About Jesus - Steve Sweetman
Misunderstood Bible Passages
In theological terms, the word hermeneutics speaks to the interpretation of the Bible. There are certain common sense rules that must be incorporated into our Bible study. Avoidance of these rules will inevitably lead to a wrong understanding of the Bible. I won't detail these rules because I've done that elsewhere. I'll just state two of them.
Context is important. None of us likes being misquoted when others take our words out of context. Allow me to suggest that God isn't happy with us misquoting what He said when we take His words out of context. We must first understand the context of any statement in light of the surrounding statements, then, in light of the book in which it was written, then, in light of the whole Bible, and then, in light of the historical setting in which the statement was written. Ignoring context will certainly cause you to misunderstand the Bible.
Some kind of original language study is also important. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew while the New Testament was written in Greek. Some knowledge of Hebrew and Greek grammar and the definition of words, and, how they relate to any given passage, are important to understanding the Bible.
The following are a number of Bible passages that are commonly misunderstood, and I suggest, because of a lack of good hermeneutics and our dumbed down Christian mentality these days. If the Bible is God's word to us as Christians claim, then we better take it seriously and spend time coming to a good understanding.
"For where two or
three come together in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:20
NIV)." This verse is
often quoted to encourage those who find themselves in a poorly attended
Christian meeting. Was Jesus
really talking about poorly attended meetings?
The words "two or
three" in this verse have Biblical significance. Job
33:29 says that "God does all these things to a person, twice, even
three times (NIV)." In
context the things God does to a person two or three times are His
attempts to restore a broken relationship with a person.
Deuteronomy 19:15 states
that a fact must be established by two or three witnesses.
Deuteronomy 17:6 states that a person cannot be condemned to death
without the credible witness of two or three people.
The Apostle Paul affirmed this when he said that every fact must be
established by the testimony of two or three (2 Corinthians 13:1). Paul
told Timothy not to accept an accusation against an elder unless it is
established to be true by two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19).
In Biblical terms, the
validity of a thing must be confirmed in at least two or three ways.
With this in mind let's dig into Matthew 18:20 to see what Jesus
meant when He said that where two or three come together in His name, He'd
be with them.
We need to put Jesus'
statement in its context by backing up to verse 15 where Jesus told His
disciples that if someone sinned against one of them he should point out
the sin to the offender in the hope of restoring their relationship
damaged by the sin. If that
doesn't rectify things Jesus said that two or three others should
intervene to help restore the relationship.
In verse 18 Jesus went on
to say that whatever you bind or loose on earth will be bound or loosed in
Heaven. He wasn't talking
about binding or loosing demons as some think.
The context of this verse tells us that Jesus was talking about
binding and loosing relationships. This
tells me that our Christian relationships on earth have a direct
correlation in Heaven. Fractured
relationships inhibit Heaven from effectively working among us while
harmonious relationships enable Heaven to implement God's will among us.
In verse 19 Jesus said
"that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it
will be done for you by my Father in Heaven."
Again, we see our earthly relationships impacting Heaven's
interaction with us on earth. The
Greek verb "symphoneo" is translated into English as
"agree" in this verse. This
word consists of two Greek words meaning "together" and
"sound". Agreeing in
this context means "to sound together".
Our English word "symphony" comes from this Greek word.
A symphony is the harmonious blending of a variety of musical
instruments. It's various
instruments sounding together in a harmonic unity.
It's this kind of symphonic harmony that is expressed in the word
"agree" in this verse. The
Greek grammar suggests that Jesus wasn't talking about two people coming
to a mutual understanding about a prayer request, but a mutually harmonic
understanding about each other.
The Greek verb
The phrase "will be
done" in Greek is a future subjunctive verb.
Remember, a subjunctive verb suggests some uncertainty.
This means that if the two can restore their relationship there's a
good chance, but not a guaranteed certainty, their request will be
realized at some "future" date, as the future tense dictates.
This measure of uncertainty tells me that there are other factors
involved in the realization of our requests beyond harmonious
relationships. God's will is
one important additional factor in this matter.
Now we come to
"Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with
them." The Greek word
"synago" that is translated into English as "come
together" is a perfect passive participle.
It consists of two Greek words meaning "together" and
"bring", as in bring yourselves together in harmonic unity.
A perfect Greek verb is an action that takes place at one specific
moment in time. In this case,
the one specific time is when the when two people mend their relationship
and live in symphonic harmony. At
that point Jesus enters their relationship and is in their presence.
Notice the Greek word
"synago" that is translated as "come together" in the
NIV. This is a Hebrew word
that found its way into Greek. For
Jews, "synago" which is related to their word
"synagogue", was more than a building where they worshiped.
