Test Your Hermeneutics

No, this is not something that requires a shot.

Hermeneutics is essentially the study of how we interpret the bible.

For example:

  • What determines whether something was meant literally or figuratively?
  • How do we choose whether to read a passage as a story or as history?
  • Which parts of the bible were meant for a specific time, and which are timeless?

Everyone has their own hermeneutic, or underlying set of beliefs that dictate how we read the bible.  It is influenced by our childhood, the church(es) we’ve attended, our friends, our culture, and numerous other factors.  It likely changes as we age as well.

Scot McKnight has an interesting book on this topic called “The Blue Parakeet“.  He has also written a quiz to help you determine where you fall in the spectrum.  Before you get too critical, this quiz is not scientific, and it is not perfect.  However, I believe that the result it presents is a pretty good picture of where you stand.  Perhaps even more interesting is the actual taking of the test, where you see some of the other possible interpretations.

Take the test!  It’s only 20 questions.  Post your score here when you’re done.

Click here for the test

Health Care Reform Passes the House

I’m sure we’ve all got our opinions about the health care bill, the vote last night, and the political dealings leading up to it. This post is not about that. I just wanted to repost some of my favorite status updates I’ve seen today on Facebook and Twitter.

  • “Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Government in charge? You? Or is it God? Allow Him to lead you today!”  –  Mark MacDonald
  • “I wish the Christian community got as excited about proclaiming Christ as they did about debating health care.”  –  Ed Stetzer
  • “All the cries of fear and woe really make me wonder about the faith of so many American Christians. Is your God not on the throne? Is your hope in God or in politics? Who has your allegiance – Christ alone or Christ plus a political ideology? Which is stronger in you – fear or faith?”  –  Michael Ray Kear
  • “If your passions are more provoked today by this health care plan than they were yesterday by your neighbors going to hell: wonder why?”  –  Russell Moore
  • “God is sovereign no matter how the healthcare vote comes down… ‘In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming.’ (Ps 37:10-13)”
  • “I am glad no matter what happens today his treasure will be secure and unchanged tomorrow.”  –  Jared Wilson
  • “Want some cheese with that Whine? [Stop acting like a victim.]”  –  Mike Foster
  • “Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One Who is leading.”  –  Oswald Chambers (via Lee Bezotte)
  • “God is Sovereign, Democracy is Beautiful, America is Amazing and Your Vote Matters! God is Good… All The Time!” – Scott Williams

Got any good ones you’ve found? Post them as a reply!

Living On Mission

Great video by Ed Stetzer from his blog.

His tweet that caught my eye:

“I am sick of knowledgeable religious people not living on mission and then criticizing those who are.”

The text from his blog:

“Back in February I spoke at the Verge Missional Community Conference on making disciples. My topic was the need for obedience-based discipleship that moves from knowing to doing. Verge was an amazing gathering I was happy to be a part of. The HD versions of the preaching should be available in a few weeks, but for now you can check out my session via youtube.”

And finally…  the videos:

A Different Kind of Hypocrite

It is trendy to call Christians hypocrites.  Sadly, it is true more often than we’d like.  However, what most people call hypocrisy I would call fallen-ness.  A Christian, by the very nature of the term, stands for certain things.  That same person violates the beliefs he holds every day!  Does that make him a hypocrite?  I don’t think so.

The word “hypocrite”, from the Greek word transliterated “Hupokrites”, means “actor”.  The word was only used by Jesus.  And, he is only recorded as using the phrase on 7 different occasions, some appearing in multiple gospels.  (If you are interested, they are Mt 6, 7, 15, 22, 23 – Mk 7 – Lk 6, 12, 13)

Four of the seven times, Jesus was speaking directly to “Pharisees and teachers of the law”.  This illustrates that Jesus was most concerned with people who claimed to be speaking on God’s behalf.  Today, that would mean not only church leaders, but also anyone who would claim to be speaking for God.  (This is a claim I don’t think I’d ever have the nerve to make!  I’ve heard lots of people do it though.)  I think the message here is to be very careful that when you speak God’s truth to someone, you make sure that you are clearly speaking peer-to-peer, and not as a person who feels they have the moral high ground.

