September 5, 2008 in
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According to you, most denominations came about through our abilitiy to “cut and paste.” Since the Bible spans so much history, I’m not sure that it could’ve been written in a way to avoid this entirely. Wherever there are words, there is opportunity to twist them.
But the different interpretations do provide us with great opportunity to show love for others over our own freedoms and rights; like Paul advised in some of his letters. They also provoke us to seek God more diligently, to know what He intended.
The stories preserved in the written Word were originally passed on by oral tradition, where the emphasis was on the narrative (story) and the main idea(s) to be learned from the narrative. Now that it’s in written form, we tend to dissect and exegete it because our Western minds are trained to look closely at all the parts, rather than stepping back and admiring the whole.
When we do look at the parts, many interpreters forget the cultural/historical and language differences between then and now, which results in reading ourselves into the text, instead of letting the text guide us (exegesis).
But all of that aside, the disciples in the first century were known as people of The Way, not people of the Book (Reformation-present).
So that we can never finish it and bring an end the fun!
I do think that this is a very interesting question. After spending a year overseas as a 23 year old in 1993 this issue sort of came up in my life. I met a lot of people who sincerely loved Jesus and desired to serve Him who had a lot of different interpretations of various parts of Scripture. One thing I still noticed was that God still used all of us to accomplish His mission and bring glory to His Name. It was at this time that I realized that I did not have all the right answers. I could not possibly be right on all of my interpretations of Scripture. That would be a very arrogant assumption. I studied Scripture with a heart asking for guidance from the Holy Spirit, but since I am imperfect I am capable of hearing His direction incorrectly. It is, of course, not only I, but everyone who falls into this situation. In fact, I think that we fall so much more short in our imperfections than we realize and this adds to our inability to interpret God’s truth accurately. So none of us are 100% right in our interpretation of Scripture, yet God uses us for His Glory none the less.
I am not so sure that God allowed this to happen so much as I think it is an unavoidable product of the immensity of our fallness. I think that the first outcome of this realization is that this should push us to humility – that we can’t hear God as clearly as we think we sometimes can and that we don’t have all the answers. Unfortunately, there is a lot of arrogance going around as people allow their interpretation of Scripture to become more authoritative than Scripture itself in a similar fashion as the Pharisees.
Secondly, I think this should push further towards community and love for one another. “They will know you are My children by your love for one another.” When we realize that we do not have all the answers and humble ourselves, we are more open to consider others above ourselves and truly enter community and love each other as God desires us to. This results in the Holy Spirit drawing others into the Kingdom because of the power of His love in us despite the fact that we cannot agree on everything. Unfortunately again, we seem to think that we have to have all the answers for people and we come across as condescending and turn people off. By in large we have chosen the path of trying to prove we are right over loving each other and loving those who need Jesus.
Thirdly, I think that this pushes us towards faith. We do not know. We do not have all the answers. We are finite. We are fallible. The only thing we can hold on to is faith that God does know, that God does have all of the answers, that God is infinite, that God is infallible. We must trust in Him. We must learn to depend on Him. Unfortunately yet again, the church in America is more often marked by independance and a reliance on our own strength to accomplish God’s mission than it is on trusting and depending upon Him.
Hmmm… perhaps God meant it to be this way after all and we’ve missed the lessons He intended by allowing the Bible to be written the way it was.
Elvineve. Actually, the figure of 33,000 denominations includes only Protestant denominations. It doesn’t include the various types of Catholicism or Eastern Orthodox. So according to the experts, the number is actually understated.
As the Scripture was written in order to communicate something (truth) to its targeted readers, the meaning of the Scripture is therefore intended and defined by the authors of the Scripture and not what the readers wished it should be. So why didn’t God inspire a Scripture that will have absolutely no dispute over its intended meaning for any reader who even bothered to pick it up and read?
The reason, I think, is because that couldn’t be done without God having to violate our freedom to think freely on our own. What is meant is that any information, be it verbal or written, still requires our interpretation, even this one. Think also of Eve’s response to God’s straightforward command in the garden. Since it is subjected to our interpretation, it is therefore prone to different interpretation by different people. And in cases like the cults, it’s a case of misinterpretation by twisting the Scripture.
Having said the above, we do not need to feel desperately lost among the different interpretations in the marketplace of ideas. Since the Scripture was written to convey certain information and not hide them, the good news is that the plain things are the main things and the main things are the plain things. Therefore, the more important question we should ask ourselves is whether the difference hinges on any essential doctrines (soteriological implications). It should also be stressed that most, if not all, differences are over non-essential issues within the christian community.
Assuming that God is able to inspire a Scripture that can be interpreted in only one way, without having to violate our freedom, the following in my view may be possible reasons behind that move.
1. Humility. Since honest and fallible christians disagree honestly, no one can honestly say that he is 100% certain and infallibly sure that he has the correct interpretation for all part of the Scripture. While we can be convinced and convicted on certain issues especially the essential ones, we could use some humility instead of dogmatism especially on non-essential issues.
2. Reliance on the Holy Spirit. As we are fallible creatures which affect our reasoning power and logic as well, therefore we cannot only rely on using our logic chopping axe. There is a need to reply on the Holy Spirit and what the Holy Spirit reveals would not be contradictory to logic. Interestingly, the fact that God chose to use human vessel in the process of inspiration, indicates that we need the same Person who inspired the Scripture to guide and lead us to a complete and deeper understanding of the same Scripture.
3. Mutual edification towards maturity. If the Scripture is so absolutely clear like an instruction manual, there is a higher tendency to live a text-based life without having a relationship with God and others. Precisely because everyone has something different to contribute, the fullness of the Body is expressed through diversity. Love, patience and discernment among other gifts, will also or should be developed through the interaction and discussion with others as iron sharpens iron. It is part of a growing process to maturity in Christ.
