BIBLE PROPHECY: Know When You Are Dealing With Symbolic Language

The Bible speaks to us in many different literary forms.  Some of the time, it speaks in plain language.  At other times, it speaks to us through poetry.  There are also times when it speaks to us in figurative or symbolic language.  Much of prophecy is in this third form: symbolic.  Naturally, if we do not understand this symbolic language, or worse, if we try to interpret symbolic language literally, we are not only likely, but all but assured to misunderstand the prophet’s message.  Now, God is not a God of confusion, so we might wonder, if nearly one-third of Scripture is prophecy, why did God give it to us in a language that is not readily understood?  I asked Him this very question for many years until one day, it dawned on me.  When asked why He taught in parables, Jesus responded by siting a prophecy that said the Messiah would teach in parables so that the lost would be ever hearing but never understanding.  Not only was He fulfilling prophecy, but Jesus was teaching in a way that would seem foolish to the lost while making perfect sense to the saved.  Why should we expect prophecy to be any different?  God’s Word is designed to make us work to understand.  You have to seek understanding by studying, and studying with a sincere heart.  But, when you do, the Lord’s Word is good: you will find Him, and He will open His Word to you — even His prophecies.  You just have to learn the language.

Now, if prophecy is heavy with symbolic language, how do we learn the meaning of those symbols?  Well, we start by learning to recognize when we are dealing with symbolic language.  If we pay attention (by reading closely), we will find that the prophet usually tells us we are dealing with symbolic language.  The easiest and surest sign is when the prophet tells us he was having a “vision” or was “in the spirit.”  These are positive indications that what follows is likely to be figurative in nature.  But the prophet will usually give us other indications that many believers miss.  We must watch for indicator words.  When the prophet prefaces something with “like” or “like unto,” or “as” or “such as,” the prophet is telling us he is not being literal, but it trying to describe what he is seeing in his vision in terms that his audience will better understand (remember, the prophet’s audience is the ancient Hebrew).

For example: if the prophet tells us he saw something “like a gull,” we should not think he saw a bull, or even something that looked like a bull.  While it is possible, we must remember that, to the ancient Hebrew, the bull was symbolic of strength.  Have you ever wondered why the Hebrews kept making graven images of golden calves or bulls?  It is because the bull is a symbol of strength, so if you are going to make your own god, you would naturally want that god to give the impression of being strong.  Therefore, when a prophet says something was “like a bull,” we should first think like the Hebrew would and think ‘strong‘ or ‘powerful.’

So, before we start learning what the symbols in prophecy mean, we must first learn to recognize when we are dealing with symbolic language.  We do this by watching to see if the prophet tells us that he had a vision or was in the spirit.  But we also do this by watching for words that indicate comparison rather than physical likeness or appearance.  Once we master this, we can start looking for the meanings of the symbols used in Scripture.  This will be the subject of my next post: learning the symbolic language of Scripture.

UNDERSTANDING SCRIPTURE: What Does It Mean To ‘Practice’ Righteousness And Sin?

A brother and good friend of mine posted something on his Face Book page today, and it caused me a great deal of trouble — until after I had obeyed the Lord and written the second of a two-part post on the meanings of ‘The Word’ and TORAH.  Now I have an answer to the thing that troubled me as I read my friend’s post: ‘what does it mean to practice righteousness and sin?’  If you have a moment, I’d like to share the answer I was given with you.

Let me start by sharing the passage my brother posted:

1 John 3:3-10  New American Standard Bible (NASB)

And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or [a]knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil [b]has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is [c]born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is [d]born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: [e]anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

Next, let me clearly state the issue that caused me so much trouble:

John, whom Jesus loved, appears to be telling us that anyone who sins practices sin, and therefore, is of Satan.  Only those who practice righteousness are of God.  However, Scripture also tells us that no one is righteous but God.  So, at first glance, it would appear as though John is telling us that no one is righteous, and therefore, no one is of God.  The natural conclusion from this is that no one is or will be saved.  However, Scripture tells us otherwise.  So, how do I resolve this conflict, and what does it mean for me, personally?

I must confess, this has bothered me for some time.  I know I sin.  I have several areas where I struggle greatly, and even when I am thinking of doing something I know I should not, and the Holy Spirit is telling me I am about to sin, I do it anyway.  So, when I read John’s words, I cannot explain the anguish I feel within me.  John seems to be telling me I do not really love Jesus, and that I am a sinner.  So what hope do I have?

Luckily, the Lord has set it on my heart to study His word and share what He reveals to me through my blogging.  As part of my studies, I have been studying the ancient Greek and Hebrew languages in which Scripture was originally written.  I have also been studying ancient Hebrew culture, so as to better understand Scripture by putting it closer to its proper context.  So, when I read my brother’s Face Book post this morning, I did not realize it, but the Lord was already helping me work out the answer to my struggles.

As I said, I wrote a two-part post on the fuller meaning of ‘The Word’ (logos) and the original meaning of TORAH.  Now, I offer this caution: these two posts are not for new believers.  Unless you understand what it means to ‘chew tough meat,’ I would suggest the reader seriously consider skipping those posts.  But the answer to the trouble in my heart over what ‘practice’ means was given to me this morning as I finished the second of the two-part post.  What’s more, the Lord also gave me a way to explain it that will not shake the faith of a new believer.

Regular readers will know that I stress the meaning of words quite frequently.  This is because many solutions to needless problems can be found in understanding what the words we use actually mean.  So, let’s look at the word, ‘practice:’

Full Definition of practice

Simple Definition of practice

  • : to do something again and again in order to become better at it

  • : to do (something) regularly or constantly as an ordinary part of your life

  • : to live according to the customs and teachings of (a religion)

OK, so, using the definition above, what does it mean to ‘practice’ righteousness and sin?

