Note to Family and Friends. Some of you are deeply invested in your beliefs regarding the Bible. Some of what I have written will disturb you. If you choose to read this dissertation, please repeatedly remind yourself of Jesus' words in Matthew 7:1.

I will not allow anyone to bait me into a war of words on this matter but will cheerfully reply to any question which seems an honest inquiry.

Any literate person can read the bible in a language he knows and discover the contents of the Bible. Knowing the content is not the same as possessing understanding.

You or I could read a book on advanced quantum physics ... perhaps even memorize the content ... without the faintest inkling of what it MEANS in theoretical or useful terms.



PRE-CONDITION
The precondition to understanding what the Bible's content means, and how to use that content in life, is to come to the Bible as a sincere seeker after truth. At the outset you must accept that the content is TRUE whether or not it makes sense to you.

I distinguish between veracity and accuracy.
Truth as recorded by one witness or another may not look the same. For centuries well intentioned scholars have wrangled over the accuracy and veracity of various passages. Some have sought to prove the Jordan River stopped flowing so Israel could cross over. Their efforts are aimed at countering the skeptics.

The Bible was given for the benefit of Believers who want to know God ... not to convince skeptics who live in spiritual darkness, thought it has happened many times that skeptics have come to believe because of the Bible.

You may wonder who I am that has the audacity to explain the Bible. I am a saved Believer, indwelt by the Holy Spirit who has been pushing me for years to write this, in the hope that someone else will know the truth and be set free.



HOW THE BIBLE CAME TO BE
Today it is commonly a book printed in many languages. It is also available in recorded sound form, digitally rendered on disc media, and widely available on internet web sites. In its original form it must have been orally transmitted, (as instructed within the early books), until such time as Hebrew writing became commonplace.

Scholars think spoken Ancient Hebrew was prevalent from about 10,000 - 7,000 BC with the written form appearing during the Babylonian exile around 6,000 BC. Ancient Hebrew is now referred to as Classical Hebrew. It is not the same as modern spoken Hebrew which is a living language.

Early writing was inscribed on stone. Over time, papyrus and leather became the substrates of choice. Easily marked with ink or paint; flexible and storable; also portable. The Torah, or Hebrew Bible, was inscribed on scrolls, such as the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, preserved in clay jars.

The Hebrew Bible covers the time period from Creation of the cosmos in Genesis through the prophet Malachi dated roughly 400 BC. The earliest known extant text is thought to be the same Dead Sea Scrolls fragments dated about 150 BC.

NO ORIGINAL Bible text manuscripts exist. ALL we have of scripture is copies, presumed to be faithful to the originals. Every Bible in every translation into any language relies on copies written after the record ends in 400 BC.

In the New Testament, every citation or reference to scripture uttered by Jesus, Paul, and every other writer, refers to the books from Genesis to Malachi. In the time of Jesus that was scripture.

Saint Paul famously wrote to Timothy, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;" 2 Timothy 3:16 New American Standard Bible.

In my view it is unfortunate that contemporary Christians, especially those to whom the Bible is the ultimate authority, cite this passage applying it to the New Testament as well as the Old. Paul would not have considered his letters of encouragement and exhortation to one day be considered scripture at the level of Holy Writ from God. This is the kind of thing men do and results in their not truly understanding what is MEANT in the Bible.

We can postulate that the Christ in His divinity foresaw the development of the church He established and what would happen, and because of His foreknowledge told the disciples, "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." John 14:26 King James Version

This statement by Jesus is crucially important to me in my spiritual life and understanding of God's Word. What He says to me is, Listen! I Myself will guide and teach you by the power of My Spirit which knows all things. I alone am the ultimate authority. Do not be confused by those who teach you otherwise. Nothing ever spoken or written has greater import than what I tell you.

I have engaged in numerous heated arguments with Believers who assert that the Bible is the total Word of God and the final authority in all matters theological. They have argued that I can not use what is IN the Bible as a basis for saying there is more revelation than the Bible contains. Why not? Jesus said it. I believe it. I have the witness in my spirit that it is so. I contend that the infallible omniscient Holy Spirit is the one who tells us what God wants us to know, whether or not it is in, or disagrees with, the Christian Bible. Theirs is the same mentality found in the Scribes and Pharisees who could not accept what the Son of God incarnate told them.

