November 2020

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Jesus and His Bible

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How should we interpret the bible? Should we understand it in its simplest yet sometimes superficial sense or are there ‘deeper’ meanings embedded in its text?

Different denominations, groups, and theologians have different ways of interpreting the bible. Among Pentecostal groups, for instance, Hyper-literal or Allegorical approaches are much in vogue. On the other hand, more traditionally conservative scholars favour a Historical-grammatical Approach.

For those of us who are consistently Jesus-centred, the key to resolving the complexities of correct biblical interpretation lies in answering the question, ‘how did Jesus interpret his bible?’
Jesus’ Bible

Before attempting an answer, I need to comment briefly on what constituted ‘Jesus’ bible’. What we know as the New Testament had not been written when Jesus walked this earth as a man and so the only bible available to him would have been the Old Testament (Law, Prophets, and Writings). More specifically, the most widely used version of these scriptures was a Greek translation produced sometime in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. The Septuagint, what we call that early Greek translation, follows the same order of books as our modern Old Testament.

It is useful to know this because most of Jesus’ Old Testament quotes cited in the Gospels have been transcribed from the Septuagint whereas modern versions of the Old Testament root their translation in early Hebrew documents. As a result, when we compare Gospel quotes to their Old Testament equivalents we sometimes find differences in word choice and order. 

Jesus’ View of Scripture

Jesus’ approach to scripture was consistently one of respect for its inspiration, authority, reliability, and sufficiency.

For instance, in arguing with the Pharisees who accused him of blasphemously equating himself with Jehovah (John 10:35), Jesus reminded them that “the Scripture cannot be broken”. In his ‘Sermon on the Mount’, he stated that “until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). In addition to statements like this, he also validated the historical reliability of the Old Testament by referring to Adam and Eve, Noah, Jonah’s experience, and so on. Moreover, Jesus invariably grounded his interactions with the religious scholars of his day in an understanding of particular scriptural texts.

Jesus also made his relationship with scripture clear. In Matthew 5:17 he stated, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them”. Then having said that, he repeatedly used phrases like, “you have heard that it was said to the people long ago… but I tell you…” (Matthew 5:33-34). In this, he was indicating that he was the authoritative interpreter of the traditional Hebrew verbal teachings. Here Jesus was referring to the work of the renowned Jewish scholars of the past and not the scriptures themselves. However, he also made it clear that his interpretations of the actual scriptures were authoritative. For instance, in his ‘Sermon on the Mount’, Jesus gave the true meaning of the 6th and 7th commandments.

Examples of How Jesus Applied the Scriptures
It is very interesting and informative to consider how the Lord Jesus applied the scriptures in challenging the attitudes of religious people, citing and expanding on texts, and correcting wrong understandings.’

Matthew Chapter Nine records the account of what happened as Jesus was having a meal at the home of Matthew the tax collector. The Pharisees’ asked some of the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” As part of his response, Jesus told them to “go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners”  (Matthew 9:13). The Pharisees question implied that Jesus was revealing himself to be a sinner because he broke bread with sinners – a sinner by association Jesus retorted that a doctor ministered to the sick and not to the healthy, thus letting his critics know why he was with sinners. Then he quoted Hosea 6:6 which was a stern rebuke. The context of the Hosea text was God’s chastisement of the Jews of his day for adhering to the sacrificial ceremonial law while violating the covenant with God and acting without mercy to others.

Jesus often applied scriptures in a way familiar to the scholars of his day but quite strange to those among us who like to take texts simply at their face value without any embellishment or amplification.

For instance, Matthew 13 records Jesus as explaining why he spoke to the people in parables. In verse 13 he says “This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand’.”  This statement is a composite of three separate Old Testament texts – Deuteronomy 29:4, Jeremiah 5:21, and Ezekiel 12:2. He then goes on to quote directly from Isaiah 6:9-10: “In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them’.” (Matthew 13:14-15) The context of the Isaiah passage is God’s call upon the prophet to speak his word to the people even though they would neither understand nor receive it.

