Friday, May 3, 2013

How To Make Sense Of The Bible

A cropped version of yesterdays 365.  

Do you have a hard time reading the bible?  Does it make sense to you?  ... 

Last week I asked people to join me in reading the New Testament over the next couple of months.  We're doing 5 chapters a day.  So today we're reading Matt 10-15.  

I'm going to share some of my thoughts and observations that I had while I was reading.  Let me preface this by saying I am in no way an authority on the bible.  I'm not a theologian or a scholar so please don't use me as an authority on the Bible.  If you've got questions, I encourage you to go to your pastor who does has authority in this area and ultimately to God.  

Jess and I have had the honor to sit under some AMAZING bible teachers.  So some of the things I will share I didn't just pick up from reading, but are observations that others have shown me.  

What I don't want this to turn into is a crazy heated debate in the comments.  So share what you're learning, share what God is teaching you and if you're going to write a response to someone else be loving.  

Lets get into it shall we?  

What did I know coming into the book of Matthew?  
1.  I remembered that it was written to a Jewish audience 
2.  The gospels are about Jesus.  

Something I've learned about studying the Bible that is SO important and has made Bible make a lot more sense is reading the Bible in CONTEXT.  

Each book of the bible was written by an author, and written TO a group of people, and just like any author, the author had an intent on why they were writing.  There were things going on that the author was going to address.  

So knowing who the author is, who the intended audience was, and why the writer was writing helps us make better interpretations.  Even better is having an understanding of the culture that the audience is reading from.  We often try to understand what is being said in a letter that was written 2000 years ago and comprehend it with our 2013 minds.  

Imagine taking some of these blog posts and sending them back 2000 years.  Do you think any of them could make much sense about what I'm talking about?  They wouldn't even know what a blog post was.  

Chapter 1 starts out with the genealogy of Jesus.  This genealogy is DIFFERENT than the one in Luke.  And is also not literal because there are more than 14 generations between some of those names.  

WHAT?!  The BIBLE isn't LITERAL?!  Than how can it be true?!  

This goes back to the culture of the times, we are viewing the Bible as a historical account, which it IS, but you can't take a letter that was written in pre-modern times and try to interpret it with a western linear mindset.  Matthew was not writing to give a chronological, literal itinerary of Jesus.  

I struggled with this thought when I first learned it, because I thought that if the Bible was to be TRUE it always to be 100% literal.  

Wow.  We're only into the first verses of chapter one.  Shall I continue?  

I find it interesting that if you're writing history, most people would REMOVE the bad parts, but included in Jesus' lineage and highlighted is David and mentioning that his son Solomon's mother was another man's wife.  And also includes a prostitue Rahab in the lineage.  

LOCATIONS.  When I usually read through the bible, I just blaze past the names of places because I don't know where they are.  Last time I started reading through Matthew I starting looking them up, and it made things come a live a bit more.  I just found this resource it's pretty cool.  It's a google map, that has the locations mapped out by verse reference.  The places Jesus is going has significance, because the original reader would have known where He was talking about.  Like if I mentioned to you oh I'm going into the Bronx... there's a stigma that goes along with that.  So when Jewish people heard that Jesus had to go into Egypt to hide, (chapter 2) I wonder what kind of things that stirred up in the Jewish audience.  Egypt was a place of slavery for them.  (Exodus) 

k... this is getting long already and I'm still on chapter 1.  I'm really going to have to just pick some highlights.  

I like that Joesph in 1:19 is said to be "faithful to the law" so he had a right to divorce Mary, yet he was going to do it quietly as to not shame her.  Even when we are right, or have the right, we can still go about doing things lovingly.  I think as Americans we often think that if we have the RIGHT then we're going to be "unpleasant words" about it.  

I like 3:8 "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance."  Repentance isn't a one time thing... we have to keep repenting and there should be fruit from that repentance.  

In chapter 4 when Jesus is calling the disciples they IMMEDIATELY followed Him.  

Chapter 5.  The beatitudes never made much sense to me... they seem to be one of the most taught on things, maybe I make them to complicated.  I went back and read through some of my notes and I wrote down that the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is expounding on a lot of the law that the Pharisee's would argue about.  