Whatever he said that did not conform to their Bible (Genesis through Malachi), was heresy. They ended up crucifying his because of their beliefs. After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the arrival of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the church began to flourish through the testimony of Believers. Nothing was written yet. The Hebrew scriptures were used to prove who Jesus was ... the Christ, Anointed, Son of God, Messiah. Some believed and the church grew.

Years after Jesus was on earth people began writing about Him. The church in formation was bombarded with various spoken and written teachings. What to believe? Which were accurate? In spite of this situation, people still came to believe and were born again in the Spirit which manifested Himself in many ways (through gifts and fruit of the Spirit). The formal church structure, centered at Jerusalem, was basically Judaism but with a Messiah.

Saul of Tarsus, later Paul, was hand picked by God to be His apostle to the Gentile nations. Paul pursued his commission with great vigor, establishing churches in many places. By churches I mean groups of people who heard and believed and began to walk in the light of the Holy Spirit rather than the darkness of the world system.

Paul alone wrote most of the New Testament in letters to these churches. Others wrote as well: Peter, James and John from among the original disciples who walked with Jesus. But not only them; hundreds of others offered variations and conflicting opinions.

Jesus presumably spoke a dialect of Aramaic. He lived during the rule of the Roman Empire. Latin was the official language of Rome but Greek was highly prevalent because the Romans used Greek scholars as educators and tutors.

The melange of writings continued to flow uninterrupted for three centuries. The Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the empire and ordered a council to meet and hash everything out. In 325 AD the Council of Nicea brought together some three hundred church leaders to hammer out a uniform canon ... the Christian Bible. The proceedings of the council might be compared to making sausage.

People who believe the modern Bible is sacred may be offended by this characterization, but it is what it is. One of the main divisive issues was the Divinity of Christ. Constantine didn't care which way the council voted; just get it done. One canon.

In the process the council members selected what to include in the Bible and what to exclude or dismiss. Some will say that the Holy Spirit was in control the entire time. Many behaviors of the organized institutional church through the centuries suggest it was being led by anyone but the Holy Spirit.



THE DUCT TAPE on GOD'S MOUTH
The writings they chose for inclusion in the canon include five (5) separate works by John.
The Gospel According to St John
1st John ( a letter)
2nd John ( a letter)
3rd John ( a letter)
Book of Revelation.

They placed the Book of Revelation in LAST place among the Bible's books and did so, I believe, for a very human reason. the book opens with ...

"1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, 2 who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near." John 14:26 King James Version

What follows is a description of all John saw in the vision he received, theN he closed the book (scroll) as follows:

"18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. 20 He who testifies to these things says, Yes, I am coming quickly. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen."

In the NIV it reads, 'the words of the prophecy of this scroll"
In the MSG it reads, "If you add to the words of this prophecy"

With few exceptions, the English language translations used the word "book". WHAT book ? The book of THIS PROPHECY.

Yet we are surrounded by people who have been taught and who believe it refers to the Christian BIBLE. The warning is widely used to promulgate the idea that anything not already IN THE BIBLE, does not come from God. Admittedly, Constantine's command for a uniform canon required closing the Bible with some book.

Admittedly, you or I do not have the power to alter the contents of the accepted Bible. Why would we ant to ? The Bible is fine the way it is. The challenge for us is to discern God's message, actually tailored for each and very one of us, whom He knew before the foundation of the world.

This can be accomplished only by listening to the One who knows All Things. The Bible itself does not explain itself as far I am concerned. This is WHY we have the Holy Spirit.

Luke records Jesus' answer to a query asking to be taught to pray. Jesus gave this example:

2 And He said to them, When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation." Luke 11:2-4 [NASB]

2 And he said to them: When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. 3 Give us this day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation. [Douay-Rheims] (Catholic)

2 He said to them, ?When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation. [NIV]

2 And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. 3 Give us day by day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. [KJV]

Uh-oh! Looks like the translators of the 1611 King James version ADDED "but deliver us from evil." I wonder if they all died from terrible plagues promised in the Book of Revelation ? Here is the same passage in Matthew:

9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

The translators added several words to the authorized canon of the 325 AD Council of Nicea, but they did not mess with the Book of Revelation. The entire point of this exercise is to demonstrate how human thinking attempts to limit your open access to the Holy Spirit. God has not stopped talking to humanity since the first day. He is speaking new things now to all who will listen.


GREEK SEPTUAGINT

Scholars say the Septuagint is/was the Torah translated into Koine Greek about 200 BC.

