The Bible in a Nutshell Part 3: the Pentateuch (God’s Law)

Continuing on with the series, having laid the foundation in Genesis in Part 2, Part 3 will cover God’s revelation of himself through the exodus from Egypt, the provision of the Sinai covenant, and the march towards the land of promise. This portion of the Bible shows how God is gathering a people to himself, and his expectations for them as his people.  My main goal in this series is to demonstrate the cohesiveness of Scripture and seeing it as one seamless story. So as I move along, it’s important to keep the beginning of the story in mind to see what God is doing with respect to his creation.

With that, by way of review, from the fall of man, we must see God’s rescue of his creation as a unified plan beginning with the promise in Gen. 3:15. I also noted how God’s redemption is mediated through righteous representatives: Noah, Abraham, and his offspring and he is providing Through Abraham, God gave a specific promise for 4 things: 1) a land to live in; 2) numerous descendants; 3) blessing for himself; 4) blessing through him for all the nations of the world.

The tribes of Israel form and are allotted land. Their presence in the physical territory is meant to bring a blessing to surrounding nations. Does that still hold? The church has been divided on that issues. I’ll discuss that more when we get to the New Testament. Continue reading

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On being a modern day Pharisee

I came across something I wrote in a Facebook post a few years ago and wanted to post a modified and expanded version of it here. It is not uncommon to hear someone call a Christian a Pharisee because they take a firm stand on Christian faith and practice. Unfortunately, I think misconstrues a Pharisaical position with the requirements for Christian faith and practice that Scripture commands. Christians should be people of conviction and a desire for obedience. Scripture does call for repentance, to change our minds about following sin, and following Christ instead. I’ve also heard Pharisees identified as people who love law. Well, that’s insufficient because Paul says the law is good and provides us with an ethical standard. We should take God’s moral law serious. 

I think we need to consider a bit more about the rise of the Pharisees and what motivated them to take the positions they took. The Pharisee sect arose during the second temple period after the return from exile. Now let’s think for minute what was going on at this time. Israel was back in the land that God had promised but was without God’s promised leadership of a king and God’s beacon of light to the nations. Israel was operating under a kind of plan B status because of their rebellion against God, who swore to remove them from his presence. The Pharisees were a separatist group who took God’s law most serious, especially in light of the loss that Israel had experienced. They did not want to lose again, if you will, and sought to tighten the reigns to make sure that every jot and tittle of the law was obeyed. 

But in their separatist mentality, the Pharisees’ concern for righteousness before God caused them to uphold their own righteousness as the standard against which all was measured. This actually caused them to add to the law just to make sure everything was “right” before God. They were more concerned with preserving their way of life than following the giver of life, especially if it meant seeing beyond the comfort of what they had determined as righteousness. This is why Jesus rebuked them. 

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. (Matt. 23:23-26)

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The false gospel we don’t talk about

When we think of false gospels, a couple of common ones that raise to the top are the false gospel of works based acceptance and the prosperity gospel. In both cases, the gospel is false because our hope and trust is anchored in something other than the completed work of Christ. And let’s be clear, this doesn’t mean that perpetrators of false gospels don’t acknowledge Jesus and his sacrificial work on our behalf. In fact, you’ll find they most likely do. For the most part, they will acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God who came in the flesh and atoned for our sins without which there is no reconciliation to the Father. They will even talk about grace and forgiveness.

However, what makes the gospel false is when acceptance and approval by God is placed in something other than Christ. This is crucial because Christianity is Christianity because of what God has done through his Son, because of God’s singular plan for redemption based on his promises and work. That God made all creation good but it plunged headlong into sin due to the first man and woman’s disobedience, he began a work starting with Genesis 3:15 to rescue lost humanity from its disconnected and downcast position. When Jesus, quoting the prophet Isaiah, said, “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind”  he means HE is the only one through whom lost humanity can have redemption. The whole Old Testament pointed to his ultimate victory over sin and death, requiring that belief rest in him as the fulfiller of all promises (2 Cor. 1:20).

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. (Heb. 9:6)

Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. (Heb. 9:23-24)

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Bible in a Nutshell Part 2: Foundations in Genesis

Continuing on with the series and keeping the overview in part 1 in mind, the significance of Genesis is that it lays the foundation for what God is establishing with respect to his creation. The beginning explains the how and why God started everything. To reiterate what I said in the overview, God is revealing to us who he is and his expectations for his creation. Also, it’s important to remember that when I reference creation that means all of it, humanity and the earth.

A couple of points are noteworthy here. One, Genesis was written by Moses to the children of Israel while they were wandering through the wilderness. Now think for a minute what was going on with them. They had been called as a people of God’s own possession, delivered as a people from the hand of oppression and delivered with promises of a land where they’re position would thrive as a light to all nations. But for the time being, they were slogging through a seeming nothingness and feeling forsaken. The Genesis account informs Israel of how and why they were formed in accordance with the God of creation.

And this leads to the second noteworthy point. The creation account unfortunately gets bogged down with dissections about the earth’s age. In my opinion, this is a distraction from the purpose of the text. Moses is not revealing to Israel the creation account as some sort of scientific treatise about the genesis of the earth, but to tell them THAT God created everything, out of nothing and had a plan for his creation. His plan was that man (man and woman working together) being made in the image of God was to subdue the earth, to reflect his glory. What God intended for humanity cannot be dismissed for what would happen in Genesis 3 but bear important implications for how his people would work together for the sake of his kingdom.

Another significant aspect of Genesis 1-2 is that it demonstrates that we cannot divorce the spiritual aspect of reconciliation to the Father with what he desires for creation. He said ‘it is good’ which means that the physicality of creation is important. Continue reading

The Bible in a Nutshell Part 1: Overview

Before we can talk about the parts of the Bible, it helps to know what the Bible is. For much of my Christian life I’ve heard references such as the God’s instruction manual for Christian living. While I think there is some truth to that description, it does not adequately describe what the richness of these 66 books. Moreover, if we reduce the Bible down to a user manual or book of propositions, our tendency will be to miss the larger story of redemption.

While the Bible is comprised of many books that were written by 40 different authors over the span of 1,500 years, the Bible is one book. It is God revealing himself to us. But we have to see how he is doing this in consideration of his intersection with time and history. As I mentioned in my last post, we want to look at the Bible from a 20,000 foot angle, so to speak. It’s easy to get lost in the trees of particular passages but lose sight of the forest. But with this series I’m hoping to give a snapshot of each section to show the beauty of the forest by providing points to consider concerning how the pieces of these 66 books fit together. There are three aspects to the Bible I think are important to bear in mind.

1. The Bible is a divine book

If you have a red letter Bible, you might be tempted to think of the words of Jesus as more important or spiritual the rest of the Bible. But this would be a mistake. All Scripture is breathed out by God,

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

God moved through men as the Holy Spirit influenced their pen so that they would write in their own words the thoughts, will and intention of God. As I’ll note later, men wrote in their own styles but were guided by the Holy Spirit in accordance of what was happening. And just a side note: this means the Bible itself is spiritual, not just words on a piece of paper we make spiritual. Continue reading