Conscience: Bearing Witness

The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16).

Please notice that it does not say, “The Spirit… bears witness to our spirit.”  Instead, it says, “The Spirit… bears witness with our spirit.”  Two witnesses are mentioned, not one.

The Holy Spirit bears witness.  (1) The Holy Spirit revealed a message to man.  Roy Deaver comments, “The Holy Spirit tells us what we must do and be in order to be a child of God” (Deaver, Romans: God’s Plan for Man’s Righteousness, p. 276).  Marion Fox comments, “The Holy Spirit testifies how one becomes a son of God” (Fox, The Work of the Holy Spirit Vol. 1, p. 118).   Robert Taylor Jr. comments, “In the gospel, the Spirit has revealed how to become a child of God and how to remain one” (Taylor, Studies in Romans, p. 141).  (2) The Holy Spirit testified to this message.  The word “witness” is used in scripture of miraculous evidence (Hebrews 2:1-4; Acts 5:32 cf. context: Acts 3:1-10; 4:8-10; 4:15-16; 4:33; 5:12; 5:15-16).  Bill Lockwood has written, “Once the will of the Father was completed and all truth was revealed, the miraculous was withdrawn from the world.  Today, the miraculous continues to sustain the truthfulness of Christianity, but it comes to us only by means of the historical record, the word of God” (Lockwood, Mistakes Regarding the Holy Spirit, Hammer and Tongs, March-April 1996).

The human spirit bears witness.  Marion Fox comments, “The Holy Spirit testifies how one becomes a son of God… The human spirit testifies that it has obeyed God” (Fox, p. 118).  Robert Taylor Jr. comments, “In the gospel, the Spirit has revealed how to become a child of God and how to remain one.  The human spirit… determines whether one has done that which made him initially God’s child and whether he is continuing to do that which allows him to remain God’s child in an approved fashion” (Taylor, p. 141).  Paul wrote, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Let us make a spiritual inspection this year.  Ask yourself: (1) What do the Scriptures say?  They are the standard.  (2) What does the human spirit say?  Can it say that you are walking in the light?  (1 John 1:7).

 

 

 

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Conscience: The Law In The Heart

Who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Romans 2:15).

The context concerns Gentiles (Romans 2:14).  The Gentiles did not have the law (the Law of Moses).  However, some of them did by nature (their character or habit) the things in the law (the Law of Moses).  They did this, not because they were under the Law of Moses, but because they were “a law to themselves” (Note: This does not mean that they were left to create their own religious and moral standards.   It means that they were a people of law, though separate and apart from the Mosaic system).

There were some teachings that they had received which were also contained in the Law of Moses.  Consider: (1) Murder (Genesis 9:6 cf. Exodus 20:13); (2) Fornication/Adultery (Genesis 38:24; 39:7-9 cf. Exodus 35:2 cf. Exodus 20:4-5); (3) Idolatry (Genesis 35:2-3; Exodus 20:4-5); (4) Blood (Genesis 9:4 cf. Leviticus 3:17; 7:26-ff; 17:12).

Some Gentiles had the work of the law written in their hearts (Romans 2:15).  Please observe: This does not say “The law of the heart,” but “the works of the law written in their hearts.”  Roy Deaver Commented, “When the Gentiles, who did not have the Mosaic law, but did have divine (revealed) law, did by nature the very things which Mosaic law demanded, …they showed the very works which were demanded by the Mosaic law were written in their hearts.  These works (which God required of them) were written in their hearts because God had revealed His will to them – that which he wanted them to have and to know” (Deaver, Romans: God’s Plan For Man’s Righteousness, p. 78).  The words “written in the heart” in no way implies that God directly infused His will into each of their minds.  Consider: (1) God’s word was to be in the hearts of the Israelites (Deuteronomy 6:5-7; 11:18-19).  Yet, God’s word had to be taught (Deuteronomy 6:7; 11:19). (2) God’s word is to be in man’s heart today (Jeremiah 31:31-33 cf. Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:16-17).  Yet, Christianity is a taught religion (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:14-16; Luke 24:47; John 6:45; Acts 20:20-21, 27; 2 Timothy 2:2; Hebrews 5:12-14).