4. To reveal our hearts and motives. Take the Cash, Porsche and Paris for example, because one wants them badly (okay, it’s just me!), somehow I will want to interpret that Frank really meant what he said and rationalize that he has the resources from his recent sales of Pagan Christianity and Reimagining Church to distribute the prizes to everyone! Is the justification rationale or am I not having faith?. So whether I take Frank seriously or not, it will reveal much about. So back to God’s straightforward command in the garden, it shows that any information no matter how simple and clear we think it is, is ultimately subjected to interpretation driven by our hearts and motives (i.e. are we being objective?).
5. It speaks of the infinite richness and fullness of Christ. Since the Scripture testifies and points us to Christ (God), and that God is infinitely richer than our wealth of ignorance, it comes no surprise that we find ourselves struggling to describe about Him in one or two mere words. But when we start expanding on them using precision engineering, we sometimes confused ourselves at the end of the day.
6. Multiple applications. While only one interpretation does not restrict multiple applications, multiple interpretations surely encourage more diverse applications than the former. And of course, one can have a right application while maintaining a wrong interpretation (over non-essential issues). Hopefully, it’s not about having a wrong application from a right interpretation. However, it’s not wrong to have a wrong application from a wrong interpretation, since it is rightly consistent.
PS: The figure 33,000 is grossly overstated since it included others such as Gnostics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and even 242 Roman Catholics “denominations”.
God’s sheep know his voice. And it may take a while but we also know what’s not. Having to seek him out deeper maybe does separte the sheep form the goats.
Note how many different answers to Frank Viola’s question are offered,….and you begin to see why there are so many different translations of the Bible’s meanings….thus, denominations. It’s called “I’ve got my own opinion. If you agree with me come stand over here!”
James beat me to it… I have no idea either.
I don’t think it was Gods intention to have all these denominations and interpretations flying around. I trust it will all make sense one day;-)
I don’t know 100%, but I thintk it has something to do with the fact that the Word of God is “living and active.”
which Bible are we talking about?
do we include those books that are considered apocryphal?
If we go with the accepted canon of scripture which english translation do we use?
I think God allows denomonations to show the breadth and Depth of His bride. It’s like ice cream, be thankful Baskin Robbins has 33 flavors and not just pralines & cream. I doubt that the church in Collose worshipped like the church in Rome,or that a believer in Macedonia would have interpreted a letter from Paul the same way a Jew in Tyre would. Many denominations have grown not from how scripture was interpreted but from differences in culture and style.
I forgot to add that I have been greatly helped by several of your books (Pagan Christianity, Untold Story, Reimaging and God’s Ulitmate Passion) brother Frank. Thank you for what you have written. God bless you bro.
Great question and great responses. I have always heard that the bible has layers upon layers of truth that are brought out by the Holy Spirit. For instance one brother that was really studying the scripture and was receiving some great revelation excitedly exclaimed that every time he studys a particular passage or story it brings out new light. So the more we grow in Him and His love and mature spiritually the more we can see of Him. This can be done partially on our own but own completely together. There fore we need one another to share the light of the truth seen in the face of Christ as we all look at Him from different perspectives.
Concerning many denominations and interpretations there must be more than one correct answer or rather an answer that has many layers that is brought out by different members depending on the light they have.
One thing is for sure that Jesus knew these things would happen and I believe He alluded to it in at least one of His parables that spoke about the servants that fell asleep and while they were sleeping the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat. Perhaps that refers to the original Apostles in the first century and after they died or fell asleep then the enemy was able to come in and sow the many lies not having the hindrance that he had from them. Paul and Peter and John warned about that as well. Today we are really seeing that there is quite a mixture of wheat and tares which can be applied in several ways I am sure.
Personally I have sought to understand everything about the Lord and His ways so that I can serve Him and please Him. In the begining I would try to perfect myself and then condemn myself for not pleasing God and messing up. All the while the Lord would speak to me that you being imperfect how can you perfect yourself. Just seek Me and know Me and I will do everything else. Well there was still the struggle of my Self that wanted to do the christian life, instead of denying myself and living by His life. He allowed me to go my way and I gained all kinds of knowledge from a so called great teacher. Now I am back at the place where I realize that all that knowledge didn’t get me one step closer to Him and in many respects has been a hindrance to me knowing Him intamtely. I have been learning that my self can learn to be righteous and try to master the truth of God so that I can be the one with the answers and be looked up to all for my own glory all the while being deceived by my pride thinking I am doing it for Him. Many of the things I learned and thought I knew were right are being discarded and have lost there importance in light of loving Him and knowing Him and depending on Him and also loving others and not being so high minded and critical thinking I am the one with the truth. Praise God for His mercy and grace. He is faithful and He will lead us into all truth. We just need to look to Him and depend on Him and not ourselves.
Maybe a slightly different angle:
God’s design is to grow us up in Him, as expressions of His image and ambassadors of His Kingdom in the earth.
The essential element in this, that which is being matured, is our love for one another. It is possible to disagree radically and still love–possible, but very difficult apart from grace, and very rare. But it is what God is determined to have.
So he lets us play our little games of interpreting and applying what He has said, to see whether at the end of the day we will still be loving one another, or whether in what Paul and James call childish behavior, we will be dropping bombs on one another, whether literal bombs or literary bombs.
And our response to this challenge proves openly what we are made of.
1. We try to interpret scripture without its full setting. In order to understand a letter, you really have to: read the whole letter, understand the situation and the things to which the writer is referring, and be aware of his (and the recipient’s) surroundings, experiences and world view.
2. The Word of God is alive and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, etc. The US Constitution is not a living document–only the Word of God is a living document. No one can understand the Word of God without the help of the Spirit of God. God’s word has so many layers it’s like the onion of infinity. You’ll never get through all of them.
3. I wonder if God didn’t want us to need each other–that is, no one person can understand scripture all by himself. When I don’t understand something, I always ask my husband and daughter. They usually have some insight I never would have thought of. If they don’t have any ideas, I get out my commentaries. Usually I find something somewhere that speaks to me and seems right–at least to my spirit.
P.S. I really, really hope I win the vacation to Paris.
As the Scriptures say,
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise
and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.
So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.
This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.
People’s answers are facinating. What a good question! So telling.