Do I try to be better at sinning?  No!  I try to do better at being righteous.  So, in this way, I ‘practice’ righteousness, not sin.

Do I try to sin as a regular or normal part of my life?  No!  I know I sin, even when I do things that I do not realize are sins (we all do this: we see those things we recognize as sin, but then we do things that we do not realize are also sin, so we miss a great deal of the sin in our lives).  No, I try to make righteousness a routine in my life.  So, in this way, I ‘practice’ righteousness, not sin.

Do I live according to sin?  No!  I recognize sin and I reject it when I do — even as I catch myself doing it, I reject it.  At the same time, I try to live according to righteousness.  So, in this way, I ‘practice’ righteousness, not sin.

So, according to the definition of ‘practice,’ I do not ‘practice’ sin, but righteousness.  However, here is a word of warning:

It is not the same for someone who thinks they are practicing righteousness when they follow their own idea of right and wrong.  The only thing that is righteous is God and God’s Law (i.e. the narrow path).  Any deviation from this path is lawlessness, and, as John explains, sin and lawlessness are the same.  Therefore, no matter how ‘good’ a person may believe themselves to be, unless they are trying to follow God’s path, they are still lawless, and thus, they practice sin.

Now, I realize that, to human understanding, this sounds narrow-minded.  I am declaring that there is only one path to righteousness, and that this path is Jesus and only those who follow this path are ‘good.’  Well, yes!  That is exactly what I am saying, but then, it is not me who says this, but God, Himself.  I am merely defending the Word of God (i.e. logos).

Also, the believer still has to realize that this does not excuse our sin.  When we stray from the narrow path, we sin, and the price for sin is death!  So, even if we get back on the narrow path, we still deserve death — even if we only stray that one time!  This is where faith comes in to the equation.  We have to walk the narrow path by faith, focusing on staying on that path and trusting that the Lord will work out the rest.  We will all stray from the path (sin), and once we do, we are eternally tarnished: there is nothing we can do to wash away our guilt.  Only Jesus can do that, and that is where we have to place our faith/trust/hope.

If you have read and understood my two-part post of ‘The Word’ and TORAH, my language here is probably making even more sense to you.  You know I see Jesus, ‘the law’ and the narrow path as being the same things.  But even if you have not read those two posts, I pray you can see what it means to ‘practice’ sin vs. righteousness.  Also, remember that those who are lost (off the narrow path) cannot see that they are lost.  They see only their own desires.  So, if you can see and admit you are sinning, that is a good indication that you at least know where the narrow path is, and the directions for staying on it (the Lord’s commands).  If you care about staying on that narrow path, and following His directions for staying on it, even if you sin from time to time, you are practicing righteousness.  However, if you do not see the path or acknowledge His directions for getting on and staying on it, or even if you do see them but do not care to heed them, then you are practicing sin (lawlessness).

I hope this will help the reader.  I know it has helped me.  It has put my heart at ease.  It does not release me from working to stay on the path by following the Lord’s directions; it helps me to know which I practice: righteousness or sin.  I pray it will do the same for you.

UNDERSTANDING SCRIPTURE: What Did ‘TORAH’ Originally Mean?

A WORD OF CAUTION: This post is not intended for new believers.  It is meant for those who are already used to chewing ‘tough meat.’  If you do not immediately understand that reference, you might want to seriously consider skipping this post.

This post is a continuation of the discussion I started in my post about the fuller meaning of logos, usually translated as ‘The Word.’  In my studies of ancient Hebrew, I encountered something that, at first, might seem to be a false teaching.  However, the more I have studied it and prayed on it, the more I have become convinced it is actually true.  What did I discover?  I found that, just as with the original meaning of the word, logos, the meaning of ‘TORAH’ has changed over time — and the change is significant. Continue reading “UNDERSTANDING SCRIPTURE: What Did ‘TORAH’ Originally Mean?”

BIBLE PROPHECY: Ancient Hebrew Poetry

This is the 9th post in a series I am writing about end times prophecies in the Bible.  If you would like to read the earlier posts, the series starts here.

The last thing we have to discuss before we can start taking a serious look at Biblical prophecy is the use of Hebrew poetry in prophecy.  Even in the best cases,  it can be difficult to understand exactly what the poet means by the words he uses.   And this is true even when the poetry is based in something as easily recognized as meter and rhyme.  But ancient Hebrew poetry is not based in meter and rhyme, but in parallelism.  And even then, there are different forms and levels of parallelism.  In fact, ancient Hebrew poetry often has nested layers and forms, all within the same poem.  The Book of Revelation is such a book, and so are Isaiah and Daniel.  Now, if we do not understand the poetry being used, then how can we possibly expect to properly understand the prophet’s message?  The answer should be obvious: we can’t.  Therefore, let’s look on several forms of parallelisms found in ancient Hebrew poetry.

The first thing I want the reader to understand is that this is a very deep and complicated subject, and the source of a great deal of confusion — even among the most studied of Biblical scholars.  I do not pretend to have any special insight or understanding.  At best, I am providing a very rudimentary and — if I might add — clumsy outline of this subject.  My hope is for nothing more than to make the reader aware of just how deep the subject of Hebrew poetry runs through the Scriptures, and — if I’m lucky enough — to spark an interest in the reader that will lead to more in-depth, personal study of the matter.  Now, with that said, let’s look at parallelism in Scripture.

The first thing we need to understand is that there are many forms of parallelism in Hebrew poetry.  It can be as simple as re-stating two or more central ideas, only each time they are re-stated, they either add additional information or describe something from a different perspective.  On top of this, the grammatical structure can also be parallel, even within another set of parallel passages.  For example:

Proverbs 6:20-22  New American Standard Bible (NASB)

20 My son, observe the commandment of your father
And do not forsake the [a]teaching of your mother;
21 Bind them continually on your heart;
Tie them around your neck.
22 When you walk about, [b]they will guide you;
When you sleep, [c]they will watch over you;
And when you awake, [d]they will talk to you.

