How big is the Bible part 6

Bible verse used in podcast:

  • 1 Peter 3:15
  • Revelation 20:10
  • Revelation 12:9-10
  • Proverbs 25:1-4
  • John 3:16
  •  Romans 8:28
  • John 14:15

You can’t ask God that Question

So I went on a nerd rant for a bit over 5 posts now and you are surprised to see my squeeze so much out of such a small amount of stuff. Now it’s time to really get into the power of most of the stuff I have been talking about plus some extra stuff I don’t know where else to put. Let’s visit this question, will we know everything about the Bible?

The obvious answer is no, especially after a lot of the stuff I talked about before. But there is something important to consider. Often people go to church, sit through Bible study, and doubt what they hear. It could be for a good reason.  They have honest questions they can’t get answered. It’s no surprise that the pastor or others in their congregation may have never seen these questions before (or never were trained to deal with them). So they get the typical answers: “That is not fair to ask God,” “We aren’t meant to know this,” “No one will know until we get to heaven” and so on. To some degree, yes we won’t know everything, but that doesn’t mean answers don’t exist. If you don’t know the answer, that doesn’t mean the answer doesn’t exist. Often these “answers” do more harm than good. But this attitude is not Biblical:

15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,

1 Peter 3:15 ESV

Not every question someone has is rooted in a pursuit of the truth. More often than not, people tend to have questions because they feel that they have been wronged in some way. Someone in their family died and they question, “God why did you do this to me”? They had a painful childhood and they want to know why God didn’t stop it. Sometimes they just want to live how they want to and have as much fun as they want. From there people bring up objections to the Bible as a way of escaping it. They have this view not because they believe it, but because they don’t want to believe the alternative. But you can’t discriminate between different situations. It could be that the best apologetic answer is a personal one. Unless you know someone on a personal level, you can’t always give a direct answer to their situation. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the hard questions of life. You should still try to be ready for when the time comes, you can do what you need to.

Having skeptical answers is extremely important, even as a believer. For some reason, we tend to apply logic to our everyday lives and not the Bible. If you have a problem in your life, do you just give up? Some people do but more than often we don’t. The reason why we have phones and airplanes is that people wanted to improve what they could do. They saw a problem and worked until they came to a solution. In science, people constantly ask questions and push what we know and what about the things we can’t see to push our understanding. Yet, when it comes to the Bible we say, “it’s not fair to ask God that question.” Although we won’t know everything, it still helps to question things and push our boundaries of knowledge. Like, why is Satan not in hell?

Why isn’t Satan in Hell?

There isn’t any clear chapter or verse on this indicating the exact answer. This might fall into that Godel problem I talked about before. This could be something that is true, that we can’t prove using the logical system that we have. We need to take a step back and look at everything and then make claims. We do know this for sure:

  1. God will Judge sin (2 Corinthians 5:10)
  2. Satan fell (Isaiah 14:12-15)
  3. Hell was created for satan and his angels (Matthew 25:41)
  4. Man sinned (a lot of verses in the bible)

So now here is a logical question to ask, why is Satan not in Hell? It is clear that Satan is around in many places for instance as in the first chapter of Job. Satan also tempted Jesus In Matthew 4. You can even look ahead in the Bible and find that Satan is not thrown into hell until the end.

10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.

Revelation 20:10-11 ESV

Then from here, the natural question arises, why isn’t Satan in hell? At the least after Christ resurrected, why not then? We can find several important clues which can help point to a possible answer to this. 

9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world–he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.

Revelation 12:9-10 ESV

There are two key threads that are highlighted here that can be traced back and followed through the bible about Satan. The first is that Satan is the deceiver and the second is that he is accusing us. When looking at the Garden of Eden, why deceive Eve? When you think back to Isaiah 14:13-14, Satan wanted to be God. How can a finite being take over and the position of an infinite God, one who is all-powerful and not part of creation? You can’t, but you could do something else. 

Remember that God is a just God and before I talked about this issue of love and that without the ability to choose, love can’t exist. In Genesis 1:26, God gives dominion over the earth to man. This is important because that means man is in charge. Part of that is that God gives man an area to exercise his ability to love (along with stewardship and other things). But that comes at a cost if man is in charge, then man decides what happens. When looking at the temptation of Jesus in Matthew and Luke 4, Satan owns all the earth. You can also look at other verses that indicate this. At some point, man had to give Satan this authority. There is also another important issue. When the fall happens, can God judge Satan and not man? This would be unfair. If Satan committed a sin and all sin is equal and all sin will get punished (James 2:10, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23).  It would not be just for God to judge Satan and turn a blind eye at man. But God will judge Satan once he also judges man. When you continue reading in Revelations 20, after Satan is thrown into the lake of fire, man is judged at the great white throne. Looking back at the fall, if Satan can get man to sin, he has some leverage. Satan can do what he wants because he has a buffer. He accuses man and gets man into sin so that he can’t be judged unless man is judged. This is an important reason why Satan traps people in sin (2 Timothy 2:26, Psalm 141:9, 1 Timothy 6:9-10, 1 Peter 5:8, ). So Satan is not in hell because God can’t judge Satan until he judges man (or at least deals with them together).

Taking the Bible out of context?

While we are on this topic, what does it mean to take things out of context? People have a problem with this in both extremes. They either completely misunderstand the text, or they don’t allow anyone to give a real interpretation of what the text says. Both extremes can be harmful. From here, there are a couple of common ways one can take the text out of context. 

  1. Project meaning
  2. Picking verse
  3. Passage context

Projecting meaning

Projecting meaning tends to be the easiest to deal with. Often they don’t have any real bases for scripture and take a verse or a handful of verses and makeup or imply their own meaning on the text without any real logical connections. For instance, I was talking to someone who claimed that the new age movement idea of a third eye is biblical. That is a whole different conversation but when I asked for proof they went to Genesis 3:

7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

Genesis 3:7 ESV

They went right there and only used that portion of scripture, let along they didn’t even read the rest. Let’s set aside whether or not that verse is referring to some type of ability that was unlocked. It doesn’t matter because it is clear just from reading the chapter that this is not something that A) was supposed to happen and B) was not something that God intended for man. If God intended it for man, why wouldn’t he have already let them have it? Why has it only been available after engaging with sin? Why is it that only Satan could help man get this ability? If Satan helped them open this, that is a pretty good indication that you need to be extremely cautious and understand the harm that it could bring. This is without really even reading the rest of the Bible. Just projecting that meaning onto the text already raises a lot of red flags and questions if you think about it. Of course, what does it mean their eyes were open is still a subject of debate. Different people have had interpretations ranging from they knew what they did to them not experiencing everything in the physical world instead of a purely spiritual one. Of course, this can go on, but it is clear that whatever happened, this was not God’s intention. 

On another note, God did not create anything within the universe that was bad (although the concepts were created regardless). So why would God create something within man that could only be activated by sin? This could be a direct implication alone that this third eye idea can be ruled out altogether. It is clear when their eyes were opened it is not something good. So it is possible that it wasn’t something God made in that sense. We know that throughout Genesis 1, God looked at everything he made and called it Good and we know that God created everything (John 1). So if this was something God created, it was not good, therefore God probably didn’t create this. Hence, this leads to a contradiction and the third eye explanation can be discarded. 

Reading context

Picking s verse is often the most misunderstood concept. Because on the one hand, context matters, but on the other, academic schools do it all the time. This is not just in the field of theology but literacy, history, and anything that involves analyzing writing. On the one hand, it is pretty hard to pick out John 3:16 and mess up the interpretation. Few people would get angry and accuse you of cherry-picking this and making claims unless what you say in total is completely off to the point where you are probably directly going against the Bible. But referring a single line as a source of interpretation or even reading into it is a common practice. For instance, oftentimes people would look at the greek and pick out one word to talk about the implied tone of the passage. Or when looking at possible connections between things, often one verse or word is all you get to infer what the writers are talking about. You can find literature written about one word in Hebrew or Greek that we don’t know about. What is the wood that Noah used to build the ark in Genesis 6:14? Different translations have different approaches when dealing with this, but often some translators don’t speculate what the word is and just use the Hebrew word itself. The Hebrew word gopher H1613 גֹּפֶר only appears this one time in the text.