This word represented the community of God's people.
When Jesus spoke about coming together in Matthew 18:20 I believe
He was thinking of the community of believers who gathered in His name,
living in symphonic harmony with one another.
I know this Greek grammar
stuff confuses some of you but it does help us understand what Jesus was
telling us. Matthew 18:20 has
nothing to do with a poorly attended Christian meeting.
It has everything to do with restoring damaged relationships in the
Body of Christ and living in symphonic harmony so Jesus can live among us
to accomplish His will. As I
always say, consider what I say as Jesus gives you the understanding in
all know that context is important when attempting to understand
So, why do we ignore the context, and thus misunderstand 2
"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble
themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then
will I hear from heaven and forgive their sins and will heal their
common understanding among Christians today is that "my people"
in 2 Chronicles 7:14 refers to either their country or the church.
This understanding stems from an anti-Semitic sentiment that
permeated Catholic doctrine during the dark ages of history.
For the most part, the Protestant Reformation did not depart from
For this reason much of Christendom today believes that the
prophetic passages of the Bible, including 2 Chronicles 7, do not apply to
but to the church or to so-called Christian nations.
we back up a few verses we'll note that God was speaking to Solomon about Israel's future.
In verse 13 God said; "When I shut up the heavens so there is
no rain, or command locusts to devour the land, or send a plague among my
The text doesn't say "if I shut up the heavens ..."
It says "when I shut up the heavens, when I command the
locusts, and when I send a plague."
2 Chronicles 7:14, as well as the whole chapter, predicted the day
when God's judgment would fall upon the wicked nation of Israel. The
only way out of judgment was for Israel
to obey God and humble itself by seeking God and forsaking its wicked
context makes it clear. The
words "my people" in 2 Chronicles 7:14 refers to Israelis. Knowing
this, can we use this verse to call
not put our words into God's mouth.
If God is addressing Israel, let's not say He's addressing
"If you confess with
your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and if you believe in your heart that God
raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9 NIV)." This
is one well known Bible verse, but do we understand its finer, but vitally
Backing up one verse to
Romans 10:8 we note that Paul preached the word of faith.
The Greek word "rhema" is translated into English as
"word" in verse 8. Unlike
the Greek word "logos" that simply means an idea put into a
word, "rhema" is an idea that once put into a word produces some
kind of result in the one to whom it is intended.
For example; if I say to you, "That's a dog" you probably
won't have a reaction. That's
a logos style word. If I say
to you, "Here's a million dollars to do as you wish" you'd
react. That's a rhema style
The Greek word
"pistis" is translated into English as "faith" in the
phrase "word of faith". "Pistis"
simply means "trust". If
you have faith that I can hold onto your million dollars without spending
it, you trust me. Faith is
The word of faith is the
message about trust. Once the
message is carried by the Holy Spirit to your heart it gives you the
ability to trust Jesus with your life.
Now let's look at Romans
10:9. Once the rhema word of
faith gives you the ability to trust Jesus, according to verse 9 you
confess that Jesus is Lord. The
word "confess" is translated from the Greek word
"homolegeo" which means "to speak the same thing or to
agree." Confessing is in
fact agreeing with God that Jesus has now become your personal Lord.
Merely mouthing the words "Jesus is Lord" isn't agreeing
with God on this matter. Anyone
can say "Jesus is Lord." When
you agree with God that Jesus is Lord, you agree that He is the ultimate
universal authority. You,
therefore, have no other logical choice but to hand your life over to Him.
"believe" in the phrase "believe in your heart" in
verse 9 is translated from the Greek verb "pisteuo", the noun
form of "pistis" that I defined above.
Believing that God raised Jesus from the dead is not a mental
acknowledgement of the historical fact that Jesus rose from the dead.
Believe means to trust. You
trust, or give yourself to, the historical fact that Jesus is alive.
You can't trust a dead man with your life, but you can trust a
living man with your life.
Both Greek verbs
translated as "confess" and "believe" in Romans 10:9
are aorist active subjunctive verbs. Simply
put, "only" when you agree with God by allowing Jesus to become
your personal Lord, and "only" when you trust that He is alive
to be your Lord, will you be saved.
The Greek word
"sozo", meaning to rescue, to deliver, or to heal, is translated
into English as saved in verse 9. The
most important thing you are saved from is the wrath of God.
The phrase "You shall be saved" is a future passive
indicative Greek verb. That
means your salvation, although instantaneous upon confessing and
believing, is completed on the future day when Jesus transforms your
mortal body into an eternal body.
Romans 10:9 tells us that
once the Holy Spirit plants the message of trust into your heart, that
message enables you to make Jesus your personal Lord because He is alive
for you to trust. Only then
are you saved.
