3 Reasons You Don’t Need the Historical, Cultural, or Literary Backgrounds to Understand the Bible

“In order to understand a Bible passage, you need to know the historical, cultural, and literary background.”

I’ve heard such things said many times. I think it’s ridiculous.

There are three main reasons I don’t think you need to know the historical, cultural, or literary background of a passage to understand the passage.

First, the origins of this advice come from literary criticism. Literary criticism, as it relates to the Bible, comes from liberal theology. One of its foundational beliefs is that the Bible is not inspired. There are cultural norms and commentary that can be ignored in the Bible. Literary criticism only exists because of doubts concerning the authenticity and inerrancy of the Bible. Now that this sort of stuff has been around long enough, it’s part of typical Christian speak. Not everyone who brings up such things doubts the inspiration of Scripture, but that is the foundation of such things, so beware when someone brings it up.

Second, who is to say what the historical, cultural, or literary background is? What are the trusted sources of such information? Most of the time, an appeal to culture or history is nothing more than code words that you’re about to hear why the Bible doesn’t mean what it clearly says. Rarely have I heard anyone use cultural, historical, or literary background to build up a literal understanding of Scripture. Typically it will serve to bolster some sort of allegorical interpretation. If not that, than it will at least be used to throw out the traditional common-sense meaning of a text. Rarely does the historical, cultural, or literary background add anything, and many times it detracts from what the Bible says.

Third, in order to understand the Bible you don’t just need the Bible and the Holy Spirit, you now also need historical, cultural, and literary books. This undermines the authority of the Scripture as well as the Holy Spirit’s ministry. If I need Josephus to understand the Bible, then all bets are off. Who says Josephus got stuff right? Why do we put more trust in historians than in the inspired Word of God?

Historical, cultural, and literary background is just a way for overly-intellectual ivory tower types to tell the average laymen the Bible is too hard for them to understand. I have more confidence in God’s ability to say exactly what He meant than in scholars to tell me what God really meant.

The Bible is not that hard to understand with study, prayer, the edification of the Church, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. You don’t need to buy some professor’s books to understand it. Just read the Word and pray for Wisdom. Let the Spirit teach you.

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Genetics, Sin, and the Gospel

There are genetic predispositions to disease. Cancer, among other diseases, runs in families.

If you find out young enough that there is a genetic predisposition to cancer, there are things you can do to stave it off: don’t consume tons of alcohol, don’t smoke, eat right, exercise, etc.

These things are no guarantee, but you would be frowned upon for smoking and drinking if there is a genetic predisposition to cancer. Your doctors and family would all tell you to stop it.

Even when a person gets cancer, what do we tell them? “Oh well, guess you just submit to it and die.”

There may be some who say that, but for the most part, people tell you to “fight it.” Even those who lose to cancer, we celebrate for their courageous fight against it.

We live in a world that increasingly tells us that “sin” is actually just a genetic predisposition.

The classic example, in our faces seemingly every day, is homosexuality. Scientists are trying their hardest to tell us there is a genetic predisposition to homosexuality.

So, for sake of argument, we’ll grant the point.

Is our genetic makeup inherently good? If so, what’s the whole deal with fighting a genetic predisposition to cancer? Is cancer good? Heart disease good? Are doctors the bad people for trying to thwart these genetic things?

I think we can agree that just because something is genetic doesn’t mean it’s good.

So, when it comes to genetic predispositions toward anger, sexual aggression, homosexuality, or any other behavior, could it not also be possible that even if there is a genetic predisposition, couldn’t it be fought? Couldn’t it be staved off by modifying behavior?

Or put it the other way: what if there’s a genetic predisposition to be homophobic! Do you think homophobic people would be told to fight that?!

One thing you’ll notice is that I am linking cancer with homosexuality in this argument. I assure you this is not my doing.

This is the doing of the age we live in. If all behavior and illness is purely genetic, then there is no difference between “bad” behavior and illness.

Our modern culture is encouraging, and in some countries implementing, the abortion of genetically diseased babies. In other words, diseases are becoming morally unacceptable. (This will increase the more governments have control of health care, by the way).

Morality, in the modern world, is based on societal effects, whether my actions hurt others. If I have to pay everyone’s health care, then I get a say in how it is spent. If your MS costs society, we will eventually decide to kill people with MS.

So, our diseases are becoming sins, and our sins are becoming diseases. This is not my opinion, this is what happened in the past and is happening today.

This puts society in weird moral positions. Our current moral landscape looks absolutely ridiculous. Society celebrates Hugh Hefner while firing all the men who acted on what Hefner promoted.

In some areas we are told to fight genetic predispositions, and in others we are told to give in to them. I’m baffled to know which is for when.

Except I’m not.

People want to sin and they want to feel good about their sin. If we conclude “I can’t help it, I was born this way,” then responsibility is gone, sin is no longer a problem, and I can do what I want.

There is a way out of the confusion. God has revealed what morality is. You may be genetically predisposed to certain sins (anger, lust, homosexuality), but by no means does this mean we don’t fight destructive urges.