These parallels can also be contrasts to each other.  One line may say one thing, then the next line could express an opposite idea.  For example:

Proverbs 11:1  New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Contrast the Upright and the Wicked

11 A false balance is an abomination to the Lord,
But a just weight is His delight.

Still other parallels can come in the form of a ,stair case,’ where the expressions used constantly intensify the central idea:

Proverbs 29:1-2  New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Warnings and Instructions

29 A man who hardens his neck after much reproof
Will suddenly be broken [a]beyond remedy.
When the righteous [b]increase, the people rejoice,
But when a wicked man rules, people groan.

However, there are two forms of parallelism which must be considered central to any attempt to study and understand prophecy.  These are the chiasim and the bifid.  Once we understand these two major forms of Hebrew poetry, we will realize that many of the books in the Bible are bifids, and a great many more contain chiasims.  So, what are bifids and chiasims?

Let’s take the bifid first.  Simply put, a bifid is a book that is divided in the middle, with each half telling the same story, only in a different way.  Isaiah is a bifid.  If you read critiques, you will find that many people have questioned whether or not the latter half of Isaiah was actually written by Isaiah.  They rightly point to some differences between it and the first half.  But their mistake is in not understanding that Isaiah is a bifid.  It stops in the middle, then starts from the beginning and retells the whole story all over, just with different information and a different perspective.  Daniel is also a bifid, but it is easier to recognize — if you read it in its original languages.  That’s right, Daniel was originally written in two different languages.  The first half is written in Chaldean and is addressing the Gentile world.  The second half is in Hebrew and addresses the Hebrew people.  Finally, the easiest bifid of all to recognize is Revelation.  It starts with Christ clearly stating that he is addressing His prophecy to the Church.  Then, in the middle of Revelation, Christ tells John that he (John) must prophecy again only, this time, he (John) is to address the Gentiles.  In all three cases, Isiah, Daniel and Revelation, both halves of the books tell the same story, only to different audiences and with different information.

Then there is the chiasim.  Most believers have heard chiasims before, but you may have never been taught that is what they are.  Simply put, a chiasim is like an ascending and descending scale.  The chiasim will address two or more ideas on the way up the scale, then address those same ideas again as it goes back down the scale, only, this time, it addresses them in reverse order.  One of the most well known chiasims in Scripture is “Your ways are not Mine, My ways are not yours.”  See how it goes up two steps, then back down two steps?  Here is another example:

Proverbs 11:19-20  New American Standard Bible (NASB)

19 He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life,
And he who pursues evil will bring about his own death.
20 The perverse in heart are an abomination to the Lord,
But the blameless in their [a]walk are His delight.

Chiasims are probably the hardest form of ancient Hebrew poetry to recognize.   This is because the poets often place breaks between the steps, breaks where they discuss other things.  Chiasims can also be spread throughout several chapters or even an entire book (of half of a book in the case of a bifid).  And we cannot rely on the numbering system in our Bibles, either.  We must remember they were added much later, and are not part of the original texts.   So chiasims can be difficult to spot, and even when we find them, they can be difficult to follow.  For example, Genesis 1:1 through 2:3 is written in the form of a chiasim.  There are also two parallel chiasims in Revelation, one in each half of the book.  On top of those two chiasims in the bifid that is Revelation are also three parallels of seven, with nested parallels within those seven.  So the reader should understand that, if one does not know about and have some concept of ancient Hebrew poetry, one is very unlikely to understand what the poet was trying to tell us.

OK, if you have been following me through all my posts on Biblical prophecy to this point, you should be starting to get the idea that there is much more to the language of prophecy than simply reading the English translation.  And on top of everything I have discussed so far, I still haven’t mentioned the symbolic language or numerology written into prophecy.  Now, if this is frustrating for you, I assure you, I understand. I can see how it might appear as though there’s no use even trying to study prophecy.  I mean, how can we study it when we have to learn all this other stuff before we even begin with the prophets?  Luckily, the prophets actually left us a great many clues that serve as sign posts to help us navigate our way through their prophecies.  So, this is where we will finally start our actual study of the prophets and their prophecies: with the ‘sign posts’ they left for us.

You can find the next post in this series here.

ADDITIONAL READING ON ANCIENT HEBREW POETRY

Bifids & Chiasims

Poetry in the Hebrew Bible

How Ancient Hebrew Poetry Works: A New Description

The Key to Biblical Poetry

BIBLE PROPHECY: The Ancient Hebrew Language

This is the 9th post in a series I am writing about end times prophecies in the Bible.  If you would like to read the earlier posts, the series starts here.

The ancient Hebrew language was very different from its modern form.  Not only was it a ‘sense-based’ language, originally, its written form was also hieroglyphic.   This means the language was based in concrete terms, which to the ancient Hebrew would mean terms familiar to a semi-nomadic, agricultural society.  The hieroglyphics are just a natural outflow of this ‘pictorial’ form of thinking.  It also lead to a language where two letter root words were used to form the basis of an entire family of words with similar or related meanings.  Naturally, there is a great deal more to the ancient Hebrew language, but the way it relates to and is connected to the lifestyle of the ancient Hebrew is what is most important to understanding Biblical prophecy.

First, we will look at the hieroglyphic nature of ancient Hebrew.  The word, or pictograph for ‘strength‘ was a drawing of a bull’s head (see additional reading links below).   To the Hebrew, the strongest animal he had at hand was the bull, so, naturally, to a sense-based mind, the bull would be a symbol of strength.  Likewise, the word or symbol for ‘house‘ was a drawing depicting the layout of an ancient Hebrew tent.  Now, even though these are words, in ancient Hebrew, they are also letters.  The image of each letter implies an image, and the meaning attached to that image is understood as the meaning of the word.  So, when we put the bull’s head and the tent together, we get ‘strength of the house,’ which is the Hebrew word for husband or father.