Another good thing to look for is repeated words or themes.  

Kingdom Of Heaven - Other gospels use Kingdom of God, but this was chosen because Jewish people don't use the name of God.  Kingdom is a ruling word.  I don't think that the original readers were thinking of Heaven like we think of Heaven (location we go after we die) when Jesus is speaking about the Kingdom of Heaven.  

Fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.  - It seems like this is a common theme, pointing to Jesus as the Messiah.  So just from internal evidence maybe this book was written to Jews who did not yet believe in Jesus as the Messiah.  Or Christian Jews who needed reaffirmation that Jesus was the Messiah.  

Miracles - The miracles Jesus is preforming had more significance to the original reader than they do to us.  They seem random to us but the people Jesus was healing were people that were ritually unclean (leporsy, dead body, woman subject to bleeding) and therefore unable to approach God because of the Levitical law.  

Matt 8:21-22 - Lord first let me go bury my father... Let the dead bury their own dead.  

That seems kind of harsh Jesus... but the context here I've learned is that there were no nice cemeteries  so people would bury their dead and wait a year for the body to decay and then put all the bones in a box so it took up less space.  

Alrighty... it's after midnight here, that's enough for now.  Sorry if there are some grammar or spelling mistakes, it's late and I'm not going to spend the time proof reading.  

Next Friday I will write another bible post about the week's readings.  

Engage:  Are you reading along?  Please post a comment and tell me what you're learning and what God is showing you!  Did some verses really stick out?  Or did you have a question about one?  Let us know!


  1. Dude. So this is very unique for me as I have never been a part of an international Bible study (I was going to use IBS for short but as you can see, there are a few problems with that acronym). This is a great initiative and I look forward to digging deeper into the word with y'all.

    Not sure if you heard, but the part of Canada where I'm writing from just had some more snowfall so reading the Christmas story was fairly appropriate. I read the first few chapters of Matthew as a dramatic reading for our church service and the power behind the story stirred up in me again as I read it this week. My notes on the following chapters and probably here on in will be point form as time allows me only to do so. These are my takeaways:

    - Matthew 5:8: This verse stuck out as I continually strive for purity and the hope to "see God" is far too beautiful of an opportunity for me to pass up.

    - Matthew 5:19b: That's pretty legit to be called "great in the Kingdom of Heaven". But as usual, you gotta work hard at it to gain that status, so obeying His laws should almost always be second nature as difficult and daunting as it may imply.

    - Matthew 6:33: Classic verse that still puts me in my place as a reminder that I have everything I need and I don't need to focus on everything I want. All I have to do is live righteously. Sheesh, that should be pretty easy, eh?

    - Matthew 10:20: For all those times where I feel at a loss for speaking into someone's life or presented with an opportunity to share the gospel, this is what I should be reciting over and over and over. I can always find opportunities to try to make someone or a group of people laugh, but when it comes down to the hard stuff...I stutter and stumble over my words as I struggle to rack my brain and heart to try to say something profound or heart changing. I can't believe I'm going to quote 80's group, En Vogue but their lyrics "Free your mind, and the rest will follow." inspires me to forget the distractions of how/what I'm going to say and the "rest" won't be my words but His.

    The passages in between that I omitted in my notes where Jesus calls his disciples and starts throwin' down miracles like a boss makes me wonder if at the end of the day Jesus, as a human being doesn't put his feet up, sigh really loud and say something like, "MAN, I'm pooched!" I thought my days were tough. Try casting demons into some good ol' pigs and saving lives.

    That being said, I am also not a scholar so my thoughts that I write here are just ramblings of a busy guy trying to intentionally take time to revive a passion to read the Bible. Thanks, Jim for spurring me on. Much unlike a good workout routine, I hope I don't miss a few days or forget to follow along with the readings. I ask for grace if I do and life gets too busy for me to read and write my thoughts. Until next week, my friends.

  2. Not necessarily relevant to Matthew...but I was struck this week, that Jesus often references the OT, and because we are not familiar with it, as the Jews are we miss the reference and the deeper meaning there may be in the words He is saying. So cross referencing adds alot of depth to our reading of the gospels.

  3. completely agreed! Next I'll try and tackle the OT :)

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