Six of the seven times, Jesus was rebuking people for either judging others or trying to trap Jesus himself.  Again, the latter is not something I think I would have been courageous enough or stupid enough to do.  At least I hope not!  But notice this.  These are not people who say “I believe it is wrong to steal”, and then steal.  That is merely sinning.  (And before you think you’re off the hook, Jesus has way more to say about sinning than hypocrisy!)  But think of the common usage of the term “hypocrite”.  People throw this term around, but they do so in a way Jesus never did.  He was speaking of people who pointed out faults in others that they themselves had – in spades!  He was speaking of people who set up obstacles for others.  The lesson here would be to realize that we ourselves are sinners, and rather than sitting in judgment over others, should speak to others as people who have received and continue to need God’s grace, just like they do.

But to me, the first recorded instance of Jesus’ use of the term is the most interesting. It is found in Matthew 6.  In all other instances, Jesus called people hypocrites because in some way they were acting in a way that was in conflict with their professions of faith.  They had they talk, but not the walk.  Not so the first time Jesus used the term.

In Jesus time, the entertainment of choice was the theater.  Not the cineplex that we call “theater” today.  These were places where people could watch a play.  They were usually outdoors.  There was some sort of elevated stage, and seating for hundreds, or even thousands of people.  There were no cameras or projection screens  There were no microphones or speakers.  Actors on the stage of the Roman theater would speak very loudly.  When they expressed themselves, they exaggerated wildly.  When you are talking to a friend, you can see in their eyes whether they are happy or sad.  If they were hundreds of feet away from you, they might have to pull their hair and tear their clothes while falling to their knees to communicate sadness.  Similarly, rather than a chuckle that most of the audience could neither see nor hear, they might grasp their belly and convulse wildly to appear to be in a fit of laughter.  With this in mind, read Matthew 6:1-6, and 16-18.

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” 

If I am honest, I think this is the type of hypocrite we see most in the church.  See what they are doing?  They are exaggerating their speech and actions in order to be noticed.  The other uses of ‘hypocrite’ I outlined above spoke of people acting in a way that betrayed their professed beliefs.  Jesus doesn’t say that is happening here.  There is nothing to indicate that the people giving to the needy were doing anything that countered their faith.  Likewise with those who prayed and fasted.  It looks to me like Jesus is saying “even when you do things I have commanded you to do, it is possible that you can still screw it up!”

  • How about placing your cash in the offering plate with a flourish so that people can see the green?
  • How about praying at a restaurant just loud enough, or with your brow furrowed enough, so that people know you are God’s chosen?
  • How about hollering “thank you Jesus!” when you find a parking spot?  Is it because you are truly thankful, or is it possible you just want attention?
  • What about when you give a “prayer request” with just a few too many details, that let people know how good you are or how bad the person who needs prayer is?
  • Do any of your cute bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets have ulterior motives to them?
  • Does a “Christian t-shirt” really bring people to salvation, or is it to show that you are better?
I could go on and on.  I have seen all of these, and done more than I care to admit!  My point is not to condemn, but to raise the issue.  When people call us hypocrites because we sin, they are simply wrong.  We sin because we are human.  But if we alienate the world, or try to show each other just how holy we are, we put the hypocrite label on ourselves.


When building the case for tithing, the passage of choice is Malachi 3.  But how do we make the leap from “storehouses of grain” to our checkbooks?  How did the storehouses actually get filled in the bible?  What was the tithe in the bible?  Actually, there isn’t a whole lot in the bible about tithing!  I could find only 11 passages that had an explicit reference to tithing.  And most of them mentioned it happening, but were not explicit commands to do so, although the commands certainly do exist.  Or did.

This is by no means an exhaustive study.  But see if these points line up with what you have heard about tithing.

The first recorded example of someone giving a tenth (tithe) to the priest was when Abram gave to Melchizedek (Gen 14).  What is interesting in this story is that the riches from which he tithed were not his own!  Abram was not giving of his income.  He was giving to Melchizedek from the recovery of stolen goods!  Also, Abram gave after God blessed him.  He did not give first, expecting a blessing to follow as many preach.  When Abram gave, it was his response to God.  It was not a requirement, as the law had not been given yet.  (That did not happen until Leviticus 27 when Moses received the law from God on Mt. Sinai.)

The Lev 27 passage is a very interesting read.  God instructed the Israelites to give every 10th animal that passed under the shepherd’s rod.  Several interesting points here.  (1) The tithe was not the first tenth as is usually taught.  It was the last tenth.  (2) Also, it was not the best of the flock.  Every tenth animal is a random measure.  It could be small, unhealthy, whatever – as long as it was #10.  (3) Also, it wasn’t a tenth, or 10%, strictly speaking.  If you had 9 animals, you didn’t tithe at all, because there was no tenth animal.