LATIN VULGATE

Early on, around 380 AD, then Pope Damasus I commissioned (St) Jerome to clean up the old books and make a new Latin translation. This translation became known as the Vulgate from the word vulgar, meaning commonly in use, not what vulgar means to us today.

According to this web page, http://www.greatsite.com/timeline-english-bible-history/#timeline by 500 AD Scriptures have been Translated into Over 500 Languages.

1384 AD: Wycliffe is the First Person to Produce a (Hand-Written) manuscript Copy of the Complete Bible; All 80 Books.

1455 AD: Gutenberg Invents the Printing Press; Books May Now be mass-Produced Instead of Individually Hand-Written. The First Book Ever Printed is Gutenberg's Bible in Latin.

1522 AD: Martin Luther's German New Testament.

ENGLISH

1526 AD: William Tyndale's New Testament; The First New Testament printed in the English Language.

1535 AD: Myles Coverdale's Bible; The First Complete Bible printed in the English Language (80 Books: O.T. & N.T. & Apocrypha).

1537 AD: Tyndale-Matthews Bible; The Second Complete Bible printed in English. Done by John "Thomas Matthew" Rogers (80 Books).

1539 AD: The "Great Bible" Printed; The First English Language Bible Authorized for Public Use (80 Books).

1560 AD: The Geneva Bible Printed; The First English Language Bible to add Numbered Verses to Each Chapter (80 Books).

1568 AD: The Bishops Bible Printed; The Bible of which the King James was a Revision (80 Books).

1609 AD: The Douay Old Testament is added to the Rheims New Testament (of 1582) Making the First Complete English Catholic Bible; Translated from the Latin Vulgate (80 Books).

1611 AD: The King James Bible Printed; Originally with All 80 Books. The Apocrypha was Officially Removed in 1885 Leaving Only 66 Books.

The KJV was for centuries the most widely used and accepted English language bible. There are fundamentalists and literals who continue to regard it as the only legitimate comprehensive source of God's Word. Think about the Pharisees. Since 1611, many new English translations have appeared. Many of these were occasioned by new archaeological discoveries which shed new light on areas.

At Biblegateway.com you read and compare thirty two different English translations.



WHAT IS IN THE BIBLE ?
Now we have the Bible in English .... what's in it ?

Depends on which flavor of Christianity you prefer. The council settled on the thirty nine books of the Hebrew Bible, calling it the Old Testament, plus twenty seven books comprising the New Testament. Only four Gospel accounts were accepted; those of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles from Pentecost forward, and a variety of letters by elders of the church and Paul.

( A very interesting page showing the books of the Bible in different Christian denominations can be found on wikipegia.org @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible_books ).

What would become known as the Roman Catholic church opted to include six and one-half additional books in the Old Testament making their Bible seventy two books rather than the sixty six commonly thought of as the Bible.

OLD TESTAMENT - GENESIS

The first eleven chapters of Genesis record the Creation of the cosmos, Adam and Eve and descendants, the Great Flood and the survival of humanity in the person of Noah and his family. Because no human existed at the time God said, "Let there be light", we must surmise that the creation story was revealed directly by God to someone so it could later be passed on.

Adam is a good choice. God walked with him in the garden. It is not unreasonable to believe God told Adam these things and Adam subsequently repeated them to following generations. Believe what you will ... the Bible does not answer the question of its own origin.

Genesis chapters 12 through 28 deal with the life of Abraham and the first covenant between god and a people; the people being descendants of Abraham. Genesis chapters 29 through 50 recount the life of Abraham's grandson Jacob, with whom God renewed the covenant, then of Jacob's wives and twelve sons which became the twelve tribes of Israel. Jacob was renamed Israel in a tussle with God or His emissary and his name was changed from Jacob to Israel. Thereafter in the Old Testament the names Jacob and Israel appear to be interchangeable; the context telling whether it means the man or his descendants.

Genesis ends with Jacob's death and burial.



IS THE BIBLE LITERAL ?

Mostly yes but not entirely.
The Bible contains literal historic text, poetic text, as well as, figurative, illustrative, prophetic text and more.

Time out to demonstrate the folly of reading the bible as a literal work. "And God said,“Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning - the first day." Genesis 1:3-5 NIV

Perfectly plain on the face of it.
In the Authorized Version, it reads
4 "And God saw the light, that [it was] good: and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

The Interlinear Scripture Analyzer presents this wording as literal Hebrew:
4 u.ira aleim ath-e.aur ki - tub u/ibdl sleim bin r.aur u,bin e.chschk. u.iqra aleim l.aur ium u,l.chshk qra lile u.iei -orb u.iei -bqr ium achd : p.