 Reading right to left:

= strength    = house

= husband or father

Another example would be a phrase found in the Bible, “The Lord is slow to anger.”  The ancient Hebrew does not actually say this.  The Hebrew word for ‘anger‘ is ‘nose.’  So the original Hebrew actually says “The Lord is slow to nose.”  Now, remember what we said about ancient Hebrew being concrete, or pictorial in nature.  When we get angry, we tend to breath faster and heavier, which causes our nostrils to flare.  So, to the ancient Hebrew, nose (and nostril, which is related) are connected to anger.  Now, let’s look at one last example:

The Hebrew words for deer and oak also hold the meaning of strength or leadership.  The deer was seen as one of the strongest animals in the forest, and the oak as one of the strongest woods.  So these words are often used to refer to strong leaders.  Now, think about how this changes the meaning of a phrase such as:

Psalms 29:9

“The voice of the Lord makes the deer to calve.”

or according to another translation:

“The voice of the Lord twists the oaks.”

What the Psalmist was actually saying is:

“The voice of the Lord makes strong leaders turn [from their ways, to the Lord’s].

So you can see how not understanding the nature of ancient Hebrew can and does cause confusion in understanding Scripture — and doubly so when trying to read prophecy.

Now, when we read modern Scripture, a lot of this has been translated for us, so we don’t run into these sort of problems nearly as often as they actually appear in the original texts.  This is because others, who are familiar with the ancient Hebrew language, have translated the ancient texts so that we may better understand them.  However, by trying to put things in more modern terms, these translators, as well meaning as they are, have inadvertently made it more difficult to understand the more difficult parts of Scripture.  Part of the trouble is found in the way ancient Hebrew was written.  Originally, Hebrew had no vowels.  The reader had to use the context of the rest of the text to help them chose the correct word and then fill in the vowels mentally.  Given than many words have the same spelling when the vowels are left out, this allows for mistranslations, even in the time of the original author.  Throw in the problems of culture and the nature of prophetic vision and you can see how easily even the most well-meaning people can get confused while trying to put ancient Hebrew into modern terms. This is why we must study the original culture and language: so that we can better understand the subtle nuance of the original message [It is also something you teacher out there should make an effort to teach you flock].

So, what should we take away from this?  Well, if nothing else, we should understand that the prophet or scribe probably has a different meaning from that of a literal interpretation.  It also means that the Scriptures are not as ‘garbldie-gook‘ (as one Atheist put it to me) as many like to believe.  It just means we do not understand the language, and, if we do not understand the language, we should not expect to get a clear understanding of the message.  Once again, it would be like trying to explain computers to someone from the 19th Century and wondering why they do not understand.  To them, you might be using English words, but they would not have the reference frame necessary to understand what you were telling them.  Well, we are no different, only the time line is reversed: in our case, the ancients are trying to explain spiritual matters to a culture that has largely rejected the idea that such a thing as the Spirit world even exists.

Now that we have touched a little bit on the subject of how the ancient Hebrew language worked, the next thing we need to do is have a brief look at some of the more artistic uses of the language.  This will be the subject of our next post: Hebrew poetry.

You can find the next post in this series here.

ADDITIONAL READING ON ANCIENT HEBREW LANGUAGE

The Philosophy of the Hebrew Language

Introduction to Ancient Hebrew

The Culture of the Hebrew Language

The Ancient Pictographic Hebrew Language

A Brief History of the Hebrew Language

 

AN INTERESTING NOTE ABOUT PICTORIAL HEBREW

Archeology has discovered several ancient Hebrew pictographs for the name of the Messiah.  Now, they do vary a bit, but no one can make the claim that these various spellings mean they are different names.  This is because all of the different spellings come from the same root word, which means that they are all related.  This is the nature of Hebrew.  But one of the most frequent spellings shows the pictograph for ‘behold‘ or ‘look,’ then ‘the highest man‘ then the symbols for ‘tent peg,’ which means ‘to fasten‘ or ‘nail,’ and then a letter which is literally the symbol of the cross.  So, from right to left, it literally says the name of the Messiah is “Behold, the highest man, nailed to a cross.”  Another related spelling for the Messiah literally reads “Behold, hand, behold, nailed.”  In fact, every variation of the spelling for Messiah depicts some picture of a man or hands being nailed, often to the Hebrew letter, ‘tav‘ which looks exactly like a small case ‘t‘, or a cross.  Now, keep in mind, that was written 1500+ years before Christ was crucified, and at least 750 years before crucifixion was even invented!  That, my dear reader, is prophecy literally written into the very fabric of the language God’s chosen people spoke!

HavetPicture

This should be a testimony to both Hebrew (i.e. Jew) and skeptic alike that Jesus is the Messiah, and as Messiah, He is God!

UNDERSTANDING SCRIPTURE: A Fuller Understanding Of ‘The Word’

Most believers are familiar with the words of John 1:1-5: “In the beginning there was the Word.”  Today, we understand ‘The Word‘ to mean Jesus, but I fear we have lost a great deal of John’s original meaning.  It isn’t so much that this loss has changed anything, but more like it has robbed us of something more.  If you have a moment, I’d like to explain.

First, we have to understand that the Scriptures are the Word of God.  As such, He will preserve them.  This is why, no matter how often skeptics try, no one has yet been able to show that the Scriptures have been altered over time.  When the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, they affirmed that the Scriptures we have today are nearly identical to those from 200 B.C.  Other ancient fragments of Scripture have dated to even earlier periods, and they have affirmed the same thing: Scripture has been preserved

[The preservation of God’s Word is actually directly connected to the subject at hand.  I hope you will see how by the end of this post.]