Now let’s look at another more relevant situation. Frequently people say you need to read the context of the passage. Which is true, but not all verse requires a full reading of the chapter or book to really interpret what is going on for instance:

2 It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.

Proverbs 25:2 ESV

Does reading the rest of the chapter really change the meaning of this verse? Not really, even reading the verse before and after it, the context doesn’t demand that you need to completely reinterpret your understanding of the text. 

1 These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied. 2 It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. 3 As the heavens for height, and the earth for depth, so the heart of kings is unsearchable.

Proverbs 25:1-3 ESV

I tend to use a fancy phrase saying that some verses are “context invariant.” For instance, when looking at John 3:16, reading the context of the passage doesn’t change the interpretation of that verse. Instead it enhances what the plain reading of the text is directly saying. You can often read and find different verses where the writers slip something in that stands out alone and with some truth we can use independently that makes a claim. That claim fits into the context of the passage but it’s meaning doesn’t change if you take away the passage.

Cross Referencing the Bible

On the other hand, context does change some passages. Often people will pull out a verse from the middle of Paul’s letters and use that as a fact to build their whole theology on. But often Paul might just use that one verse in a greater argument he is building and when you follow the logic, it’s clear that something different is going on. For instance, this famous verse:

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28 ESV

Does that mean God will always fix every situation you are in and bless everything you do? Turns out this seems to present some problems if interpreted this way. One question to ask, should you pay your bills or should you pay your tithes? Of course, tithing leads to a whole other discussion for another day. But should you pay your tithes and just say “God will pay the bills?” Now in order to get into this, let’s read the rest of the verse and then cross-reference the Bible to get any meaningful insight, because often when talking about context, reading the rest of the passage helps but that might not always clear up everything. 

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28 ESV

There are two key points here that need to be addressed; “Who are those who love God” and “according to his purpose.” It is clear that those who love him have in view believers. That is straightforward. But there is a catch, and that can be found in other verses of the Bible.

13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

John 14:13-15 ESV

This is important because, If you love God, you need to obey him and keep his commandments. What about Jesus’ teaching when he says “render to Caesar?” (Matthew 22:15-22). The bigger issue is where is your heart? What are your intentions behind doing things? According to his purpose, what is the will of God? If you do something outside of what his will is (or what he already commanded which is part of his will) how can he bless it later? What if God gave you money and you mismanaged it? You can find passages about stewardship and be able to manage what God has already given you. If God has given you something, can you go blow it and then turn around and say God bless this? 

Yes God could fix your problems and yes God will protect you. But we also like to leave out the parts of the Bible where God is a father and will discipline his children (Hebrews 12:3-11). You can find mountains of writing talking about suffering and hardship, but to some degree, we might cause some of the problems we go through. Sometimes we need to shape our priorities and realign them with what God actually intended. 

Now just to put some things into perspective, there is an issue with the tithing that comes up. One important thing to remember is are you being obedient to God? On the one hand, you can argue that tithing was part of the old testament law and Christ fulfilled the law and we are not under the law. But then, how does the church pay for a building? What happens if a family is under the poverty line and struggling to feed everyone, should they pay tithes? If they pay tithes and the church is going to help them and take care of them, aren’t they just getting their money back that they put into it? Overall the issue is, are you obeying what God wants for your life. Are you obeying the principles of God? Are you ignoring the legal law that we have to live under? There is a lot to consider when talking about this, but one can quickly see how just reading that one verse in Romans without putting clear parameters and context to what the verse is talking about can flow into many problems. 

How big is the Bible part 5

How big is the Bible part 5

Bible verse used in podcast:

  • 2 Peter 1:20-21
  • Romans 10:9-10, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4

Interesting resources

Canon books of the bible

Collimated light

Do we need to expand the Bible?

Can you know anything for certain? When talking about Godel’s theorems before, it talked about how any formal finite system of axioms will tend to have a metasystem that is larger than the system you are working in. You can always find more things to talk about and more things to learn. But does that mean we will always be missing things about the Bible?

As a side note, even in mathematics, this theorem doesn’t mean what we do know is always missing something. For instance, if we want to know if integers (count numbers, 0 and negative numbers) are even. The basic rule is whether or not the number we want to check is divisible by 2. This is straightforward and you can check a lot of numbers this way. You don’t need more rules and you can always get to a yes or no answer unless you start considering things that aren’t natural numbers (which is the second point of this talk).

Similarly in the Bible, the same is true. But before we get there we need to talk about something else. 

20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:20-21 ESV

One might try to say, “the Bible is missing information so we need more holy text.” This doesn’t really apply because any book of the Bible needs to come from God as a criterion. You can always get into the history of how the Bible was canonized but this idea that there is missing knowledge to the Bible is an old one that even early Christians had to deal with.

Can we really know anything?

Back to the main topic, when might Godel’s theorem about a consistent system is not complete apply? This issue starts applying when you start combining axioms and you see what happens. For instance, these integers from before, numbers like ⅓ are not integers but is it even? Not all integer can not be expressed as a fraction so what do you do about this? Similarly, we can ask the same questions about our theology.

Let’s take the idea of salvation. It is extremely simple and often people try to add things to it to make it more complicated than it really is. In truth, it is too good to be true because of how simple it really is.

9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

Romans 10:9-10 ESV

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

1 Corinthians 15:1-4 ESV

You can search the scripture and find more verses that just emphasize this. But in essence that is it. The reason why it is so complicated is not because of these rules. In short, the above gives a true or false statement that can be asked. What becomes complicated is when you start applying multiple axioms together and then start asking questions. That is when this Godel theorem seems to bring out strange questions. For instance, how should your life look after you confessed? Does the way your life reflect on whether or not you had a confession of sins? If you have free will (or not) does that affect confession? Can you lose your salvation? All of these are questions for another time. But the simple idea of salvation is not hard in terms of how to get it. The complexity (and why people argue) comes from all these layers being put together.

Often this is where people get into trouble. When a new Christan is learning, what happens if there is a contradiction? This can lead to an issue where people drop their system of knowledge (their faith) as a result. Of course, if there is a contradiction then either the Bible is wrong or you are wrong. Figuring out which isn’t hard with the Christian assumption. The Bible is supposed to be right so the way you are interpreting things is probably wrong or incomplete. Often instead of throwing out everything we know, what we should do is evaluate our assumptions and the axioms we think we understand that come out of the Bible. This tends to be hard for many because we like it to be simple and easy. Either everything I have is right or wrong. People have a hard time examining what they know and question why they really do believe it. 

Of course many say they do question the Bible and they don’t believe in it but often that is because they don’t really question it. Instead, they are like Eve in the Garden of Eden. Satan came by and told her one thing, she questioned what she knew might be wrong and didn’t search or check the facts. She saw a problem and ran with it. 

How big is the Bible?

I presented some ideas in my podcast that are interesting to think and fun to think about. This gets to the question, how big is the Bible? The Bible is a finite book, you can pick it up and hold all of it at once. Yet it describes an infinite God? How can this be? Is the Bible really big enough to capture who God is? If it is, then somehow this finite book has an infinite amount of information in it. If not, then this infinite God needs to directly show himself to you. One thing that comes to mind is the idea that academic study is no substitute for doing many things. You can read about sports or a board game but until you sit down and play them you won’t fully experience them. The books can only get you so far and not everything makes sense until you physically see how everything works together. 

Another thought to consider. When does something become approximately infinity? This might seem impossible but in mathematics and physics this comes up in many ways. For instance, if you have a point light (something that shines in all directions) and if you put the light at the focal length of a lens, it becomes collimated (it travels in a column from the source). This means that after the lense all the light will be parallel or “travel in a cylinder” until it hits a surface. In terms of the physical theorem about this, that is only supposed to happen when you are looking at the light after it has traveled an infinite difference after the lens. In the real world, this is impossible, you can’t go infinitely away from something. What you can do is get far enough away so much so that the distance you are at is comparably infinite to the distance between the source light and the lens. Once you do this, the light appears to follow this strange infinite property. On some level, could things be how the Bible works? Could the Bible, expressing an infinite God, be the closes way for us to perceive this infinite God within the limits of our humanity?

How big is the Bible part 4

Bible verse used in podcast:

  • Matthew 28:18-20
  • Psalms 19:1-3
  • Romans 1:20-21
  • Acts 17:22-25

Interesting resources

Trinity

Cool quotes about God and science

Are there things in the Bible we can’t prove?