Again, some of the Gentiles had God’s law written in their hearts.  Therefore, they could, by their consciences, examine themselves in light of God’s revealed will.

Roy Deaver suggested, “The conscience involves: (1) possible course of action, (2) information, (3) moral judgment, (4) urging – the prodding, the prompting – of the conscience, (5) the action, and (6) the approval or the condemnation by the conscience” (Deaver, pp.80-81).  He cautioned, “It is possible, of course, for one to have a good conscience, even in doing or in having done wrong.  It is possible for one to have an offended conscience, even in doing or in having done what is right.  It is an erroneous concept that the conscience can be or ought to be one’s guide.  The real guiding factor is the information.  If the information is incomplete, or if it is not accurate, then the judgment formed (based upon that information) could be wrong” (Deaver, p. 81).

Is God’s word in your heart? Can you correctly discern His will?

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Conscience: Confidence Toward God

If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.  Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (1 John 3:20-21).

The context concerns love.  John has instructed, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).  The reader is to examine himself (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:5).  Can he, in good conscience, say that he so loves his brethren?  If no, remember that you have a greater, all-knowing One, to whom you will give account one day (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:4).  If yes, then one can have confidence in his relationship with God (1 John 3:21 cf. 4:17-18).

This is not suggesting that the heart (conscience) is always a perfect or a safe guide.  It is not (cf. Proverbs 16:2; 16:25; Acts 26:9; 1 Corinthians 4:4).

However, man has a conscience.  He should conscientiously examine his life in light of the Scriptures (2 Corinthians 13:5).  He should seek to live according to the Scriptures with a pure conscience (cf. 1 Timothy 1:18-19; 3:9; 2 Timothy 1:3).

One might think of the conscience as a “warning light.”  God has created a “warning light” with in us.  The word “conscience” literally means “with knowledge.”  Strong’s indicates that it is some times used to mean “co-perception, i.e. moral consciousness.”  Vine’s indicates that it is used of “(a) the sense of guilt before God” and “(b) that process of thought which distinguishes what it considers morally good or bad, commending the good, condemning the bad, and so prompting to do the former, and avoid the latter.” The conscience warns based on the information which has been inputted. If inputted with correct information, it provides a reliable warning. We are to be warned by scripture (cf. Psalm 19:11). The conscience relies on what knowledge one has [Notice the word “knowledge” (1 Corinthians 8:7, 10); Also see: Hebrews 5:12-14, and Romans 12:1-2 (cf. “renewed” Ephesians 4:20-24)]. The conscience can be misguided, and misinformed (Acts 26:9; 1 Corinthians 8:7),

One might think of the conscience as an “inner judge.”  Think of a courtroom.  (1) The witnesses and the evidence are provided by the intellect and knowledge of man.  (2) The lawyers are the emotions and reasoning for and against something in one’s head.  (3) The judge who tries to make sure that the case is decided fairly based on the law is the conscience.  (4) The jury who renders the verdict is one’s ultimate will or volition (This comparison is provided by Kerry Duke, God at a Distance, pp. 112-115). It is possible to render a decision which goes against one’s conscience and what one knows to be right  (e.g. John 12:42-43; Romans 14:23; 1 Corinthians 8:10).

 

 

 

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When Is A Divorce, A Divorce?

A couple gets divorced for reasons other than fornication.  In time, one of them remarries, or becomes sexually involved with another.  May the other partner (in that original marriage) now remarry with God’s approval?

There are brethren, “conservative brethren,” on both sides of this issue.  However, truth is not determined by who is on this side or that side.  Moreover, truth is not determined by nose-counting.

The issue comes down to this question: When is a divorce, a divorce?

View One

Let’s consider the position of those who believe that the partner (in the scenario given before) may remarry.  They believe that a civil law divorce took place.  However, the couple remained married “in God’s sight.”  Therefore, when one partner commits fornication, the other partner may mentally divorce his/her mate and remarry with God’s approval.