Because we are all unique we all hear God in our own way. What matters most is that we hear the call to repentance and faith in his Son. While all of the Word is equally important I think if it were so black and white that there could be no mistake what God said, we wouldn’t have to constantly search and study and pray and fast and commune and talk with others to understand the Bible. God really wants us to dig. If there was no way to misinterpret it, then it would almost be like being fed milk, there would be no seeking and personal soul searching.
It all comes out in the wash!
God is a creative God and He enjoys our creativity in interpreting scripture. The 144,000 mentioned in Revelation 7 and 14 actually refers to 144,000 unique denominations. The fact that there are ONLY 33,000 denominations means that we aren’t anywhere near the end-times yet. The times will have reached their fulfillment when there are 144,000 unique denominations based on their own creative interpretations of scripture.
Paris, Here I come!!!
It would seem to me that God is drawing a straight line throughout history through the crazy up and down lines of human interpretation. Humans do not have the capacity to hold together in their mind all the various complexities of God and His creation, much less how God relates to said creation, and as such will always ere to some degree. God therefore uses denominations, movements, and various interpretations to maintain a balanced understanding of/relationship with Christ.
So that people would have to rely on the Holy Spirit to understand the Bible and to confound the Devil.
Another commenter noted that there are differences even in what the author’s of the New Testament highlighted about Christ’s life. I think John noted the cause of this at the end of his gospel when he said, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” If this was true about his earthly life, how much more so for the life of His Holy Spirit which has been working for centuries in the lives of men. So my answer, the vast interpretations and the disagreements on interpretations is because of the depth there is in Christ. We highlight different aspects of Him, typically the places that speak to the places of our own spiritual needs. The vast number of interpretations speak to the vast number of experiences of His life on this earth, and the disagreements and disunity occur because we tend to look back at what He has done in our lives rather than forward to what He is doing.
Everything I wanted to say has been said. Awesome comments, people!
Send Johnny all the prizes!
Honestly, I don’t know.
But here’s one idea: Perhaps, if God had chosen to just lay it all out with no chance for misinterpretation, we would live by a set of rules and laws, and Jesus Christ (if He were even necessary in that world) would just be a dogma. Relationship to and faith in God would be even more rare, maybe even non-existant. And perhaps He would never have blessed us with the talents of Gloria Estevan and Miami Sound Machine.
Your podcast had to be one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard on the internet. It was hysterical. Your books are pretty intense so it’s so good to see that you have such a great sense of humor.
My answer is I have no idea. I’ve always wanted to go to Paris, when do I get the tickets?
It’s a bit like the ‘Tardis’ in Dr Who – it looks small on the outside, but it can fit everyone one in on the inside and. We may have different ideas on how it works and its purpose, but there’s room for everyone inside.
Otherwise we would worship the Bible instead of His Son. So, He allowed it so that we can see that Christianity is all about e Person, Jesus Christ.
As we walk by faith (not by sight) our loving Father guides up and directs us via His Word. Many times I have been taught by the Holy Spirit working in another vessel. Other times the Spirit within me illuminated the scripture. My point is that (personally I believe) the scripture was meant to be read with the Spirit as our instructor/mentor. Intellectually we can pull verses here and there and in our own mind prove any point we want. Is it valid? No. It’s foolishness to reason the bible with our mind. Leads to all kinds of false doctrine and doom. God’s Word was meant to be read with God Himself and with God Himself teaching us.
In the body of Christ you may be a hand and I may be a foot. No man (or woman) is an island. We’re meant to fit together like a puzzle……. make up a bigger picture. Our interaction with one another creates a synergy. My experience is that God speaks through others so that we need each other. He made us that way.
As far as denominations……I once explained it this way. I’m not saying this is right, but it worked and helped kids understand. I said that the reason we have so many denominations and churches is that it makes it easier to keep up with people. Imagine if on the first day of school all of the kids all met in one big room. That would be fine on Little House on the Prairie, but today it wouldn’t. Kindergarten would be mixing with 3rd grade and 5th grade fighting with 2nd grade. Hundreds of kids running rampant. It helps to organize people and break them down into smaller groups. Less messy. Easier to train….if they’re being trained right…………
I find it interesting that in addressing this question we have already demonstrated one of God’s purposes in leaving scripture open to interpretation.
He wants us to hear Him speak. How many meaningful relationships have you been in that didn’t require a lot of listening?
OK, so where does His voice come from? Not always the place we expect. Out of the mouths of infants, on one occasion a donkey, who knows where He will speak next. I have been surprised occasionally by Hollywood and the music industry.
The point? God has created us all as spiritual beings. If I turn an ear to hear, He will not let me down. He is faithful! If I remain pliable like a young sapling I can move with the wind of the Spirit. If I harden like a might oak wind is no long my friend. It moves me to positions I do not want to go. Under this continued stress I begin to crack and break.
This expectation that I can know it all is not born in God. It has its roots in the Garden of Eden, when a young couple chose the “knowledge of good and evil.” Did they really acquire what they sought or did they merely begin to judge truth in their own eyes? This is my conclusion, they left God to be their own gods. Our journey back to the Father returns us to Him. Where He is our all in all. I reserve my judgement until I hear His voice.
That is where you my brothers and sisters come in. Is it remotely possible that in my lifetime I would be able to probe the depths of His love alone? I think not, I need the family of God to recognize what I cannot see. His truth in my eyes may become a song, but without others where are my lyrics. Together if we have eyes to see we can create a symphony of ideas that are conducted and reinforced by the power only God can give.
To me our differences are inviting us to taste of the good fruits of God or to continue down the path that first parents lead us on so many years ago. Turn to God, take a stroll in the garden with Him, you may be startled to find his face occasionally bares a striking resemblance to a brother or sister in Christ.
Well, if everything that happens here on earth is a picture of truth from the other realm then it is feasible that there are so many prisms to God that we can see Him on earth as it is in heaven. Although we see “Good and Evil”, it actually just “Is”.
The Grand Purpose is Jesus Christ and His Glory, and although my answer sounds cheesy and obvious (even to me) I believe that when we begin to seek Him, a desire He, Himself creates, we find Him in our child-like nature that needs a “child conductor”, if you will. Denominations seem to allow us rules and regulations until we get sick and tired enough of ourselves, warn out by not being able to meet the rules and regs, and turn to Him as we turn away from the separations that we held so tightly to in the beginning of our relationship to Him.