My Methodist background
taught me that I was to receive Jesus as my Saviour and at some later date
make Him my Lord. Romans 10:9
says differently. First of all
I don't receive Jesus. He
receives me when I allow Him to be my personal Lord.
At that point Jesus immediately becomes my Saviour.
The reverse to Methodist teaching is in fact true.
Jesus becomes my Saviour because He is first my Lord.
We should also understand
that inherent in allowing Jesus to be your personal Lord is the act of
repentance. You cannot serve
your Lord when you are serving your sinful self.
Without acknowledging and leaving your sin you can't make Jesus
your Lord and thus you cannot be saved.
Understanding Romans 10:9
is not only important for our own spiritual health, it's vitally important
for those we are trying to lead to Jesus.
We do an eternally damaging disservice by asking people to simply
repeat a sinner's prayer, by having them mouth the words "Jesus is
Lord", and by having them mentally acknowledge that Jesus rose from
the dead. Those things may be
a step towards salvation but in themselves they save no one according to
Romans 10:9. God forbid that
we cause someone to believe he is saved when he is not saved.
When Paul used the word
"body" in the above context and in other similar contexts he was
not thinking of a group of people like the Canadian parliament or the
In 1 Corinthians 12:27
Paul said, "You are the Body of Christ".
I know that many people view this body language metaphorically. It's
imagery, picture language describing the nature of church.
On the other hand, there are some, like me, who see this a bit
Paul said, "You are
the Body of Christ". He
didn't say "You are the symbolic Body of Christ."
Think of it this way. When
Jesus was on earth all of who God is lived in Jesus' human body
(Colossians 1:19). Once Jesus
returned to Heaven (Acts 1:10 - 11) God was no longer on earth in human
form. He, therefore, returned
to earth by His Spirit to live in the believers (Acts 2:1 - 5), otherwise
known as the Body of Christ, the church.
In one real sense of the word church is God's present day earthly
human body in which He lives.
Paul said that we were
baptized into the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Our
English word "baptized" is transliterated from the Greek word
"baptizo", which means "to submerge or immerse".
Baptizo wasn't a religious Greek word.
If you lived in first century Judea and you washed your tunic in
When Paul said you
"were baptized into one body", the phrase "were
baptized" is a Greek aorist passive indicative verb. Aorist
means that at one specific moment in time you were immersed into the Body
of Christ. Passive in this
context means that the Holy Spirit was the one who submerged you into the
Body of Christ. Indicative
means that your baptism into the Body of Christ was a literal, undeniable,
"baptized" in this verse might lead to some confusion since we
relate baptism with water or Spirit baptism.
English translators could have translated "baptizo" as
"immersed" or "submerged" in this verse. The text
could correctly read, "You were submerged into the Body of
Christ," thus eliminating any possible confusion with water or Spirit
I'm not convinced that
Paul was speaking symbolically when he said that the Corinthian believers
were baptized into the Body of Christ.
I certainly don't believe he was talking about joining an
organization we call church. Neither
do I believe he was talking about going to church or having casual
Christian acquaintances. He
was talking about being immersed into the lives of those to whom the Holy
Spirit has joined us by immersion into the Body of Christ.
Once submerged into Christ's body we become vital parts of the
body, performing our bodily functions and responsibilities with those to
whom we have been placed alongside. This
is Paul's point throughout 1 Corinthians 12.
Our western world
individualistic approach to life and church makes it difficult for western
Christians to view and experience church as being immersed into the lives
of people. We think in terms of being joined organizationally, not joined
relationally. This impersonal,
non-relational, approach to church distances us from those to whom we are
immersed into. It defeats the
purpose for the existence of church. If
we could grasp and implement Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 12 it would
transform the western church into the Body of Christ it was meant to be.
I believe our western
world's individualistic approach to church will change.
Many people believe another revival will produce this change but I
don't believe it will. Western
world Christendom has experienced many revivals over the last few
centuries, none of which have brought lasting change to church structure.
I was very much involved in the Charismatic Movement of the 1960's,
70's, and 80's where "body ministry", as it was called, was an
important aspect of the movement. It
didn't take long for body ministry expressed through personal
relationships in the Body of Christ to evolve into denominational style
I do believe change will
come. As each year passes our
western world anti-Christ culture is demanding with more intensity that we
conform to its unbiblical lifestyle or else pay the penalty.
This, along with God's judgment on our western nations will force
us to live as those who have been immersed into the lives of each other.
This will be the means of the church's survival and purification.