Here are some common arguments.  (1) Herodias was still referred to as “Philip’s wife,” after she had married Herod Antipas (Mark 6:17-18).  (2) The woman who departs from her husband has the option of being reconciled with her “husband” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).  He is still referred to as her husband.  The term “depart” (choridzo or chorizo) can be used of divorce (cf. Matthew 19:6, Where a form of this word is used).  (3) “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her” (Mark 10:12).  It is asked: “How can this be adultery unless she is still his wife ‘in God’s sight’?” Adultery involves a third party.

Those who oppose this view commonly reply.  (1) No where, in scripture, does one read about mental divorce.  (2) Herodias was responsible for her marriage covenant with Philip (cf. Romans 7:2). This does not mean that no divorce had occurred “in God’s sight.”  (3) The woman who departs from her husband has the option of remaining “unmarried” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).  She is considered unmarried.  The term “husband” could be rendered “man,” and the word “her” is supplied. It could be rendered “the man.” (4) God defines adultery.  Kerry Duke has provided this explanation, “The adultery of a betrothed Jew is to be understood in a prospective sense due to the gravity of the betrothal and the solemnity of the future marriage.  But if the concept of adultery was applied prospectively with regards to marriage in the case of a betrothed person in the Old Testament, is it inconceivable that ‘adultery’ is used retrospectively with regard to marriage in the case of a divorced fornicator in Matthew 19:9b? If the unmarried Jew could commit adultery, then it is not absurd to say an unmarried divorced fornicator commits adultery by marrying another person” (Duke, The Remarriage of A Divorced Couple, pp. 45-46).

View Two

Let’s consider the position of those who believe that the partner (in the scenario given before) may not remarry.  They believe that divorce took place.  It took place for reasons other than fornication.  Therefore, neither party has the authority to remarry another (though, there may be reconciliation cf. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11).  There is no such thing as a later mental divorce set forth in scripture.

Here are some common arguments.  (1) The Bible calls it divorce (cf. Matthew 19:9). It is not clearly stated to be merely a civil-law divorce.  (2) The woman who departs from her husband is considered “unmarried” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).  (3) There is no such thing as a later mental divorce, which follows a civil-divorce, clearly set forth in scriptures.  There is certainly no direct statement or example of such. Moreover, it is said that the Bible nowhere clearly teaches two types of divorce.

Those who oppose this view, commonly reply.   (1) They believe that it is implied that not all civil-divorces are recognized by God (cf. Mark 6:17-18; 1 Corinthians 7:10-11).  (2) The woman who departs from her husband is considered “unmarried” in an accommodative sense, or in a civil/legal sense.  However, the man is still referred to in the text as “her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).  (3) It is true that there is no example of one later mentally divorcing his wife, after a civil divorce.  However, why can’t he do so – if in God’s sight the marriage continued after the civil divorce?

I believe that I have fairly summarized the two positions. It is not my intent to misrepresent these positions.

This is a difficult issue, at least for me. I see some strength in the arguments of view one, but have not been convinced beyond doubt.

 What should one do? If one is in a situation, like the one given above, and is trying to decide whether or not he may remarry with God’s approval, caution and serious thought should be given. Eternity may be at stake, not just for you, but also for the one you marry. Are you fully convinced, beyond doubt, that the Bible authorizes you to remarry? (Romans 14:23). I believe that in cases where there is personal doubt, or where the Bible does not speak, in your mind, as clearly on a point as one would like, it is wise to take the safest course. Remember, our relationship with Jesus must come before all human relationships (Matthew 10:37; Luke 14:26).

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Suggestions For Bible Students (Part 7)

This is the last part in this series.  It is my hope that the thoughts in this series will help you to be a better student of the Bible.  It is my belief that no book deserves to be studied more, and that no study is of greater importance.  It is more important than a college degree, or a trade, business, or professional license.  It concerns man’s relationship with God.  It concerns eternity.  Someone has said that Bible stands for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.  Another has said that it means Basic Instruction Book (for) Living (on) Earth.  Read it.  Read it regularly.  Study it.