It presents the transliteral English as:
4 and,he-cseparating Elohim between the.light and between the.darkness, 5. and.he-is-calling Elohim to.the.light day and,to.the.darkness night and.he-is-becoming morning day one.

Next, God made the firmament and divided it from the waters. He called firmament heaven,
Second day.
The He created the earth and its flora. Third day
The he placed lights in the firmament (sun, moon and stars) to divide the day from the night and to rule over the day and night on earth. Fourth day.

Nights and days were not established until the fourth day of creation, Prior to the existence of our sun about which our earth revolves, there were no evenings and mornings in the sense understood by humans. So HOW could the first day in verse 5 be literal? It can't. It is man's attempt to explain what God did. There is a powerful clue to this.

In verses 3 and 4 the word for light is "aur". Once the creation is completed, this word is not used again. In verse 14 God set lights in the sky (firmament). The word for these lights is "marth" translated as "luminaries". This second light is seen throughout the universe is a result of creation but it is not the original light in verse 3. A literal reading of the creation account produces confusion rather than understanding,



CONVERSATION WITH A LITERALIST

Allow me to illustrate a typical discourse between a literalist and myself.
He: The word of God is literal and inviolate. Absolutely true.
Me: Which translation would that be ?
He: It doesn't matter. They all state the same truth.
Me: I can show you where different translations disagree on words. Which one has the genuine words.
He: Well, I believe the (name) translation is accurate.
Me: So all the people believing literally the word in other translations, whether English or some other language are being deceived. They are not getting the true Word of God.
He: I didn't say that.
Me: Actually you did, Let me offer you this time worn test. In John 15:1 NIV, Jesus declares, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener." So we know for certain that Jesus was not actually human. He was a vine.
He: That's ridiculous.
Me: According to your belief in the literal truth of the Bible, He was a non-human vine. It's what He said.
He: He was using that figuratively to make a point.
Me: I agree. When is the text literal and when not ?
He: I can tell from reading it.
Me: So... the Bible is literal except where you decide it is not?
He: You're twisting my words. You know what I mean.
Me: Yes, I do. You contend the Bible is literal except where you think it is not.

I submit to you that reading the Bible as if it is meant to be understood literally will prevent you from understanding it. Jesus Himself explained to His disciples that He spoke in parables so listeners would NOT understand, except for those to whom it was given to know. "This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand." Matthew 13:13 NIV

Now WHY do you suppose God would want people to NOT understand? Doesn't seem "fair" in human terms, does it ?. Humans often judge God by standards they have adopted from the culture. I believe the key to understanding spiritual matters lies in recognizing, and accepting, that God is the Absolute Authority over existence. What is, is, and is only because He allows it to be.

When you confess Christ as Savior, the Holy Spirit indwells you. The manifestation of this indwelling may be lots of bells and whistles or very quiet. The point is that when you become born again you EXPECT the Holy Spirit to become your teacher. He knows all things. You will not know all He knows but if you are submitted to His guidance, over time, He will illuminate spiritual mysteries for you and give you understanding.



EVE

You may have become tired of my admonitions against taking Bible text literally, but there is one more example so egregious you should see it and ponder it. GENESIS 2: "18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” 19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man."


Consider it.
The omniscient Creator established a clockwork universe filled with galaxies, stars, planets, quarks, black holes, and whatever we have yet to discover. He made a planet called Earth on which we live. He covered it with living, growing things. He filled it with living animals, male and female, and commanded them to reproduce.

But verse 20 postulates that this Supreme God lacked the foresight to make a helper (mate) for the man. God thought, according to the text, that the man could pick out a helper from among the animals He called before him?

I don't think so. We have no knowledge of God's motives for making the second human a clone of the first but of opposite gender At what point was Adam endowed with reproductive capacity? If he started out genitally equipped as modern man, it is perfectly obvious that he would need a suitable partner. Woman.

Later in the OT you can read God's specific admonition against a man lying with an animal "as with a woman". Obviously, God never intended humans should breed with nonhumans. Why the writer put those words in is beyond me. It reads more like an insult to God than Holy Writ.

I am cautioning you to read under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and test everything.



WHY PEOPLE DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE

In my view there are two main impediments to truly understanding the Bible.
One is blindness;
the other is fear.