Before I talked about Godel’s incompleteness theorems and the question now comes, could it apply to the Bible? One question, in particular, will be in focus, are there things in the Bible that are true that we can not prove?

Of course to make sure we understand where we are going about this; Godel’s theorems talk about formal finite systems of axioms. One revelation out of this being, that if you have such a system, there will always be something about the system that is true, that you can not prove. This doesn’t mean that if a system is missing something it is false. It simply points to the idea that the reality of what you are trying to explain is larger than what you currently understand. With Godel’s theorem, if you can use the axioms of this system to prove things within the system, you get these strange results. Before on my podcast, I talked about using the Bible to cross-reference things to check if something is true. The Bible presents “axioms” or rules, laws however you want to label them, about God, morality, prophecy, and fate of mankind. Does Godel’s theorem apply to the Bible? Can you find similar situations?

On a surface level you can argue yes simply. In a strange way, the Bible has a bit of a strange assumption about its reader that we tend to overlook. The writers tend to write their books for people who lived during the time and witness the events being presented. Often we have trouble because we don’t know the historical or cultural context of what the writers are referring to. For instance, what were the beliefs of the Pharisees and Sadducees who confronted Jesus? When they are confronting Jesus they have a specific view that they believed shaped the questions they presented. You might be able to piece some of their thinking from looking at their questions and how they relate to the Bible, but there isn’t a Bible verse that explicitly explains what they believe. 

The trinity on one page?

On the other hand, you can say Godel’s theorem applies because we don’t have all of the Bible understood at once. We need to constantly learn more about the Bible to understand it. It is like the system of knowledge we have on the Bible is a smaller subset of the rest of the Bible. For instance the idea of the Trinity. As it is true there is no word that directly translates in English as translators used in the Bible. But the concept is still very much present. 

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 ESV

At least in this verse alone, you can see that Jesus explicitly references all parts of the trinity. But what if you start asking questions. How does it work? What is each of their roles? Which one created everything? Why have three? This is a topic for another time.

Just having the topic of the trinity is not enough to fully capture what it is within that one verse. To better understand it you need to find more Bible verses and expand what we know about it. If we only had Matthew 28 for the trinity we would not have a lot to work with. 

Does creation prove God?

This last is more important. This deals with something more profound. Does creation prove the existence of God? This is often misunderstood for many because how to present this is often hard or lacking. 

1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. 3 There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.

Psalm 19:1-3 ESV

It isn’t that hard to read the Bible and discover the idea that God created the universe. Of course, from there you might ask how does it work? And then you go on a full discovery to learn the deep mysteries of how God created everything. But that assumption is built-in, that God created everything. A difference now needs to be made when asking this question.

20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Romans 1:20-21 ESV

22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

Acts 17:22-25 ESV

When Paul was in Athens, it was clear to the people of this pagan culture that there was a God (or many). But they did not know the God of the Bible. Even further than the Greeks, people have been trying to understand how the world works and give an explanation for everything. But there is a disconnect. When you study the creation, that does not prove that God created it. Instead, it helps us point to a logical conclusion that God created it. If we never had the Bible or any direct way of knowing about God, just studying creations should point to a missing hole. How did this universe come into existence? Of course, this debate can rage on for a bit. But for this discussion, it is clear that God had to be involved and one can argue through science a person can get to the conclusion that God had to make this.

“This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being… This Being governs all things…:”

Isaac Newton, The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy

Studying creation won’t prove God exists, but it will point to the need of the creator. But there is something else out of that. Creation can’t show you who God is. Just like in Athens, they had a conception of what they thought God was like (or their many ideas), but they did not know who he was. Unless God Directly shows himself, how can you know who he is? Of course, this is an important need for the Bible and why Jesus had to be born in the flesh. 

One example I was for this is that of a pen. You can study a pen all you want but you will not know who created it (outside of trademarks and obvious branding). You can compare multiple pens to try and get a good understanding of why it is the way it is, but that doesn’t tell “why it was made”, only the “how it was made.” you can even have multiple pens to compare but that won’t tell you the full reason as to why it was even made this way in the first place. Some metals might be used because it was cheaper to produce that way. Maybe the machines used to produce it could perform better with these metals. Maybe the plastic used helps bring out the color better. You could study this and maybe figure out these things. But why use this over that? You can’t answer this definitively. Maybe the pen maker was trying to be cheap and cut corners. Maybe they knew about other options but purposely chose this material for personal reasons even if there are better ways to do it.

In many ways, God is the same. Unless God reveals himself, you can not know the why of the universe. You can only get hits at the how. 

How big is the Bible part 3

Bible verse used in podcast:

  • John 17:1-3
  • Matthew 28:18-20
  • Psalms 19:1-3
  • Romans 1:20-21
  • Acts 17:22-25

Interesting resources

The limits of Truth 

Before, I talked about how we can take a bunch of fundamental rules, calling them axioms, and use them to make a logistical system. From there, we used these axioms and saw what happens if they are true; exploring their consequences within this system. What becomes interesting is the idea that you can keep asking questions that relate to this logical system and learn more. But there are other things you can do. You can add more and more axioms to expand what your system can explain. So now the question is, what happens when you try to keep adding more and more axioms? How care can this go? Will your theology ever be enough? Can we ever get a complete understanding of God?

We know that on some level we can understand God. A core aspect of Christianity is the idea that we can have a relationship with the creator of the universe. He is a personal God who interacts with his creations. But how much can we know God?

1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

John 17:1-3 ESV

Knowing God is linked to eternal life. Exactly what that means is a bit of debate but to some degree, we should be able to know God. How far exactly can this go? How much can a finite being, know an infinite one? Well, it turns out we may never be able to fully know him if we are finite beings. This might sound obvious, but how could you know that? One simple thing to point out is that God is infinite and he created this universe. For God to be “infinite” he needs to be bigger than this universe on some level. Like this legendary question, can God create a rock he can’t like? No, he can’t and it’s perfectly logical but that’s for another day. Even when you consider the idea of us going to have and getting glorified bodies (Philippians 3:21), our glorified bodies still have to be small on some level compared to God for him to be infinite. With that comes some limitations. We don’t know everything. Our knowledge is limited, or finite. 

How limited is our Truth?

With that, we can come back to this question, will we ever know everything about God? About the Bible? Obviously not, but there might be a really logical reason beyond just intuition. Some time ago in Mathematics, people were trying to find a theory of everything. They were looking for a system of axioms that could be used to prove everything in math logically. Along the journey, several mathematicians stumbled across crippling issues about this. One of them is Kurt Godel, who presented the incompleteness theorems. This is a bit technical but it provides a lot of insight.

To start, you need a formal system of axioms. A system that we talked about before, a list of axioms that can be used to describe how something works and you can draw conclusions from. The formal part is that you can use the axioms to prove or disprove things in that system. If you have this and that system is finite, meaning the axioms can be written as a list that can be countable (either by a human or computer), then you will get some issues. 

How do you tell if you can prove something is true or not? You can do this using a larger system to check it, often called a metalanguage. It is the same as how we have English but we critique writing using grammar. We talk about verbs, nouns, sentence structure, and the like to talk about the language on a paper. Similarly, that is what Godel did, through a complex process he created a mathematical language to talk about mathematics. This using a metalanguage, you have more rules than the first one. When you do that, you can use these extra rules to check if the first language is correct. It is like having a dictionary to check if all the words are spelled corrected or a reference book to see if the verb tenses match. In the case of Godel, what he could do is find theorems within a logical system and see whether or not you could prove them using the axioms of the system. It is a bit complicated but that is the idea in a simplistic way. Often we use logic to check things and one simple idea is the law of noncontradiction. Something can either be “a thing” or be the opposite of “that thing”. Either something is true or it is false. If you can prove something then it must be true. But what if you can’t prove it, it is always simply false?