Jesus Christ told us we must be born again. That in Christ our old nature is crucified with its affections and lusts. There is help through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome the flesh with all its “genetic predispositions.”

It remains our only hope.

Trump, Jerusalem, and Your Bible

 

Last week President Trump announced that the US would move their embassy to Jerusalem, the “capital of Israel.”

This caused quite the stir.

Politically speaking, I’m all for America treating Israel well. They are a valuable ally, and I think some compassion should be shown them due to their precarious position and miserable history. I’d rather side with them than any other nation in the Middle East. I actually like Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, because, duh, it clearly is.

Common sense tells you Jerusalem is the capital. It’s so common sense that a video was put out showing that all our recent presidents acknowledged this:

All recent presidents have promised to do what President Trump actually went ahead and did. It did take guts, whether you agree with it or not.

In all honesty, the desire to not treat Jerusalem as Israel’s capital comes from a humanist, Bible-rejecting worldview. Not saying everyone in that camp is a Bible-rejecting humanist, just saying that’s where this stance comes from.

Physically speaking
, the Bible was written by Jews. It’s mainly about Jews. Your Savior was Jewish. Salvation is of the Jews. All who are of faith have Abraham as their father. They are the tree we are grafted into.

Antisemitism, the foundation for any Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel thinking, exists largely because of the Bible. They have suffered for thousands of years for what we take for granted. They deserve our respect and appreciation.

Unfortunately, many people, mainly Christians, put too much significance on this sort of thing. It’s the mindset that lead to the Crusades: we must fight to regain the Holy Land!

Here’s a gem I came across from President Trump’s rally last Friday.

Speaker at Trump rally: the soon coming King is coming back to Jerusalem because President Trump declared Jerusalem to be capital of Israel

 
According to the above quote, Donald Trump has allowed the Messiah to return.

Jesus Christ does not need anything to be put in place by anyone to come back. He can just come when He, and/or the Father, wants.

It is important not to mix modern national Israel with the promises of God to Israel.

So, spiritually speaking, we can view all the diplomacy of the US as being without much consequence.

The children of the flesh (racial Israel) are not the children of the promise (those who are of faith).

National Israel today is just a chunk of dirt on the globe. It bears no eternal significance, now that the presence of God has departed the temple.

Israel is a fallen nation of fallen people with fallen leaders just like our country and every other.

These are just geo-political nations that have zero eternal value. Christ does not need US diplomatic permission to return!

Views on Israel can get very frustrating. Lots of confusing positions are taken. Be careful. I think it’s good to break down your view on these Political, Physical, and Spiritual levels. It might help you think things through better.

Rather than wasting breath arguing over Trump, Israel, Jerusalem, or such things, instead listen to Psalm 122:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.

Donald Trump, nor any other leader, will bring lasting peace to Jerusalem. God can and will. All our attempts will merely be more evidence of our great need for the King of Kings to reign.

Christ’s coming will bring peace to Jerusalem.

Praying for the peace of Jerusalem is praying for Christ to return.

If that doesn’t get you to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, I don’t know what will!

Stuff to Look At

Here are a couple things I’d like to promote:

*My sister, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, and I are planning on doing a Read Through the Bible program this year and will be doing a 10-15 minute podcast on each week’s reading. If you would like to participate, send me an email to daweddles@yahoo.com and we will add you to the list and keep you posted on new episodes.

*I have been writing for a ministry called Ananias House lately. They are a ministry to the persecuted church in Syria and surrounding environs. Here are a couple articles I have written for them:

Persecution, Death, and Other Things to be Thankful For

We’re not Salesmen; We’re Ambassadors for Christ

The Suffering of the Body

The Daily, Un-celebrated Plodding of Faith

*I preached a couple months worth of sermons about the Gospel and then a series on Evangelism. There are a couple sermons I’d like you to hear that encapsulate many years of experience and frustration with the average explanation of Evangelism.

Evangelism and the Other Person

People have to Want the Gospel

God in Evangelism

True Evangelism is Hard

 

Thank you. That is all. Carry on.

Doubting Fanatics

“The fanatic is always concealing a secret doubt.”

George Smiley, author of spy novels, said this. I have no idea what the context is because I do not read spy novels.

I will, however, use my ignorance of the context to pontificate on an idea.

A fanatic is someone, in my opinion, completely sold out to an idea to the extent of being willing to fight for it. Not just willing to fight if a fight comes, but itching to fight for it, starting fights for the sole opportunity of fighting for it.

People who yell and scream and get mad at those who disagree with them. These are fanatics.

To paraphrase Shakespeare: Me thinks thou dost protest too much.

People who make a scene of defending their cause, who use violence, vitriol, and red-faced arguing, are actually displaying their insecurity.

Emotional rage is a substitute for intellectual reasoning.