BLINDNESS is the result of dwelling in spiritual darkness. It is just as Jesus said ... people who are not open to the Holy Spirit can not "see". The blinder is the Evil One, Satan, who knows every scrap of scripture and how to use it to make you uncertain. Doubt is his main game.

FEAR comes in some varieties:
FEAR the Bible might be true and what that means in your life.
FEAR that the Bible will make you live a pauper's life of self denial and suffering; a notion widely taught in some denominations and groups. To be acceptable to God you must sacrifice and suffer.
FEAR of what God will do you if you question Him. Don't confuse questioning God with challenging God. God ignores challenges from humans who have no standing whatever with Him. Many are the atheists who have publicly declared, "If there is a God, let him strike me dead here and now", then went on to believe they were correct. God simply ignored them. God is beyond human ego.

ASK God what you need to know. If God won't tell you, will some man or woman do better? Note that the FEAR of The Lord often mentioned in Scripture does not mean being terrified of God. It means realizing that He is the Supreme Authority.



WHEN IS SCRIPTURE LITERAL ?

When events are described in narrative mode I take it to be literal EVEN IF IT CHALLENGES MY ABILITY TO EXPLAIN IT TO MY SATISFACTION.

JONAH - three days in the belly of a giant fish. Seems improbable but I believe it is a literal recounting of an event. With God, "All things are possible."

SHADRACH, MESHACH & ABEDNEGO - survived the furnace heated to seven times usual temperature. You can draw spiritual enlightenment from this event but it is recorded as literal.

You do not have to believe Jonah's story or the furnace story to be saved. I choose to accept both as they are written because, besides the spiritual lessons they contain, they seem consistent with some of the most extreme miracles God performed.



EXODUS & FORWARD

The Old Testament is focused on a number of specific areas:

1. The establishment of a covenant between God and a specific group of people who would be formed into a theocratic nation. The history of this people; their foibles, leaders, judges, kings, and so forth.

2. The chosen people's repeated failure to honor the covenant with God. God is portrayed as a long suffering, aggrieved and spurned, jealous lover. Again and again He chastised them and redeemed them as a nation.

3. God's revelations through prophets.

4. The foretelling of the Messiah.

5. Psalms, Proverbs, Prophecies, Laws, Admonitions and more.

It is filled with minute details of very kind; mind boggling details. If you choose to read the Book of LEviticus you will wonder how any Israelite survived at all much less made it to the "promised land" and continued as a nation even through today.

When the old Testament ended around 400 BC, Israel was no longer the original nation. Earlier, around 920 BC after Solomon's death, Israel had divided into two kingdoms; the northern and the southern. Two hundred years later the northern kingdom disappeared from historical records.

Get this. God wiped their memories of their ancestry. To this day, millions of Jacob's descendants inhabit the earth unaware of their heritage. History refers to them as "The Lost Tribes".

The northern kingdom consisted of ten tribes plus half the tribe of Levi. The southern kingdom consisted of two tribes, Judah (eldest of Jacob's sons) and Benjamin (Jacob's youngest son) and half the tribe of Levi. In time they became, are today, known as Jews after the name Judah. They existed as a people but were under the rule of the Roman Empire. Thus was the situation when The Christ arrived on the scene.



BIBLE READING PLANS

There are as many Bible reading and study plans as there are Christians. Everyone is an expert on how You should study the Bible. I have mine ... you will find yours ... but I do have some suggestions for you, especially if you are recently saved and have not yet delved very far into the Bible.

1. Thru the Bible in a year.
I know Believers who read the entire Bible, cover to cover, every year. There are about 775,000 words in the Bible, the number varying with the specific translation. Paraphrased and amplified Bibles have more words because they expand the verses for illustrative purposes.

The reading pace is more than 2,000 words per day. If you can read that rapidly with comprehension, more power to you. For me it would be like watching a two hour movie run at a speed so it lasted about 15 minutes. I could not absorb it and certainly would not be satisfied that I possessed any deep understanding.

I have read the Bible from cover to cover, am doing so now, but at a leisurely pace. I have read many areas numerous times. I have no need to read again and again lists of begats and so forth. My interest is in spiritual understanding. I have known a lot of what is in the Bible for decades but understanding has come only through time and Spirit guidance.

2. Verse of the Day options are all over the Internet as well as in printed devotionals such as The Upper Room (which I use), Daily Bread and others to which you can subscribe. These are focused and very brief. They are not adequate for extensive Bible study.

3. Study Guides are available online and at Christian book stores. Various guides lead you through chronologically or topically.