Now, Satan (which means adversary, or accuser) cannot change this.  God wills that His Word be preserved, so there is nothing Satan can do about that: His Word (i.e. the Scriptures) will be preserved — period!  So how can Satan combat this?  The same way he always has: through deception.  As in the case with Even in the Garden, this deception often comes in the form of perversion, or twisting of the Truth (telling of half-truths, or part of the Truth in a way that produces a false impression or conclusion).  Well, I believe this is what has happened in the case of John 1:1-5.  Only, in this case, it is not so much that Satan has twisted the meaning of John’s original words as it is that Satan has taken away a great part of their original meaning.  Here’s why I say this.

First, read the passage in its original Greek (you will have to follow the link for the original Greek):

John 1: 1-5  New American Standard Bible (NASB)

The Deity of Jesus Christ

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [a]He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not [b]comprehend it.

Notice that the original Greek does not say ‘word,’ but ‘logos.’  Now, you might say that this is the same thing, since ‘logos‘ means ‘word’ (or Word of God).   However, that is not what ‘logos‘ meant when John first used the term.  Remember, John was written in the 1st Century, and he was using 1st Century Greek.  Therefore, we should understand that the meaning of a word then is not necessarily the meaning of that word today.  When we look, we discover this is precisely the case here.  John actually re-assigned a meaning to the word, ‘logos,’ so that now, today, we understand it to mean ‘the Word of God.’  But what did ‘logos‘ mean in John’s day and how might that original meaning affect our understanding of John’s original message?

Remember, when John is writing, he is in the time when the Greek philosophers were at the height of their influence.  John is in a world dominated by Greek culture, and he is writing in Greek.  At that time, ‘logos‘ was understood to refer to the controlling principle in the universe.  So, why would John use this term?  Look at the rest of the verses:

In the beginning was ‘the controlling principle of the universe.’  Paul explains what this ‘controlling principle‘ is in Romans 1 & 2.  Paul calls it Natural Law.  Today, we think of it as ‘the laws of physics,’ but here is the point of my post: the laws of physics are only part of God’s Natural Law.  Which then means, today, we have lost a good part of our understanding of what John meant by “The Word.”  That lost part has been taken away.

Now, keep reading.  John tells us that ‘logos‘ existed in the beginning.  This means before the creation of the universe (keep reading, you’ll see this is what he means).  And that ‘logos‘ was not only withTheos‘ (the One True God), but that ‘logoswasTheos.’  Therefore, ‘logos‘ is with God and is God.  Now, let’s try to put this in more modern terms.

John has just told us that the sum total of all the laws which govern this universe are part of The One True God.  This means all the laws of physics, the laws governing logic, mathematics, economics, society — everything: all these laws are part of ‘logos,’ and thus, they are God.  Got it so far?  Now keep reading.

Next, John tells us that all things were created through this ‘logos.’  The Greek word translated ‘created‘ here is ‘ginomai,’ which means ‘to bring into being.’  So, John is literally telling us that this sum total of governing laws he calls ‘logos‘ is the means by which God created everything that has ever been created.  The very first thing we should note is that this excludes God and ‘logos,’ which means they are not ‘created’ beings.  But now, let’s put this into more modern terms.

John started by telling us that the ‘governing force‘ which he calls ‘logos‘ is part of The One True God.  It is the sum total of all laws which control everything that has ever been created.  And that it is through this sum total of governing laws that everything which has ever been was created in the first place.  Now think about what that means.  We do not doubt that we are using the laws of physics when we create something, so why should it surprise us when John tells us God did the same thing in creating the universe?  God, as the author of these governing laws — logos — uses them (logos) to create everything He has ever created.  Simple, right?  It should be.  It just means the Law Giver uses His own laws to work His will.  Now, what does this give us so far?

Logos (the governing force of the universe) existed — with God — before anything was ever created.

These governing principles are God (it must be, as it was not created, therefore, it must have always existed, which, by definition, makes it God).

And that it is through this governing set of principles that God created everything He has ever made.

Now, finish the passage.  John finishes by telling us that in this ‘governing force‘ (logos) is life, also referred to as the light.  The Greek word here for ‘life‘ is ‘zōē.’  This refers to the spiritual life of deliverance from the proper penalty for sin.  In other words, this ‘zōē‘ is eternal life — salvation — and refers to all those who will ever be redeemed.  Now, let’s wrap up:

In his original Greek, John was telling us that Jesus is much, MUCH more than just God as man.  Jesus is the governing principle by which all things that have ever been or ever will be are made.  Paul later tells us that it is through Christ (this same governing principle) that all things are also sustained.  John tells us that this ‘logos’ is not only with God, but is God.  So God and ‘logos‘ are one, but thought of as also being distinct from each other.  This is not so difficult to accept.  Your thoughts and words are one with you, but they are also separate things.  How do you know that to be true?  Because you speak of them as being part of you, but also distinctly separate from you in your own speech.  So why should John speak of Jesus any differently?  Finally, John tells us that it is through this governing principle, logos, that true redemption is found.  Thus, Jesus becomes the light of the world, and all those who do not understand and accept Him are lost in darkness.

Now, there is something more I want to share, and it is directly related to John 1: 1-5.  However, it is going to have to keep until my next post on this subject.  Until then, the point I want to make is this:

Over time, the meaning of ‘logos‘ changed.  Today, we understand it to mean ‘The Word,’ or, Jesus.  But originally, logos communicated a much deeper understanding of Who Jesus actually is.  By stealing this understanding away, Satan has prevented us from grasping this deeper understanding.  However, by returning to the original meaning of the word, logos, we do not change our modern understanding of Christ.  That remains.  Nothing I have just explained changes Who Jesus is in any way.  All it does is expand our understanding of Jesus.  It makes Him bigger, and that is what Satan wants.  He does not want us to understand just how big God actually is, so Satan steal away little pieces of our understanding, or he gets in the way so that we never gain them in the first place.

