Driving around the Bible Belt states in the USA, you will sometimes see a bumper sticker that proclaims, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” Simple and straightforward, right?
I wish it were. But in my nearly 50 years of ministry, on all five continents, I have learned that it is not always simple and straightforward. I agree that if the Bible says it, I should believe it and do it. The key is to understand what it is the Bible is saying.
Recently, while in Hong Kong, I visited with some Chinese friends that I have known for several decades. We were young and idealistic when we first met, full of confidence that we understood “the truth.”
Our conversation reminded me how Westerners underestimate how strange the Bible can seem to someone who approaches it from a Chinese background. Even what we would consider an obvious teaching can be riddled with contradiction. Take, for example, what Jesus said in Luke 11:11, to illustrate God’s overflowing love for us. “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?”
My answer would be “Yuck! No way.” But, my Chinese friends explained, the obvious answer for them is, “Of course he would if he could afford it.” You see, snake meat is a delicacy in their culture, to be enjoyed on special occasions. So the simple and straightforward reading of this scripture would lead to an opposite conclusion than was intended.
|Our conversation reminded me how Westerners underestimate how strange the Bible can seem to someone who approaches it from a Chinese background.
The symbolism in Revelation is quite enigmatic enough without additional cultural barriers. For example, Revelation 17: 3-4 describes “a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls.” At least those of us from a Judeo-Christian background have no trouble recognizing this vision as malevolent. But what is a Chinese person, who has grown up believing purple and scarlet are the colors of celebration, and dragon-like creatures are a symbol of good luck, to make of it?
Maybe these are extreme examples. But we all approach the scriptures with cultural baggage that can get in the way of understanding. So perhaps it is not as simple as “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” God’s Word must not only be timeless; it must also be timely. In this issue, we are beginning a series of articles by Gary Deddo that will help you discern the true intent of God’s Word, no matter who you are and when or where you encounter it.
In the first installment, Gary shows how God did not leave his Word frozen in time. He stays involved, working to preserve it, and through the Holy Spirit, helps us to interpret and apply it intelligently, whether we live in the first century or the twenty-first.