MY STUDY PLAN

I am basing this on my experiences in many small groups which included recent Christians who are anxious to get understanding of God's word. I suggest you begin with ...

MATTHEW

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. Matthew 9:9 NIV

Can you imagine it ?
Suppose you are doorman at a fine hotel, greeting people, dispatching taxis, etc. Some guy you never saw before walks up and says, "Follow me". Somehow you intuitively know he doesn't mean 'down to the corner' or ' across the street'. He means From NOW ON ... for LIFE. Would you go ? Matthew did.

1. Matthew was a Jew (as were all the first disciples).
2. Matthew knew his history and Jewish tradition and law.
3. Matthew was sufficiently educated to be employed by the Roman government to collect taxes for them from the Jews.
3. Matthew must have been accustomed to keeping good written records .. Rome was big on records.
4. Matthew was among the first disciples and he was with Jesus through the end.
5. Matthew focused his Gospel on recording everything he saw Jesus do and heard Jesus say.
6. Matthew's clear intent was to convince Jews that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah. He begins with the list of begats to show that Jesus came from the House of David ... the root out of Jesse.

I do not in any way denigrate the texts of Mark and Luke but they wrote from hearsay. Matthew was there, reporting live as it were. Matthew's Gospel gives you the full picture of the Messiah. I would read Matthew as many times as necessary to fully absorb the story while keeping my spiritual ears open for nudgings from the Holy Spirit.

When a nudge comes, stop and ponder. Prayerfully ask the Spirit for illumination. What is it in the text that you don't understand spiritually? It does not matter if Jesus got into a boat or didn't. What happened in a boat might matter. Ask God.

JOHN

After Matthew, read and ponder John's Gospel.

John is widely known as Saint John the Divine, principally because he authored the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ to Saint John the Divine. John was no more or less divine than you or I but he had a different way of seeing things. His Gospel account includes many events but not necessarily all the same ones as the others.

John knew early on that Jesus was divine. His Gospel account makes a serious effort to communicate and demonstrate this reality. Unlike the others, he does not begin with personal history in human terms but rather identifies Jesus as follows:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it". John 1:1-5 NIV.

The Holy Spirit will help you through John's Gospel. Between Matthew and John you will have a clear picture of the ministry life of Jesus and the divine aspects of the Christ and HIS MESSAGE. When you are satisfied that you know Jesus personally, you can read the rest of the Bible as curiosity drives you to certain places.

Parts of the Bible are boring. Ultimately you an learn from them but if it does not hold your interest as a reader/student, it may not be worth the struggle to wade though parts of it. We are, after all, pursuing knowledge of what GOD wants us to know for our spiritual development and well being. It does not really matter if Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt.

On that note I want to begin wrapping this up by sharing my personal experience of resolving and understanding a few passages.



PILLAR OF SALT

Genesis 19:19-26 recounts God's decision to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abhraham's nephew Lot lived there and through Abraham's pleadings with the Lord, God sent angels to investigate the possibility of saving the towns. Their verdict; no way.

But Lot, along with his family, was offered the option to escape before destruction hit. One proviso was, "DO NOT LOOK BACK". On the day of destruction Lot and his family were safely headed away when they heard the sounds of terrible things happening ... maybe like us hearing a helicopter gun ship raid on a nearby town; sounds of explosions and the sky filled with light bursts.

But Lot's wife's curiosity got the better of her. She turned to look back. She was converted to a pillar of salt. The verse reads, "But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt." Genesis 19:26 NIV.

What the transliterated Hebrew in the Interlinear Scripture analyzer says is, "and.she-is-looking woman-of-him from.behind.him and.she-is-becoming monument-of salt". Pretty much the same meaning; sufficiently the same to not raise a question about what it should say in English.

Many questions arise in me after reading this account.

1. Did it happen ? Archaeological and historical evidence support the destruction of the cities. No problem. Lots of stuff on earth has been destroyed by extraordinary means.

2. Is it a literal telling ? I have no reason to think it is not so I say yes to myself.

3. Why is the story in the Bile ? Because it is part of Abraham's story. It also has a spiritual dimension which I will discuss in a moment.

4. Why "salt" and not ashes or stone or whatever ? I don't know and I don't find the question compelling enough to search for an answer or consider alternatives.

5. How did Lot know his wife turned to salt (she was behind him) unless he also turned and looked, and if so, why wasn't he also turned to salt ?

