I wrote a short story as a lead-in to this study and posted it on The Jevlir Caravansary. It is titled About the Jump in Safety Violations. It illustrates what I’m trying to say about the law in this discussion.
In my book When People Speak for God, I discuss testing messages that people claim are from God. There is a passage in Deuteronomy 18:21-22 that is commonly used in connection with this. In that passage the message is tested by whether the word from God comes to pass. There are some interesting questions this leaves, such as the fact that you don’t know the validity of the word before the predicted event.
But there’s another passage, often ignored, that I think is more critical. It comes from Deuteronomy 13.
Should a prophet or a pedlar of dreams appear among you and offer you a sign or a portent, 2 and call on you to go after other gods whom you have not known and to worship them, even if the sign or portent should come true 3 do not heed the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to discover whether you love him with all your heart and soul. 4 It is the Lord your God you must follow and him you must fear; you must keep his commandments and obey him, serve him and hold fast to him.Deuteronomy 13:1-4 (Revised English Bible)
Now there are those who may think this is about the election. It’s not. Depending on one’s attitude, it might apply, but I’m interested in those everyday questions that we have about whether something that is proclaimed as God’s will is actually from God
My less charismatic friends sometimes think they can avoid this question because they don’t believe in modern prophecy. I disagree. Whether one claims to hear directly from the Holy Spirit or one applies scripture to a particular situation, one is proclaiming something as God’s Word and the message should be tested.
In fact, we are much more likely, I believe, to be led astray by proclamation of scripture than by a claim of a direct word from God. The claim that something is “just what the Bible says” is both intimdating and properly open to question. More people are likely to believe “just what the Bible says” than are likely to accept the word of someone who claims to speak directly for God. But the interpretation of scripture can fall as far from God’s will as something pulled from thin air.
I suggest very strongly that those of us who teach from scripture, and make claims about the meaning of passages, should take responsibility for our interpretations and invite study and testing.
For me, Deuteronomy 13 is the most critical passage. What does it mean to call for someone to worship other gods? I like to use language that I have derived from Paul Tillich. (Note that I may be using some of his language in a slightly different way than he does.) He describes idolatry as making our ultimate concern something that is not ultimate. I think this goes along well with the message of the Torah on worship of God.
Worship is a process of placing our trust in and our dependence on the one worshiped. In the ancient near east, one might worship multiple gods, offering sacrifices to different ones at different times for different reasons. Israel was called to place all of their trust in all circumstances on God. Jesus proclaims something very similar in the Sermon on the Mount when he calls on us to not even take thought for tomorrow.
It’s easy to proclaim this for broad movements, such as we should not put our ultimate trust or ultimate concern in a political figure. Most of us don’t think we do. At least we don’t realize it, so we can point to people on the other side, whichever that is, and suggest they are the ones who are putting their ultimate trust in something other than God.
This isn’t necessarily about a particular candidate. We can easily make the political system itself our ultimate concern, and be limited to the things that the political system can accomplish.
Do you see the detour in the last two paragraphs? I’m talking about big, generic movments. I don’t think I said anything wrong. But I will not personally be primarily tempted by political activities in my life.
Let’s get personal.
Tomorrow I will go to my office and work. I believe I’m doing what God wants me to do. If I do, indeed believe that I am doing what God wants me to do, what is my proclamation going about my ultimate concern?
If I head forth under my own limited strength, placing my trust in myself to accomplish all of my goals, I am guilty of the wrong ultimate concern. My proclamation of God’s will in this instance fails the Deuteronomy 13 test. This doesn’t mean I don’t do my work. This is not about activity, but about trust. It’s about what is most important.
Whether I make plans for myself, for my family, for my business, or for my church, in all cases if I claim to follow God’s will, but call for trust in something else, I am guilty of this idolatry. This applies whether my trust is in a person, an organization (such as my conference or denomination), or a well-planned program.
I don’t know about you, but I often get this in reverse. When something is done and I receive congratulations on it, I say it’s all about God. But when tension is building as I do the task, I constantly forget that. I forget that whatever happens, I am in God’s hands. By my actions I can ask people to worship other gods, gods of arrogance and self-sufficiency.
Remember this: When we place our ultimate concern in something that is not ultimate, our potential is limited by the size and scope of the not-ultimate thing that we have made ultimate.
I recorded this on 10-21-30 because of the approach of Hurricane Zeta on the evening of the 28th.
