A Christian religion page on how to read and understand the Bible, authored by
Frank Ellsworth Lockwood

Saturday, June 14, 2014


Hebrews 12:26 "When God spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but now he makes another promise: "Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also."

God has a way of shaking things up!

This is the third post on how to understand the Bible's message. 

Of the many, alternate ways to interpret a scripture, we must be careful in how we build our faith. The Apostle Paul said he was building his religion "like a master builder" upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets. How about you? Are you a good mason? Is your mortar sticky enough? If your mortar is bad, the same thing may happen to you that happened to me. Watch out for the falling bricks! 

I may have told this story elsewhere, but if so I am about to repeat it, about an experience I had as a young Christian. At the time I was an on-fire Pentecostal, a preacher wanna-be kid who was taking in every revival meeting I could find. Following the spirit was my hobby, my avocation, my life.

At that age we believed everything is possible. We talked in tongues, we prayed for the sick, we tortured sinners with our brazen testimonies, we prayed for hours on end and sometimes even fasted. I used to love those meetings where they would call individuals up to sit in a chair in front, and then they would pray over them, and prophesy. In those days all the prophets were saying the same thing: Everyone they prayed for was going to become a prophet. "Even as Isaiah I have called you," was commonly heard, as was, "Have I not called you to be a prophet even as Jeremiah?" 

And so on. The amazing thing is that every once in a while the "prophet" would hit it right. At this time there was a prophetess who was pastor of a small church off of Mission Street in Santa Cruz California, and sometimes I attended her meetings. 

One evening Sister Shirley called me to the front of the church or maybe I just went voluntarily. It was a long time ago. As Shirley began praying over me she spoke in tongues; she soon went into an ecstatic trance: Her hands were trembling upon my head and shoulders. Her body too was shaking and her voice took on an urgent and authoritative quality and she began to prophesy this strange prophesy. Since this happened over 40 years ago I can't remember all the words exactly, but I will give the gist.

"I see you," she said, "standing with a trowel in your hand, in the middle of a church that you are building out of bricks. The walls are up above your head and, oh no! The walls are falling down all around you! And you are picking up the bricks and trying to put them back! But you will have to start all over because the cement you are using is not any good."

Two thousand years ago

I will digress here, to say this: Trying to recall what Shirley said 40 years ago is a little like the way we got our Bible. There is no way I could have recited Shirley's prophesy word for word, but the gist of it I gave. That's how I believe the New Testament gospels were written, and that also may account for some of the differences in the gospel accounts. But the amazing thing is,  Shirley's prophesy did come to pass, but not literally of course. 

My life was a construct. For some thirty years I had attempted to build up an idea of God, and idea of church and of truth. I had built my philosophies and centered my life upon assumptions that simply were not true. The notion of an infallible Bible and and inerrant written word of God were so central a foundation to my beliefs that when one came apart, the entire edifice was threatened. 

I am not alone. Thousands or maybe millions of people have had similar experiences. We all react in different ways. Some become atheists. Some hold on by a thin thread, hoping that something will change, that they will somehow miraculously be saved from the dilemma. Some become edgy and defensive. And a few of us conclude that a spiritual "place" in our lives, a "church" of one kind or another, is essential to our well being, and so we sort through the rubble and salvage what we can, and we begin rebuilding on what we hope are better foundations. That's what this blog is about. It is about one man's attempts at deconstructing and reconstructing his faith without losing God's essential Spirit. It is an attempt to worship, as Jesus said, "In spirit and in truth.

Bad eye or an evil eye?

I don't know, which is worse, a bad eye or an evil eye but they both will get you the same thing: Spiritual darkness. Mathew is translated both ways. Evil eye/bad eye.

In Mathew 6:23 Jesus reportedly said: "When your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!" (NLT) 

But some translations have Mathew saying that the eye is not just bad, it is "evil."

 If your eye is evil, your whole body is filled with darkness, and I have friends who would quibble over that wording. Isaiah 5:20 cuts right to the heart of the modern Christian's dilemma: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter." 

I won't belabor this point but it needs at least to be stated: Often there are many possible ways that a scripture could be understood, and this is where starting from correct assumptions can make the difference between enlightenment and darkness. But there is no one right interpretation of the Bible: We are forced to make difficult choices. In lay terms, at times we all are forced to pick and choose from among the Bible's many verses.

A house divided

We Christians are a splintered group. I am not saying that is all bad and I am not saying that we should all just kiss and make up either. But it's a fact: We Christians are not of one mind. We cannot even agree upon what is good and what is evil in the most fundamental cases. In such life-and-death matters as war, abortion, and health-and-welfare, we are divided into fundamentally different camps. Even when it comes down to self-defense we cannot all agree. What one man sees as good another woman sees as evil and vice versus. 

Deciding what is good and what is evil is seldom as easy as we think it should be. We are faced with real moral dilemmas every day, and every time we go to the voting polls we are faced with devils' choices: Shall we go into national debt, or feed the poor? Shall we balance the budget or go in debt to create jobs first? Shall we defend personal freedoms or beef up homeland security? Should we go to war or remain at home?

We are not spiritually inclined, though we think we are.

We make these decisions based upon our mentors, our social classes, our church affiliation. Most of the time make the most important decisions based upon what our friends thing, base upon what our lodge or our Boy Scout leader or the choir director has us sing about. Everybody seems to know what God's mind is, yet who do you know that spends an hour a day in prayer? And how many Christians do you know who have not even read the Bible? I would guess, quite a few. 

