I stumbled into an interesting conversation a couple of weeks ago and I have been mulling it over in my head. I have mentioned it to a few colleagues of mine and it turns out that I am not the only one who is perplexed by it.
The issue in question is the reading of the Bible where one word is automatically substituted for another.
[Examining the issue invariably brings up other issues so I will try to stay focused and maybe for this first round of conversation will only examine some sample Bible verses.]
I am continually shocked by the number of people who quote Matthew 7:13-14 to me BUT change the words!! (this is to cram it into a paradigm where it does not naturally belong)
13″Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
I find myself asking people all the time “why do you swap ‘destruction’ for Hell and ‘life’ for Heaven ? What is that thing you do where you always jump to the end and then read it backward? Is this some kind of destination fascination and is that why we try to fast forward the journey?
Why when the text says “destruction” do we automatically switch it to ‘hell’ and when the text says “life” we automatically switch it to ‘heaven’ ?
My point is that I do not think that Jesus was talking about something after you die. If you read it in context, I think that he is talking about how you live before you die. **
This is probably one of the most famous passages in the Christian New Testament. There are two things that are intriguing to me about how we read it. The first is that we take it out of the story that we find it in. We remove it from the narrative of a conversation where Jesus is using ‘riddles’ to lure his conversation partner in so that they will ‘bite’. The second thing is that once we have the ONE sentence out of it’s context we convert it to be a universal principle.
That is quite the process of mental gymnastics and we seem to do it almost on auto-pilot.
Jesus says to this religious professional “no one can see kingdom of God,unless he is born again.” (or born from above)
Somehow that has become ‘No one can go to heaven after they die unless they prayer the sinner’s prayer once in their life – to confess and repent of all their sins and ask Jesus to be their personal Lord and Savior.’
Really? Do you think that is what Jesus is talking about? A) when the text says “Kingdom of God” why do we swap it for ‘Heaven after you die’ ? B) when the text says “born again” why do we trade it for ‘pray a prayer to be saved’ ?
as in the John 3 passage, John 14 happens in a conversation where Jesus’ dialogue partners are having trouble understanding what he is saying.
Jesus is talking about how his father’s house has many rooms and how is going away to prepare a place for them. Thomas says ‘we don’t know where you are going and thus we don’t know the way’.
6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
Now, I hear this verse quoted probable 5 times a week. It is usually in the context of ‘why no one is going to heaven unless they believe in Jesus’.
So my question is this: are we sure that is what Jesus is talking about?
Why when the text says “Father” do we read ‘heaven’? What if Jesus isn’t talking about where you go after you die but is instead talking about the kind of relationship that you have with God before you die? What if he is saying (and if you read John 14-15-16 where he talks about the coming of Holy Spirit as an indwelling of the Spirit of Christ you will see this) that this relationship that he has with the Father through the Spirit is one that is accessible only by coming through him?
What if Jesus is not thinking at all about why Hindus won’t be in heaven, and is only addressing how the disciples might come to know that Father like Jesus does (which , if you read the book of Acts you will see the work of Holy Spirit to do).
2 Timothy 3
We might as well just address the nature of the text as long as we are looking at the text.
15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
This verse is thrown around quite liberally by conservatives who use it to define words like ‘inerrant’ and ‘infallible’ when it comes to their view of the Bible.
I just want to point out two things: 1) the two “I” words are not in 2 Timothy 3 – we read them in 2) The scripture that they would have know from infancy was the Hebrew or Jewish Scripture (what we call the Old Testament).
In fact, 2 Timothy 3 is quite clear that scripture is useful and here are the things that it is useful for… is that not good enough for us?
“But it is God breathed!!” some might object. But as my good friend Dan points out to me – so was Adam… but as we all know Adam was not infallible. (we read that story at the beginning of the Hebrew Scripture).
I am afraid that we are not reading the text and letting it speak. We are reading into the text what is not there and putting words in it’s mouth.
I have said before that no one reads the Bible literally [link] and I think that is more true than ever. No actually thinks that we need to be born again. We all know that needs interpreting.
People who think that they read the Bible literally are fooling themselves and have been sold a brand of Christianity that is somewhere between a system and a construct. What I am afraid of is that once you have been groomed for long enough to automatically substitute one word for another, you lose the ability to see that it is a problem.
** a new friend sent me this note “regarding your Matthew 7:13-14, if one travels the land (of Israel), one discovers that the “roads” and “gates” of the Hebrew culture are small and narrow, and the “roads” and “gates” of a Hellenized culture are wide, easy to travel, broad, and traversed by thousands, if not millions of people.” Jesus wan’t talking about life after you die. He was talking about how you live before you die.