Interpretation

Retaining an Apostolic Approach to Church Life

I co-authored this article with my M.Th student Malcolm Black and we published it in the SATS Conspectus in March 2008.

This article briefly examines the current return to apostolic Christianity in various parts of the world and references three earlier Christian movements that came into existence at approximately 100-year intervals, beginning with the Methodist movement in the 1700s, culminating with observations of a current apostolic movement that began in the early 1980s, known as New Covenant Ministries International, in an attempt to ascertain how they embraced early apostolic principles.

The article highlights the strengths of several movements but also makes observations about how these movements lost their initial effectiveness by becoming institutional and, in many cases, forfeited their initial vision of impacting the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We examine possible reasons why these movements lost their fervour and discuss possible ways of how current movements could learn from their mistakes not only maintain their spiritual fervency but sustain their vision and momentum of reaching the nations with the gospel to succeeding generations.

HERE is the full article.

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Perceiving God’s voice: divine guidance for everyday believers

 

I co-authored this article with my M.Th student Hugh Goosen and we published it in the SATS Conspectus in May 2015.

 

Vagueness exists amongst Christians with regards to what it is like to experience divine guidance practically. This problem is aggravated by conflicting perspectives on the will of God, whether or not His will is discoverable, and how Christians are to go about seeking it. This article seeks to reveal what we can reasonably expect to experience when God speaks by considering (1) perspectives on the will of God and its discoverability, and (2) the levels of awareness and certainty of divine communication as evidenced by select biblical characters. The article shows that the ways in which Christians experience divine direction are as unique and varied as each individual relationship with God is unique and varied. It shows, furthermore, that we should have, as our primary concern, a focus upon fostering a deep and intimate relationship with God, out of which direction and instruction will naturally and invariably flow. Finally, it shows that the primary way in which God communicates with us today is by means of the subtle and unobtrusive guidance and direction of our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit.

 

HERE is the full article

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1 & 2 Corinthians

 

I wrote this as a chapter in the book ‘A Student’s Guide to New Testament’ published by SATS Press in 2019.

 

While 1 and 2 Corinthians are presented as two separate letters in the New Testament it is convenient to deal with them together in an overview of this nature; the two letters were written to the same local church within a fairly short period of time, and in addition to this it is possible that they are both compilations of several letters.

Almost all scholars agree that Paul is the author of these letters. Both the external and internal evidence is overwhelmingly strong (Morris, 2000). There is, however, some debate concerning when they were written, with estimations as early as AD 53 and as late as AD 57. The general opinion is that 1 Corinthians was written from Ephesus (1 Cor 16:8) in AD 54, and 2 Corinthians a year later, probably from Philippi (Belleville, 1996). Paul therefore appears to have pastored the Corinthian church for between 18 months and three and a half years.

Some commentators argue for a unifying theme holding 1 Corinthians together which several suggest is an extended appeal for unity. Others believe the theme to be the idea that Paul is countering the infiltration of secular values (Johnson, 2004). However, Thiselton contends that there is a lot more to these letters than correction of problems arising from factions, discord and worldliness (Thiselton, 2000).

These letters open a window into the life of a first century local church. The Corinthian church had its problems and challenges, as do churches in our day, but it was full of spiritual vitality. Paul had to counsel moderation in the application of spiritual manifestations whereas if he had been writing to many of today’s churches he might have had to admonish them for quenching the Spirit.

The letters also provide fascinating insights into Paul’s temperament and personal challenges. In some places his own feelings of hurt, anger and frustration come through so clearly (2 Cor 10-11) that they beg a productive debate on just how God chose to inspire the writing of the scriptures. More than this though, the letters speak right to the heart of current church life. The problems and possibilities are cloaked in the culture of that time, yet the underlying issues and principles remain pressingly important today.

 

HERE is the full article

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TruthTalks: Faulty Bible Interpretation

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Ever find yourself arguing with another Christian about Biblical matters?

Me too. In this TruthTalks episode on Faulty Bible Interpretations, Dr Christopher Peppler expands on THIS post about how we can sometimes misinterpret the Bible. Find out about how to establish:

  1. Whether you are misinterpreting the Bible, and
  2. What to do about it if you are.

If you are interested in finding out more about this, visit us as www.truthistheword.com or purchase the book Truth is The Word HERE.

Click on the play button to listen now and please subscribe, like, share and generally help us spread Truth Is The Word.

With thanks, and until next time.

Karen (Admin)

 

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Faulty Bible Interpretation

Top ImageHardly a week goes by that I don’t come across an example of faulty bible interpretation. By this, I do not mean interpretation that differs from mine, but rather an interpretation produced by principles and practices generally regarded as being unsound.

Sometimes I encounter faulty interpretation when discussing theology or passages of the bible with a friend or fellow church leader. This confuses our discussion and it usually takes a while before either of us becomes aware that we are using different methods of interpreting the scriptures in question. Once we figure this out, the discussion usually deviates from the meaning of the subject in question, to a dialogue about the different ways we interpret the bible in general. This is often interesting, but it gets us off track.

The two categories of faulty bible interpretation that I come across most frequently are,

  1. Hyper-literalism, and
  2. Flawed semantics.

The second of these two types is common with folk who have some, but not enough, training in interpreting Hebrew and Greek words. I will briefly sketch out the main issues concerning this, but I want to focus on Hyper-literalism because I encounter this more than any other type of faulty bible interpretation.