The parallel account of this quote in Mark 4:11-12 implies that Jesus was once again the voice of God speaking to the people of Israel and that they too would not understand or receive. So, the idea was that to speak in parables served to veil the truth from those who were not seeking truth and might well be antagonistic to the revealed words of God. However, in the context of Matthew 13, a better understanding of why Jesus spoke in parables is that this form of speech would at least allow the superficial to hear some life lessons whilst hopefully encouraging genuine seekers to probe the deeper meaning behind the simple stories.

A Pause for Reflection

I want to expound upon a passage in Matthew 22  that gives some wonderful insights into Jesus’ method of biblical interpretation, but first, we need to pause and reflect a little on the examples I have already cited.

If we have no knowledge of Hosea 6 and its context then how will we understand the answer Jesus gave to the accusation that he was a sinner eating with other sinners? If we fail to research the full origins of Matthew 13:13 then we might wrongly conclude that Jesus was quoting something that is not in the Old Testament. If we do not appreciate the Old Testament background to why Jesus spoke in parables we might erroneously conclude that his primary purpose was to obscure the truth rather than reveal it.

Matthew 22: 23-33

Here is the example I want to expound on a little. The Sadducees, who did not believe in the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the dead, were trying to trap Jesus. The nature of the trap was that

  1. if Jesus was not able to answer their question then they would have made their point and Jesus would have offended the Pharisees, who did believe in the resurrection of the dead; and
  2. any answer that Jesus was likely to give would no doubt violate one or other of the scriptures regarding marriage.

To set this trap the Sadducees concocted a complex hypothetical based on the Deuteronomy 25:5-6 injunction which says that in the event of a man dying without a male heir then an available relative was to preserve his family line by marrying the widow.

Jesus’ rebuttal of the first ‘piece of cheese’ in the trap was that the Sadducees did not understand the meaning and application of the scripture they were referencing. There was nothing in the Deuteronomy 25:5-6 text that had any bearing on the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead or any afterlife.  This alone was a stinging rebuke because it pointed out that they did not understand the specific scripture and had failed to take into account the texts such as Psalm 16:9-11 and Daniel 12:2 that did teach a resurrection of the dead. He then quoted Exodus 3:6 and explained that the present tense used there indicates that the patriarchs are still alive in the presence of God. He countered the second part of their trap by simply stating that they had no concept of what God was capable of doing and of how he had arranged things in the life hereafter. He told them that angels do not marry and that in the afterlife there is no need for the ordinance of marriage or the act of reproduction.

Exegetical  Principles
Three major exegetical principles of sound biblical interpretation emerge from this passage – Exhaustive Reference, Context, and Christocentricity.

Jesus pointed out that to understand one part of scripture we need to know all of scripture – the Exhaustive Reference principle. He demonstrated the Context principle by correctly identifying the context of Deuteronomy 25:5-6 as applying to an earthly succession of lineage and not the life hereafter. The Christocentric principle is obvious in that the understanding of the issue is squarely based on Jesus’ interpretation and revelation.

Summary

By way of summary and conclusion, here is the Matthew 22 passage written in the first person taken from the book ‘Jesus, In His Own Words’ by R.H.Mounce

That same day some Sadducees (who contend there is no resurrection) came to me with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote that if a married man dies, leaving no children, his brother is to marry the widow to provide him with descendants. Now there was a family with seven sons. The oldest son married a woman but died without children, so the second son married the widow, but he too died childless. Then the third son married her, and so on through all seven sons. They all died without children. Finally, the woman herself died. Now here is the question: Whose wife will she be in the resurrection when all seven sons are raised? After all, each one had been her husband.” I replied, “Your question reveals that you don’t understand the Scriptures or the power of God. In this age men and women marry, but in the age to come, following the resurrection, people will not marry. They will be like the angels in heaven and can never die. They are children of God, children of the resurrection. “And in the passage about the burning bush, Moses implied that the dead do rise. He refers to the Lord as ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’—patriarchs who had died long before. God is not the God of the dead but of the living, for he has taken the righteous ‘dead’ into his realm of life.”