The Incompleteness Theorems

Out of this, a discovery emerged. If your system is a finite system, it will always have things in it that are true that you can not prove. If something is false, then you should be able to prove it is false using a finite process. A finite process is a set of steps to reach the final conclusion and then if it contradicts or can’t lead to any logical conclusion then it is false. It is basically like having equations and using algebra to see if both sides of an equal side match up. If they don’t, someone messed up. But within a system, there are things that are true you can’t prove. These seem to be self-referencing things. They must be true but it is as if they point to the fact that there must be more to the system than what we know. It is similar to “I” in English or any other pronoun. Not all we can communicate on paper or even verbally is all it is to reality. The use of “I” refers to something that doesn’t exist in English, it is like we have information “the speaker” that is not inherently part of the language. You can use other words to explain who the “I” is but the speaker is not part of English, they exist independently from English. Similarly, Godel found this to be true in math that there are things that are true that can’t be proven using the axioms. 

Now, what happens if you take this “unprovable thing” and make it an axiom. It turns out you will just get another system with the same problem. In this new system, there will be something (or many things) that are true, but you can’t prove. So you make another system, bigger than the previous two, and on and on.

The second theorem falls from the first: A system can not prove its own consistency and be complete. When you have a system of rules, you can ask two important questions, is it complete, is it consistent?  The consistency simply refers to whether or not there are contradictions. If there are, it is inconsistent, if there aren’t it is consistent. The completeness means whether or not you have everything you need to prove things within the system. Part of Godel’s proof showed that if a system is complete, then it is inconsistent. If a system is incomplete, then it may be consistent.

This points to some staggering revelations. This does not mean that truth doesn’t exist, or that we can’t prove everything. But it shows that no matter how much we learn about a subject, we may not be able to completely explain everything with a finite list of rules. Thinking back to that pen example, you can keep adding rules to find out where the pen is on the table, but when was it on the table? What color was it? Did it change colors? And so on. We will come back to this idea later. But this does have some implications of the boundaries of what man can know. For instance, many people go to a physics class and learn about Newtonian mechanics (basic intro physics for many). Often many physics professors like to start on the first day of the lecture with a joke. They may say that everything you will learn in this course is a lie. It’s not that Newton was completely wrong, but everything he discovered, was actually an approximation that is really true. Later when Planck and Einstein came along they started general relativity and it turned out that Physics presented and understood during the days of Newton and had assumptions (or axioms) that we know today to be false. As we learn, we expand the axioms that we do know and found that in some cases what we knew before actually leads to contradictions.

For the Bible this becomes important, if we ever have a full understanding of God, we are probably wrong. But if we continue to learn, then we might be right. No man alone can fully understand God. This brings to mind the words of Paul when he talks about how the church of God is like a body that has different parts. We need each other on several levels, but one way is that we can’t know everything and we need each other to bring more understanding to the table to fully understand God together as a process.

Why MUST hell be eternal? (Part 1)

Bible verse used in the podcast

  • Hebrews 5:11-6:3
  • Daniel 12:1-2
  • Isaiah 66:24
  • Isaiah 38:18
  • Proverbs 27:20
  • Psalms 9:5-7
  • Psalms 81:14-15
  • Psalm 92:5-8
  • Revelation 19:20
  • Revelation 20:10-15
  • Revelation 21:6-8
  • Isaiah 66:22-24
  • Revelation 14:9-11

Is this topic complicated?

When talking about whether or not hell is eternal, many people see this as a topic that has no clear answer. Over the years many different scholars have written different books to try and explain one side of this issue or another. I have often talked to people who have been in ministry for years who after reading several books, are afraid to even come close to touching this topic in any bible study. The question is, does it really take scholarly research and hours of studying commentaries to understand this topic?

The short answer is no, if you just plainly read the bible you will find it’s straight forward. In fact, this topic is actually a foundational topic in Christianity. A while ago I talked about several lists of things that the bible considers foundational. When you get to Hebrews chapter 6 you find it listed as foundational. But, the conversation on this foundational topic does not start in chapter 6. Instead, the tone of the list changes greatly when you go back to chapter 5 and read into chapter 6. 

5:11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 5:11-6:3 ESV

Once you step back and look at the context of this list, it makes a lot of the arguments and mountains of books on this topic seem rather silly. For many reading outside of the academic world, you might think why would people fuss around with something that is “elementary.” It turns out, it is not because the bible says that has a problem, it is what that means if it is true. 

There are 3 major views on this topic. Of course, like many things, there are many variations of these views and different degrees to which people believe them. 

  • Universality: everyone will eventually go to heaven
  • Annihilationism: After the great judgment, everyone who is in or goes to hell, will stop existing in the new creation
  •  Traditional view: This is can be considered what most people consider the normal idea of what hell is like.

Overall there are two major issues that are addressed by each of these views:

  1. Will hell last forever? 
  2. will everyone go to heaven?

Will you feel hell?

I previously talked about this topic. But in the context of these different views, there is a question of how long will you feel the “punishment” of hell. In the traditional view, hell is seen as a place of torment and torture forever. Once one comes across this idea, naturally the question is to then ask the ethics of this view, and because of that, some challenge the traditional view in different ways. 

The reason I bring this up is that, if you are in hell, will you feel it the whole time you are there? This might seem rather simple, but in the case of Annihilationism, you often have some type of answer to this long the lines of, you will not feel anything because you will cease to exist. From here there is the question of, will you feel anything the whole duration of being in hell? that is as long as hell exists do you feel something? 

24 And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.

Isaiah 66:24 ESV

18 For Sheol does not thank you; death does not praise you; those who go down to the pit do not hope for your faithfulness.

Isaiah 38:18 ESV

1 At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Daniel 12:1-2 ESV

Of course, there are many other bible verses that talk about the torment of hell lasting forever. When you bring even more bible verse in it becomes clear that as long as hell exists, those in hell will feel something. But in these verses, there is something else. Notice that it talk about them feeling a lack of hope, feeling shame, contempt, and so on. People in hell do feel something; it is not just physical. In order to feel something, you have to exist and this does invoke some level of consciousness. The only question left is, how long does this last?

Will hell exist in the new creation?

Often we have a different perception of things simply because we have been trained to think a specific way for many years. Asking a question like this would be an easy way to get someone kick out of a church if you don’t approach it with a correct frame of reference. If hell lasts forever, then where is it if God recreates heaven and the earth? Couldn’t begin to answer that question, but we do find some strange details:

5 You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever. 6 The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins; their cities you rooted out; the very memory of them has perished.

Psalm 9:5-6 ESV

14 I would soon subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes. 15 Those who hate the LORD would cringe toward him, and their fate would last forever.

Psalm 81:14-15 ESV

5 How great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep! 6 The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this: 7 that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever; 8 but you, O LORD, are on high forever.

Psalm 92:5-8 ESV

When looking at these passges, the word used for forever in each of these passages is עוֹלָם H5769 – `owlam: always, forever, continually. The the question then rises, if hell is tempruary, isn’t that a contradiction? How can something be continuase and last forever and then when the new creation starts it no long exist. Some might try to conjure arguments that time has a relationship with space and use some modern physics to say that, that time ends and there is a new time now. If that sounds complicated don’t worry we have more Bible verses to help us. 

One thing we can do is track different places we see hell when it comes close to the new creation. Once you do that this whole question instantly goes away. Of course, there is the question of what is hell really which I talk about before. We can make the assumption that the lake of fire is the final judgment and the “final hell.”

20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.

Revelation 19:20 ESV

10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.

Revelation 20:10-11 ESV

From here we find this judgment of hell last until the great white throne judgment. Now a lot of people would just assume that is the end. But if you stop to think about it for a moment, there is a problem. If this is the end, how can then be tormented night and day forever if there is no more time? This is literally the last moment of this earth. After this is a “new time” and a new creation. If you keep reading you find something even more disturbing:

6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Revelation 21:6-8 ESV

Here we find the new heavens and the new earth are created and Jesus (who is the alpha and omega) even says it is over. Yet right after that, after the new creation, we find that the second death is still around. Of course, this is not the only place we find this. In the old testament we also find a graphic image as to why it is still around:

22 “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain. 23 From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD. 24 “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

Isaiah 66:22-24 ESV

Here we find that in the new heaven and new earth, again there is still this image of hell persisting and it serves as a reminder. 

Side note

Just to clarify something, the second death is supposed to be away from the presence of God. I talked about before how some bible verse talks about God’s presence being in “hell.” But when we get to the second death, there is a final removal of hell, all together. Context can be important as we find some verse that talks about those in hell being punished in the presence of God. the important thing to remember is when this happens. For instance, in revelation, this is happening before the final judgment and the new creation.