In my next post on this subject, I will try to explain how the ancient Hebrew’s original concept of God is directly tied to the way John used the term, logos, to describe Jesus, and to the way Jesus described Himself.

BIBLE PROPHECY: The Ancient Hebrew Culture

This is the 8th post in a series I am writing about end times prophecies in the Bible.  If you would like to read the earlier posts, the series starts here.

The culture of the ancient Hebrews has all but been erased.  Today, the closest thing we have to this ancient culture are the Bedouins.  Like the Bedouins of today, the ancient Hebrews lived in a culture of semi-nomadic tribes of  farmers and herdsmen.  They traveled in small, familiar groups, lived in tents made of goats hair tarps and had few material possessions.  Their wealth was measured in terms of children and the size of their herds.  As such, they were used to living in the wilderness.  Their lives consisted of traveling from watering hole to watering hole and pasture land to pasture land, all according to the seasons and the rains they brought.  As desert dwellers, the lives of the ancient Hebrew literally depended upon the rain, so everything about their lives was focused on the rain and the life-sustaining crops that it yielded.

Consequently, it is no surprise that the ancient Hebrew tended to stress the importance of rain.  But not only the rain: he also placed a great deal of importance on the crops and pasture lands the rain provided.  To the ancient Hebrew, the three were all connected to the continuation of his life and the lives of his family, and that connection was further extended to his dependence upon God to provide those life-giving rains.  Thus, the ancient Hebrew didn’t think, he knew that his life was entirely dependent upon the Lord.  If the Lord held back the rain, the ancient Hebrew was in peril of dying.  Given this, it is only natural that we should expect to see the ancient Hebrew relating to God through  images connected to their way of life and, more importantly, the things which God provided to sustained their material lives.

The ancient Hebrew was also thought in material or concrete terms.  To him, if you could not see, taste, smell, hear or feel it, then it made little sense.  This is not to say he did not have any understanding of the abstract, because he did.  The ancient Hebrew was very religious, and by its very nature, religion is an abstract thing.  It just means that the ancient Hebrew tended to use concrete imagery to describe and discuss abstract thing.  Here again, if we do not understand this concrete way of thinking and we try to overwrite our modern world view, which is so rooted in the abstract, we are not likely, but guaranteed to misunderstand the ancient Hebrew Scriptures.

The ancient Hebrew also thought of time in a very different way than we do today.  Today, we think of time as being a linear thing, with a starting point and moving constantly forward.  Thus, we think in terms of ‘past,’ ‘present’ and ‘future.’  But the ancient Hebrew did not think this way.  To him, there was only those things that ‘had already manifested’ (i.e. had already came to be, or happened) and those things which ‘were yet to manifest’ (i.e. had not yet came to be, or happen).  Given that the ancient Hebrew would have thought this way, then we should expect that he would have communicated with this assumption in mind, as well.  Therefore, if we try to force our modern, linear perspective of time over top the ancient Hebrew Scriptures, we are not likely to misunderstand, we are all but guaranteed to misunderstand.

Another interesting characteristic of the ancient Hebrew is that he was an excellent historian in a time when man had not yet started to care about history.  In fact, it could be argued that the ancient Hebrews were the fathers of modern history.  Before them, men did record things, but they usually only recorded things to glorify some important person or event, and even then, they tended to embellish what actually happened, and/or leave out the negative.  This is not the case with the ancient Hebrew.  To him, the history of his people was his religion: the two were inseparable.  Consequently, he recorded everything — good and bad — as accurately as he could because, in his eyes, that history was a record of God’s Hand in the lives of his people.

This brings us to the final point I’d like to make about the ancient Hebrew culture, which is that their faith was central to everything they did.  It was their very existence.  In the mind of the ancient Hebrew, everything he did was part of a relationship with the Lord.  Thus, to live a righteous life was to live in harmony with the Lord’s ways.

Now, all of this should naturally be expected to reflect in the way the ancient Hebrews spoke, and, as we will see in my next post, it is.  But, for now, we should understand that, just as our dependence upon technology influences the way we see and relate to the world, the ancient Hebrew’s dependency on God to provide rain shaped and influence the way he saw the world.  And, just as we work the things of our daily lives into the way we communicate, the ancient Hebrew worked the familiar things of his daily life into the way he communicated, including his writings — and, yes, even Scripture.

You can find the next post in this series here.

ADDITIONAL READING ON ANCIENT HEBREW CULTURE

The Ancient Hebrew Culture

The Nomadic Lifestyle of the Ancient Hebrews

Hebrew Society, History, Religion, and Texts

BIBLE PROPHECY: Get Into The Sandals Of The Prophet

This is the seventh post in a series I am writing about end times prophecies in the Bible.  If you would like to read the earlier posts, the series starts here.

