The Gospel According to Allegory

In a second-grade Sunday School class, the students are told to guess what is being described.  “It has brown fur, a bushy tail, climbs trees…”  Finally a student shyly responds “I know it has to be Jesus, but it sure sounds like you’re talking about a squirrel.”

There is so much analogy, metaphor and allegory in and out of scripture that I’m having a hard time deciding where to start.  The Bible is rich in symbolism and imagery.  Let’s start with something simple in the Old Testament.  When the camp of Israel was being plagued by snakes, Moses was told to fashion a brass serpent and place it on top of a pole.  If anyone was bitten by a “fiery asp” all he had to do was look at the pole and live.  The serpent on the pole is a metaphor for Jesus.  We are all bitten by sin.  (Serpent, Eden, see how many levels this works on?)  We will die if we do not look to Jesus on the cross.  Jesus himself even says that as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.

That’s an easy one to follow.  I contend that everything in Judaism is about Jesus – Moses leading the Hebrews out of slavery, through the wilderness and entering the promised land; the Passover; circumcision; Adam; the alter, temple, and high priest.  I could go on.  The events of the Old Testament are historical facts and help us to understand New Testament theology.  By understanding the role of the high priest we can better understand what Jesus does as he continually goes into God’s presence to intercede on our behalf.  But you don’t have to take my word for it.

The Apostle Paul refers to two sons of Abraham, one by Sara and the other by Hagar.  Paul recounts the history and explains that the events may be interrupted allegorically.  (Galatians 4:24)  So the Old Testament is metaphorical for the New.  What about Jesus’ use of symbolism?  Over and over he draws comparisons to what the Kingdom of God is like.  It’s like a collector searching for pearls; it’s like a woman that looses a gold coin; it’s like planting a field; it’s like the return of the Prodigal, and so forth.  Jesus is like a shepherd, except when he is like a sheep.  We are all like sheep that have gone astray, unless we’re fishers of men.  Or fish.

Can you remember the first time you saw The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe?  Did you realize it was about anything other than a magical land with talking animals?  I wonder what C.S. Lewis would think about Veggie Tales.  So what’s the point of all this?  We are finite in our understanding.  God cannot simply come right out in the Bible and tell us what he is thinking.  Even if we understood our tendency is to disbelieve.  We – collective, human-kind we – often have to be told things again and again.  So stories and themes are repeated, many times.  Jesus is a burning bush, and a sweet branch that makes water potable, and a serpent on a pole, et. al.  God’s kingdom is like a little child on Jesus’ lap.  The church is the body of Christ, or else the bride of Christ.  Why?  Because we need the symbols and pictures to even hope to understand.  We cannot understand God otherwise.  He loved us while we were unlovable, enough to send his only Son.  Jesus loved the same way, enough to not only die but suffer abuse, torment and the cross.  It just doesn’t make sense.

Our minds are small.  Like a child that hasn’t learned to read, we open the Bible and look at the pictures.  (See what I did there?)

Who is the Bible for?

I was not surprised to learn that in 2010 there are still hate groups like the KKK around.  The Internet has made the world a smaller place, and while there may not be as many white supremacists around as there used to be, it is easier than ever for them to communicate.  On the History Channel program Gangland, I recently learned of the IKA, Imperial Klans of America.  They claim to be the sixth generation of the Ku Klux Klan.  While they advocate keeping the peace and obey all laws of this country, they feel the white race must be guarded against Jews, blacks, mixing of the races and the usual.  I can’t say that I was shocked.  They were shown wiping their feet on what they call the “Jew flag.”  Okay, I was a little bothered by that.  Then I was reminded that most Klansmen are professing Christians, and then… the leader of the IKA explained that the Bible is only for white people.  Gather ’round my soapbox.

The IKA (as well as many other white supremacists) believe that our nation’s political leaders, and especially our financial institutions, are run by Jews.  Public enemy number one for their organization is ZOG, Zionist Occupied Government.  Yet they proclaim faith in Jesus Christ after supposedly reading the Bible.  They believe in a Jewish messiah, while claiming that the Bible – written entirely by Jews – is only for white people.

Perhaps they haven’t read Romans, where Paul describes the good news of the gospel being “first for the Jew, then the Greek.”  (then the Gentile, in KJV)  Or just a few chapters later when he says there is no distinction between Jew and Greek.  Or the great commission, when Jesus told his followers to preach the gospel to every creature.  Or Philip witnessing to and then baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch.  But my favorite is Revelation 7:9  “I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…”  That sounds pretty inclusive to me.