Observe our modern political landscape. There are few calm voices. Everyone is yelling. Most Americans who are yelling can’t name the three branches of their government or the difference between the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Theologically, Calvinists are largely fanatical. Calvinists have no monopoly on fanaticism, but they are a handy example since this response is prevalent among them, which makes a guy like me have that much more confidence in my own stance on the issue.

One Calvinist posted on this page for years, made everything about Calvinism, and argued every post. I eventually blocked him.

He changed his username and email and tried posting under a new identity. But I had ways in place to block him and knew it was him changing his identity. He then sent me emails for months, few of which I read, continuing to fight.

This was all very weird to me. I make no secret of not liking Calvinism. But I do not hunt them down to fight with them. I do not troll their blogs.

The reason behind our responses, in my opinion, is because I have confidence the Bible is on my side; he did not.

Several times in our discussions over the years he could not answer my arguments and told me to talk to his pastor or read some book someone wrote.

Anytime someone says that to you it’s because they do not know what they are talking about. People who don’t know what they are talking about have doubts. People with doubts get loud and argumentative.

It is a waste of time to argue with fanatics. They are not listening. They are just arguing to give them a confident feeling their intellect can not. They go to bed at night knowing they defended the faith against the nay-sayers.

Watch out for yelly, argumentative fanatics of any camp: political, doctrinal, religious, etc. They don’t know what they’re talking about and use the number of fights they are in as proof of certainty.

Don’t give them that certainty. Calmly state your opinion and then move on.

Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together.

Israel Rejects Jesus Christ for the Same Reason We Do

The vast majority of Jews reject Jesus Christ as their Messiah.

There is one primary reason why: He didn’t meet their expectations.

Jewish expectations for the Messiah were: a physically impressive man who would physically deliver Israel from physical enemies and bring Israel into a glorious, physically-rich kingdom.

Instead, Jesus Christ showed up meek, lowly, humble, serving, and ultimately dying. In other words, He brought a bunch of nothing that no one needed.

Who needs a Messiah who can’t pay the bills, kill enemies, and give us free health care?

Jesus clearly demonstrated He had the ability to do these things, but He didn’t on a national level.

There are two comings of the Messiah. Israel skipped to the fun one. But the first lowly, humble, dying coming was necessary for our eternal salvation.

Lest we begin to bash Jews, they are just people like you and me.

Unfortunately, the Church is falling into the same error as Israel. We’re not interested in lowly, humble, serving and dying. No thanks.

We want Jesus to help us achieve the American Dream. We aren’t interested in a Savior that doesn’t give us our stuff now.

Spiritual blessings in heavenly places don’t pay the bills!

So, again, just like Israel, we’re rejecting the True Messiah because He’s not what we need.

What we fail to realize is that what we truly need is a Savior for our souls. You can get stuff if you try hard enough. You don’t need a Messiah to get a paycheck. But you’ll never get salvation for your soul without a Messiah.

But, most people don’t care about their souls. They care about the bills and the reputation and the promotion and success here and now.

So we reject Jesus Christ and follow a god of our own making. Our dream messiah. Our Golden Calves, “Behold your gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

Our affections and lusts are completely off, folks. I don’t think we have any idea how completely off the mark we are.

Every once in a while I get a glimpse, but then I go watch TV.

Materialistic Christianity

Materialism has taken over our world.

I don’t just mean the “buying stuff” kind of materialism.

The classic definition of materialism is living life as though only the material exists and matters. Life is about my body sensing material stuff around me. There is nothing higher, no spiritual component.

Self-help books are materialism. They give you advice about how to use your physical body to be physically successful. Success means being a master at manipulating material things so you get more material things.

Even our spirituality is materialistic.

Modern Evangelical Christianity is about how Jesus can help you pay off your mortgage, heal your knee, and help you accomplish your dreams.

It seems the only reason people get interested in spiritual things is if it will benefit their physical attainments.

Here’s a perfect case: a weight-loss Bible study aerobics class. They are amazed at how much interest there is in it. I am not amazed by it at all. The only stuff people in our day pay attention to is stuff that will benefit them physically/materially.

True Christianity, as delineated in the Bible, tells you that in Christ you are dead to this world. Your flesh is dead. You are crucified with Christ. You don’t live any more.

Christianity tells us this world will be dissolved and melted. We’re to set our affections on things above, lay our treasure in heaven, and live for the better country to come.

True Christianity says we die to our fleshly affections and lusts, and mortify the deeds of our bodies. Our bodies are living sacrifices, ready to be killed all day long for the sake of Jesus Christ.

If you are looking to Christianity to help you succeed materially, you will be vastly disappointed.

If, however, you understand the book of Ecclesiastes and know that everything is vanity and this world is corruptible, you will love Christianity.

Jesus Christ will lead you to peace, love, joy and other SPIRITUAL fruit, which only come when you realize the futility of pursuing physical things.

Are you following Christ in an effort to get more and better physical things? Or are you following Him because you’re fed up with physical things and know there must be something better?

Would you still follow Christ if it didn’t benefit you one bit physically?