24.  Authorization

The authority for what we do has its origin in one of two ultimate sources.  It is either from God or man (cf. Luke 20:4).  {Yes, God has delegated authority to men on earth [e.g. governments (Romans 13:1-2); parents (Ephesians 6:1-2); employers (Ephesians 6:5-6); overseers in the church (Hebrews 13:17).  However, even those entrusted with authority are to act within the framework of God’s authority (cf. Acts 5:29)]}.  The conscientious Bible student will want to make sure that what he does is authorized by God (cf. Leviticus 10:1-2; Matthew 15:9; Acts 15:24; Colossians 3:17; Hebrews 7:12-14).

Bible authority can be found in the following ways: (1) Look at the direct (explicit) statements.  For example: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).  “Now we exhort you, brethren warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).  These statements (and others) authorize us to involve ourselves in the lives of others for their spiritual benefit.

(2) Look at the accounts of action.  For example: “A certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea… he took Paul’s belt and bound his hands and feet, and said, … ‘So shall the Jews and Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the gentiles'” (Acts 21:10-11).  This authorizes the use of visual aids.  Another example: “Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning the giving and receiving but you only.  For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities” (Philippians 4:15-16).  This statement (and others) authorizes churches supporting preachers who are working in a different geographical place.  If an account of action appears to have apostolic or inspired approval, then it may be regarded as authorized and an example for us.

(3) Consider what is implied.  What is implied is taught, but not in explicit words.  For example: Does the Bible teach that there is one church?  Yes, it does so implicitly (Ephesians 4:4 cf. 1:22-23); but not explicitly.  Are “missionary reports” before the church authorized?  Yes (Acts 14:27; 3 John 5-7).  May a Christian keep a name of pagan origin, after conversion?  It appears so (e.g. Apollos, Epaphras, Epaphroditus).

It is also important to know how the Bible does not authorize (Leviticus 10:1-2; Acts 15:23-29; Hebrews 7:11-14; 8:1-6; Colossians 3:17).  Roy Deaver has correctly stated, “God does not authorize: (1) Upon the basis of my personal likes and dislikes; (2) Upon the basis of what pleases me; (3) Upon the basis of erroneous conclusions which I may reach; (4) Upon the basis of my opinion or the opinions of others; (5) Upon the basis of what is popular; (6) Upon the basis of what may be the consensus in somebody’s lectureship; (7) Upon the basis of what some well-known and highly respected brother teaches or may have taught; (8) Upon the basis of human traditions; (9)  Upon the basis of my inability to ‘see any harm in it’; (10) Upon the basis of practices long-standing; (11) Upon the basis of the silence of the scriptures” (Roy C. Deaver, Ascertaining Bible Authority, p.48).

25.  Logic

An elementary knowledge of logic may be helpful in Bible study (much as an elementary understanding of grammar and hermeneutics may be helpful).   Consider the following accepted laws of logic: (1) The Law of Rationality.  This states that we ought to justify our conclusions with adequate evidence (Ruby, Logic on Introduction, p. 131).   Thomas Warren put it this way: “To be rational is to draw only such conclusions as are warranted by the evidence… My conclusions cannot outrun the evidence” (Warren, Logic and the Bible, p. 40).  The aim of the good Bible student should be to gather the Scriptural evidence and draw only such conclusions as are warranted by the evidence (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

(2) The Law of Identity.  Thomas Warren explains it this way: “For propositions… ‘if a proposition is true then it is true.’  Some people in contradiction of this law, think that a precisely stated proposition can be true for one man and false for another…” (Warren, Logic and the Bible, p. 43).

(3) The Law of Excluded Middle.  Thomas Warren explains it this way: “The law of excluded middle for things is: ‘Every thing either has a certain property or it does not have that property.’  The law of excluded middle for propositions is: ‘Every precisely stated proposition is either true or false'” (Warren, Logic and the Bible, p. 44).  For example, the Bible either teaches that faith is necessary to salvation or it does not.  There is no middle ground.