9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

Revelation 14:9-11 ESV

5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering– 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

2 Thessalonians 1:5-9 ESV

How big is the Bible part 2

Bible verse used in podcast:

  • Isaiah 28:9-10
  • Hebrews 5:12-14, 1 corinthians 3:1-3
  • 1 john 2:12-14
  • Ephesians 4:11-16

Interesting resources

Dissecting Truth

Previously I mentioned this idea that you can take a list of rules or axioms and construct a logical system out of it. When you do this, you can see what happens as a result. Often when you have Truth, it can’t be completely explained in a single rule, you need multiple parts to really explain how it works. For instance, on my podcast, I brought up the question (or family of questions), If God is a loving God why is there evil in the world? In order to do this, I built up several axioms (bits of truth) and then explored what happens with this. The idea is to revisit it looking at this perspective of having a logical system. When I did so I used these axioms (some more explicitly than others):

  1. Freewill gives rise to love
  2. God’s nature is perfect love
  3. We are made in God’s image
  4. God gave man authority
  5. Evil exists regardless of our choices
  6. Consequences happen regardless of choices (or human interaction)
  7. God can’t violate his own nature (contradict himself)

I won’t try to prove all of these because either I have talked about these in a previous podcast, or I will plan to touch if not directly address these in future podcasts. But I will make a few comments on some of these. The issue of free will is something I plan on going over in its own right. I talked before how it relates to love, but the existence of free will independent of love will come later. However, often people have this Arminian and Calvinistic debate about whether or not we have free will from a biblical perspective (among other things), is not relevant. I plan on talking about why these views are inconsistent with the bible as presented, but unless you completely reject the notion of free will altogether, the rest that follows is unaffected. 

Evil exists regardless of our choices comes out of the stuff I talked about before where defining good inherently creates evil. From that, evil doesn’t necessarily depend on our actions to exist (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil). You can show in the bible that consequences happen outside of interaction in a few places. God created everything at near the end of Genesis 1. If it is chronological to any degree, then man might have been one of the last things God created. Even if he wasn’t last, it isn’t reasonable to argue that man existed at least before the earth was formed, even if there are no plants or light and so on. You can also look at Job as an example. He is going about his life while God and Satan are doing things in the background. In one sense, all the bad things don’t happen because he did something to cause it, instead, they happen because of a “contest” God has with Satan. Job doesn’t have any say in what happens. Of course, you can also think of how Jesus died for your sins while you were a sin in our modern-day far removed from what happened. You can’t influence that event. God gave man authority in Genesis 1 when he gave man dominion over the earth and many passages focus on the concept of stewardship. 

Building Truth

From those 7 axioms, we can see what consequences arise with regard to the nature of evil. Of course the question of if God is a loving God, why is there evil? It is just an umbrella of several other questions that are related to it.

  1. Why can we do evil?
    • [5] even if people didn’t exist evil could still exist
    • [1] we have the ability to choose
    • [6] some things aren’t inherently evil but the way they are used can lead to evil things happening
  2. Why doesn’t God stop us from doing evil?
    • [3] If we are made in his image, we have the capacity to love
    • [1] if we can love, we can make our own choice
    • [2] If God directly stops us, he takes away our ability to love
    • [7] If God stops us from doing evil, we no longer have his image
    • (side note) God needs to influence us in such a way that does not directly take away our ability to love but still directs us
  3. Why have free will if it lets us do evil?
    • [1] if we can’t make choices, we can’t love
    • [2] even if we didn’t choose, God clearly has the ability to choose what he does, if he is perfect, then free will doesn’t mean all being that exists will ultimately do evil (even given enough time)
  4. Why do we have temptation?
    • [1] if we don’t have moments when we can do evil, we can’t express/choice love
    • [5] [6] in some cases we can do things that are bad to ourselves but we can choose not to do them. (gambling, addition, food choices…)
  5. Why do bad things happen to good people?
    • This is looking more at pain and suffering not by other people
    • [6] if you cut yourself your body feels pain
    • This is good because it helps keep you safe, in some cases having pain keeps you from doing bad things because it trains you to avoid things that will hurt you
    • Often we don’t see the bigger picture of what is happening beyond our suffering

Of course, you can keep doing and explore these questions even further. The axioms presented probably aren’t everything you need to explain the mystery of evil, but it helps provide a system of knowledge we can use to apply to different situations. But based on the axioms we use, we can see what conclusions we can draw.

We can expand what we know in two interesting ways. The first way is by asking questions (like above) and see how the axioms we have related to them. The second way is by finding more axioms and adding them to our list. When you do this, you can look at the axioms and see what happens when you combine them together (I plan on talking about this a bit more another time). But this is a powerful way to learn and expand what you know.

When you are a child, you understand the world differently than as an adult. Each day you learn more and more, whether it is something new or something you saw a hundred times before. There are always different techniques and different tools you can use to examine a situation differently. The Bible is the same way. Often when you have your first pass through a verse, you will miss out on things that you would pick up on your second, third, and so on. In fact, the bible anticipates that this will happen. 

9 “To whom will he teach knowledge, and to whom will he explain the message? Those who are weaned from the milk, those taken from the breast? 10 For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.”

Isaiah 28:9-10 ESV

12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Hebrews 5:12-14 ESV

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV

Often there are different levels of maturity as one reads the bible and grows in Christianity. 

1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,

1 Corinthians 3:1-2 ESV

12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

1 John 2:12-14 ESV

Is there only one Truth?

One reflection from this is important. Often Truth is not just a single answer. Often you need multiple answers as I mentioned before. There is always that issue of having different interpretations of passage during bible study. Unless they contradict, which can be hard to tell apart from a paradox, often different views can be true. One example of this is, why did the Pharisees reject Jesus? There are several reasons for doing so.

One reason is that he put himself as an authority above what they understood. They looked to Moses and the Torah (the first five books of the bible) as their source of authority and Jesus put himself above that authority several times.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

Matthew 5:43 ESV

Another reason is that Jesus didn’t follow their traditions. They add traditions that were passed down and Jesus saw the greater picture rather than the narrowness of just the tradition.

21 Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. 22 Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23 If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? 24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

John 7:21-24 ESV

The Pharisees also saw Jesus as a threat. They had a social status and an image that their profession was the idea of being a holy person. Jesus often confronted them showing that although they were teachers and leaders, there was a greater standard that God had. For many of them, this put into challenge their pride and image.

5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven….

6:5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

Matthew 5:20, 6:5 ESV

There might even be more reason for why they rejected Jesus. If someone came along and argued they knew the reason,  you can’t argue that that is the only reason. Each of these reasons might all be true and correct at the same time. It’s like wanting to go to the mall with your friends. You go because you want to buy something, because you want to have fun, you want to be around friends, or maybe you just want to get out of the house. Not all of them are wrong and you can have all these as intentions. One might be a bigger factor than others, but that doesn’t mean the others are wrong.

How big is the Bible part 1

Bible verse used in podcast:

  • John 1:1-3
  • Isaiah 45:7
  • Genesis 2:8-9
  • Romans 5:12

Interesting resources

Law of Noncontradiction 

Is Truth a single sentence?

Often, when reading different Bible passages, they can have multiple layers of meaning. They have a literal meaning, spiritual meaning, historical, prophetic, and so on. It isn’t uncommon for a passage to have multiple meanings like Hosea 11:1. It isn’t always easy to tell when it does or doesn’t because we don’t have other Bible verses pointing to it saying, ‘this verse has these applications.’ But regardless, you can always find nuances on the same text in different contexts. But does that mean there are multiple parts to Truth?

Imagine having a pen on a table. I ask one simple question, where is the pen on the table? To answer this you might go get a ruler and put in on one edge of the table and measure how far from the edge that pen is. You come back and give an answer to where the pen is on the table to the best of your ability. Then I ask another question, does that truly reflect where the pen is on the table? To some extent, yes, but at the same time, no. If I keep that ruler on one edge of the table and slide it back and forth, you can get the same answer multiple times using only one direction. 

To solve this problem, it makes sense to then grab 2 rulers. One to check the length and one for the width. That way you can get a more clear picture of where the pen is on the table. Instead of giving one number as in “8 inches,” you can give a more precise answer, “8 inches from the left, 5 inches into the table.” This helps you capture more accurately the reality of where the pen is on the table. But now I have another question, is the pen actually on the table?