Mark of God, Mark of the Beast

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9, ESV

And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.
Revelation 13:15-18

Thoughts on the Conservative Bible Project

The folks behind Conservapedia have come up with a new idea: the Conservative Bible Project. Here’s the rationale behind the project:

As of 2009, there is no fully conservative translation of the Bible which satisfies the following ten guidelines:

  1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias
  2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, “gender inclusive” language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity
  3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level[3]
  4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms as they develop;[4] defective translations use the word “comrade” three times as often as “volunteer”; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as “word”, “peace”, and “miracle”.
  5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as “gamble” rather than “cast lots”;[5] using modern political terms, such as “register” rather than “enroll” for the census
  6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
  7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
  8. Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story
  9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels
  10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word “Lord” rather than “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “Lord God.”

Conservatives routinely complain about bias in Bible translation, especially the (T)NIV, but this strikes me not only as wrong-headed and hypocritical, but potentially devastating to an orthodox view of biblical authority.

This project has a stated bias, one that the Bible simply does not share. This, along with any other Bible (study or otherwise) that seeks to impose a political message (except “Jesus is Lord, therefore Caesar is not”), is an attempt to change the message of the Bible. Are you really going to tell me the apostles were at all concerned over whether they utilized “powerful conservative terms”?

And the idea that a translation will “accept the logic of hell”, as if prior Bibles were unclear, sounds disastrous. They have a stated agenda, therefore you have no confidence at all that they won’t distort everything to their particular theological, political, economic, and social agenda.

Beyond that, they propose to build this version on the foundation of the King James Version. If you like the KJV, that’s fine, there’s really no other translation that sounds as good when reading the Psalms, but you can’t call something a “translation” when you haven’t actually translated anything. And the idea that you can “translate” 4 verses an hour is ludicrous.

The worst part of this, however, is the damage it does to the authority of the Scriptures. In the words of someone associated with the project, they appear to know nothing about Greek, and don’t seem to care about authorial intent.

Fsamuels, your contributions are most welcome to this project, and we do refer to the so-called “original” texts as needed. But note that the Greek (you seem unsure in identifying the language) was itself an imperfect language for conveying certain powerful concepts, and that many of the translation disputes today are unrelated to the original language.–Andy Schlafly 12:44, 5 October 2009 (EDT)

The authors of this project have decided that even Paul couldn’t explain what he meant, and that it would take nothing more than a 21st century American to complete the Bible. Are they claiming inspiration for themselves?

Ultimately, I hope this is just a joke. I hope someone has come in and vandalized the site with an elaborate hoax. Because anything else is very dangerous.

Explain How This Makes Sense

I grew up in a tradition that was (and continues to be) very anti-alcohol. It’s no surprise, then, that when the Lord’s Supper is served, it is served with grape juice and not wine (thank you, Mr. Welch). This is somewhat understandable, and not completely out of left field considering American history.

What doesn’t make sense to me, and what I’ve never been able to get a clear answer on, is why fundamentalists insist on the bread being without any leaven. I was taught that unleavened bread is used because it symbolizes a lack of sin, as well as because that is the bread Jesus would have used (following the traditional Passover meal). Wine, they say, has yeast in it, which would send the wrong message. Also, Jesus clearly did not drink alcoholic wine.

I’m unaware of any serious, modern biblical scholar that advocates a non-alcoholic wine. Even the textbooks we used in Bible college were silent on the issue. It seems quite clear, both from internal New Testament sources, as well as the ancient usage of the word, that the wine served by Jesus was indeed alcoholic.

So, here’s my question: why advocate unleavened bread as historical and yet use grape juice anachronistically?

A Question on the Trustworthy Sayings

Take a look at the following list of all the times Paul uses the phrase “trustworthy saying”. If you don’t use a modern translation, it might be something like “faithful saying.

  • 1 Timothy 1:15 “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
  • 1 Timothy 3:1 “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”
  • 1 Timothy 4:9 “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.  For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”
  • 2 Timothy 2:11 “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him…”
  • Titus 3:4-8 “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,  he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,  whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,  so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.   The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.”