(4) The Law of Contradiction.  Thomas Warren explains it this way: “Of the law of contradiction in regard to things, Ruby says that ‘nothing can both have and not have a given characteristic in precisely the same respect.  This law asserts that nothing can be both A and the contradictory of A’… In regard to propositions, Ruby says that the law of contradiction is: ‘no proposition can be both true and false, in the same respects'” (Warren, Logic and The Bible, pp. 47-48, citing Ruby, p. 267).  It is very important for one to recognize what a contradiction is and is not.  J.W. McGarvey has written, “Two statements are contradictory not when they differ, but when they both can not be true.  If, on any rational hypothesis, we may suppose them both to be true, we can not rightfully pronounce them contradictory” (McGarvey, Evidences of Christianity, Part 3, p. 31).  Clinton Lockhart has written, “If two statements are real contradictories, one of them must be false; but sometimes the semblance of contradiction is due to the use of one or more terms in the two statements with different meanings or applications” (Lockhart, Principles of Interpretation, p. 27).

26.  Keep Reading

One tends to forget details of things he does not use.  Use it or lose it.  Guy Woods has written, “regular study will lead to results not possible in spasmodic or irregular efforts.  It is psychologically true – it has been determined again and again by psychological testing – the average person forgets approximately 40% of those matters learned in the study period in eight hours, and 20% more in the next six or eight weeks…  However, if we study carefully the subject matter today, and tomorrow review it just as attentively, we will add 60% of that which we lost since the original study period” (Woods, How to Study the New Testament Effectively, pp. 16-17).  I do not know the accuracy of these statistics.  However, I do know that if we do not continue to read and meditate on what we have learned, recall will become more difficult.

27.  Pray

Make prayer a part of your study habits.  Never overlook prayer. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).  Guy Woods comments, “Knowledge is the possession of facts; wisdom the ability of judging soundly and correctly regarding them” (Woods, A Commentary on the Epistle of James, p. 41).

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Suggestions For Bible Students (Part 6)

One will not be an effective Bible student, if he does not understand how the Bible is organized.  Let us notice…

21.  There are 3 dispensations.

(1) Patriarchal Dispensation                                                                                                                      (Star-light age)                                                                                                                                         Bible: Genesis 1 – Exodus 20                                                                                                                 Time: Approximately 2,500 years

(2) Mosaic Dispensation                                                                                                                              (Moon-light age)                                                                                                                                      Bible: Exodus 20 – Acts 2                                                                                                                        Time: Approximately 1,500 years

(3) Christian Dispensation                                                                                                                          (Sun-light or Son-light age)                                                                                                                  Bible: Acts 2 – Revelation 22                                                                                                                  Time: Approximately 2,000 year and counting

*Note: It is extremely important for a Bible student to be able to distinguish between the dispensations, and to discern to which system it is that he is amenable (Romans 7:4, 6; Colossians 2:16-17, Hebrews 7:12-14; 8:13).

22.  The Bible can be divided into two great parts.

(1)  The Old Testament                                                                                                                                 Bible: Genesis-Malachi                                                                                                                           Time: Approximately 4,000 years

(2)  The New Testament                                                                                                                               Bible: Matthew-Revelation                                                                                                                   Time: Revealed in the first century A.D.

*Note: Jesus lived under the Old Testament (Galatians 4:4).  The New Testament did not go into effect until after His death (Hebrews 9:16-17).  However, Jesus did set forth New Testament teaching (Matthew 18:15-17; 26:26-29; Luke 16:16).