Jesus is the Final Word

So, instead of committing to any purely man-made system of biblical interpretation, I recommend that we draw our hermeneutical principles and methods directly from the Master, the Lord Jesus Christ: In him is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).

Jesus and His Bible Read More »

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TruthTalks: The Power of Prayer

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At the start of last week’s post, Dr Christopher Peppler says: “However, as you read further, you will realise that I do not believe that prayer has any innate power at all”.

Intrigued? Read the original post HERE, or listen to the TruthTalks topic on it below.

Please like, support, follow, subscribe, and do what you can to get this podcast audio post to as many people as possible. We are counting on you to help us spread the word.

TruthTalks: The Power of Prayer Read More »

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The Power of Prayer

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I have chosen to call this article ‘The Power of Prayer’ because this is such a popular expression among evangelical Christians.

However, as you read further, you will realise that I do not believe that prayer has any innate power at all.

I have written on this subject before and you can find a fairly recent article HERE where I deal briefly with two major causes of prayerlessness in the church. In this article, I want to set out more comprehensively why I believe that there is no inherent power in prayer and the implications for using the expression ‘the power of prayer’.

Mass Prayer Meetings and Prayer Email/WhatsApp Campaigns

Seldom a quarter goes by without someone organising some or other form of mass prayer campaign. Yesterday a group of passionate Christians in the USA were calling on all believers everywhere to pray in unity that President Trump would prevail in the face of a declared Democratic election victory. Here in South Africa, we have had several mass prayer meetings or campaigns to pray for rain, the political condition of our nation, or farm murders. I am in favour of prayer gatherings of any size, but perhaps for reasons not shared by the organisers of these events.

The question is this: ‘Why are these events or campaigns organised and why do we participate in them?’

Sometimes the appeal is to fill a sports stadium and at other times it is for us all to pray simultaneously and in unity where we are. Whatever the causes and methodology, the principles and motivation are similar. However, do we believe that more people praying will equate to more effective results? If we do believe this then what are the implications? Here are some alternatives to consider:

  • God will be obliged or even compelled to act if enough people pray;
  • God will be more inclined to answer our prayers if a lot of people agree together;
  • The act of praying releases spiritual energy (power) which in itself changes reality.

Most people I know would reject the first option, ponder on the second, and secretly believe the third. Not you? So why then do you send out emails, WhatsApp messages and the like to ask people to pray when a loved one is desperately sick, injured, or perhaps jobless? Perhaps you have never done this or even forwarded a prayer campaign chain letter, but I know of a lot of folks who have.

The Questionable Power of Prayer

We have heard the expression ‘the power of prayer’ so often, and from so many sources, that it is hard not to accept it as being true. However, does the bible teach that prayer releases or initiates spiritual power? Did Jesus teach this or model this? If the answers are ‘no’ and ‘no’ then on what basis do so many Christians believe it?

The bible as a whole, the witness of the early church, and the teaching and example of the Lord Jesus all present prayer as communion with God – no more and no less. God has infinite power and he does sometimes use his power to change reality in response to the prayers of his people. God has power but prayer in itself does not. When we pray, we express our dependence on God, ask him to act on our behalf, or petition and intercede for others. God is powerful and through prayer, we communicate with the all-powerful God.

The Heart of the Misconception

At the heart of the misconception that prayer has power, is the human heart. By ‘heart’ I mean self, ego, emotion.

We choose to believe that prayer has power because then we feel powerful when we pray.

We do the business. We achieve the goal. We are the important factors in the equation and God is just an approving spectator to our triumph. Sometimes we believe in the power of prayer because we are desperate and feel helpless. What can I do? Perhaps I can pray with others and then I won’t feel so helplessly out of control.

Whatever the motivation, the idea is just wrong! We speak to God and he may respond in several ways. He might answer, he might do what we have asked of him, or he may empower us by his Spirit to make the difference we are expecting him to make.