Simple observing, it should be. But the pen is not flat. It comes up from the table a bit. So if you grab another ruler, you can then go around the pen and have even more precision on explaining exactly where it is on the table. Not only that, but you could also even start tracking the pen on paper and give profiles from different points of view. Having more rulers gives you more power to describe the pen more accurately. Of course, if you want to get a more clear understanding of the pen you will need a lot more. When was the pen there? You can’t use a ruler to answer that, now your tool changes. What color is the pen? What material is the pen made out of? Is the pen the same color or material through the whole thing? It seems we can always ask more and more questions about this pen to understand it better.

Taking a step back, when looking at Truth, we expect that things are either true or false. This means there is something or the opposite of that something. You can not have that thing and the opposite of it at the same time. A person can not be both in the room and out of the room at the same time. Unless they are standing in the doorway but then you need to define what it means to be “inside of the room”. If someone goes on video chat with someone in the room, some may consider this to be in the room but to others, maybe not. Once you start making definitions and defining rules, you start getting situations of either is or is not, true or false. 

The Law of Contradiction

Often this is called the law of noncontradiction. Something can’t be true and false at the same time. If it is, then it is a contradiction and logical problems start happening from it. Interestingly enough you can find this topic pop up in the bible. For instance, did God create everything? If you say yes, does that mean truly, EVERYTHING? What about sin? Did God create sin? Of course, this is just a review of some of the things I talk about in “if God is a love, God….”

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

John 1:1-3 ESV

At the very least, if something was created, or if it has a beginning, then God created it. So does sin have a beginning? Of course, one can go to Romans 5:12 and bring up the verse about how death and sin enter the world through one man; Or you can go to Genesis 3. But we want to do something better than that. We don’t  want to get indirect evidence that God created these things, we want direct evidence: 

7 I form light and 7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

Isaiah 45:7 KJV

As a side note, the word for evil is H7451 – רַע ra`, it appears 663 times in the text and is translated evil 442 in the KJV. It is normally translated as follows:

Evil – KJV, DBY, YLT, NHV,  WED, DSV

Calamity – NKJV, ESV, NASB, NET

Disaster- NIV, CSB

Bad – NLT

Woe – RSV

It doesn’t matter which translation you want to pick. In the LXX you can find G2556 -κακός kakos which is something bad in nature, evil, harmful, and so on. But the problem is, Why would God create something that is not good?.

God himself says that he created evil. But you remember back in Genesis, God looked at all of his creations and called it good (Gen 1:31). Of course, sin did not enter the world at this time. Instead, the concept of sin existed at that time, even if it didn’t physically exist at the time. We know it had to because the tree of good and evil was planted by God:

8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:8-9 ESV

Multiple parts to Truth

How can this be? This is where all those jumbled pieces start coming together. Fundamentally you can break everything down into true or false; is or is not. When you do this, once you create a rule, the opposite of that rule is created as a consequence. So if God defines good, bad (or evil) also exist. If I have a car that works then, by comparison, there exists some way that there is a car that doesn’t work. If something is living, then there is a state in which it is dead. Creating one automatically creates the other. 

But what happens when you have more than one rule or condition? For some simplistic reason for later, we will call this an axiom, the most simple basic rule we can use to build up things we know to be true. When you have multiple of these rules or axioms, more interesting things happen. This is like getting back to the pen on the table. You can use the ruler to ask a simple yes or no question (or set of questions). Is the pen 1 inch from the edge, 2 inches, 3 inches, and so on? Once you get another rule you can ask the same question, but you can get more clarity of the pen. What happens is, once we get more axioms, we can make more and more conclusions about what we know. This ends up making a system of knowledge that we can use to explore what is true. Just like how using pens can help us describe the pens better, the more we get basic units of truth about God, this can help us understand the greater picture of God. 

Of course, as some closing comments, there are some things we would expect from this system of knowledge we just came up with. We would expect that using what we know, we can’t use our knowledge to come to a contradiction. Like God created evil. This is fine because evil is defined by good. God created everything in the universe with the intention of it being good. But just as it has the potential to be good, it has the potential to be evil. In general, if we get a contradiction then there are probably 3 things that happened. We used the axioms wrong. God can create everything and he is all perfect and all love, but that doesn’t mean he can’t create evil in a meaningful way. If not, then maybe the axioms we have are wrong. Another situation could be that maybe we are missing something in our understanding, like understanding the opposite of good is evil by definition. Going even further, we would want this system to be able to explain everything relevant to what the system is trying to explain. For instance, we would like to read the Bible and find all the answers we need to understand God, morality, and what is true about our humanity. And of course, we want this system to explain as much as possible. We can only use rulers to talk about positions in the standards of the pen. The more rulers we have, the more we can talk about this in greater detail. But there comes a point where rulers aren’t enough. If I ask when the pen was there, no rulers are useless. We would want our system of knowledge to explain as much as possible with the limitations it has. 

The Bible has multiple meaning (Part 4)

Bible verse used in podcast:

  • Revelation 2:8-11
  • Matthew 22
  • James 1:12

Interesting resources

How many layers?

When looking at the Bible there are often multiple things that a single passage could be talking about. One example of this (or several) is Revelation 2-3. Here you find Jesus is speaking as John is recording letters for seven different churches in the area. In these several letters, there are several layers of meaning.

  1. The Structure of the letter
  2. Real issues
  3. Application to churches
  4. Personal Application
  5. Theological issues
  6. Prophetic application

If you worried that I stopped at 6 layers of meaning, you could organize this differently to get 5 or look deeper to find more if you really wanted to. These are just a handful to focus on. In this, we will only focus on the letter to Smyrna simple for time’s sake. All letters could not be summed up in this length of discussion but Dr. Chuck Misslers commentary on Revelation goes into great detail on these letters and is a great resource for this.

[8] “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. [9] “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. [10] Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. [11] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’ – Rev 2:8-11 ESV

The Structure of the letters

As an overview, if you look at all the letters, you will find that there is an interesting structure that they all follow. Each has the following:

  1. Name of the church
  2. Title of Jesus
  3. Compliments
  4. Criticism
  5. Comments
  6. Promise to overcomer
  7. Ending Phrase

All letters have all of these except some that don’t have either compliments or criticism. But all elements of the letters reflect the church and things that are going on in the church.

In the case of Smyrna (Σμύρνα G4667 – smyrna), it comes from a root word myrrh, which was often used in during burial at the time. The whole letter happens to center around persecution and death. The title used of Jesus is “ the first and the last, who died and came to life” which speaks to the idea that Jesus is in control of death and we have nothing to fear for persecution. Jesus mentions some good things about them “I know your tribulation and your poverty” in their time of persecution they were doing good things regardless of those who were accusing them. They don’t have any criticism which could be missed unless compared to the rest of the churches. This is important because Jesus isn’t telling them to fix anything in their persecution. Maybe there could be things the church could work on as individuals, but they are already enduring hard times and all they need to do is be faithful. There are general commands about: “ the devil is about to throw some of you into prison” and “for ten days you will have tribulation.” there is a promise to overcome which in this letter comes in two parts, they will be given a crown of life, the second being that they will not taste the second death. Both of which are reassuring to hear during times of persecution. Finally, there is this phrase that all the churches have, “he who has an ear.”

Real People, Real Problems

These are real people who are living in a real place during a real-time in history. The letter is addressing the persecution they are having. At the time there is an issue with the Jewish community as Christianity is emerging. You can find this all throughout the book of Acts as tensions between the Jewish community come as some convert to Christianity and some gentiles are being included in the Christian conversion. But on another level, there is an issue with Rome. They were expected to pay tribute to Rome, but for some of the Christians, this took a deeper meaning. Paying the tribute would have meant that they are recognizing Caesar’s power as their first authority and everything else first. Not complying meant that they had serious trouble on their hands. They could have avoided issues if they simply paid tributes.

Personal Application

Of course, following directly from the real problems of the day, the issue of persecution comes in. What should we do when situations get hard in our lives. How serious should we take our convictions? When you think back to the Book of Daniel, he felt so strongly that he shouldn’t eat the meat of the king, that his diet was an issue. Of course in Smyrna, all they had to do was pay tribute and all was easy (or easier). Jesus speaks of himself and talks about perseverance and how Jesus alone is the only authority who truly matters. Why? Because Jesus conquered death. The fear of imprisonment shouldn’t scare you and the threat of death shouldn’t cause you to turn. Even something as simple as a symbolic act was taken seriously to the people of the day. 