23.  The Old Testament and The New Testament can be sub-divided.

(1) The Old Testament

(a) Law: Genesis – Deuteronomy                                                                                                         (b) History: Joshua – Esther                                                                                                                   (c) Poetry and Wisdom Literature: Job – Ecclesiastes                                                                     (d) Prophets: Isaiah – Malachi

(2) The New Testament

(a)  Gospel Accounts or Biography: Matthew – John                                                                       (b)  History: Acts                                                                                                                                     (c)  Epistles or Letters:  Romans – Jude                                                                                               (d) Prophecy: Revelation

24.  The Bible can divided into 15 periods of history

(1)  Antediluvian                                                                                                                                           Bible: Genesis 1:1 – 8:12                                                                                                                         Date: 4005 – 2349 B.C.                                                                                                                             Events: Creation to Flood

(2)  Postdiluvian                                                                                                                                             Bible: Genesis 8:13-11:26                                                                                                                       Date: 2349 – 1921 B.C.                                                                                                                             Events: Flood to Abraham

(3)  Patriarchal                                                                                                                                               Bible: Genesis 11:26-46:7                                                                                                                       Date: 1921 – 1706 B.C.                                                                                                                             Events: Abraham to Egypt

(4) Egyptian                                                                                                                                                    Bible: Genesis 46:8 – Exodus 14:31                                                                                                      Date: 1706 -1491 B.C.                                                                                                                              Events: Egypt to Red Sea

(5) Wilderness Wandering                                                                                                                          Bible: Exodus 15:1 – Joshua 3:17                                                                                                          Date: 1491 – 1450 B.C.                                                                                                                            Events: Red Sea to Jordan River

(6) Conquest                                                                                                                                                  Bible: Joshua 4:1 – Judges 3:9                                                                                                                Date: 1450 – 1430 B.C.                                                                                                                            Events: Jordan River to First Judge

(7) Judges                                                                                                                                                       Bible: Judges 3:10 – 1 Samuel 10:17                                                                                                     Date: 1430 – 1095 B.C.                                                                                                                             Events: First Judge to First King

(8) United Kingdom                                                                                                                                      Bible: 1 Samuel 11:1 – 1 Kings 11:43; 1 Chronicles 1:1 – 2 Chronicles 9:31                                  Date: 1095 – 975 B.C.                                                                                                                                Events: First Kings to Divided Kingdom

(9) Divided Kingdom                                                                                                                                    Bible: 1 Kings 12:1 – 17:41; 2 Chronicles 10:1-28:27                                                                          Date:  975 B.C. – 721 B.C.                                                                                                                        Events: Divided Kingdom to Fall of Israel (Northern Kingdom)

(10) Judah Alone                                                                                                                                              Bible: 2 Kings 18:1 – 25:30; 2 Chronicles 29:1-36:31                                                                          Date: 721 – 586 B.C.                                                                                                                                  Events: Fall of Israel to Fall of Judah (Southern Kingdom)

(11) Captivity                                                                                                                                                    Bible: 2 Chronicles 36:22 – Ezra 1:4                                                                                                    Date: 586 – 536 B.C.                                                                                                                                  Events: Fall of Judah to Decree of Cyrus

(12)  Restoration                                                                                                                                               Bible: Ezra 1:1 – Nehemiah 13:31                                                                                                         Date: 536 – 432 B.C.                                                                                                                                 Events: Decree of Cyrus to Completion of Restoration

(13) Prophetic Silence                                                                                                                                    Bible: Between Malachi and Matthew Prophetically addressed in Daniel 2, 7, 8, 11              Date: 432 – 5 B.C.                                                                                                                                      Events: Close of Old Testament to opening of New Testament

(14) Immanuel                                                                                                                                                Bible: Matthew – John                                                                                                                            Date: 5 B.C. – 29/30 A.D.                                                                                                                          Events: Zacharias to Jesus’ Ascension

(15) Church                                                                                                                                                      Bible: Acts 1:1 – Revelation 22:21                                                                                                        Date: 29/30 A.D. – ?                                                                                                                                  Events: Jesus’ Ascension to Jesus’ return

*Note: Wisdom literature must be placed somewhere within these periods.  Job likely occurs in period 3.  Psalms (mostly), Proverbs (mostly), Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon are from period 8.

*Note: The prophets also find their places within these periods.  Isaiah (mostly), Hosea, Joel (possibly, ?), Amos, Micah, and Jonah occur within period 9.