Having written a six-post introduction to my series on Biblical prophecies, it may seem that it is time to start getting into the prophecies, themselves.  Unfortunately, we’re not quite ready to do that. That’s because we have to learn the language of prophecy before we can study prophecy.  Now, that may sound absurd, but it isn’t.  That’s because — in this case — I am using a much more expansive meaning of ‘language.’  I do not mean that we have to learn Hebrew and Greek, or any of the languages into which the Scriptures are translated.  No, I mean we have to understand everything connected to the way the prophets tried to communicate their visions.  To do this, we not only need to understand their written and spoken language, but also their culture.  Only by studying these things can we hope to place the prophets’ messages in their proper context.  So, before we can understand the language of prophecy, we have to learn how to put ourselves in the prophets’ sandals (so to speak).  We do this by addressing three general areas, all of which are connected to the language of any given culture and time:

First, we have to understand that all of the prophets were Hebrews (i.e. Jews), and they were writing from a Hebrew perspective and to a Hebrew audience.  Therefore, we have to learn something about the Hebrew culture.  Otherwise, we may miss the cultural references written into prophecy.  This is especially important for those of us who have been raised in the Western world, as we have inherited a Greek mindset, whereas the ancient Hebrew was of a Middle Eastern mindset.  The two are very different.  The primary difference being that the Greek mind tends to think in abstract terms, whereas the Middle Eastern mind tends to think in more concrete terms.  If we do not understand the differences, though we may read the Scriptures with sincere desire to understand, we will likely never understand their fullest meaning simply because we do not understand the cultural divide.

Next, we have to understand the Hebrew language.  In many ways, language and culture are interconnected: each helps to shape and define the other.  This would also include things like idioms, allegories  and figures of speech and the way they are connected to a given culture. It is no different with the ancient Hebrew culture and language.  The need to understand the ancient Hebrew culture and language is made all the more important when we realize that the ancient Hebrew only had some 8,500 — 9,000 words in his entire language, and those words were all based in relation to a nomadic culture that saw the world in concrete terms.    Now consider what this meant to the ancient prophet who was told to describe Spiritual things (which are inherently abstract in nature) to a people who thought in concrete terms.  Not only did the prophet have to explain something alien to the Hebrew mind, but he had to do so using a language that was based in concrete thinking.  Think of it like this: how would you explain computer programming to someone who has never seen a computer, and how would you explain it without using any of the language computer programmers use to describe what they do?  If you can imagine how difficult that task might be, then you will have some idea of the task that was handed to the prophets.

Finally, we have to understand Hebrew poetry.  This is because a great deal of prophecy is actually written using various forms of Hebrew poetry.  Now, at first glance, this may not seem to be all that important: why would it be unusual that an ancient author might write in poetic form?  After all, we still do this today.  The problem is that Hebrew poetry is very different from the poetry most of us recognize.  Therefore, if we do not know and understand Hebrew poetry, we might miss it in the prophets’ writing.  Now just imagine, how would your understanding of a modern poem change if you did not realize it was poetry and tried to force a literal interpretation onto the words in the poem?  I doubt any of us could make much sense out of any modern poem if we tried to read it in this way.  Well, why should it be any different when reading ancient Hebrew poetry?  It isn’t.  So, if we do not realize we are reading poetry, then, no matter how sincere, we simply will not be able to understand the message.

Therefore, before we can hope to understand ‘the language of prophecy’ in its fullest meaning, we have to understand as much as possible about the three areas I just mentioned.  So, by the way I reason, this means we should start first with the ancient Hebrew people and their culture.

BIBLE PROPHECY: What Is ‘Antichrist?’

This is the sixth post in a series I am writing about end times prophecies in the Bible.  If you have not read the previous five posts, STOP!  DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER!  It is imperative that, before you read any further in this post, you  go back to the first post and start reading — for your own sake, not mine.

OK, for most believers, this is going to be a difficult post.  None the less, this series is about studying what Scripture actually says and not the things that men teach.  So, with that said, let me say this as clearly as I can:

Scripture never talks about a single figure known as “THE” Antichrist, nor does it ever say that Satan will ever manifest himself incarnate!

Now, before the reader leaves me, allow me to use Scripture to prove that I am correct — because understanding what antichrist actually is changes everything! Continue reading “BIBLE PROPHECY: What Is ‘Antichrist?’”

BIBLE PROPHECY: The Church Has Fallen For A Lie!

This is the fifth post in a series I am writing about end times prophecies in the Bible.  If you have not read the previous four posts, STOP!  DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER!  It is imperative that, before you read any further in this post, you  go back to the first post and start reading — for your own sake, not mine.

“The folly of interpreters has been to foretell times and things by this prophecy [Revelation], as if God designed to make them prophets. By this rashness they have not only exposed themselves, but brought the prophecy also into contempt.  The design of God was much otherwise.  He gave this and the prophecies of the Old Testament, not to gratify men’s curiosities by enabling them to foreknow things, but that after they were fulfilled they might be interpreted by the event, and his own providence, not the interpreters’, be then manifested thereby to the world.  For the event of things predicted many ages before will then be a convincing argument that the world is governed by Providence.”

– Sir Isaac Newton (yes, that Isaac Newton)

Continue reading “BIBLE PROPHECY: The Church Has Fallen For A Lie!”

BIBLE PROPHECY: Some General Guidelines To Help Us Stay On Track

Whether one is a believer or not, the Bible is not something to be taken lightly, especially when dealing with prophecy.  For the non-believer, if the Bible is approached with a sincere and earnest desire to learn, it can and will help you find the Lord.  But if the non-believer is disrespectful of the Scriptures, they can cause themselves to dis miss their only hope for eternal salvation.  Likewise, if the believer has a solid understanding of prophecy, and they use it properly, it can be a powerful tool for helping the non-believer to come to the Lord.  But if the believer does not have a solid understanding, or uses prophecy in the wrong way, not only might they place a permanent wall between the non-believer and the Lord, they may actually weaken or destroy their own faith.  Therefore, before we start taking our new look at end times prophecies in the Bible, I want to offer a few words of caution and some guidelines to help us avoid misinterpretation and even the causing of harm.   Continue reading “BIBLE PROPHECY: Some General Guidelines To Help Us Stay On Track”

BIBLE PROPHECY: Start By Learning The Language

This might sound obvious to most, but — surprisingly — it doesn’t seem to be the case.  How many people think that Revelation must be mythology because of the beasts it describes?  How many believers actually insist we will see such beasts in the flesh?  Both interpretations result from not knowing the language that John was using.  We encounter the same problem today.  If I told you “I store my contacts in the cloud,” what would it mean to you?  I am using English, but does it mean I put the contacts from ignition system in a cloud in the sky?  Or my corrective contact lenses in that cloud in the sky?  Or have I put my list of personal contact information on a computer somewhere on the Internet?  It all depends on to who I am speaking and when.  This is because the language can only be understood when viewed from the vantage point of the culture being addressed, at the time it was addressed.  So, let’s start with a few basics to help us understand the language of prophecy. Continue reading “BIBLE PROPHECY: Start By Learning The Language”

BIBLE PROPHECY: Why Study Bible Prophecy?

