What the Bible Says To You

doesn't really matter.

I know - here I go again stirring things up. But hang with me on this for a minute and see what you think.

I've been in countless "devo" sessions over the years, I've heard numerous teachings on the "spiritual disciplines" (prayer, "quiet time" and fasting) and spent untold hours meditating on the scriptures. And if I'm blessed to live awhile longer, I'll do alot more of all these things. They're all great and necessary tools to live in anticipation of the kingdom to come.

But my earlier efforts were misdirected, and I'll bet for some of you, yours are too. Because I contend that "what the Bible says to me" is irrelevant.

That's because the question "What does that passage say to you?" conveys the sense that the meaning of the text is primarily between God and you.

That sounds nice and warm, doesn't it? It's a special feeling - God speaking directly to whatever situation you're currently dealing with via the 2000 to 3500 year old text of scripture.

The problem with such a view is that it produces all manner of interpretations, most of which are in direct contradiction to one another. And God doesn't appear in person to set the record straight on what He or Messiah or their rabbis actually meant.

Why do you think we have somewhere between 20,000 and 35,000 Christian denominations on the planet?

In the "what does the Bible say to you?" view, we're allowed take the passage to mean basically whatever we want it to mean. And we're usually happy to do so.

I believe a better question to ask of scripture is this:

"What did the text mean to its original recipients, and what should that meaning then mean to me?"

Do you see the difference? It appears subtle or even nonsensical at first - but the more you look, it becomes clearer and clearer.

One simple example of this is the phrase "born again". Of course, it comes from Messiah's conversation with Nicodemus, where he declares to the confused Pharisee, "You must be born again!".

Remember the movie Rocky IV? Apollo Creed declares, "God, I feel born again" as he enters the ring with Ivan Drago, the impossibly huge Russian fighter. Clearly, Apollo believed the phrase "born again" to mean "I feel like I did 15 years ago, when I was young and strong and had a fleeting hope of not having my face smashed into tiny pieces!".

Of course, if you saw the movie, Apollo's born again experience lasted about 7 minutes before he was summarily extinguished, Drago nearly separating Creed's head from his body.

And what do those words of Jesus mean to you? Do you agree with the deceased movie character, or do you have a different interpretation? What's the right way to use such a passage?

My point is, we must find out what Messiah's words meant to Nicodemus (which requires understanding some details about Nicodemus, his worldview, his vocation, the culture and events of the time, etc). That way, we can imagine what Jesus' words did to Nicodemus when they entered his ears.

Here's a hint: The command "you must be born again":

- came from the Jewish rabbi Jesus
- to the big-time Jewish religious leader Nicodemus
- in a Jewish religious culture
- that promoted membership in God's Kingdom as an automatic right
- granted by being born a Jew - a descendant of Abraham

Think on that for awhile. Let's put ourselves in Nicodemus' position as best we can.

Then - when we understand as best we can what the command "You must be born again" meant to Nicodemus - then we can ask the question "what does that meaning mean to me?".

Whaddya say?

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