Flawed semantics

Before defining the word, allow me a little light-hearted world-play to highlight the problem of flawed semantics.

The word ‘semantics’ comes from the Greek word ‘semainein’, which means ‘to show by sign, signify, or point out’ and derives from the root word ‘sema’, which includes in its meaning ‘sign, mark, omen, portent, or constellation’. The Greek word for sign used in the New Testament is ‘semeion’, which means ‘a token of divine authority and power’ as in Matthew 12:38 and John 2:11. Therefore the word ‘semantics’ is the study of miraculous signs. Eh!?
This is of course nonsense because the term semantics actually means, ‘determining the meaning of a word, phrase, or text’. My little make-believe exercise is flawed in at least two ways: (1) it goes to the root origin of the word and then selects just one of its several meanings – I could just as well have said that semantics is the study of the constellations of the Zodiac! (2) it seeks to authenticate this particular understanding by citing just two of several texts where the biblical equivalent of the word is used.

From this rather silly example, you can see how semantics in the hands of an insufficiently qualified person can lead to very faulty bible interpretation. This is why I have always recommended the following order of determining the meaning of a text:

  1. What is its context?
  2. What did Jesus say or demonstrate concerning it? (Christocentricity), and
  3. What does all of the bible reveal about its meaning? (exhaustive reference).

If the meaning is still unclear after these three steps then a word study is warranted.

Hyper-literalism

However, hyper-literalism is far more prevalent among Christians and is a lot more problematic than flawed semantics. The simplest definition of this phenomenon is ‘misinterpreting metaphors and figurative rhetoric as being literal’. Now, instead of defining ‘metaphors’ and ‘figurative rhetoric’ let me rather give some examples.

Two Examples

The New King James Version of the bible translates Acts 7:54 as: ‘When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth’. Did they really try to bite Stephen? Of course not! This would be an example of hyper-literalism in action. Many of the folk who indulge in this practice insist that the King James Version is the only authoritative translation of the bible. However, the English Standard Version translates Acts 7:54 as: ‘Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him’. The Pharisees were so enraged that they clenched their teeth and ground them together (grrrrrrrrrrr). The obvious point is that they were very angry… full stop.

Similarly, in Acts 20:29, when Paul said that ‘savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock’, he did not mean that wild animals were going to attack the disciples’ sheep. He was writing about the false prophets and teachers who would enter and damage the congregations after his departure.

Metaphors

It seems so obvious to me, and to almost all reputable bible scholars, that a metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. It is equally obvious to me that the King James Version is no longer the best translation of the bible because, among other things, it uses archaic words and phrases that are hard to understand and often no longer mean what they did when they were first used.

The Theological Consequences of Hyper-literalism

The examples I have given are contrived and are of no real consequence, but the extract from a book I recently read concerning the blood of Jesus reminded me that sometimes there are serious theological consequences to hyper-literalism. The author echoed the belief of many Pentecostals that blood, in some mystical way, constitutes the life of a creature. In the case of a human being, this would, by extension, mean that the blood ‘contains’ the person’s spirit. This idea comes from a hyper-literal interpretation of Leviticus  17:11, ‘For the life of a creature is in the blood’. Theologically speaking, taking this verse hyper-literally, would mean that when Paul wrote, ‘we have now been justified by his blood’ (Romans 5:9), he meant that Jesus’ actual lifeblood saved us. However, it is His death on the cross that justified us. Leon Morris (respected commentator and theologian) wrote that: ‘Only by a particular interpretation of a few passages can a case be made for thinking that blood means life’. Within this context, he sums up the consensus of theologians, from the Church Fathers onwards, that ‘references to blood are a vivid way of saying that we owe our salvation to the death of Christ’. The ‘life is in the blood’ of Leviticus is simply a Hebraic way of stating that total loss of blood signifies death. Just imagine the problems we would create for ourselves if we refused a blood transfusion for our dying daughter because her eternal spirit would be replaced by someone else’s. Oh yes, the Jehovah’s witness cult teaches something like this. Sigh!

Sometimes hyper-literalism just yields quaint, if irrelevant, interpretations of scripture that have few serious consequences. However, sometimes the consequences can be weighty, as in the case of the ‘blood of Jesus’ understanding. In either a direct or more subtle way, this has led to some pervasive beliefs and practices in parts of the church. For instance, some people pray to be ‘covered in the blood of Jesus’ as protection from evil, sickness, and misfortune. However, more serious than this rather cultic practice are the teachings that the Lord Jesus’s blood only issued from God the Father and that Mary’s sin-tainted chromosomes were absent. Follow this logic just a few steps and Jesus Christ appears to be less than fully human, and if this were true then He is an illegitimate representative of all humanity. In this case, Jesus did not die for us all. God have mercy on us!

My Appeal

To all folk with a leaning towards either hyper-literalism or flawed semantics, PLEASE reconsider the way you interpret scripture and rather adopt the following simple hermeneutical process:

  1. Use a modern version of the bible,
  2. Start by examining the historical, cultural, literary and biblical context of the text,
  3. Ask and attempt to answer the question ‘what did Jesus teach, model or indicate concerning this text?’,
  4. Then ask one other question: ‘Have I considered all the other major biblical evidence concerning this text?’

If you would like to read a good book on the subject I have been addressing in this article, then ‘Exegetical Fallacies’ by D.A Carson would serve you well. I also address these issues in my book Truth is The Word.

Faulty Bible Interpretation 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.