Ps You have a highly intelligent and amazing group of commenter’s here. Thanks for the open-lines. I love it.
It’s in large part due to the imperfection of language. Despite what literalists might like to believe, language doesn’t communicate perfectly. Even if there isn’t a translation between languages, there is a translation that happens going from thoughts and words on one side, and then from words back to thoughts on the receiving end. So different people can take the same text and come up with different meanings.
Additionally, no one person will be able to perfectly know or understand everything about God and his word. While there are certain things in general that become pretty clear through the entirety of the Bible, I believe God allows a significant amount of room for diversity in the body. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” (Proverbs 25:2).
When we theological people seek to understand the Bible, we generally analyze it. We break it down into chapters, paragraphs, verses, sentences, clauses, phrases, words, prefixes, roots, suffixes, jots and titles. Now we understand it, we tell ourselves. Now we have conquered the text, captured the meaning, removed all mystery, stuffed it and preserved it for posterity, like a taxidermist with a deer head.
So, what is this??
Wow! That’s a good question. Actually, it’s a great question. I like a lot of the other comments, and agree with many of them – at least in part.
My take on it? God wants relationships with individuals, and He wants individuals to have relationship with Him – and one another. That means that it is partially a matter of faith; do we believe enough to trust that He has truly revealed Himself to us through the scriptures?
But it is also a matter of love. We would not have to actually love anyone else in the body because it’s easy to get along with people who agree with you on such matters. Try loving someone who has a different interpretation than your own and you’ll see it takes a real effort, at times.
Besides, if we all agreed on a “cookie-cutter” interpretation of the scriptures we’d be missing out on the richness of the diverse ideas and opinions that we have. Christ is the ONE unifying factor that we all share. As well He should be.
Firstly the bible was written in hebrew and I think a lot was lost in translation and it was also written in a very different time to what we are living today.
Many different denominations came out of people having different views on scripture and then split into groups.
Also there is a mystery which I believe god inteneded because he said we would only know in part.
No one person has all the answers because we are one body, made up of very different features. We are not meant to look and sound alike and become a mould, god is more creative than that. Besides all this, god is the only one with the right answer.
Lots of people said lots of things, yet much of what’s been said is as ‘wordy’ and ‘christianese’ as many interpretations of Scripture (no offense intended to anyone, just an observation).
I submit to you this simply stance-
Paul said it best in his first letter to the Corinthians;
“In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
God intended that the Scriptures be interpreted by His Spirit to His children. When the body of Christ went from ‘Spirit-filled believers’ to a ‘State Church’, Man began to interpret based on human knowledge and understanding. This continued for years and years. This created secs, denominations, creeds, theological study, etc. The Word is really simple when it is seen through the Holy Spirit. I can’t believe how much easier it is to be in the Bible since I stopped having a man tell me what it says and started having the Spirit lead me into truth. As many have said previously, it does point to God’s purpose for His children, it does point to Christ. But God intended that it’s interpretation be by His Spirit, not by man’s understanding. When believers became ‘Spirit-filled’ again, we began to see the Scriptures through the Spirit again, which leads us to the revelation of Christ’s body as being spoken of by brothers like Frank.
It was to point us to our inheritance,genealogy. history, and the mysterious relationship that we have with him.
It’s trancendant and organic and it has to spark millions of people all over the world generation upon generation. Of course we all will interpret it differently. I’d be upset if we didn’t. How Borgish. But FIGHTING over all those ways, now that’s a horse of a different color. And we don’t even have all of it! So I would say it’s to show us HIS love, and to challenge us to walk in his love. Apparently we are far from the mark.
Whenever anyone communicates to a fallen person, they open themselves up to being misunderstood. It goes with the territory. Satan started it by trying to get Eve (who wasn’t fallen!) to misunderstand God’s motives and statements in telling them not to eat of a certain tree. We all (except Frank!) have been horribly misunderstood at times by others — even those who know us well.
Since God’s purpose in speaking and acting in history is to reveal Himself, I am not sure He has a grand design to confuse us. He incarnated Himself to give us Someone to watch and learn from and we still misunderstood Him. (See John, Peter, Judas, not to mention people in the OT who whether willfully or not, misunderstood or ‘reinterpreted’ things God spoke to them, like Abraham, Balaam, Saul, Jonah.) Ever hear an athiest explain away a miracle? They always can. Also, Satan no doubt uses anything he can to divide us and ruin our testimony.
That said, I do agree that He spoke in parables so only His own could really understand. But He did seem to expect us to get it and not divide over it. It requires being filled with divine Love, deep humility, trust, being as a little child, and the balance of other believers to ‘interpret Scripture.’ He designed us to need HIm in each other, not to have all knowledge ourselves. Most groups are started by one guy with a ‘revelation’, who gets followers, but is not a brother among equals who could correct his faults and misunderstandings. The group tries to protect what they have at the expense of learning anything new.
A couple of guidelines could really help us not to divide though. Don’t legislate any rules that Jesus didn’t, learn to live with divine paradoxes without trying to figure them out (like free will vs. God’s sovereignty), and interpret everything thru the lens of the whole Story of scripture and the Lord’s life and character. (I learned that wisdom from an old church planter.) I also invented my own rule to judge church practices. “If it won’t work in the jungle, it ain’t true.”
If I win any money I will use it to bring Frank and Milt to my town to plant a church!! I would even sell the Porsche!
I very much agree to and second what Amy wrote a few posts above. God did it this way to seperate the sheep from the goats.
God Bless, Love your books too Frank!
I don’t believe that there was a divine purpose behind these miscellaneous interpretations. The Bible was given as a REVELATION to humanity and not as a text open for confusion or misinterpretations.
Since the beginning in the Garden of Eden it is clear that the human being can be easily deceived by Satan, who enters through the door of our own fleshly desires. The revelation of God is pure and absolute crystal clear as given by Him. Our sins come in the way and blur it. When sin came into the world, the relationship and communication with God was dramatically affected.