I’m a bit behind posting these, but here are the files from the last Perspectives video. Note we will be continuing the discussion this coming week, as I only completed about half of what I had planned. The key theme text will be Jeremiah 31:31-34.
Remember that a good deal of the material I’m covering presently relies somewhat on Hebrews, which is not generally regarded as Pauline. I am one who does not believe Paul was the author. This may provide us with some material on which to base a discussion of the differences and similarities of the theology of Hebrews and of the uncontested Pauline letters.
(Note that I publish the book The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul by David Alan Black, which contends that Paul was the author. Though I think Dave makes the best possible case, in the end I am not convinced.)
(I’m writing as a #BibleGatewayPartner and a member of the #BGBloggerGrid. See note at the end of this post.)
When a book that I generally like undergoes a revision, I approach it with a bit of trepidation. Is it going to match the older edition? Will it be better? Or maybe it will lose all value.
The NIV Study Bible hasn’t been central for me personally, but I have interacted with it through many, many students who used it as they attended my classes. It’s the sort of book that kind of fades into the background simply because so many people have it.
I also haven’t lost my issues with study Bibles in general, in particular the potential that people become dependent on the interpretations of their particular study Bible, rather than actually reading the scripture, interacting with it, and also testing their interpretations against other streams. Having notes on interpretation so closely connected with the text of scripture can contribute to laziness.
So I’ll start with my standard recommendation: Use more than one Bible translation, and use more than one study Bible, taken from different perspectives. You can find one set of suggestions here.
That said, this study Bible is takes a balanced approach. By balanced, I don’t mean theologically. To some extent one’s theology will impact a study Bible. One has to write from a perspective if one doesn’t want to simply be confusing. What I mean by “balanced” is that it covers the various needs of a Bible student who may be working without a helpful teacher, and does so in good proportion.
Consider charts like the chart of covenants conveniently placed near the text on the covenant with Noah. This chart helps a reader identify broad themes through scripture and draw connections.
This combines with a variety of other charts that will help a student get perspective. Again, because this sort of information must be from some theological perspective, a serious student should compare other Bibles as well, preferably written from other perspectives. But this material is solid, and it makes a good case for itself being part of regular plan for study.
Images are generally not just so you can feel good about a location, but are helpful to understanding the passage. Below is the tabernacle, conveniently place in the book of Hebrews. As I review my own study guide to the book of Hebrews I will doubtless recommend this as one option for study Bibles a group might use.
At the same time, it is quite possible (and appropriate!) to disagree with a study Bible. On page 2161 there’s an article titled “Can Christians Lose Their Salvation?” with which I would take some issue.
Conservative evangelicals will find the commentary on Romans 1:24-28 and the verses following quite to their taste, as it says the passage is one that makes it clear that homosexual practice is sinful. Progressive evangelicals will not. This is a passage where a commentator is doomed to anger somebody. For purposes of review, I’m simply stating the viewpoint so readers can get an idea of where this study Bible stands on the spectrum of study Bibles.
A great feature of this Bible is that notes about background are clearly distinguished from those about application by color icons. Readers want help with application, but it’s important to realize that when you are applying scripture to modern times, you are that much further from the text itself. It’s good to know when you’re working with raw data (or as close to that as possible) and when someone is spanning the huge gaps of culture and time to tell you what you ought to do about it. Somewhere between these two are notes that talk about personalities or people groups, which are also clearly marked. These notes partake of both ideas.
I should note as well that charts, such as those I have praised also fall somewhere between background and application. This simply means whatever you do study, you need to study carefully. Be aware constantly of the human element in scripture, where God uses humans as communicators, and also in all layers of interpretation. Simply by suggesting a background text from the ancient near east that is related to a scripture passage one introduces the bias involved in that selection. Prayerful, open-minded, in-depth study is needed.
I can’t resist saying all of that, but if you want a conservative evangelical study Bible, this is an excellent choice. I’ll repeat my recommendation that you not depend on a single study Bible or commentary, but select sources that start from different perspectives.
Zondervan provided me with a free copy of this Bible in exchange for an honest review, for which I thank them. I will provide a link to purchase the Bible in its various editions below.
Perfect love, we know, casteth out fear [1 John 4:18]. But so do several other things — ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity.C. S. Lewis, “The World’s Last Night”
Lewis took this in another direction, but I like the words to point out that, in certain circumstances fear can be a very good thing, and it’s absence dangerous.
Featured image credit: Pixabay.com
Remember: Resources for Studying Paul