Friday, February 3, 2012

Are We Understanding the Bible Wrongly – Hellenistically?

A faith quarantined from life and obedience isn’t a real faith. It’s sterile, lifeless, and unbiblical (James 2:18-24). If we trust in Christ, we do what He tells us to do, albeit very imperfectly.

If we trust in our doctor, we do the things he tells us to do. Faith in Christ is similar. Brian Knowles starts with this point, but he builds upon it with wood, hay, and stubble:

  • In fundamentalist Christian circles, it is often more important to believe and espouse "the right thing," than to live the right way. This is why we are so obsessed with creeds, doctrinal statements, Systematic Theologies, orthodoxy vs. heresy, and creating "Evangelical" or "Sabbatarian" or "Trinitarian" theologies. This mode of thinking is thoroughly Western, utterly Greek. 
Knowles is right to examine how our cultural influences – Greek, postmodern, or otherwise - might have skewed the way we understand Scripture. However, if he truly cares about living the “right way,” he errs by disparaging “creeds, doctrinal statements, Systematic Theologies” – our attempts to get our mind around what Scripture is teaching us. If we fail to systematically understand Scripture in a comprehensive way, we then fail to understand how to live our lives. This failure to grapple with Scripture was the very thing that Jesus criticized:

  • “Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath? Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment." (John 7:23-24)
Jesus’ opponents were technically right. Healing was a form of work, and work shouldn’t be performed on the Sabbath. However, they failed to understand Scripture comprehensively (probably because their hearts were hardened).

If we are to “stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment,” we have to systematically grapple with Scripture:
  • Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15)
However, Knowles does not believe that a systematic preoccupation with the teachings of Scripture is a Hebraic Biblical thing, but the stealth corrupting influence of Greek thought:

·        In Biblical Judaism, it is precisely the opposite. Christians are inclined to subject each other to litmus tests of orthodoxy, while Jews are concerned mainly with behavior…It was gentile Christians, influenced by Greek philosophy, who both intellectualized and systematized Christian doctrine. Worse, they radically changed much of it. The Biblical Hebrews, and the Apostolic Era of the Church, had no formal theology as such. Nothing was systematized.

While Knowles is correct that the Judaism of today downplays doctrine in favor of “behavior,” “Biblical Judaism” is entirely different. In the Hebrew Scriptures, there is surpassing emphasis on what we believe/know. Hence, the Jews are often instructed to remember (know/believe) what God had done for them. Consequently, the Ten Commandments are prefaced by:

  • And God spoke all these words: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Exodus 20:1-2)

Commands require a faith-rationale. Israel had to remember and believe that their God had redeemed them from Egypt. Otherwise, obedience is foundation-less.

In fact, it is apparent that entire Biblical revelation rests upon knowing God and His character:

  • This is what the Lord says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
If instead, God had been a sadist and a deceiver, everything He revealed to Israel should have be discarded. Obedience requires faith; any action demands a rationale.

Besides, what evidence does Knowles present that the early Jewish church was “concerned mainly with behavior?” And what evidence does he put forth that the “gentile Christians, influenced by Greek philosophy…intellectualized and systematized Christian doctrine” in a way contrary to the thinking of the Hebrew Scriptures? None! Knowles concludes,

  • If we are to understand the Bible, and what it means to be a follower of Yeshua ha Mashiach (Jesus the Messiah), then we will have to understand it Hebraically, not Hellenistically. This will require a philosophical and intellectual paradigm shift on our part. It will mean coming at Scripture from an entirely different angle. It will mean learning to think like the Hebrew who thought more like God.
Knowles is correct that the Bible must be understood “Hebraically.” However, he has failed to show that it is he who understand the Bible correctly and “Hebraically.” Perhaps instead, Knowles has been unduly influenced by his prevailing culture?




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