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The B-I-B-L-E #3

2006 March 10
by Mike

A third shocking discovery of my early life was this: the Bible wasn’t written to me.

It did not come as an 1141-page book (if you have the right copy) addressed to me.

It was written, instead, to the Israelites, to the Corinthians, to the Christians in Matthew’s community, to Titus, to Timothy, to Christ-followers in the seven churches of Asia Minor. And those “books” or “letters” were later handed on to others who handed them on to others and so forth. And eventually they were handed on to me.

So in one sense, I’m reading someone else’s mail.

In the first piece in this series, I wrote about the shock of learning that the Bible has to be interpreted. I was focusing on what the Bible meant. But today I’m talking about what the Bible means.

To me, even more disconcerting than learning that the Bible requires translation and interpretation to try to figure out what it meant was the discovery that once you do that you have to attempt to figure out how it still speaks today.

For example . . .

Here are a few passages from Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Tell me which of these only applied to Timothy and his church and which ones also apply to us.

Stay in Ephesus.

I urge you . . . that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone–for kings and all those in authority . . . .”

I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands . . . .”

I want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elagorate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds . . . .”

I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be quiet.

An overseer is to be . . . apt to teach . . . .”

Women who are deacons are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.

Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty . . . .

Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.

Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.

Isn’t it obvious that women should not take any leadership roles in an assembly? Well, isn’t it also obvious that they shouldn’t wear clothes from Neiman Marcus (or Dillards . . . or K-Mart — depending on what your personal definition of “expensive clothes” is)? And isn’t it quite clear that we should never give financial assistance to a widow who’s only 59?

The church not only has to seek–in community through the leading of the Spirit–to discern what the text MEANT; it also has to try to figure out what it MEANS today. Why don’t we wash feet? Why don’t we greet one another with a holy kiss? Why do we think it’s all right to help a widow in need, even if she’s just 35?

Because we have struggled to discern what in scripture was “cultural” (in the sense that it applied only to that situation — because in another sense it’s all cultural) and what was intended as permanent.

Scripture wasn’t written for me.

And yet . . . in another sense, it IS written for me. It speaks afresh.

In one of his brief homilies based on OT texts, the writer of Hebrews begins by quoting Psalm 95 (Hebrews 3:7-11). It’s an old hymn of Israel that speaks about something that had happened hundreds of years before–the testing at Meribah and Massah in the desert. When the psalmist referred to those old events recorded in the history of Israel, he thought they spoke a new word to his people: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as YOU did in the rebellion.”

To be technical, THEY hadn’t rebelled. Their ancestors had. But he was thinking of the people as a community that cuts across the decades.

When the writer of Hebrews quotes it, he thinks it’s as current as the morning news. “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘today.'”

The actual event happened about 1300 years before Christ (give or take, depending on how you date the exodus). Psalm 95 was written hundreds of years later. The Hebrews writer applied the word in the first century. And his words and the words he quoted are still relevant and insightful in 2006.

No wonder he ended this homily by reflecting on scripture: “The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the toughts and attitudes of the heart.”

So is the Bible written for me?

No. It came initially to others in real live situations. So anything I apply must come by application as discerned by the community of faith.

But yes. It comes as a guiding document for the church, seeking to lead me to Jesus.

Scripture is old/new, ancient/current, used/fresh.

49 Responses leave one →
  1. March 10, 2006

    I like the new site. It’s much faster than the old one and so far much easier to use.

    1Corinthians 2:1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

    Resolve to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified . . . faith that rests on God’s power . . . could it be said any better or clearer.

    Could Paul have given Corinth and then us a better guiding principle?

    The Church is not a club that excludes, but an open door to all who call Jesus Lord and neither is the Bible a book of rules but a Holy Spirit empowered document to enliven the community of faith.

    Galatians 6:14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

    Thank you Jesus! Thank you Jesus! Thank you Jesus!

  2. March 10, 2006

    You mean you didn’t write that blog for me? Whoops! It isn’t a blog anymore…your post. Whatever.

    Maybe God didn’t write the Bible to me…but it I dearly need the message. Communication is so important to life and when God speaks I need to listen…whether he is talking directly to me or not.