Thank God, Jesus came and because of His work for us at the cross, and the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit who came to guide us to all truth, we can get back to a better level of understating, communication, and fellowship with the father and His Word. I believe He always wanted men to come back to Him, and to depend on His Holy Spirit to comprehend His Word and His Will.
The apostle Paul explains that it is only by spiritual discernment that one can comprehend the spiritual things and the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14b; 1:17/18) The most obvious result of this Babel of interpretation, I believe it is for the church to see how desperately it needs the Holy Spirit and the community of believers to hear, judge (in the sense of 1 Corinthians 14), approve, and follow any proposed interpretation.
When the Church in Jerusalem wanted to impose the Jewish circumcision to the Gentile churches, the apostles came together to judge it, talk it, pray for it, until the grace of God was received and revealed to all on that apostolic community.
Most of these interpretations were presented to the church by people who walked alone, who thought they were owners (or heads, such as head pastors…is there such a thing in the Bible? Even though… they are all over the churches. Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt my own thoughts!) of their churches.
Any how… when do I receive my $30,000? And the Porsche of course (although a trip to Paris would not be bad at all! Au revoir!
Thanks for this opportunity to interact with you guys.
We live a new life in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, BUT our minds and bodies are still made of fallen, craven, headed-for-death flesh. Knowing this, it is entirely possible to make an honest mistake regarding such things as which denomination is the “right” one. Jesus Himself being the Way, Truth, and Life, there should not be denominations at all. Why did God allow this? Too easy, Frank! We have free will AND limited understanding (compared to God’s).
D A Carson said ‘translation is treason’ it’s almost impossible to translate and convey in ones own language the origonal greek and hebrew found in the scriptures. Tough call.Don’t know the answer to your question. Another tough call.
Who cares about the cash anyway. Anyhow what bible did Abraham use. And for that matter Noah.
Reimage…. great read.
since I have never had a ‘beam of light’ experience myself, I have come to be humbled and understand that I often must find Christ by having relationship with His body, the church. By design, I believe, we were meant to interpret and interact with each other in the Word, which points to Jesus. That means a lot of different opinions!
I have been trying to embrace more fully that often times, I will find Him in the midst of adversity while sharing insights into the scriptures with others.
While I cannot imagine a person being a regular reader of this blog who would buy in to it being ‘fantastic’ that we have 33,000 denominations, at the same time, it is my hope to remain humble enough not to feel intimidated or threatened in my walk by opposing viewpoints, but instead look forward to the possibility of having me and my friend’s love, faith,and walk strengthened by crossing paths with those who may have a different view than my and our own. Especially when it is just theological theory in my head as opposed to actually walked out, lived, and fruitful faith.
My strong guess is that we would have a LOT less than 33,000 denominations around if we were not so persuaded by mere ideas and thoughts on scriptures as action-infused scripture living that produced kingdom results.
I also agree with other comments that since the fall, there is so much more to tango, or shall I say, conga, with, as we interact in the Word while discovering Him.
The purpose of the Bible is to point us to Jesus so we can be reconciled to our Father!
I win, I win, I win!!! Yahhh Yah!
Your books are making a difference in Albany Oregon!
I think that God allowed it to be written that way because he wanted to weed out the Pharisees (sticklers for exact translations of the rules) from living, loving followers of Jesus.
True followers just live and preach Jesus, they don’t worry about the little details of old laws. (That Jesus fulfilled and put away anyway!)
So, when do we get our money? (assuming the gardener was just trying to cause trouble)
I could really use it. I don’t have a job right now. Or a car. *eyes the Porsche*
By the way, I love your books Frank. My mom got me hooked.
I guess I just see it as a part of a bigger question, why does God allow HIMSELF to be misinterpreted and misrepresented all throughout history?
When Jesus walked the earth, there were only a few who recognized him for who he really was. The rest just thought he was either a good teacher, a political hopeful, or a wacko… Jesus didn’t seem to expect everyone to be able to understand who he was, because in order to rightly recognize him, their hearts had to be open to seeing themselves as they truly were.
Seems pretty clear that Jesus believes the scriptures to have a definitive, understandable meaning though. He was always asking people “Do you not know the scriptures?…”
There will be a day however when all interpretations of God and his word will be of no consequence. When we stand before the throne of God, the reality of eternity and the person of Christ will stare each of us in the face, and there will be nothing left to debate about….
This used to bother me as a young Christian. Then when I actually started to read the Bible, including the disturbing stuff, it bothered me even more! So many authors, so many different takes on even the same events and people. And – perhaps most jarring – so many different takes on God. By the time I was in college, my life suddenly felt like a canvas on which the modernist-fundamentalist debate took place!
But then I realized that ‘inspiration’ need not mean ‘uniformity.’ Let’s face it – Scripture is ragged; it speaks with pluriform voices. It’s a symphony, and it’s in color – it’s not a black-and-white monotone speaking. It is literature, and within the raggedness we hear God speaking.
Why is this? For all the reasons people are mentioning above. Because we live by faith; because we receive more light as we live (and read) on; because revelation is unfolding; because culture, age, gender, and social standing contribute to our reading – and, perhaps most importantly, because God refuses to be enshrined in conceptual idols. This is why Meister Eckhart prayed “God, rid me of ‘God’.”
Even the site of divine self-disclosure in Jesus Christ reveals God as unknown, dwelling in inaccessible light.
During eras of certain interpretive grids – certain absolutist ways of reading – pluriform reading of Holy Writ was invariably a bad and divisive thing, something to be overcome. But the Jewish people have always had a wonderful tradition, Midrash, which acknowledged that because Scripture is alive, we always have something to contribute to its meaning. Just like Einstein and others discovered that the very act of scientific measurement affected what’s being measured, so our act of reading Scripture impacts its meaning. This isn’t something to be avoided; it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit to the interpretive community, the church. This is (some would say) part of what Jesus means when he gives us the holy responsibility to ‘bind and loose,’ earth’s readings impacting heaven.
