1 in the KJV default translation. Let’s break down verse 1 by clicking on “Tools.”


The verse can now be seen in the Greek (Textus Receptus is the translation used only by KJV). Below the verse you can see a column of the Greek words used with the Strong’s reference number.



  Let’s learn how the translators select the English word – “Word.” Click on G3056.


Now you see “logos.” Guess what English word we get from the Greek. But the translators decided to use “word” instead of “logo.”


  
   As you scroll down, you can see the variety of concepts “logos” carries.



Scrolling further, you see Strong’s Definition plus the PDF graphic of Thayer’s Greek Lexicon.



Continuing to scroll down, you will see the verses where “logos” is used and what it means in different references. Notice how Matt 5 translates “logos” as “communication” in verse 32, but “sayings” in verse 37. That is useful to demonstrate how much more versatile Greek is than English.



I hope this has been helpful to you. I find this tool very valuable in my own thorough study of the Bible. It has helped me in my own ongoing transformation as a Follower of Christ

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Common Link Between Zombies and Many Mainstream Churches

Zombie movies and lit have made a huge comeback and the resurgence doesn't seem to be slowing down any. I am not sure why zombies are so popular or why we are so fascinated with the macabre. I guess death or the fear of a gory death will always have some fascination for us.

The living dead are grotesque creatures who really don't do much other than wandering around looking for more people to bite and devour. And we all know what happens when someone gets bitten. They join the living dead and become a part of the masses of stinking dead.

I can't help but notice a similarity between zombies and many mainline Christians. There's not a lot of mental processing going on.  Like zombies, many "churched" people show up waiting to eat and digest what is being taught in their church with little or, no thinking involved.

One of my favorite illustrations, and I have used it on occasions in a couple of my books, is the story of a father and son team  working on putting a picket fence. The father shows the son how to trace around a cut out a picket, and then puts the son to work doing just that while he nails pickets to the fence in progress. Things seem to go along well until the father begins to notice that the pickets seem to be getting wider and taller as he continues to nail.

Finally he asks the son if he did what he had shown him to do. "Yes, " said the son, "I have been tracing around the pickets and cutting them out."

"You were supposed to trace around the pattern I gave you of the first picket, not each one after that."
No wonder the pickets were becoming distorted.

This is what has happened with how we are being taught to live out the teachings of Christ. Instead of learning to look directly at what Jesus taught ourselves in context with the culture and historical happenings of the time, Christians are feeding on what previous theologians have determined to be true. If the theologian got it wrong, then those beliefs are handed down from one group to the next. Soon we have nothing but distortion instead of truth.

Many churches do not encourage their members to think and delve for themselves. They send a message whether stated or subliminal that only the educated paid staff really has a right to teach. To that a say, "bunk."

One of the things Jesus is most known for is encouraging people to break away from the traditional, legalistic teachings and consider his teachings with fresh eyes and and open heart. We should never follow blind guides or we will probably fall into a ditch. (Matt. 15:14)

I you want to follow Jesus' truth  and teachings stop eating dead meat and learn to research and think for yourselves. It's the only true way to come alive in the true teachings of Christ.

In my next post I will share more about how you can learn to research for yourself.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Why I am Sharing My Spiritual Struggles Publicly on a Blog

I thought today I would share a blog post I wrote in my journal in July of 2015. There's nothing profound here, just a follower of Christ expressing what is currently creating tension and stress in her life.

. . .Why am I sharing my spritiual struggles on a blog?  Because life continues to get more complicated. I have difficulty knowing what I believe, making up my mind and knowing that what I believe is in line with God's thinking.

In just the past few months, I've seen gay marriage legalized, people in a Charleston, South Carolina church shot dead because they were black. Now South Carolina took down the confederate flag. It has pleased some people and infuriated others and all of this is so stressful. These are only a few examples of things that are going on....

End of my journal post.

Though I didn't say this in my journal post, I will add that I am sharing my struggles publicly because I am convinced there are others who might feel just as torn. So it is to give permission to struggle and to know we are not alone. We don't have to have everything neatly tied up in a bundle.

I will also add that since this entry other stressors for me include the argument to take the conferate flag off of  NC license plates, the arrest of a court clerk Kim Davis who, despite the legalization of gay marriage, refuses to issue marriage licences to gays because she believes it is morally wrong. She has since been released from jail and her release became an occasion to make a political statement by Senator Mike Huckabee who has presidential aspirations. His statement "God's laws are above the laws of a nation.," gets cheers from the conservative right and raises ire from more liberal parties. Now Huckabees group is being sued by the band who produced the song played in the background during the release press conference

Add to that that this is the anniversary of 9/11 and I can't even look at the photos of the event because they are so disturbing to me. And we have quote unquote Christians calling for action against radical Islamic groups because they think retaliation and force is the answer.

What a mess we make of things. On social media we flaunt our beliefs, baiting and enticing others to disagree with our stance, like egging someone on to a fight. We take an arrogant "I am right and you are so off the mark attitude."  How can we be so arrogant and sure?  This danger of over confidence and infallibility is what leads to friction and eventually to violence and wars.

What do I believe about these issues and concerns?