The Biblical Basis for Prayer

Throughout the scriptures, prayer is presented as communion with God. I use the word ‘communion’ because prayer is not always verbal and sometimes also includes worship of some kind. Consider just the following texts:

  • 2 Chronicles 7:14-15 “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land”.
  • Jeremiah 29:12 “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you”.
  • Matthew 6:6 “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father…”
  • John 17:1 ‘After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you”.
  • Acts 4:23-24 ‘On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said…’

In all of these examples, those who pray are believers and the one prayed to is Almighty God. There is one instance, however, that some people use to teach that prayer, in itself, has power. James 5:16, in the NIV, includes the words: ‘The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”.

The Exception that is No Exception at All

To rightly understand James 5:16 we only need to place it into its proper context, which is ‘forgiveness of sin’. The Amplified Bible translates verses 15 and 16 as: ‘Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart]. The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working]’. The source of the available power is God, not the act of praying.

Some teachers also use the previous verse in James 5 to validate the intrinsic power of prayer: “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up…” The translation ‘make the sick person well’ used by the NIV is a little misleading because the Greek word more accurately translates as ‘save’ and not ‘heal’ or ‘make well’. This is why the HCSB translates this verse as ‘The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up”.

However, irrespective of the various translations, the key phrase is ‘the Lord will raise him up’ – not the prayer, not the one praying, but the Lord God. 

Corporate Prayer

If God is the recipient of our prayers and it is he who can, and often does, respond with power, then why do we gather together to pray? I have written about this HERE, but the following are a few reasons why corporate (group) prayer  is important:

  • We join together with one heart, mind, and purpose. We express our concerns and present our requests to God as a people and not just as individuals.
  • We sometimes find fuller expression as a group than we could individually because we can agree with and add onto other peoples prayers.
  • We are encouraged by being together and knowing that others share our concerns.
  • Together we constitute a spiritual temple and often the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst is powerful and almost tangible. In this environment of God’s glory, we can often receive from him words and anointing that we may not if alone in prayer.

Now For Some Final Questions

Yes, I know I am as full of questions as a four-year-old, but indulge me one last time. If you believe what I have written here (and hopefully you have prayerfully tested it against the scriptures) then are you in future going to (1) desist from loosely using the term ‘the power of prayer’? (2) cease attempting to ‘use’ prayer as some form of spiritual warfare weapon? (3) direct your prayers to God alone and depend on him for a suitable response? And (4) participate in group prayers, prayer campaigns, prayer chains and the like for all the right and none of the wrong reasons?

Why this Matter is so Important

When we place ourselves, individually or corporately, as the source of power and prayer as the means of achieving powerful results, then we sin.

Self-centredness and self-reliance have from Genesis 3 onwards been the prime sin. To be even blunter, it is the sin of idolatry, self-idolatry. When we believe that our prayers generate or release power then we relegate God to an indirect sponsor at best or a redundant bystander at worst. Furthermore, when we speak, teach, and model the ‘power of prayer’ we communicate error and encourage self-idolatry.

Please test what I have written against the scriptures and specifically against what Jesus taught and modelled. Set aside the books, videos, and audios by pastor so-and-so or dr what-what and go straight to the source of truth – Jesus and the written Word of God.

Oh, and I would be happy to interact with you via email if you would like to do this.

The Power of Prayer Read More »

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TruthTalks Sermons: The Emperor’s New Clothes

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Following on from THIS post, Dr Christopher Peppler clarifies, in a TruthTalks Sermon, and expounds on the great points made about what is happening in the world right now.

This applies particularly to South Africa, but can equally be helpful wherever you live. You can download or listen to the mp3 below. If you prefer to watch the sermon then access it on his YouTube Channel HERE.

Please remember, we are relying on YOU to get this message to the people you know need to hear it. Be a part of this ministry by sharing, subscribing, commenting, and participating.

Until then, Admin

TruthTalks Sermons: The Emperor’s New Clothes Read More »

About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.