We don't talk to God and he doesn't talk to us. You might say we are not on speaking terms with God.

And many of of us who do pray and study the Bible still fall into spiritual traps and dead-ends, cults and weird splinter groups.

No wonder that for the last one hundred years or so there has been a strong movement toward authoritarian religions. People don't know what to think. We desperately want someone to tell us what to believe, how we should vote, what is right and wrong: The heavens are silent. Or maybe the gods are speaking in languages that we have yet to learn.

Thus, we rely upon supposedly supernatural books to tell us what to do. But as often as not we don't like what some of these scriptures say, so we break up into camps and interpret the scriptures differently. That's what we do! Isn't that what we do? Of course it is. I even encountered one Christian who would only accept The King James version of the Bible,an error-riddled translation written in archaic dialect that is difficult for many people to understand.

The various religious camps have already staked out their territory on the above-named and other issues. 

And (this should not amaze us but it apparently does) we all have our lists of preferred scriptures to back up our differing economic and political theories.  And then we go to war with our neighbors over these distinctions. We are not a spiritual people. We are a people that likes to justify and rationalize our own theories. We are of the earth, earthy, and nonspiritual, although some of us would never admit it. 

Yet it seems we cannot admit our own fallibility: How can we admit the fallibility of our various and sundry Christian backgrounds? How can we ever admit the truth about the Bible? Our worlds will fall apart. So we stumble on in darkness.

The truth about the Bible

The truth is, there are many ways to understand scriptures, and most of those ways we have probably never even considered, given the religious blinders that we all wear. And the truth is that all of our various views can be found, at least in kernel form, within the sacred writ. 

Do you want to wage war on your enemies in the name of God? You will find it in the Bible. Do you want everyone to hug and share their popcorn? You can find it in the bible. Do you want to believe in a literal promised land with material blessings? You can find it in the Bible. Do you want to believe in a future Kingdom of God in which Christ rules and reigns on earth? You can find it in the Bible. Do you want to believe in the sovereignty of your own free will choices? You can find that in the bible. Do you want to believe that man is predestined to be either blessed or cursed? That is there too. Do you want to believe in a physical resurrection? You can read about it in the Bible. Do you want to read that the resurrection body is spiritual and different than the physical body? You can find that there too. 

Take your pick, do you want to believe that you die and go straight to Heaven, that you die and go into a kind of coma or sleep, or that you just die and that's the end of you? That last is in there too, believe it or not, in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Material blessings or spiritual blessings? Earthly kingdom or Christ in you the hope of Glory? And on-and-on the list goes. 

Differences not reconcilable

The various meanings and messages in the bible are not reconcilable. Yes, I have read the web sites and listened to decades of sermons to the contrary, but I also have read the Bible. 

This fact was driven home to me very early in my Christian walk as follows: When I was in my twenties I took a semester of Bible classes at Bethany Bible College in Santa Cruz, California, and one of the classes was entitled "Things to Come." It was a class on what they called "eschatology," which simply meant the knowledge of things to come, or of the end times. The text book in fact was titled "Things to Come" and it was written, if I remember correctly, by a man named Dwight J. Pentecost. Apt name for the author of a text in a Pentecostal Bible college. 

The book must have been someones doctoral thesis, as it was very thorough ... and very objective in my opinion: The author held to a pre-millennial interpretation of then end times, which is to say that he believed in the rapture of the church in which believers would be caught up together and taken away for a while just to be with Jesus while God poured out his wrath upon the earth, or some view similar to that. 

But my point is that, this Mr. Pentecost did such a thorough job of explaining each camp's arguments that, at the end of the semester I felt it was a draw! They all "proved" their case. A-millenialists (no millenial thousand year reign of Christ) pre-millenialists (Jesus will come before the Great Tribulation), post-millenialists and so on. There were five different camps and they all had convincing proof texts! From the same bible. I concluded then -- and I still believe today -- that nobody knows he answer to these simple questions about what the Bible has to say about the end times. 

Similarly, I used to pray and study until I became nauseated, literally sick, because of the great divide in Protestantism over the views of Arminius and Calvin concerning Predestination and free will. Ignorant as I was, I had convinced myself that I would be the one to finally explain this huge discrepancy in the Bible, over whether we have free will or whether we are the beneficiaries (and victims) of Grace. 

It just was not within the scope of my training to simply say the obvious truth, that these are to irreconcilable positions, both found within the scriptures and both with profound implications for all of eternity.

Back to the original question

What are the possible meanings? There are ever so many possible ways to interpret the Bible. Major themes within it contradict each other and so I eventually found that I must acknowledge defeat in my attempts at maintaining an infallible book. I would not be the chosen one to fix the great divide. Within the Bible, as within the world at large, spiritual ideas compete. The Bible reflects the complex religious life of ancient Hebrews and early Christians. God says to me, "Live with it, Son."

The implications are enormous for the believer who has staked his or her life upon the infallibility of God's written Word.  The truth is, there is no infallible, inerrant word of God. To understand the Bible, we must first realize that it is a human book, that there are many possible ways to interpret it, that some of them we will like and agree with and that some of them we will not, and that whether we are liberal or conservative, our opponents can find what they want to believe, right there in the Good Book.

So, my good Christian bothers, when your spiritual house tumbles, the mason's trowel awaits. Be sure to use a better mixture of mortar in the future.

P.S. Did you know that Frank Ellsworth Lockwood is also the author of the novel, "Captains All"? If you like, you can pre-view or purchase the book here:


#lockwood #bible #interpretation #beliefs  #religion

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