It may be a painful process, as it has been for believers in places
Our western world judicial system has traditionally upheld the ideal that if we know the truth the truth will set us free. This cherished ideal, which I believe is engraved on a wall in the United States Supreme Court building, was written into the pages of our Bible. Jesus said; "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). These words presuppose that Jesus is the ultimate universal truth (John 14:6) and thus knowing Him will set us free, but set us free from what?
wasn't talking about political or social freedom as the Jews who heard His
words thought. "We are
Abraham's descendents," they said, "and have never been slaves
of anyone. How can you say
that we shall be set free" (John 8:33)?
Their response was utterly ridiculous.
In past centuries Jews had been enslaved by Egypt, Assyria, Babylon
, Persia, and Greece. As they
stood before Jesus on this occasion they were under Roman domination.
Jesus clarified things when He said; "Everyone who sins is a
slave to sin." Jesus was
talking about being free from sin and its devastating consequences.
hippies of the 1960's cultural revolution preached their brand of truth
which allowed them to freely express a social morality not seen in such
openness in our Reformation influenced western world.
Jesus and the hippies were miles apart on this issue.
According to Jesus, His truth would set people free from sin.
According to the hippies, their truth would set people free to sin.
1960's are a fast fading memory but its philosophical approach to life
remains with us. Many hippies
of yesteryear are today's social political leaders.
For them, truth is relative. It's not absolute and universal.
Truth varies from person to person, place to place, time to time,
and culture to culture. Judges
21:25 says it well. Israelis
forsook the absolute authority of God and by so doing individual Israelis
did what seemed right in their own eyes.
In other words, each individual defined truth for himself.
What was right or wrong for one wasn't right or wrong for another.
This leads to cultural chaos.
concept of freedom didn't originate with the hippies, the American
Constitution, Martin Luther, or even Jesus' remarks in John 8:32.
It originated with God at creation.
"And the Lord commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any
tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of
good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die (Genesis
2:16 - 17 NIV).'"
Note that before God gave the command He told Adam that he was free. God created man to be free in all aspects of his existence, but, freedom had boundaries as seen in the command. When Adam sinned by stepping beyond freedom's boundaries he opened the floodgates of death, decay, and destruction that invaded every molecular structure of creation.
The Apostle Paul
said that God "gives life to the dead and calls things that are not
as though they were" (Romans 4:17 NIV - 1984 edition).
Why do some Christians use this verse to support their practice of
calling things that are not as though they were?
It's often called speaking things into existence through your
positive confession of faith.
Those who claim to
speak things into existence by their positive confession say that they
call things that are not as though they were.
If they want a new car, for example, but can't afford one, they
call a new car, that which is not in their driveway, as if it were already
in their driveway. They claim,
visualize, or speak, as if they already have the new car even though they
don't have it. I view this
practice as being Biblically problematic as it relates to the verse at
wording of Paul's statement clearly states that it is God who calls things
that are not as though they were. Paul
said nothing about us calling things that are not as though they were.
To suggest differently goes beyond the scope of the text and makes
it say something I don't believe Paul meant.
clarifies that the things God calls that are not as though they were are
Gentile believers. "The
promises come by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed
to all of Abraham's offspring - not only to those who are of the law but
also to those who are of the faith ofAbraham.
He is the father of us all. As
it is written, 'I have made you (Abraham) a father of many nations'"
(Romans 4:16). In other words,
God calls the Gentiles who have faith, those who are not traditionally His
people, as though they were His people.
That is all Paul is saying. It
is poor Biblical interpretation to interpret a secondary meaning to this
verse when there is no hint of one.
Those who use this
verse as a proof text to support their practice of speaking things into
existence are incorporating a humanistic positive confession practice into
their Christian belief system. It's
sometimes called visualizing your desires into reality.
It's what Oprah Winfrey and others like her have been preaching for
years. This practice can be
traced to the later half of the 19th and early 20th century when
metaphysics became popularized in our western culture's philosophical
approach to life. E. W. Kenyon
(1867 - 1948) is often noted as introducing metaphysics into Christianity.
Metaphysics is the
branch of philosophical theory that concerns itself with the first
principles of things; abstract concepts such as existence, being, knowing,
cause, identity, time, space, and other such subjective concepts.
Incorporating such humanistic philosophies into our Christian
beliefs and practices corrupts our Biblical based beliefs.
It's spiritual adultery; no different than Old Testament
Replacing the Holy Spirit in our lives with human effort is something Paul denounced in Galatians 3:1 and 3. "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" Human effort, no matter how it is disguised, disables the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian which in turn destroys what being a Christian is all about.
As much as possible, let the Bible speak for itself. It is God, and He alone, who calls things that are not as though they were. Christians, therefore, trust their God to do as He wishes with them and their lives.