I think we’re entering a fertile period of Christian spirituality; one where we recognize that we’re all at different stages of growth, and Jesus himself is the ultimate Truth – not a finite proposition. Some recommended reading on this: God Without Being by Jean-Luc Marion; What Would Jesus Deconstruct? by Jack Caputo; Overcoming Onto-Theology: Toward a Postmodern Christian Faith by Merold Westphal; Texts Under Negotiation by Walter Brueggemann; The Fidelity of Betrayal by Pete Rollins; and The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle.
Hmmm…two things come to mind:
1. To keep us humble and challenge us to unity in spite of our differences! Only God gets it right 100% of the time.
2. To spread the gospel far and wide. The disagreement between Paul and Barnabas sent them off spreading the gospel in different directions (Acts 15:36-41).
The most truthful answer is I don’t know, but I can’t wait for the day when I will see more clearly!
Maybe it’s so that we’d actually have to use a little Faith?
First, regarding the cash prize; paying off (or helping pay off) the Missio Dei community house/church in South Minneapolis would be my preferred recepient for my cash prize. Assuming that it was the gardener, of course.
God could have given us a checklist. Believe X, Y and Z. Perform A, B, and C. Khalas, complete.
The bible is not, however, a treatsie on systematic theology. If Christianity really is about relationship (which I have heard so much about but have only seen practiced in small pockets) then what we need to know is revealed through that relationship.
I am amazed, and astounded when I read Brother Yun’s testimony of events in China. Some of the scriptures were interpreted in such far-out, context-breaking ways that it struck a severely wrong chord for me…but nevertheless, it truly was God speaking to their situations, and they obeyed.
Similarly, Jesus adds to or twists the Torah as he is teaching his disciples.
I don’t think God made the bible a simple 12-step program because he wanted truth to be uncovered through relationship more so than by scholastic enterprise.
And I think a lot of denominations miss that.
Just an interesting note. I grew up in a church in Kuwait that did not have 2 board members from the same denomination….and only pockets of 2 or 3 from the same country. The senior pastor said it was the most united, spirit-led group that he had ever experienced, coming from his background of X denomination.
If the relationship is there, if the spirit does indeed lead, the boundaries are artificial.
I’ve thought about this a lot.
First of all, we’re sinners.
Second of all, we’re finite.
“the bible is written in such a way that it allows so many interpretations”…well, maybe it is more that we humans are BUILT in such a way that we are finite, and that we have fallen very far.
Which leads me to my next point: the role of supralapsarianism in cosmic soteriology.
Beyond what I have already said, I could make one more point. Though ultimately I disagree with the whole concept of denominationalism (naming any name other than Christ), I can see that God has used it redemptively in history. I thank God for the reformers who, though perhaps they did not go far enough, rescued so many truths that had been paved over by the Catholic church for their Cathedral parking lots (or something like that.) The protestant reformation, which birthed so many denominations its depressing, reclaimed many truths that had been nearly lost.
I thank God that he works with our finitude and sinfullness, using our bad choices redemptively for his glory.
Of course, we must add that just because God uses our sinfulness and stupid mistakes and misinterpretations redemptively, we are still culpable for our sin, mistakes and misinterpretations.
So that us simpletons, the least, will have a chance to understand and to hear from God what he wants to say to us through his Holy Spirit. It was when I finally gave up searching for a church to fit into, a pastor to listen to and instead gave my heart over to hearing from the Lord, loving and obeying HIM, that I have finally found a semblance of peace.
Could it be a result of YHWH’s commitment to love (and Ekklesia)?
If Jesus was serious about the new requirements of discipleship being love for YHWH and love for neighbor(and I think He was), and if He really meant to focus on unity in the John 17 prayer (and I think He did) then I have to believe that YHWH was making love and unity requisite for proper biblical interpretation, i.e., true, organic, Jesus-led Ekklesia unified in the Holy Spirit, serving each other, their neighbors, and their enemies in love would not be denied a clear understanding of YHWH’s words. The focus, then, is not proper biblical interpretation but proper love.
Interpretation becomes a by-product of properly assembling and attaching the body to the head – Jesus. Disunity, denominating, and denouncing over biblical interpretation (among myriad issues) become text book signs and symptoms of tainted love and mortal ekklesia. Assessing the current state of the western church should beg us to lament, “we do not desire unity, we could care less about love – indeed, we have left the path of true discipleship altogether.” If, though in shock, someone asks us how we could make such abominable statements, we would simply need to point to the vast body-fractures that have resulted from biblical interpretation.
Just as Jesus hid the truths of the Kingdom in parables, YHWH has hidden the truths of His Word in unified love. We miss both because we are not willing to do the heavy lifting (or loving) required to uncover truth.
I find it difficult to imagine a way that God could communicate to humans in a way that wouldn’t be subject to various interpretations, since we all come to the things we read with different backgrounds and experiences. However, assuming that God could communicate in such a way that there would be no possible way to misunderstand His meaning and intent, I would suggest a couple possible reasons He may have chosen not to do so.
God chose to allow human beings to receive the inspired Word rather than letting some stone tablets fall from the sky or automatically programming our brains with the information we needed from Him. The involvement of people in the process of God’s revelation must therefore be important. Just as God chooses to operate through prayer rather than just going about accomplishing His will without any input from us, He choses to reveal his written Word through human channels. Throughout scripture this desire of God to accomplish His will in partnership with human vessels is the most common means of revelation. Consequently, the Bible is written by humans, under God’s inspiration, to humans in specific circumstances and in a particular culture. Because God uses humans for writing the revelation and the human context for receiving it, there are going to be factors that muddy the interpretation of the revelation.
God must have decided that the relational element, of using humans as partners in acomplishing His will, was important enough to make it worth all the problems that would result! My guess is that the process itself–of the interpretation, of the struggle within individuals as well as between those of differing views, is part of what God wants to use to draw us closer to Him. The difficulties of interpretation are important in shaping us into the people God wants us to be. Ultimately, relationship with us, partnering with us, must be of supreme importantce. He must REALLY love us.