    Shocking!

  3. Mike permalink*
    March 10, 2006

    Thanks, Steve. Wonderful words.

    And thanks to Greg — for the wonderful picture of the cat, of course, but much more for all the word to shape up this site.

    There are still a few things to tweak. You’ll notice that I’ve got a long way to go in updating the archives. Since blogger didn’t have a title line (at least in the format I was using), wordpress assigned a number to each post. I’ll slowly continue trying to change that.

    As Greg has mentioned, your links to mikecope.blogspot.com won’t work for a couple weeks while he has the redirect on there. So you can either change links to preachermike.com or just wait a couple weeks when they’ll be valid again.

    To continue letting people link to you or your info when you comment, just add your blog location or your Blogger profile address on the line that asks for website.

    Thanks!

  4. March 10, 2006

    Nice new site!

    It’s scary to learn that the Bible wasn’t what you thought it was. But it is also liberating! It can be faith-challenging. It was for me. It is now a blessing to be released from seeing the Bible as a legal document – one by which I was taught to search out passages that would clearly lay “rules” for my life and by which I could judge others who didn’t follow the same rules. Knowing what you’ve written about the Bible makes for a more joyful faith, I think.

  5. March 10, 2006

    ahh, it’s all such a struggle. But we are blessed by your words Mike, thank you.

    btw, I like the new site.

    jim
    http://www.romans515.com

  6. Mike permalink*
    March 10, 2006

    You’re right, Amanda. These things that I’ve learned have not made me less committed to scripture but more. What I’m experiencing isn’t the fear of scrutinizing verse by verse lest I get something wrong and lose my salvation but the joy of the journey of following the One who said, “These are the very scriptures that testify about me.” In my experience this doesn’t lead to less Bible study but to more!

  7. March 10, 2006

    I may be missing the point, but I believe when I get up and read the Bible, I go into that conversation between my awesome creator and myself, knowing that these words were written for me and my heart is warmed and the peace that passes all understanding falls down on me…

  8. Mike permalink*
    March 10, 2006

    That’s right, Beverly. They are written for us. But they didn’t come first for us — that’s what I’m pointing out in the first part of the post. When we read, we sit at some distance from that original setting. But that is NOT to say that scripture isn’t for us or that it can’t speak afresh.

    Just this morning I’ve been contemplating these words: “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). They weren’t written to me — at least not originally. They were written by James, the brother of Jesus, to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.” In other words, to some Jewish Christians in the first century.

    But they speak again to me this morning. I try to imagine what the context was — why before this text he warns about favoritism in their churches and why after the verse he attacks deedless “faith.”

    The word of God is living and ACTIVE . . . .

  9. March 10, 2006

    The kids (3 teenagers) and I have been reading through the NT and are in 1 Timothy now. I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anyone with teenagers that they have lots of questions. (Well, it would surprise me if anyone could read 1 Timothy without lots of questions, but you know what I mean.) Your posts the last few days have done a good job at addressing some of the things they’ve been bringing up. Thanks!

    Thanks for answering my technical questions from yesterday.

    (Greg: Did you design this template yourself? I don’t see the usual “design by” tag at the bottom of the page.)

  10. Hooteewho permalink
    March 10, 2006

    Mike,
    I like your new site!
    I posted early to see if there was a Peeps contest for the first official poster.

    I like the BIBLE conversation, and you are correct in your views on the Bible. We should look at the text to see the who, what, why, when, where, and how first. Once I learned to do that, it sure changed my perspective on scripture. It was freeing to say the least!

  11. March 10, 2006

    Mike…you think too much..hahahaha

  12. March 10, 2006

    Preacher Mike,

    This series is so refreshing and liberating! By trying to interpret scripture by a formula that excludes a graceful community that reflects the nature of God, an outbreak of spiritual hemorrhoids occurs. That is why in communities of guilt, the members are not joyful. One of the problems is that the suppositories the leaders give to relieve the pain become larger, which creates more pain.

    Your principles are natural and liberating, which in my opinion makes everything flow so much smoother and allows the Spirit to empower.