WHY STUDY PROPHECY?

When the non-believer reads prophecy, all they usually see is a bunch of fanciful, vaguely worded stories that can be interpreted to mean nearly anything.  Consequently, they dismiss prophecy as foolishness.  Sadly, many believers also dismiss prophecy.  To them, it simply isn’t important.  I even know pastors who say they are not concerned with prophecy.  Frankly, this troubles me more than non-believers who dismiss prophecy.  Nearly one third of the Bible is prophecy. If the Lord thinks prophecy is important enough that one third of His Word has been revealed in the form of prophecy, then I should think that, at the very least, believers should think it is important enough to study (let alone a pastor).  But more than this, the Scriptures actually tell us why we should study prophecy.  Here’s what I’ve found in studying this subject. Continue reading “BIBLE PROPHECY: Why Study Bible Prophecy?”

BIBLE PROPHECY: A New Look At The End Times Prophecies In The Bible

AN INTRODUCTION

Like many believers (and even some who do not believe), I have always been fascinated by the end times prophecies in the Bible. I have always believed in the Lord, though I have not always been obedient to His Word.  Still, even after I started to obey, I had difficulty accepting the most commonly taught understanding of Biblical end times prophecies,  This would be the interpretations presented in the “Left Behind” interpretation of prophecy: where the Church is raptured, there is a seven year tribulation, during which a figure known as the Antichrist makes peace with Israel, then, after 3 1/2 years, he breaks the peace and attacks Israel leading to Christ’s return and the battle of Armageddon.  For me, the problem with this story is that it simply isn’t supported by Scripture.  There are too many holes, inconsistencies and contradictions in it to be the correct understanding of Biblical prophecy.  Consequently, like I am sure so many others have done, and for the same reasons, I dismissed this teaching of prophecy.  Needles to say, this had a negative effect on my faith — until I actually started to let the Bible speak for itself.  Once I did that, everything changed!
Continue reading “BIBLE PROPHECY: A New Look At The End Times Prophecies In The Bible”

Party Uber Alles!

Scripture tells me I am to be in the world, just not of it.  In other words, I have to live in this world, but I must not allow myself to conform to the ways of this world.  Scripture also teaches me to be as wise as a serpent, but as innocent as a dove.  This means I must use wisdom to guide my actions, but I must not allow my reasoning to become so twisted that I start to believe good is evil and evil is good.  Sadly, I must confess that, for the majority of my life, I failed on both counts: I have conformed to the ways of this world, and I have allowed myself to believe in lies.  What’s more, I believed I was doing ‘right’ both times.  Thankfully, the Lord opened my eyes a few years ago, so now, though I still do not see perfectly, I do see more clearly than ever before.  I just wish I could help others to open their eyes as well.  Sadly, this election cycle has shown me just how difficult that can be — especially when you are trying to open the eyes of those who are convinced their wicked way is actually the will of God. Continue reading “Party Uber Alles!”

I Refuse To Fight On The Side Of Apollyon Any Longer!

Christianandapollyon

I became politically aware when I started my last two years of college.  I set out to earn a law degree, but I did not want to take the usual path most people were taking at the time by starting with a political science degree.  Instead, I chose to study the foundations of the law and society, so I earned a degree in both philosophy and sociology.  I suppose that’s what woke me up to the injustices in our society, but also to the need for consistent principles in trying to deal with them.  For me, the only source offering anything that even resembled rational consistency was the political right, or ‘Conservatives.’  Oh, if only I had also studied political science and history, as well.  Maybe then I might have come to the conclusions I have reached a little sooner — but I didn’t.  Instead, I fell into a trap that, at that time, I couldn’t see because I didn’t even know it existed.  It wasn’t until about seven years ago that I found the key that opened my eyes.  Now?  Now I see exactly what is going on, that I am guilty of being part of it, and that — if I want to make amends for my part in all of it — I can no longer continue playing the game. Continue reading “I Refuse To Fight On The Side Of Apollyon Any Longer!”

Trump And His Supporters To John Quincy Adams: We Reject You!

When Trump and his supporters reject Cruz for urging people to vote their conscience, they also reject the words of one of our most faithful and longest-serving founders:

“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

— John Quincy Adams Continue reading “Trump And His Supporters To John Quincy Adams: We Reject You!”

PRINCIPLES FOR LIVING A RATIONAL LIFE: Unless There Is A ‘Turning Point,’ The Past Must Be Our Guide

“I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging the future but by the past.

— Patrick Henry

When we try to determine what will happen in the future, or evaluate what a given person tells you they plan to do in the future, we should always let the past govern our judgment.  This is because the past is not only our best, but our only guide to the future.  If something has always lead to a given result in the past, then we have absolutely no reason to expect it will end any differently in the future (socialism is the perfect example: no matter what the form, it always collapses within a generation).  The same applies to individuals: if their past shows a pattern of deception and/or broken promises, then we should just assume they will continue that pattern in the future.  Continue reading “PRINCIPLES FOR LIVING A RATIONAL LIFE: Unless There Is A ‘Turning Point,’ The Past Must Be Our Guide”