While that isn’t an exhaustive look at the word “trustworthy” in the New Testament, I find something very interesting in it: all passages relate somehow to salvation except the second one.  Why would Paul use the same phrase 4 times to relate to salvation and one time in relation to pastoral ministry?

Of course, I need to add a few caveats.  First, this isn’t a very good way to go about studying the Bible.  While it’s good to know how words are used throughout the Bible, oftentimes a single word is used in a lot of different contexts and to attempt to ascribe a single meaning to said word would be disastrous (see “world”).  Also, (and I’ve done no studying to this effect) it could be that what Paul is referring to in these passages are actual sayings that were well-known at the time and considered Christian truisms.

So, here are my questions.  First, is there any significance to the above list?  Second, if there is any significance, can we infer anything from it?  Finally, (and I think this is the most interesting question) why does Paul use the phrase in the Pastoral epistles?  Is it just a figure of speech?

Dr. John Tisdale Responds to Obama Antichrist Email

I don’t know why I’m getting into this again, what with all of the tolerant, loving people who sent me hate mail, but Dr. John Tisdale has responded to the email going around saying Barack Obama is the anti-Christ.  I’ll admit I really thought it was just a made up name, but I guess the guy does exist and doesn’t like Barack Obama, but does not think the Senator is the anti-Christ.

Here’s the pertinent portion:

An email has circulated referring to “Revelation 13, a Muslim, age 40, etc.” that indicates I may have either originated and/or sent it.  The purpose of the email is to imply that presidential candidate Senator Obama might be the anti-Christ. I am not the originator of that email and have not sent nor forwarded it to anyone. It appears that someone was forwarded a letter I wrote to some friends about a speech Senator Obama made where he said “America is no longer a Christian nation, at least not just, but is a Hindu nation, a Jewish nation, etc.” Someone then added the portion referencing Revelation, etc. to my letter implying that I either originated it and/or endorsed it.  The font and style is not the same on the “Revelation, anti-Christ” email and the letter I wrote. The letter I wrote appears at the bottom of the “Revelation” email. Revelation 13 does not teach what the email says it teaches.

Dr. Tisdale wants me to know, however, that he does not support Sen. Obama.  if you want to see the rest of the email, read on, but please know that I really don’t care one way or another.  Please don’t flood my inbox with your hate; really, I just find the whole email forwarding culture fascinating, especially when it comes to completely made up stuff.  Getting to the bottom of this, for me, is like finishing a crossword puzzle. Continue reading

Communal Interpretation of the Scriptures

The best way to guard a true interpretation of Scripture, the Reformers insisted, was neither to naively embrace the infallibility of tradition, or the infallibility of the individual, but to recognize the communal interpretation of Scripture. The best way to ensure faithfulness to the text is to read it together, not only with the churches of our own time and place, but with the wider ‘communion of saints’ down through the age. ~Michael Horton (HT:Confessing Evangelical)

Thoughts? Is this true? Is this nothing more than the Magisterium, as some Roman Catholics would claim?

N.T. Wright on Biblical Authority

Debates about the authority of scripture have tended to get off on the wrong foot and to turn into an unproductive shouting-match. This is partly because here, as in matters of political theology, in the words of Jim Wallis ‘the Right gets it wrong and the Left doesn’t get it’. And sometimes the other way round as well. We have allowed our debates to be polarized within the false either/or of post-enlightenment categories, so that we either see the Bible as a holy book, almost a magic book, in which we can simply look up detached answers to troubling questions, or see it within its historical context and therefore claim the right to relativize anything and everything we don’t immediately like about it. These categories are themselves mistaken; the Bible itself helps us to challenge them; and when we probe deeper into the question, ‘what does it mean to say that the Bible is authoritative’, we discover a new and richer framework which simultaneously enables us to be deeply faithful to scripture and energizes and shapes us, corporately and individually, for our urgent mission into tomorrow’s world. Read the rest here.

Bishop Wright, as he is wont to do, seems to put things into categories that no one is going to be comfortable with.  In that sense, I would kind-of, sort-of disagree with him.  The rest of the section, which is linked to, is spot on.  Talking about the authority of the Scriptures without first talking about the authority of Jesus Christ himself is pointless.  As he says, “When the risen Jesus commissions his followers for their worldwide mission, he does not say ‘all authority in heaven and earth is given to – the books you people are going to go and write.’.”  The Scriptures, in so far as they have authority, speak from Christ’s authority and nothing less.