  13. March 10, 2006

    The word of God is living and active. That life prompts me to be alive and active when I come to scripture. No longer do I open the book, read a chapter, think, “that’s powerful, someone else needs it more than me…”, and close it again until my next study session. In my nearly a quarter of a century here on earth, I am learning way too slowly how formative and transformative God’s word is. There is wonderful joy in this Book. Unexplainable, freeing, bond breaking joy in the story of Christ and in the Christ himself. I’m beginning to understand that there is no way God’s Word is a giant book of rules, because it is alive, cutting me to the marrow, convicting me, and transforming me and the community of faith, very slowly (much slower than sometimes I would like) into the image of Christ.

  14. March 10, 2006

    I can remember Sunday School classes many years ago (and even recently) where the goal seemed to be to break down the meaning of every single word in the text, and place earth-changing significance on every dotted i and crossed t. The other extreme would be to say that the Bible has no current relevency …. God will speak to us solely afresh today using non-Bible means.

    For those of us somewhere in the middle, I confess that your series has raised a question in my mind. God knew that billions of people would one day read his message — people speaking thousands of languages, of different ages, of different cultural backgrounds. So, the question …. Why is it so hard to discern? Even the most honest attempt to learn from scripture causes disciples to walk away from the text in disagreement. Is it possible that God is more concerned about how we respond to each other’s response to the word, than he is about how we personally interpret the do’s and dont’s? That sounds kinda “liberal” even from my whacked-out way of thinking.

    So Mike, you’ve raised some excellent questions — don’t leave us hanging now.

    Brian

  15. March 10, 2006

    Spiritual hemorroids. There’s some imagery I didn’t need quite this early in the morning.

  16. clint permalink
    March 10, 2006

    p mike, if we get to chose which passages we are going to live by, then i like the last one.

  17. bruce permalink
    March 10, 2006

    I’m with clint

  18. Calvin (G'ampa C) permalink
    March 10, 2006

    So the answer really is YES and NO. Hmmm. Think of the richness of leaving a set of books and letters written to help our friends and children, but the texts are passed down so that our great-great-great grandchildren would have an idea what we struggle with, who we really are, and whose we really are. If my ancestor 900 years ago would have done that for his children, how would I interpret it in the light of current theology or even the Stone-Campbell movement? 900 years ago, some of the most holy men did not bathe, own a home or property, and they didn’t even have cars. Could be confusing. Guess I would have to do the best I can and rely heavily on Grace. Hmmm. Maybe that’s what we’re supposed to do, anyway?
    Thanks Mike.

  19. eddy permalink
    March 10, 2006

    Greatly appreciate this study. It seems so obvious yet difficult to realize that the very fact more than one book/letter/epistle was written says each one was situational. “Titus, I left you to fix some stuff” instead of “Titus, read Romans”. Application for today–What is the best way to show Jesus to Abilene through Highland instead of going through Abilene looking for “Nympha and the church in her house.” (I have been unable to find anyone in Midlothian named Archippus so I guess I don’t tell anyone “See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.”)

  20. March 10, 2006

    Great stuff, Mike. I am in the middle of a series on “Following Jesus on the Journey”, and I am coming to a part where I am talking about refreshment for the journey. My three are Prayer, Bible, and the Holy Spirit. Your writings this week have SO affirmed for me that the Word of God is to be refreshment for our journey, not binding rules that I have to follow or else…

  21. March 10, 2006

    Joyce:

    No way! This is a theme called vSlider and it was designed by Rui Pereira. I think he must be a genius, because he put out a design that actually works in both Firefox AND Internet Explorer. Genius, I say.

  22. March 10, 2006

    Mike, this series has been so helpful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

  23. March 10, 2006

    Rob grew up in a tradition that did not read the Bible exactly word for word like my “tribe” did. To say we had a different view of scripture is putting it mildly. It took me along time to see somethings really were just cultural and very open to interpretation. It took him some time to see some things were promises and commands given long ago but very applicable to us today. Ten years later (this August) we both have grown into a different looking relationship with “the word”, the spirit, the Father and of course, each other. It’s amazing how scripture can speak and transform all these thousands of years later. Thank you for this series Mike. Somehow what you write here always speaks to me!