Church Applications

There are several questions that come up. One thing is this phrase, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” This is important for several reasons (which we will come back to). One is that all the churches were expected to get a copy of the letter so they could learn from it. But the important thing is it’s not just those churches learn from their own letter, but the letters from others. On some level, all churches, even today, have elements of all seven letters. In the case of Smyrna, some questions are raised, How serious should the church take cultural norms? How serious should the church promise and uphold their convictions as a body? Is having problems in the church a bad thing? 

Theology and Prophecy

In the area of Theology, several things come up. For instance, what does the phrase “who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” mean? What about this crown of life? Is it the same thing as James 1:12 or other passages?

In the realm of Prophecy, some scholars have noticed some characteristics of the letters. It appears that when you take the church in the order that they are presented they lay out the history of the church in advance. This could be a study in itself but just as a highlight:

  • Ephesus – Strict on Doctrine Early church
  • Smyrna – Persecution Persecuted church
  • Pergamum – “worldly marriage” Church during Rome acceptance
  • Thyatira – Jezebel Medieval church
  • Sardis – Name but issues Reformation
  • Philadelphia – Overall good Missionary age
  • Laodicea – Overall bad Modern times

Just to hit a few highlights when looking at the details from the letters. Smyrna mentioned that there are ten days of persecution. Historically there happen to be ten emperors who explicitly adopted anti-christian rulership. After them you have Constintain (being a large factor) helping Christian tolerance and bringing in pagan practices some of which are still debated today. Thyatira mentions Jezebel who used her power to get land from the people using religious claims but lived an ungodly life. After the medieval church area, many reforms happened with different denominations forming trying to break off from the church. But it was still a time of religious conflict and debate about what we should be united over (which we still argue about).  

Of course, each of these letters has its own layers of meaning. When you put them together you get even more meaning whether it be through a timeline or through seeing how Jesus addresses the church and their situations compared to others. Often we need to keep an open mind knowing that a single passage can have multiple layers of meaning even with different interpretations that could all be correct. 

The Bible has Multiple Meaning (Part 3)

Bible verse used in podcast:

  • Genesis 15:18-21, Genesis 17:3-14, Genesis 22, Hebrews 11:17-19
  • Matthew 2:15, Hosea 11:1-2
  • Revelation 3:20
  • Matthew 26:39
  • Romans 15:4
  • Numbers 20:12
  • 1 Corinthians 14:32
  • Colossians 3:23-24

What are we allowed to interpret? 

After looking at literal versus figurative interpretation, other questions start popping up. For instance, does the whole Bible apply to our lives? Does a figurative interpretation need to have only one meaning? How are we supposed to go about interpreting different passages?

It helps to look in the Bible and see how different situations in the Bible deal with these issues. It might seem crazy to do so, but it turns out it happens all the time. Look at Abraham’s promise for example. When you track down different passages about Abraham’s covenant with God, it is clear that his promise is supposed to be fulfilled through his son Isaac.

1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – 1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Genesis 12:1-3 ES

18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”

Genesis 15:18-21 ESV

3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. … 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” 9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.

Genesis 17:3-5, 8-10 ESV

From here it is clear that God’s promises are going to be extended to his children. But there is a problem. The promises were supposed to go through Isaac. When looking at this, we then find that God later tells Abraham to offer Isaac as an offering.

2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

Genesis 22:2 ESV

Of course, we could take some detours and talk about everything that is happening. But instead, we find that we get more insight into this situation later in the Bible. 

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

Hebrews 11:17-19 ESV

We do not get this from the story of Abraham in the old testament. Somehow Abraham has the idea that Isaac could be raised from the dead if he died, why? Because God gave a promise and God needs to fulfill this promise. If something happens to Isaac, God is responsible not Abraham. If Abraham follows through with the offering, obvious Isaac could die. Abraham was not explicitly told that God would raise him up from the dead, but Abraham looked at the promise that God gave him and understood that this was a possibility. The promise was a physical promise and yet he was able to derive more meaning about what was going on in a different situation because of this promise. 

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Matthew 2:13-15 ESV

When looking at this passage, we find that Mary and Joseph took Jesus down to Egypt. But Matthew is linking it to a prophecy from the old testament. There doesn’t seem to be any name attached to it so naturally many scholars try to find where this comes from. 

1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2 The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.

Hosea 11:1-2 ESV

You find it in Hosea which seems to match the context. It seems rather problematic though. The context of the passage is talking about Israel and if you follow the rest of the passage, it seems to reinforce that. How could this be the same thing? There are at least two things you could say to this. One thing is to broaden our perspective on prophecy. We tend to think of prophecy as prediction and fulfillment, but there is another way to look at it. Prophecy can also be a pattern. Just like how Israel went into Egypt so did Jesus. But you can take this a step further. 

16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

Galatians 3:16 ESV

Here Paul is saying that the promises are directly looking at Jesus. From this picture, we can look at the person of Jesus being carried through Israel as they go down into Egypt. 

Do all interpretations apply to us?

There tends to be a problem when trying to apply the Bible to our lives. For instance, can anything apply to our lives? After Abraham sacrificed Isaac, There is a servant that goes and finds him a bride. They don’t meet before the wedding plans are already made. Does that mean all of us should have arranged marriages? On the other hand what about if we look at things that happen in the Bible and try to apply them to our lives like this idea of patterns? Should we take the same pattern that happens in Hosea 1 and apply it to our lives?

Of course, there is a reason why God had the events of the Bible happen the way they do. Every person is different and God has different plans for everyone. But that does not mean that all because he does it one way, he will do it that way all the time. For those situations, there are reasons why he did it that way. But what about for the rest of us? If God is telling us to do something there is a reason behind it and often (if it isn’t clear in the situation) you can see how it fits in with other things God does and how they comply with scripture. To give an example I knew someone who was a pastor; he was married to some kids. A younger woman in the church and he felt that God was using the story of Hosea to speak to him about how he should divorce his wife and go with this younger woman. This brings up many many questions and red flags but of course, that is one extreme. 

What about other situations like how we interpret the Bible in different ways. Often we try to take scripture and apply it to help people understand a concept. Let’s take this passage for example.

20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Revelation 3:20 ESV

Often people use this as an invitation when evangelizing, telling people that Jesus is waiting for them to open their hearts and receive him; Which is true. But when you look at the context this should worry some. We often look at this as a nice invitation but that is not the reflection you get if you read this in context. John is writing down several letters to every church as Jesus is giving them a report of good things and bad things they are doing. We get to the church of Laodicea and they are doing everything wrong to where Jesus is talking about spitting some people out for being lukewarm. The fact that he is talking to a church of believers, who are in the body and yet Jesus is outside of the church altogether.

It is as if it was an act of desperation trying to get people’s attention to invite him in because they haven’t been considering him. But does that mean we can’t use this for evangelism? The concept is the same but the target audience and tone at which it is being presented is not. You could find other passages that also talk about non-believers accepting Jesus with proper context. But does it matter? Often we get this issue not being able to separate the difference between the concept of the message and the theology of the message. If you didn’t know about the context mentioned, did you do something wrong? This deserves a whole discussion on itself but often story and analogies help us understand and experience situations and ideas. Whether or not it is okay to take a story out of context for demonstration purposes is another story.

Regardless of the issue of context, the scripture is still supposed to be used so we can apply it to our lives to some degree.

4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Romans 15:4 ESV

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV

Is our interpretation always right?

This would be obvious to many but it can be easily forgotten while in a situation. If we think we learned something from God and we think it is something we want to share with people, that still does not mean we are always right. This might be counter-intuitive but it is an important point to make.

31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints,

1 Corinthians 14:31-33 ESV

When you reflect on this, there is a problem; that problem is us. Even if we get a message from God, we still have the responsibility to deliver it. This is an important lesson to learn. 