The other thought that comes to mind, relates to what is described in the creation story. There is something in us that desires to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, to know all things, and to be God. If God were to reveal His Word to us in some form that would be completely understandable, with no room for misinterpretation, would we feel any further need for dependence on God? It seems to me that, as others have stated, we would not have any need to rely on the Holy Spirit. We would be tempted (even more than we already are) to think of ourselves as God rather than humbly relying on His leadership and ongoing revelation in our lives.
To test us by exposing our true…
Faith in Him alone…Love for Him alone…Obedience to Him alone.
For He is THE WORD of God.
Those who have ears, let them hear…
– Thanks for PC and RI. Great books which have helped me on my journey with the King. –
I believe that the reason God has had the bible written down in such a way that large-scale misinterpretation takes place is bcs He actually wants much of His master-plan hidden from the majority of people.
It is not part of His plan in the ages past nor the current age to call forth anything other than a remnant. In hiding true understanding and blinding the masses, He set-up a process by which the elect are the only ones shown the truth that prepares them for ruling with Christ in the next age (millennial age). It’s like the pearl hidden in the field, daniel’s mystery locked up until the appointed time, the hardening of pharoh’s heart, etc.
(The great news is that the rest will be saved in later ages.)
Romans 11:5-8 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. Just as it is written:
“God has given them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes that they should not see
And ears that they should not hear,
To this very day.”
I would like to say one more thing if I may. I am not so sure that the bible was intended to be used the way we use it. It is filled with letters and testimonies from men many years ago. Although, I do believe the scriptures are a gift of God, but I think that we have tuned it into something much greater than God intended. I truly believe that the bible has replaced the Holy spirit. The mentality (judging by actions) of today’s church is we don’t need the Spirit because we have the bible to guide us. The church that we read about in scriptures had only the Spirit to teach and guide them. They did not have the “Holy Bible”. We have know idea how to hear what God is saying through His Spirit because we are trained to go to scriptures for our answers. just a thought.
The question you pose, Frank, assumes that multiple interpretations (or different ways of understanding something) is problematic, bad, wrong — pick your adjective, but it boils down to “not a good thing.” There are many ways to answer this question, but I’ll pick one taking a clue from Ms. Estefan. I don’t think it has anything to do with an error on God’s part (failing to send a message nobody could miss or wrongly interpret); I think it has to do with human (fallen) nature, and more specifically with our western intellectual tradition.
This tradition generally understands truth in black and white terms, and views truth as residing at the very top of a high mountain of data. Truth is absolutely knowable and definable, and it’s our job to climb the mountain and defend it; sort through all the data and you will arrive at the summit of Truth. If that’s how it works, then come on, baby, can you feel the rhythm, I know you can’t control yourself any longer — you MUST conga to the summit and defend the TRUTH!
So we do our best to obey that directive, and there’s some comfort in it; “knowing” that you’re right eliminates uncertainty, makes you feel secure and can bring order out of chaos. These can be good things, but strangely enough, our defense of the Truth often finds us rather mixed up, sometimes twisted into pretzels and sometimes dazed and confused (witness “The Lord’s Pledge” — which was absolutely priceless, and I hope you’ll let us know where that came from). We end up with lots of “right” interpretations, lots of mixture, and lots of attitudes/actions that fail to resemble love in word and deed. It’s that last part that is particularly troubling.
Is the grand purpose behind the written Word to provide full understanding and revelation of God, providing THE WAY to understand Him? While many of my fellow evangelicals seem to use this as the starting point for reading and interpreting, to me this position appears doomed from the start; God is so much greater that what is revealed in His rather small book, much greater that the universe He spoke into existence. I believe God’s grand purpose in providing the written Word is for us to catch a glimpse of Him and what His plans are; He’s so “other” that a glimpse is about all we can handle or comprehend. Rather than the summit of truth, the Bible is both a road map and road on the plateau of truth — a plateau that is very wide, very spacious, with lots of room to agree and disagree. The plateau has boundaries; you can fall off the side and get killed (cults “fall” into this category), but you really have to work at it. For me, the apostle’s creed sets some good boundaries; but within that there’s a lot of room for differences of opinion.
[On a side note -- Brotherjohnny, you are clearly going to France. Aaron Huber, enjoy the Porsche (which I failed to win for lack of brevity). I'm going to use the money to pay some bills and get a van for the fam. Woohoo!]
Its possible that God could have written that way (foreseeing that there would be differences) so that through it we could learn, mature, and grow in love.
That’s right: why didn’t God tell us at what age we should get baptized and what amount and type of water we should use and how we should use it?
I suppose that He is simply not legalistic. He gave the law to the Israelites in order to expose man’s sinful nature and to point to our need of redemption. When asked about the law, Jesus summed it up by telling us to love God and one another.
When asked by the Samaritan woman about where to worship, He tells her that “a time is coming where the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks”.
I suppose that God’s grand plan behind that move (refer to Frank’s specific question) was to communicate to us that He wants a relationship with true worshipers, not with pharisees. I suppose He wants to communicate to us that He is after our heart. I suppose that He wants us to focus on the important things: loving Him and one another.
I think different interpretations, are (or should be) a reflection of people attempting expression or explanation as to the character and heart of God. If there was one universal interpretation of everything in the Bible, what a box God would then have been placed in!
Additionally if there was but one universal interpretation there would not be room for spiritual growth or revelation any longer. We would “know it all” so to speak. (as far as whats in the Bible that is, the end of John tells us Jesus did much more and it was not wrote about)
I can’t imagine an infant upon say 4 months old, the next day having the mental or physical abilities of a full grown adult. So in part, “the purpose behind that move” may have had a process in mind of “growth”, as well as expression, much how our theology changes as we realize the character and heart of God by His revelation.
I know this in not some great theological answer, but I think that the scriptures are whiten to simple minded people, not the wise or intelligent. It is for people who just believe God for the simple Truth and not read into everything. That is my best answer I guess. Thanks for your heart Frank. I loved Pagan Christianity.
God has allowed all of these false interpretations of scripture to exist so that by the time N.T. Wright was finally born and reared to become an audible voice in “the christian conversation”, we would all be desperate enough to recieve what he had to say.