    Love the new site. Knowing how much you LOVE change for change sake, I’m wondering how long it took GKB to convince you to move? 🙂

    P.S. If we have been married almost ten years, does that mean you are about to have a BIG birthday???? (You referenced your age in our ceremony which we watch on tape every year!)

  24. March 10, 2006

    SG:
    Actually, I first talked to Mike about moving to his own dot com back in March or April of 2005. So, this has been about a year in the making!

  25. Bob permalink
    March 10, 2006

    Okay, I get it that the banner shows a cross-cultural, cross-generational (cross-timespan ?) group coming to the cross, but I’m worried about the kid with the baseball bat. I don’t think he’s quite with it yet.

  26. Mark permalink
    March 10, 2006

    Nice site bro.

  27. Roger permalink
    March 10, 2006

    I agree with what you have said, but I worry that we sometimes throw out the baby with the bathwater. Mike, as you know, I still greet brethren with a holy kiss, or a hug if they will not let me kiss them. Why do we not do what God says (that command was given to three different cultures, and is the 2nd most common command in ther NT). I have never grown my hair long, not because I thought men with long hair were going to hell, but because it was so easy to do what God says. Women being silent is more difficult, because it only makes sense in context, and others verses seem to say something different. We chose to not push for women’s public participation, not because we do not have the right to, but because God has asked us to give up our “rights” for the sake of those around us. Again, it is eady to do what God says. It seems that in many places, scripture which can be obeyed is being ignored for the sake of “modernizing” the church.

  28. March 10, 2006

    Roger, you didn’t read Mike’s last line: “… So anything I apply must come by application as discerned by the community of faith.” You need Mike’s community of faith. They will be glad to settle all your problems of translation and application for your church. They are apparently the absolute authority for him when it comes to translation and application of Scripture. ***tongue in cheek***LOL!

  29. Josh Ross permalink
    March 10, 2006

    I also think that it is amazing that the first NT letter or gospel wasn’t written until 15+ years after the resurrection of Jesus. This puts an emphasis on the power of oral stories. The stories of Jesus survived not beause of the pen, but because of the passion within people to tell and retell these amazing stories of faith.

  30. eddy permalink
    March 10, 2006

    Regarding application of I Timothy:
    “I want the men everywhere to pray lifting up holy hands”
    Because it means what it says and says what it means–
    1. I=Paul 2. Wants=Strong Desire 3. The=Definite Article 4. Men=Plurality
    5. Everywhere=All Inclusive 6. Pray=Speak To God 7. Lifting Up=Move Higher
    8. Holy=Sanctified 9. Hands=Appendages At End Of Arms
    Application #1–Only men should lift hands while praying.
    Application #2–A man (singular) is not to pray.
    Application #3–I want the women to stop praying.
    Application #4–Bow your head and close your eyes while one man asks God to guide, guard and direct our ready recollection.
    Application #5–Strain gnats and swallow camels.

  31. Steve permalink
    March 10, 2006

    Real Live Preacher has some thoughts about Scripture that seem to revelant for this discussion. You can find them at http://www.reallivepreacher.com or read them below:

    The High Calling
    March 9, 2006 – 11:02am

    . . .

    The H.E. Butt foundation owns and operates Laity Lodge, which is my favorite retreat center in the world. They do other nice things, including providing free summer camps for thousands of needy kids. They have contracted with me to write 12 short bible study/reflections over the next year. One a month. Piece of cake. This is the kind of thing I do every week and have been doing for about 20 years. Now it’s not exactly Real Live Preacher stuff, you understand. RLP is me with very few limits. And that’s good too, in its place.
    These will have a touch of my attitude but will be more, well, bible studyish, I guess.

    The first one is online. In it I took a risky exegetical position with the prophet Samuel and kings David and Saul. I Samuel has an inherent contradiction that is hard to understand. God chooses the first King of the Jews, a man named Saul. And yet Saul proves to be unworthy. Then Samuel is sent to choose a second king, and God assures Samuel that God looks on the inside of people and not on the outside. It’s a nice sentiment and something I like to believe, but one wonders what God was thinking when he chose Saul in the first place, since the only thing said about him was that he was tall and handsome.