Here is the aha moment for me.
God decided to save Lot and his family. His emissaries gave explicit instructions on how to avoid destruction. Lot, his daughters and household members obeyed to commands. The wife did not and consequences were visited upon her in the natural world.

Avid researchers have tried to locate the remains of the pillar of salt wife. This kind of effort goes on continually in our day as Believers try to convince a nonbelieving world that the Bible is true. Their efforts are wasted.

Believing miraculous literal events to be true has nothing to do with our primary aim to know God, love God, and live eternally with God. I believe it happened as described. I don't care whether or not it is literally true.

What matters to me is that those who obeyed God's instructions were saved and one who defied Him was destroyed. The same is true today with regard to eternal salvation or destruction. This realization is enough to terrify those who believe, or almost believe.

An entire worldwide organization labeling itself "Christian", proclaiming to be the original church Jesus said He founded, spews out dogma relating to what people must do, or not do, to avoid eternal destruction.

God's law is immutable.
God's grace is also immutable.
No one can save himself.
No one except Jesus ever kept the law of God perfectly.

Yet even He "violated" the sabbath law by healing a sick man. He did this publicly so He would be confronted by the religous authorities. Under their law spelled out in detail in Leviticus, Jesus should have then and there been put to death for the violation. What he told the Pharisees seeking to accuse him was, "For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:8 NASB.

The Bible shows clearly that Israel, then the Jews were very big on citing the law but not so big on keeping it. No one has ever been, nor will ever be, saved by following the law. Salvation comes purely as a gift from god. Jesus explained it this way: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." John 5:24 KJV.

You are very fortunate to have access to what Jesus said by having a printed or other form of the Bible. For hundreds of years after He said this, people only knew it because others told them. Word of mouth was, and still is, His method. He left no written text. Instead, He asked and the Father sent the Holy Spirit to teach us and lead us into all truth (even where you misplaced your car keys.) The Spirit knows all things.



BOOK of JOB

Job is a long, tedious, mostly boring account of one man's misfortunes followed by success. I waded through it because it is in the Bible. I had to know what it said.

Possibly the oldest written Bible story, around 2,000 BC, it certainly occurs before Moses received the Commandments from God. There is no indication whether Job was a Hebrew or not but every indication he was a devout believer and servant of God in his earthly life. It appears he was a person of wealth and locally important. He possessed large flocks and holdings, had many children, and was in every way blessed, until ... Satan shows up.

The narrative tells how God boasted to Satan about Job; how faithful he was. Satan rejoinded with, "Why not? You've given him everything. Let me take away some of it and see how stalwart he is." (My own version of what the Bible says).

Question - is this exchange between God and Satan literal ? How could it be ? What human was present in heaven during the exchange ? The contretemp over Job is a way of explaining and illustrating more important issues.

Next, round after round, Satan takes away more and more until Job is penniless, naked and covered with boils. Before each round, Satan had to get permission from god to further afflict Job. Note that God permitted it but did not cause it.

Meanwhile, three "friends" come along and take turns arguing with Job about why this happening to him. They try to convince him that something in his life is displeasing to God. Job vehemently denies this. When things get really bad, and you wouldn't think they could get worse, Job's wife tells him basically, "Why don't you just curse God and die!"

Job is a very stubborn man. He says this, "Though He slay me,I will hope in Him (or trust Him in other translations). Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him." Job 13:15 NASB

His statement brought me to full alert. "Holy Spirit. What's going on here?"
Several things are going on.
1. From the beginning, we see that God has great faith Job.
2. Satan's afflictions do not shake Job's faith.
3. Job believes he has done nothing wrong and this is not punishment from God.
4. If God takes Job's life, Job expects to confront God and argue his innocence.
5. Job obviously believed in life after death.
6. Job trusted God NO MATTER WHAT. This is why God considered Job a great servant.

In the end, God restores to Job everything multiplied. God refused to allow Satan to kill Job. If you just read Job literally as a narrative, you will not get the available spiritual insights because you will see it through human eyes and ideas. You must have guidance from the Holy Spirit to gain understanding about God and His ways.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD." Isaiah 55:8 King James Version

The best you do is understand the ways in which God wants YOU to believe, understand, think, speak, act, and live out your flesh life while walking in the light of His Spirit.