Isaiah (partly),Jeremiah (mostly), Ezekiel (partly), Daniel (partly),Obadiah (possibly, ?), Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah occur within period 10.

Jeremiah (partly), Lamentations, Ezekiel (partly), and Daniel (mostly) occur within period 11.

Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi occur within period 12.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Suggestions for Bible Students (Part 5)

The Bible contains both literal language and figurative language.  Literal language is the use of a word, phrase, or sentence in its normal, usual sense.  Figurative language is the use of a word, phrase, or sentence in a way which departs from its normal, usual sense (Clint Lockhart, Principles of Interpretation, p. 156, Wayne Jackson, Biblical Figures of Speech, p. 2).  It is important that a Bible student be able to recognize when language is figurative language, and be able to interpret figurative language.

19.  Recognizing Figurative Language

(1) Preference should be given to the literal.

Clint Lockhart explains, “Since the literal is the most usual signification of a word, and therefore occurs much more frequently than the figurative, any term will be regarded as literal until there is good reason for a different understanding” (Lockhart, Principles of Interpretation, p. 157).

(2) Consider the context.

Does the context suggest that the language should be understood as figurative?  Nothing should be regarded as figurative unless there is good contextual reason to do so.

(3) A word or sentence may be figurative, if the literal meaning is impossible.

Some examples: The Canaanites’ literal hearts did not melt (Joshua 2:11).  Jeremiah did not literally become a fortified city (Jeremiah 1:18).  God is not a literal rock or fortress (Psalm 18:2).  The literal dead cannot bury the dead (Matthew 8:22).  Recording all the things Jesus did not earth would not literally require more space than this world has (John 21:25).

Roy H. Deaver warns, “Be careful with this rule – be certain the sentence really involves a literal impossibility before interpreting figuratively” (Deaver, Brown Trail class notes on Hermeneutics, p. 36).

(4) The language of scripture may be figurative, if the literal interpretation will cause one passage to contradict another.

Some examples: Was Lazarus literally asleep (John 11:11) or dead (John 11:14)?  Did the people see the signs (John 6:2) or not (John 6:26-27)?

Wayne Jackson advises, “When… two passages seem to conflict, one must ask: Is it possible that the words of these verses, that appear to contradict one another, may be employed, in fact in different ways?”  (Jackson, Biblical Figures of Speech, p. 11).

If the Bible is from God, then it must harmonize.  God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).

(5) If a literal understanding demands that which is wrong, then it may be figurative.

An example: Surely, we are not literally to hate our families (Luke 14:26 cf. Ephesians 5:25; Titus 2:4; Ephesians 6:2; Romans 1:31; 2 Timothy 3:3).

Note: This point is really much the same as the previous point.

(6) When a scripture is said to be figurative, it may be so regarded.

Some examples: Some of Jesus’ parables are identified as parables (e.g. Luke 15:3; Luke 18:1).  Sometimes the writer informs the reader that the language was figurative (John 2:19-22).

(7)  Sometimes the definite is put for the indefinite.

Some examples: I do not believe that the Israelite youths were literally quantified ten times better (Daniel 1:19-20).  Forgiving seven times in a day should not be literally understood as seven times (Luke 17:3-4 cf. Matthew 18:22).

(8)  Mockery is sometimes said in figurative language.

An example: Elijah did not literally think that Baal existed (1 Kings 18:27).

(9)  Consider the type of literature.

Clint Lockhart has written, “Literature has many varieties.  It is not all merely history, discourse, song, and dialogue.  There are law, record, proverb, drama, description, story, psalm, parable, prophecy, epistle, elegy, rhapsody and many other kinds.  It is evident that in all these forms of composition thought is expressed in many different ways, and that the interpreter should have same familiarity with each of them.  He that does not understand the forms in which ideas are set forth will hardly be able to recognize the ideas when they appear” (Lockhart, p. 57).

Some types of literature are more prone to figurative language than others.  Poetry, wisdom literature, and prophetic book are very likely to contain figurative language.  Law, records, and history are much less likely to contain figurative language.

