Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bible Study Course - Lesson 1, #2

Part Two

In our last post we started discussing a bible study correspondence course where we reviewed the first lesson and our disappointment with what we felt were some of the shortcomings of this particular study. We started out by focusing on referencing; today we want to continue our discussion by taking a look at context.

We once read something, somewhere, and forgive us for not remembering the exact reference, that 20/20 vision was required when reading and studying the Scriptures. This meant that anytime someone used a single verse, all by its lonesome, that the Bible student should review the 20 verses prior to and the 20 verses immediately following the quoted verse to ensure that it is being used in its true context. One should not take into consideration any chapter breaks, headings, punctuation, or other miscellaneous additions, since they are not original to the Scriptures. In other words, if the 20 verses prior to the quoted verse crosses into a different chapter or is the second half of a sentence, keep moving back to the beginning of the "thought".

In fact, we recently learned that the Scriptures were originally penned in an almost nonstop run-on sentence without spacing or punctuation. For all you grammar nuts out there, (hey, we are included in this too), this would have made the insertion of things like commas very important - and depending on the placement of such punctuation - change the entire meaning of sentences. Just to give you an illustration, here is what a 20 verse segment would look like, in English, using Luke 23:24-34 from the King James Version of the Bible.


Now, let us return to the issue of context in the actual lesson. In this first lesson, Hosea 4:6 was quoted as "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” And then the course went on to discuss at length about how we are going to be destroyed because we lack knowledge in God's Word and expectations. But is that what this verse really says? The answer is no, for several reasons. First, the actual verse was only partially quoted. The verse in its entirety reads, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children." We believe that the rest of the verse impacts the first half quoted - the people were destroyed not for lack of knowledge, per se, but rather because they rejected the knowledge. To us, there is a difference in the lack of something and the rejection of something. And there is more.

If one continues to read the rest of the verse, it says, "since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children". So it is not just knowledge that was rejected, but the knowledge of the law of God that was forgotten. Now the context has changed again and become more complicated. Just search out all the articles and videos debating the law of God on the internet today, and you will see what we mean.

Second, if one follows the guideline of 20/20 vision and reads the 20 verses prior to verse 6, we learn that Israel is being compared to a harlot and has rejected her husband in favor of another and has also rejected some very specific and named laws of God, "There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed." (Hosea 4:1b-2) Basically, the first 20 verses prior to this passage discuss what the people have forgotten (i.e. rejected); the 20 verses following continue to discuss how they are falling further and further away from God, eventually coming to a description of how God plans to destroy them.

Third, if one attempts to get at the very literal translation of the verse in question, slight variances in wording can sometimes be discovered, which may or may not further change the interpretation or understanding of the particular verse. In this example, the Greek Septuagint renders the verse as "My people are like as if they had no knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt not minister as priest to me: and as thou has forgotten the law of thy God, I also will forget thy children." In this translation, there is no discussion of the people being destroyed! Rather, it simply states that "My people are like as if they had no knowledge..." So how did destruction ever come into play to begin with? Researching the original Hebrew using an interlinear version of the Bible, one learns that the word translated as "destroyed" is "damah". This word has also been translated as "cut, brought, perish, cease, silence, undone, and destroy". The primitive root of the word is "to be dumb or silent". Google Translate actually translated it literally as "dummy". (Not that we recommend Google Translate - we just use it because sometimes it is interesting what it renders.)

It is our opinion that the bible study lesson that we reviewed took this verse completely out of context. Paragraphs were written discussing the destruction of God's people - a term that we have since discovered is questionable - instead of focusing on the true message of the verse - that God's law was being rejected by the people. And this is just one example. There were many of them throughout the lesson. Some of them we will be discussing in the future since there were additional issues as well.

The point of this post, though, is that context is really important. Doctrines, creeds, traditions, and beliefs have historically been based on verses whose context has been manipulated to serve the goals of a particular denomination, church, or teacher. We know because we attended many such churches in the past. And in that sense, this lesson did portray one truth - believers today are being destroyed for lack of knowledge. We believe it is due to failing to study God's Word as the Bereans did. We also think it is because believers today are silent about their beliefs when they are contrary to the mainstream religions. And of course, there are those that know and yet continue to reject God's Word and His laws.

In conclusion, we believe that it is important to always research a verse, especially if it is used singly to state a specific belief, creed, or doctrine. Context is everything when it comes to understanding the Scriptures as a whole. And it is only through a correct understanding of the Scriptures that we can even begin learning to live God's way.

Blessings be upon you.

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