JESUS at 12

This incident will be my last effort to direct your thinking along lines through which the Holy Spirit can illuminate you. Verbatim from Luke 2: NIV 41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed(AK) at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother(AL) said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” 49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them. 51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

To my knowledge, this is the only account of an event in the life of the young Jesus after the flight to Egypt, circumcision, etc. Luke is the only one who wrote about it. My guess is he knew Mary and she told him about it, assuming it is true. That is the central question. Is this literal narrative true in fact, and if not, why did Luke write it but no others gave it importance ?

Here it comes ... IT DOES NOT MATTER whether it is the literal truth. I do not have to believe this actually happened in order to be saved into eternal life.

I warn you to beware of dogma and doctrine espoused by well intentioned, and credentialed, Christians who are certain they know God's ways and God's thoughts. Their desire to foist them upon you and exercise remote spiritual control over your life is driven by HUMAN desires.



HOW MUCH and HOW OFTEN ?

When I first read through the Bible I read with a ravenous thirst to KNOW. I assumed that because I comprehended the words I understood the message. Through more than thirty years of reading and studying alone and in groups, with and without teachers, I cam to realize that simply knowing Jesus said something, and what He said, did not mean it was inside me in the spiritual sense.

I do not have a reading plan other than reading through the books over and over, waiting to be struck. My daily devotional uses passages from all over the Bible. REcently the reading for the day was the parable recorded in Luke 15:3-7. It's the one about the lost sheep. At the end, JEsus talks about the rejoicing over recovering the lost sheep being like rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents. He ends the parable with: 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

I had read it many times but this time I was startled by, "do not need to repent". Who could they be, I wonder. EVERYONE is a sinner and everyone needs to repent.

I'm still thinking about it days later. Had I simply read on in Luke I might have lost this question.

Read as often and for as long as you now you are learning something. If it is boring you, put it aside for another time. Be realistic about how much information you can absorb. It is often good to stop at the end of some obvious stopping point in the story line.



IF YOU HAVE NEVER READ THE BIBLE

Or if you want my suggested reading plan, here is my recommendation to you.

Matthew - Read this Gospel first. See and hear Jesus in action. Get a feel for His time and place.

John - Read this Gospel second to discover the divinity of Jesus, God incarnate.

Acts of the Apostles - shows and tells how the Church was founded and reveals the Holy Spirit and His work.

Genesis - gives you the background from Creation through the Covenant with the Israelites. Much in Genesis reveals the foundation of what is to come and why.

Epistles - the letters written by Paul, James, John, Peter and Jude. These letters are filled with spiritual insights. Be careful not to let what James or Paul says lodge in your mind as LAW. The saved Believer is not under the law but nonetheless wants to strive to pleases God by living as holy a life as he can.

Prophets - Isaiah through Malachi disclose Israel's failure to keep the Covenant and many prophecies relating to salvation to come. Formation of Israel as a theocratic nation is recorded in Exodus through Joshua when they crossed into the Promised Land. History of the Israelites is contained in numerous books such as Kings, Chronicles, Samuel and others in the OT. You'll find many familiar Bible stories and characters in them but they have nothing to do with you being born again. Skip them if they bore you.

Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Job and other OT books contain a lot of advice and poetic offerings.

Keep in mind that all the Ol Testament books were written for the Jacob's descendants. The writings apply to the unredeemed Jews of today as well. We who have crossed over into eternal life while still in the flesh are under the New Covenant established by Jesus the Christ, Son of God.

Mark & Luke who were not direct disciples of Jesus, wrote essentially a retelling of Matthew's Gospel. Some incidents do not appear in all of the Gospels.

The Book of Revelation should be the last book you read. This book is the subject of an untold number of analyses, critiques, interpretations and discourses among scholars and non scholars alike.

If you can't slog through some of the Old Testament books, pass them by. Knowing what happened with Samson and Delilah has absolutely no effect on your salvation, nor do the endless wars between God's chosen people and their enemies (still going on today).

Trust God to lead you into all the truth you need ... all He wants you to know. I have had the personal experience of reading one of Paul's epistles and wishing I could talk with him, asking where did you get some notion I don't find spiritually supportable. Do NOT allow What you read to frighten you. Fear comes from your enemy, Satan. Lodge permanently in your mind the words of Jesus spoken in John 5:24. Continually ask the Holy Spirit for illumination.

I would argue with anyone about what the truth is.
I have argued with God.
Through time he showed me where HE was right and I got it wrong.

This is a lifelong process of growing in love, trust, and knowledge of your Heavenly Father. I pray He will richly bless you in your quest. Here is a parting word from Messiah Himself ...

"9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11 NIV

God bless you.
Wayne Hepburn 2012


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