20.  Interpreting Figurative Language

(1) Look for the author’s or the Bible’s own interpretation.

Sometimes the meaning is explained.  Some examples: The LORD provided an explanation for Ezekiel’s vision of The Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37:11-14 cf. 37:1-10).  Jesus explained The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:18-23 cf. 13:3-9), and The Parable of Tares (Matthew 13:36-43 cf. 13:24-30).  John explained what Jesus meant when He said that He would raise up the temple in three days (John 2:21 cf. 2:19).  Peter said: this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel (Acts 2:16-21 cf. Joel 2:28-32).

(2) The interpretation of a passage should be made according to the known purpose of the author and in light of the topic under consideration.

Some examples: Jesus told The Parable of the Good Samaritan in response to a question (Luke 10:25-37).  Jesus told The Parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son because of the Pharisees and Scribes (Luke 15:1-32).  Jesus was teaching of prayer when He told The Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8).  The reason for The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is that some trusted in themselves and despised others (Luke 18:9-14).

(3) Compare the figurative language with the literal account of the same things.

Some examples: Luke 14:26 should be compared with Matthew 10:37.  Acts 10:9-16 should be compared with Acts 10:17-48.

D.R. Dungan adds, “In doing this (comparing the figurative with the literal – B.H.)… you can not make the figurative contradict the literal.  It may add beauty and strength to the literal statement, but it cannot teach differently” (Dungan, Hermeneutics, pp. 206-207).

(4) Think about the resemblance of the thing compared.

Some examples: Jesus is referred to as a lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:18-19).  Why?  Jesus is referred to as a lion (Revelation 5:5).  Why?  The devil is referred to as a lion (1 Peter 5:8).  Why?

(5) Be careful not to demand too many points of comparison.

The fact that something is being compared does not mean that everything is being compared.  Roy H. Deaver has written, “Remember that when two items are compared, there must be some differences.  Otherwise, the two items would be the same thing” (Deaver, Brown Trail class notes on Hermeneutics, p. 38).  Usually, only one or two points of comparison are being made, no more than a few. Some details in a parable may be there for back-drop, to tell the story or paint the picture. Not every thing necessarily represents something else. Look for the obvious comparison(s); be careful not to demand more, without good reason. Wayne Jackson cautions, “A parable divorced from context, can often become fertile soil for speculators…The language of a parable must not be pressed beyond its intended design…No point of doctrine, that is not elsewhere clearly affirmed, may be derived from an incidental parabolic reference” (Jackson, The Parables In Profile, pp. 11-12). What he said about parables is also wise advise for other forms of comparison.

(6) Keep in mind that figures are not always used with the same meaning.

Consider the word “leaven.”  Leaven may refer to evil influence (1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9) or good influence (Matthew 13:20-21).

D.R. Dungan has written, “A lion may not always symbolize the same thought, nor need a sheep, water, or fire always be employed for the purpose of expressing the same calamity or blessing” (Dungan, p. 216).

Roy H. Deaver gave these examples from everyday life: bear-hungry; bear-sleepy; mule-strong; mule-stubborn; dog-work like a dog; dog-lazy dog (Brown Trail class notes, p. 38).

(7) Parables may explain parables.

An example: John 10:1-6 compare with John 10:7-18.

(8)  The type and anti-type are sometimes seen together.

An example: The flood (type) and baptism (anti-type) are seen together in 1 Peter 3:20-21.

(9) Facts of history and biography may be made to assist in the interpretation of figurative language.

Some examples: A knowledge of history may help one identify the four kingdoms mentioned in Daniel 2.  A knowledge of the character of Herod Antipas may help one understand why he is called a fox in Luke 13:32.  A knowledge if the customs of the day may add to one’s understanding of The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13).

* I claim no originality for the information in this article.  These points were gleaned from: D.R. Dungan’s Hermeneutics; Clint Lockhart’s Principles of Interpretation; Roy H. Deaver’s Brown Trail class notes on Hermeneutics; and Wayne Jackson’s Biblical Figures of Speech.

 

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