The bible is the testimony (testament) of Jesus Christ. It is also the revelation of Jesus Christ. He IS the Word of God (Jn. 1:1).
Jesus said that eternal life was to be found in Him, not in the scriptures (Jn. 5:39). The scriptures are there to point us to Life, which is Christ.
The Person of Christ should be the interpretive tool that we use to understand the scriptures. In other words, we understand truth by the one who is Truth. He is wisdom, truth, and understanding. Apart from Him, we can do nothing and understand nothing. Without relationship with Christ through the Spirit, the bible becomes a very confusing book.
I really hope I win the Porsche since I am going through a major mid-life crisis right now.
Why do so many denominations “honestly” interpret Scripture different? I think adding the term “honestly” brings it WAY down from the thousands. Many denominations/leaders interpret Scripture differently for their own gain, or because tradition dictates that they do, or because of their own prejudices and biases.
As far as those who do honestly interpret Scripture differently I believe that the things that they disagree on are not major issues. The Scriptures are not ambiguous… people sure try to make them be though.
John said that the scriptures were written that we may believe on him that was sent (Jesus, who is the way). And Jesus said that people can diligently pour their lives into searching out the scriptures, but that eternal life is not in them. Eternal life is found in him alone. The illiterate who repents of sin and leads a life of love, humility and surrender to God and others is a tangible epistle of a living God, yet the biblical scholar and lifelong member of his group/sect/denomination who does not love is in need of knowing mercy. May we sacrifice our ways for life. So, the man who holds onto his interpretation, and cannot love his brother, is deceived. No love, no life. May we give up our focus on methods and men, and may we focus on a message (repent and live with God and each other).
I think we have a big gap between our understanding of the spoken word/action (i.e. actual historical event) and it’s written record.
There is a big difference between the continuous divine narrative that God is actual working out in history, and the scriptural recording of those facts, interpretations, and events. I believe in typical fallen-human fashion, we Protestants (we of the many denominations) have come to greatly idolize the written scriptures and our individual interpretation of it. (You know the joke: “What is the difference between Catholics and Protestants? Catholics have only one pope, but with Protestants everyone one is the pope!”)
The written word (little ‘w’) has been preserved and gifted to us, and just like the OT prophecies, point the way to the true Word – who of course is Christ. The scriptures are but a shadow copy of various people’s response and feedback to the reality which is Christ. I do not wish to under emphasize the amazing gift we have in the written word, but I think we tend to over emphasize its nature. When the scriptures speak of the “word of God” it is not talking about itself! It is pointing to that which comes forth from the Father and reveals the Father – which of course is Christ!
The fallacy of denominations is to place the wrong emphasis on the “correct” interpretations of the scriptures. This misses the point entirely, when the emphasis of the scriptures themselves all point to Christ! Take for example the different versions of Christ’s life on earth in the Gospel narratives. Is one account more “correct” than another? Did one of the disciples have a more “correct” view on who and what Christ was all about? Of course not – what we have is very different people recording and responding to what they saw and heard in the person and historical reality of Jesus.
I think you get the point. Jesus is the Word, not scripture. Scripture may be inherently true, but it is not perfect – any more than any written account can be – and only stands as a sign post pointing to the only “correct” view of the Father, which is in Jesus. Why does Father God allow this? Why would He not? He has always given us the freedom to receive, interpret, and respond, to who He is and what He is doing in present reality and in the person of Christ.
P.S. Frank – I suspected you might be a nut before, but after listening to your podcast, I am sure. You are completely nuts!
God’s plan or grand purpose is to have His last Will and Testament revealed to each of us for Him to use us as His vessel. (If a loved one who passed away left a last will and testament, would you not show up to read it?)
The complex depth of His Word is actually simple for each reader. God made it that way so we can all be on a different paths interpreting as we go to eventually have the truth revealed to us and have the Holy Spirit lead us to the narrow path (Christ).
If my wife and I receive a letter in the mail from a friend, we receive words on a page. I believe only about 7% of communication is in the words you use. The other 93% is non-verbal and is open to interpretation. Our ability to interpret the letter will depend on how well we both know the friend (i.e. character, personality, humor, sarcasm, patterns of behavior, etc.) If my wife and I found any discrepancies in our interpretation of the letter, getting a divorce because we disagreed would be foolish. It would expose the motivation in our hearts of being right above loving each other. Instead, we’d go find the friend and communicate with the friend until we both understood the true message, no matter how long it took. The Bible is one tool to give us the opportunity and privilege to do just that and expose if love is our primary motivating factor. God has allowed the Bible to be interpreted in numerous ways in order to promote the development of relationships to Him and each other. He’s using it as a tool to get us to come to Him together.
He wants his family to love him, not a book.
P.S. — I think the Dolphins have a pretty good chance against the Jets this weekend, but I’m not sure.
33000 denomiations. Thousand interpretations.
I think this is a demonstration of our blindness.
Our christian approach is again OT one.
Christian live is not an new book but a person.
and we continue like the PHARISEES.
Love is to be connected with God. Without connection, there is confusion.
I think God’s primary purpose is for us to learn from our relationship with Him and with the Church rather than to approach the Bible as some “ultimate handbook” that we interpret cognitively. Let’s face it–we humans interpret every writing in wildly divergent ways. We tend to read our own preconceptions into every text, and the Bible is no different. I believe God wants us to seek Him by choice and listen to His voice together. If it were not so, He would immediately take control of our minds and make us interpret the Bible in the precisely correct way. I also think it matters little to God where we stand on the details. Our focus is to be on Him alone and our purpose is to be one with Him and the Church, regardless of where we disagree.
It means much more to us that the gates of hell have not prevailed, that the true church has been preserved, with all the other crud to sift through.
It actually causes us to have no choice but to listen to the Holy Spirit, because there’s no other way to make it through to the truth.
In that way it helps to separate the goats from the sheep.
Also, without all the splits and conflict and misunderstanding, there would be no “church” for the CHURCH to rise out of and fulfill Revelation.
Pretty cool. Thanks God for chaos.