    Anyway, if you are interested in the kind of stuff I do in the other half of my life, here it is:

    One of the things I like most about the Bible is the motley and flawed collection of characters that populate its pages. There can be no doubt that we share a common humanity with them. Here is Noah, lying drunk in his tent and having a conniption fit when his son walks in and sees him naked. There is Abraham fooling around with handmaidens and sacrificing his wife’s honor to protect his own skin. Jacob is one of my favorites, wheeling and dealing, conning people out of everything from birthrights to baby goats.

    It’s all there, humanity on display in the pages of scripture: Sampson’s vanity, David’s lust, Solomon’s greed, Jonah’s racism, Herod’s bloodlust, Thomas’ doubts, and Paul’s sermons—so boring that once a young man fell asleep while Paul was preaching and fell out of a top story window…

    Rest of this article is found here:

    http://highcalling.notlong.com

    Peace

  32. Coping permalink
    March 10, 2006

    The kid with the baseball bat is my grandson – and he is very much with it!

  33. March 10, 2006

    Thank, Coping, for the I.D. of your grandson. I thought, myself, he looks like he’s very much with it. Here’s how I saw it (see it) – he’s a young boy, but he has the heart of Jesus, leaves his favorite game in the whole wide world, uniform still on, bat in hand, cap on head, and he heads up the hill to the Cross.

    That’s what I see in that terrifc picture.

  34. Mike permalink*
    March 10, 2006

    Bob –

    And the kid with the baseball bat is my son. And his grandmother is right: he’s very much with it! 🙂

  35. March 10, 2006

    The site update is nice. I’m still mulling over your comments. This is a “make you go Hmmm” posting.
    As for the cat picture. Where did that come from!

  36. klint pleasant permalink
    March 10, 2006

    Mike:
    I like the new site and todays entry. I enjoyed our visit a few weeks ago. I value our friendship.
    Klint Pleasant

  37. March 10, 2006

    I like the new look. You series on the bible has been fun, and right to the heart of the matter. Thanks for pointing out how we have to work at bridging the two worlds. The world and the time scripture were written and the real time world we live in today. Both very similar but very different. I am glad we have the Holy Spirit as a guide.

  38. Bob permalink
    March 10, 2006

    Where can I get a baseball bat? I need to get in line.

  39. March 10, 2006

    Love the new website and it will be much easier to tell friends how to find the new website.

    Really appreaciate the three part study and agree 100%.

  40. March 10, 2006

    With a few more posts like this, I will not be able to take potshots at organized religion.

    I have a lot of perfectly good cynicism about to spoil. Thanks a lot!

  41. Bob Hogue permalink
    March 10, 2006

    1. Bob Hogue Says:
    March 10th, 2006

    There is a new Stone-Campbell unity Board started that
    some might be interested in joining.It is called Restoration
    Heritage Board.We are discussing unity between three Restoration
    Groups(CoC,DoC,CC).Come join the Discussion.I have already
    recommended your Blog to the group because I enjoy reading
    from your Blog.

    In His Love and Grace Bob

    http://www.restorationheritage.com/

  42. March 11, 2006

    In the words of Rick Warren, “It all starts with God”.

  43. don permalink
    March 11, 2006

    great series, Mike. When we take the Bible and make it a rule book, it loses its “aliveness”, its quickness. It can still be sharper than a two-edged sword that way, but only because it cuts everybody to shreds who is unable to do everything just as it commands. But again, it is not a rulebook, and the cutting to shreds is done by the interpretation of it as such, and not the message, itself.

    This is not to say there are not concrete, foundational principles found there, but the way we receive and apply the message determines how we will react. Whe I was a kid, and it rained in the summer, I was mad because I didn’t get to play baseball that day. Mr. Snelson, the farmer across the road, was probably thanking God for the same rain. And to some folks, it was a non-event.

    Thanks for continuing to point us to the life and freedom to be found in Jesus and in community with each other.

  44. Ted permalink
    March 11, 2006

    New site is going to be great. New direction for topics of discussion also appear to be improving.

  45. March 11, 2006

    Mike, I love the search feature on your blog. I used it to find your words about Kerri Lane, and I am planning to use her thoughts on Guidance to bless the women at our upcoming retreat.

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