Ok, so that’s what God commanded them to give.  But why?  What did they do with the tithe?  You won’t believe this.  They ate it!  I’ll bet you’ve never heard this in a message on tithing. Check it out: Deut 12, Deut 14, Deut 26, and others.  They were to make a feast of this tithe they had gathered.  Meat, oil, wine – the fruits of their labors that God had blessed them with.  They were to go to a place that God chose, and enjoy this feast with their family.  They were also to include the homeless, the widows, and the Levites, as none of these had means to provide a tithe for themselves.

The origins of the tithe sure don’t sound like what we are told to do now under the same name!

Let’s look back to Malachi, where it says that the storehouses are empty.  The storehouses were places that the Levites (the priesthood) stored the tithe of the crops they received.  In addition to tithes of animals, people were to give one tenth of their crops to the Levites every three years.  For those using Malachi as basis for tithing, how did something that happened every third year turn into something we are to do every paycheck?  It just doesn’t follow.  God was talking about something different.

If Jesus came to fulfill the law, why do we still preach the tithe?  It was part of the law presented via Moses.  It is interesting to read the books of the law where it was described.

In Nehemiah 10 and Numbers 18, we are told to tithe.  In those same chapters, we are also told to give our firstborn children and animals to God.  Do we do that?  Num 18 continues on to say that we are then to redeem (purchase) our firstborn sons back.  We don’t do this anymore.  Jesus redeemed all of us.  So why do we keep the law of the tithe, but abandon the law of the firstborn?

God’s original instructions on tithing appear in Leviticus 27, along with instructions on how the priest is to determine the value of our homes.  Why do we keep one tradition, but not the other?

Deuteronomy 14 says not to eat pork or shrimp.  It also says to tithe.  Who picked which parts we keep?

Nehemiah 10 says we will not buy or sell on the Sabbath.  It also says that every 7th year we will cancel all debts.  It also says to tithe.  See a pattern?  Why do we keep just this the one thing?

On the subject of giving, the same law that speaks of tithing also speaks of wave offerings, heave offerings, peace offerings, firstfruits offerings, gift offerings, slaughter offerings, challah (an offering from the first batch of dough), drink offerings, burnt offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings.  How did we pick to keep only the one that we can (mis)interpret as meaning money?

  • If “the tithe” as we preach it were so important, why is an obscure passage in Malachi the best we can do?
  • Why did Jesus never tithe?
  • Why did we never hear of the disciples tithing?
  • Why did no NT author even mention the concept, let alone command us to do it?
  • Why, at the Jerusalem conference (Acts 15), when determining which requirements to confer onto the Gentiles, did they not mention the tithe?  If it were a requirement, certainly the tithe would have ranked somewhere between idol food and circumcision!

The answer, in my opinion, is that the whole system vanished along with the rest of the law.  Ok – not vanished – but you get the idea.  Fulfilled.  The old covenant was replaced by the new covenant.

These offerings served the purpose of paying for people’s atonement and for honoring God.  But Jesus has completed atonement for us, once and for all.  And we are to honor God in more ways today, not less.  Not just actions, but now our thoughts and motives too.  So on the subject of money, we are not responsible for the 10% that the law called for.  We are accountable for how we spend every dollar we receive!

So if the law does not dictate what percent we give, and how, and when – what does?  Grace!  Grace is a kindness God shows us because he loves us.  Not because of who we are or what we have done, but because of who he is and what he has done.  Likewise, our giving (time and money) should not be doled out based on percentages like an accountant would.  It should be given freely in response to God’s goodness toward us.

There are biblical principles throughout both the OT and the NT which should instruct us.  Not laws that were given for a different time and a different people, but principles that are timeless and universal.