 If I put my true thoughts in this blog post will I be blasted by different parties who believe differently? Will they call me a liberal, a conservative, or a biggot? I want to get along with everyone, but if I hold to my beliefs where does that put me? By trying to be a peacemaker, am I selling out? Some would say I am and yet Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers."

Do I have answers. Yes. Some. What I don't want to do is cave into popular beliefs held by the bulk of society. Just because the bulk of the majority believes they are right, are they?  The spiritual journey and wrangling with what is right continues. It's certainly not getting any easier.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My Revelation about the Book of Revelation

First off I want to say the the book pronunciation is singular and not plural, Revelation and not Revelations, which many Christians tend to mispronounce. Okay, I got that off my chest.

As with most books in the Bible, there are different schools of thought regarding the book of Revelation. Since my recent group study of the book I must say that I have drastically changed my beliefs regarding this book. I now have a difficult time applying the book to futuristic events that will effect Christians. If you get the time frame wrong regarding this book it definitely skews the interpretation.

The other disturbing thing about Revelation is the number of "biblical experts" who try to interpret its symbolism to be one hundred percent locked in while they pinpoint the exact date and time of when events will occur. Jesus told us the no one will know the hour and date of his coming (Mark 13:32) so people who continue to try to nail it down when all events will take place are in direct contradiction to his teachings. We are to be ready, but not to be preoccupied with accelerating events to speed up his arrival.

If you follow the belief that is most popular today it is that the book is written around 95 A.D. But if you believe it was written between 60 and 90 AD that drastically changes the interpretation. Here's why.

John addresses his letter to the seven churches. There was only a short window of time when there actually were exactly seven churches (the ones mentioned in the letters). Any earlier then only a few existed. Any later and then less that that number existed.

John starts off by stating the time is near. Thousands of years later people think it applies to us. If the time is near, and this prophecy wasn't sealed up as in the prophetic book of Daniel, then there is a sense or urgency.

John was addressing the persecution of Christians happening at that time and there are specifics that apply to the symbolism that relate to the different locations of the churches and who was in rule in their regions at that time. So, for instance, the reference to the Beast, may refer to the Emporer Domitian who persecuted Christians. (It was actually his nickname during that time.)  The mark of the beast may refer to the mark people had to wear in order to sell in the market place. If they didn't comply and express their loyalty, they wouldn't receive the mark which meant they couldn't sell. Not selling meant hunger and poverty. Today's interpretation of Revelation and the Beast make him more the anti-Christ and people are always trying to figure out exactly who that anti-Christ is. Adolph Hitler, Obama, you name it. I've heard it all.

Why was Revelation written with so much imagry and symbolism?  Why didn't God just give direct instruction to John? What possible purpose could the crypticness serve?

Here's a guess on my part. The only means of communication John had to warn these churches was through letters. And his purpose was to warn them about coming tribulation and looming destruction. If he had been straight forward without the coded symbols and the letters had fallen into the wrong hands, the bearer, the churches, and John could have been arrested and executed. As it was, he put forth these documents to both encourage the churches to hold fast to the true teachings of Christ, to resist the onslaught of pagan beliefs they were surrounded by, and to impress upon them the importance of following Christ's teachings without becoming luke warm or distorting them which was already taking place among some of these bodies of believers.

Here we go again.I said  this before, the Bible is not a novel. When you piece together a cohesive storyline you are forcing jigsaw puzzle pieces together that do not fit and yet Christians do it all the time.

I am not going into a detailed break down of the book. But I do want to address the Left Behind series. Some Christians have been sucked into this series hook, line and sinker. These stories are literally scaring the hell out of people. I think it's way off the mark. A couple of writers let their imaginations run wild. It touts the popular and unbiblical teaching of the rapture based on just a few verses of scripture such as 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-54, then the mash it all together with all the apocalyptic events in Revelation. One of the reasons people are being suck is is because of the Christian desire to see their faithfulness to God rewarded while everyone else's avoidance of him gets their just rewards. Who doesn't want to feel vindicated and yet this angry vengeful God and warrior Christ, seem at odds with what we know about the God/Jesus we see in the gospels. Somethings not right here.

Again, we have to look at the primary filter of our biblical understanding through the lens of Jesus. I am presently going through the gospels to see more on what Jesus has to say about everything, including judgment and his coming again. Will it be this bloody battle scene such as we see in Revelation where the blood runs as deep as a horses bridle?  Knowing Jesus' character and that he reflects the true nature of God, I have to say I question it. I will know more in the coming months. I invite you to dig for yourself, just be sure to keep what you study in the context of the time and the audience for whom it was written. 

What can can take away from Revelation is this. First, we should never let our culture water down Jesus' teachings. That we should be ready to meet Christ when he does come but we should live every day in complete devotion to his teachings. That we should share this good news by being a reflection of Christ to everyone we come in contact with. 

If you want to listen to the podcasts from A Place to Talk where we just finished a study of Revelation, there are recordings of these sessions. It's a very interactive church so lots of dialogue. This is the intro http://aplacetotalk.net/weeklytalks/page/2/. I think the second podcast in the series may talk about the time frame. The things about these discussions any time we have them is that we don't feel we have to say we have nailed it down. We leave conclusions open ended.In many ways I feel that's healthier.