7 and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” 9 And Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he commanded him. 10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”

Numbers 20:7-12 ESV

Here we find Mose who directly heard from the Lord. There is no question about that. Yet God gives him some instructions. We think, what God wanted was too simple to give the people water to drink and perform a miracle the people would remember. Yet there were more important things that God wanted out of this. For one Moses was supposed to speak to the rock not strike the rock. Not only that he went out of his way to call the people rebels. This leaves the people with an impression of who God is angry with the people. More could be said here but you find that even though Moses delivered a message and the end result appeared to be what God wanted, it was still not correct. The reason is that the message was not delivered correctly even though the person delivering it heard straight from God.

Often we need to separate a few things when looking at interpretation. There are the theological parts and then there are the application parts. They are not exactly the same thing in every situation. When looking at the passage in Revelation where Jesus is knocking at the door; the theological part is how the church could operate without involving God (which is bad). But the application (which you can find as theological for claims elsewhere) is about how we should act in response to learn about this. In the situation of Moses, a person can be given a message from God and yet still not deliver it right. The application then is to take care of how you deliver the message. One can think of theology as the facts and statements that we know to be true and the application of how these should change our lives. 

We should always try to do our best to understand what God is saying to us. But we should always remember that we need to take care of what he has given us and make sure we understand and deliver it right. This shouldn’t stop us or give us any fear. We should be doing everything to the best of our abilities because at the end of the day, we will be in front of God and it would be best to do with what you understand. 

23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

Colossians 3:23-25 ESV

The Bible has Multiple Meaning (Part 2)

Bible verse used in podcast:

  • Hosea 12:9-10, John 10:1-6, John 16:25
  • Matthew 5:19
  • James 2:10, Matthew 5:26, Romans 6:23
  • Ezekiel 28
  • Danial 2

Is the Bible figurative?

When jumping into this debate, people often overestimate figurative vs literal interpretation. Last time I focused on a literal interpretation, but this time let’s focus on figurative interpretation. There comes a problem when you only use literal interpretation; the Bible says it includes figurative language.

9 And I that am the LORD thy God from the land of Egypt will yet make thee to dwell in tabernacles, as in the days of the solemn feast. 10 I have also spoken by the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the ministry of the prophets.

Hosea 12:9-10 KJV

At first, it seems straight forward, many people would think that dreams have symbolic means about our lives. But what about this word similitude? It comes from דָּמָה H1819 – damah; to be like, resemble. Some translations use the words parable, symbols, or similes when translating this passage in different ways. The idea does not change. The whole point is that the prophets use some type of figurative language. At the very least you would expect figurative language would be limited to the prophets (because it says sp to a degree). For many who have read through the prophets, this seems straight forward. But it turns out that is not enough.

1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

John 10:1-6 ESV

25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.

John 16:25 ESV

Here we see Jesus is directly using figurative speak and it is directly acknowledged as so. But this should worry some for a literal interpretation. The reason is we expect that what Jesus is saying are important truths for our lives. But we can see here he is using them in a way so that people don’t understand what he is saying. This could get into a deeper conversation, but the single point that figurative language thought the bible holds important meaning. But not only does it hold abstract theological meaning, but it also turns out even figurative meaning in the Bible holds real “physical” meaning about the world we experience.

Physical symbolism

One example is when you get to Ezekiel 28, the chapter starts off talking about the prince of Tyre. It is clear that the prince is not doing good and God is making statements against him. But as you keep reading something happens. God then turns his attention to the king of Tyre:

11 Moreover, the word11 Moreover, the word of the LORD came to me: 12 “Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord GOD: “You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared.

Ezekiel 28:11-13 ESV

At this point, there is a problem, the king of Tyre could not have been in the garden of Eden. if this king was a human, he would have to be thousands of years old. Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden in Genesis 3 so no humans except for Adam and Eve have been in the garden. This excludes all other possibilities and leaves us with the concept that this must be Satan (among other reasons). Clearly the symbolic meaning has a lot of implications on a person that we would want to know a lot about. But this “symbolic-ness” gives even more insight, the king of Tyre is not human but the prince is. In a symbolic way, it is looking at the chain of command. The one really in charge is Satan, so who is the prince? One implication could be that the prince is the human king we would think of and the king (the one who is really in charge) is Satan working as a power behind the human king. From here you head to Matthew 4 and think about the temptations of Jesus. Remember that Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus didn’t challenge Satan’s claim. Jesus does not give any indication that it is not Satan’s to give. Satan seems to have the real power behind the kingdoms of the world. 

Here is another example of this. When you get to Daniel chapter 2, King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream and wants the interpretation of the dream (I copied over the bits that are important for the overall context, hence why it is a lot):

3 And the king said to them, “I had a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream.” 4 Then the Chaldeans said to the king in Aramaic, “O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation.” 5 The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, “The word from me is firm: if you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins. 6 But if you show the dream and its interpretation, you shall receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. Therefore show me the dream and its interpretation.” 7 They answered a second time and said, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will show its interpretation.” 8 The king answered and said, “I know with certainty that you are trying to gain time, because you see that the word from me is firm– 9 if you do not make the dream known to me, there is but one sentence for you. You have agreed to speak lying and corrupt words before me till the times change. Therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can show me its interpretation.” 10 The Chaldeans answered the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. 11 The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” … 27 Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, … 31 “You saw, O king, and behold, a great image. This image, mighty and of exceeding brightness, stood before you, and its appearance was frightening. 32 The head of this image was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, … 36 “This was the dream. Now we will tell the king its interpretation. 37 You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, 38 and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all–you are the head of gold. 39 Another kingdom inferior to you shall arise after you, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth.

Daniel 2:3-11, 27, 31-32, 36-39 ESV

When looking at this, Nebuchadnezzar’s demands are extremely clever and well thought out. If he tells the people his dream, anyone can make up an interpretation. But if they could tell him the dream and interpret it, that shows real power. Only he knows what he dreamed. Now here is Daniel getting the dream that no one knows. Clearly Daniel must have some special ability so Nebuchadnezzar has a reason to listen. But when looking at the dream, it is all symbolic, a status with different types of metals. Clearly it is all symbolic, but yet when Daniel turns to give the interpretation, it is talking about real events, real kingdoms, and real people. Daniel directly states that the head of Gold is Nebuchadnezzar himself. He even explains how this is not just him but his kingdom and soon others will come after him and other kingdoms. This is a classic study that comes out of this where you can find the major nations that rule over the middle east from Nebuchadnezzar until the Roman period, which you could set out on a journey to look for. But to the point, the symbolic dream has physical interpretation in our real world. 

Beyond context

There are times when the passage is obviously literal and obviously figurative. Not all passages are as straight forward. Often you need to look at the context of the passage to help understand which to use. But often, context is not just part of it. Sometimes you need to get deeper into the way someone is thinking about their words, not the way you interpret them. Sometimes people read for context and not realize that the way the writers are speaking is not the same way they understand it. For instances lets take this passage:

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

Matthew 5:27-30 ESV

Now it is pretty clear that Jesus’ words here are pretty harsh. If you read this literally, you run into a problem. Jesus is saying to destroy your body every time you sin. Not clearly that will run into problems. I spoke with someone on this issue, and they took a literal approach to the Bible in general. We were talking about how serious sin is when I came to this passage. When you look at how serious sin is, if you were to really cut off a body part to prevent you from sinning, it wouldn’t be hard to have to quickly need to cut off everything. When talking to this person he mentioned how your hand doesn’t cause you to lust so you wouldn’t need to cut it out. I then replied saying that list happens in the heart according to Jesus and if you follow his logic, if something causes you to sin, you need to cut it out. Now can you cut out your heart because that is where the lust happens? If you did you would be dead. The issue goes past just looking at a person, the issue is the intentions that come from the heart. To easily clear this up Jesus is using a hyperbole which is an extreme statement to express something. What is being expressed here is the reality of sin and how serious it’s effect is on our lives. All throughout the Bible, you find that Sin is a big issue. 

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23 ESV

10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.

James 2:10 ESV

25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Matthew 5:25-26 ESV

The whole point that Jesus is making is that sin is more than just the physical actions we do. Sin deals without inward being and the way our hearts are. If we really cared about sin and understand how serious it is, then we should do everything in our power to keep ourselves from sinning. But that is not enough. In this example, cut off the body parts that allow you to sin. But that is still not enough, our own effects can’t stop us completely from sinning because of how far gone we are. That is not even considering what we need to do about the fact that we did sin. Stopping yourself from sinning and paying for those sins are two separate issues. Both only Jesus can’t handle.