A few examples:

  • Everything belongs to the Lord (1 Cor. 10:26, Ps 24:1, Ps 50:9-12)
  • Honor the Lord with your wealth (Prov 3:9-10)
  • Give to God what is God’s (Mt 22:21)
  • Give cheerfully & willingly (2 Cor 9:7, 2 Cor 8:12)
  • Give out of gratitude (Ps 116:12)
  • Give generously (2 Cor 8 & 9, Luke 21:1-4, Prov 11:24-25, Prov 22:9, 1 Tim 6:17-19)
All of these are wrapped up in these passages:

“When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you.  Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; He brought water for you out of the rock of flint.  In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end.  Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’  But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”

Deuteronomy 8:10-18

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.  This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.  Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.  And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.  Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

So, what is the point of all this?  I know it may sound like I ended up in a different place than I started, but I didn’t.  Read it again, and you will see that I am not saying we shouldn’t give.  Quite the opposite.  The NT did not abolish the OT laws.  It gave us a new perspective.  The early church shared everything (Acts 2:42-45, Acts 4:32-35, Acts 11:29).  Apparently they did not feel limited by the 10% rule.
We are to have the mind of Christ, not a list of laws.  We shouldn’t sin – not because the law says not to, but because this impedes our relationship with God.  We should give – not because the law says to, but because this is the natural response of a heart that imitates God’s.
This is not a useless exercise.  Words mean things.  Our faith should mean something.  We should say what we mean.  The tithe is not for the Christian church.  Exceeding generosity is!

So, where exactly should our money go?  Many people will say that churches as we have them now did not exist in the 1st-century church, so we should not give to them.  Acts does not record supermarkets or shopping malls either.  Do you shop there?  We should certainly give to individuals we see in need.  The bible has tons to say about this.  You may also feel free to give to organizations you support.  The good news is that the NT church has no limit on giving, or limitations on how many places we can give!
I hear people say that they are more blessed by online ministries, or TV preachers, so they don’t attend church or don’t give to it.  Many of these same people will be upset when local stores are not supported and people buy cheaper products online.  If you give locally, the money stays local.  If you give to someone far away, it does not.  It’s the same thing.
Also, can you run to an online ministry or a teleministry when you need help?  Can other people?  Sure – they help people, and it is perfectly fine to support them.  But do you think that is who Jesus and the authors of the bible meant by “your neighbors” or “your brother”?  We have a responsibility first to take care of our own.
This brings me to the local church.  This part is not explicitly biblical, but let’s be reasonable.  Churches used to meet in homes.  If you met in a home, wouldn’t you feel obligated to bring a casserole?  If one of your home-church buddies was in need, wouldn’t you help them?  At some point in our history, the home church became overwhelming.  Somewhere along the line people decided, “Hey – let’s make a separate place where we can meet more comfortably!  Then the kids will have room to play without destroying our friend’s house.  Then we’ll even have more room to invite more people!”  So, they jointly picked up the tab because it was worth it to them.  Later on, they decided they’d like an LCD projector and a youth room, so it had to be paid for.  The list goes on and on.  You can be a legalist and say the bible does not require the tithe and makes no mention of new chairs for the sanctuary, but if you are enjoying their benefit without chipping in, you’re taking advantage of other people’s things!  Our culture has voted for these things.  And you vote for them every week that you go to church, sit in a comfy chair, and enjoy a cup of coffee in the A/C.  You vote for it when you drop your kids in the nursery or at youth group.  You vote for it when you call the church office and expect someone to answer.  Are you just a user, or are you willing to contribute?
Churches as we know them today are not in the bible.  If you want to meet by candlelight in a friend’s home, that is your prerogative.  But most of us enjoy the electricity, the band, the P/A system, and the speaker at today’s style of church.  Either way, the “worker is worth his due” (Lk 10:7, 1 Tim 5:17-18, 1 Cor 9:14, 3 Jn 1:6-8, etc….)
We rail against Congress when they pass down an “unfunded mandate”.  (This means a requirement they impose on states without giving them the funds to implement it.)  We hate it when they do this!  But when we complain about the cheap coffee, or the furniture that is in disrepair, or the office which seems to be understaffed – and don’t give…  aren’t we doing the same thing?
It’s true I don’t have an example of today’s style of church existing in the bible, but that is because it is something our culture has created.  I can’t find examples of internet usage, movie theaters, public schools or second mortgages either.  But I can find principles.  It is nothing less than selfish to enjoy a benefit without compensating the provider.  We don’t put up with it in our businesses!  So why is the church any different?
My opinion – the tithe is ancient history.  Stop talking about a tithe.  (I wish churches would drop the word entirely.)  Stop feeling guilty about the bookkeeping, and whether you have fulfilled the requirements with pre-tax or post-tax dollars.  Stop trying to figure out the application of firstfruits, sheaves, and the like.  Start thinking about generosity.  Start thinking about what you have received.  After all, is everything that God has given you worth only 10% of your income?
Something to think about.
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