As the saying goes, things are not always as they appear to be. It could also be said that things are not always as we would have them. Life experience demonstrates to us, at times, that our biases are wrong, and our preconceived notions are false. Often our expectations of matters are unfounded, as reality ultimately makes clear. A classic example in this regard is that of Jehovah sending his Son, and allowing him to die to provide foretold deliverance for mankind.
To the Jews, far from being the Messiah of their reckoning, the bare fact of Jesus' impalement proved to them that he died under the curse of God by being hung on a tree. To the Greeks, the idea of an executed teacher and deliverer was just absurd--an affront to intelligent men--and the assertion that he'd been raised from the dead acted to aggravate the affront. As for the representatives of the Roman power, the activities of Jesus' disciples was politically suspect in their eyes due to the fact that their founder had been executed on a charge of sedition against Caesar.
So, not only is Jesus' execution and the reaction it elicited an example of preconceived ideas and prejudices affecting receptivity of a matter, but it shows that such can easily happen among those who possess the Scriptures--persons not strangers to the covenants of the promise, but having the hope engendered by these.--Cf. Eph. 2:12.
This idea of matters not always being as we would have them is certainly applicable to the perception of Jesus' public ministry and teachings, as they are recorded for us in the Gospels. Bible scholar F.F. Bruce expressed the following conviction:
"Many of those who listened to Jesus during his public ministry found some of his sayings 'hard', and said so. Many of those who read his sayings today, or hear them read in church, also find them hard, but do not always think it fitting to say so.
Our Lord's sayings were all of a piece with his actions and with his way of life in general. The fewer preconceptions we bring from outside to the reading of the Gospels, the more clearly shall we see him as he really was. It is all too easy to believe in a Jesus who is largely a construction of our own imagination--an inoffensive person whom no one would really trouble to crucify. But the Jesus whom we meet in the Gospels, far from being an inoffensive person, gave offence right and left. Even his loyal followers found him, at times, thoroughly disconcerting. He upset all established notions of religious propriety. He spoke of God in terms of intimacy which sounded like blasphemy. He seemed to enjoy the most questionable company. He set out with open eyes on a road which, in the view of 'sensible' people, was bound to lead to disaster.
But in those who were not put off by him he created a passionate love and allegiance which death could not destroy. They knew that in him they had found the way of acceptance, peace of conscience, life that was life indeed. More than that: in him they came to know God himself in a new way; here was the life of God being lived out in a real human life, and communicating itself through him to them. And there are many people today who meet Jesus, not in Galilee and Judaea but in the gospel record, and become similarly aware of his powerful attractiveness, entering into the same experience as those who made a positive response to him when he was on earth."
(page 15 of the introduction to The Hard Sayings Of Jesus)
The apostle Peter wrote (1 Pet. 2:22) the following about Jesus:
"He committed no sin, nor was deception found in his mouth."
In concert with this the writer of the book of Hebrews, states in verse twenty-six of chapter seven, that Christ was,
"...loyal, guileless, undefiled, separated from the sinners,..."
While on earth, Jesus Christ said of himself:
"I cannot do a single thing of my own initiative; just as I hear, I judge; and the judgment that I render is righteous, because I seek, not my own will, but the will of him that sent me." (John 5:30)
"And he that sent me is with me; he did not abandon me to myself, because I always do the things pleasing to him." (John 8:29)
To a regular reader of the Bible, the above expressions are familiar. The Son of God is portrayed as a sinless, undefiled, thoroughly loyal person, who always sought to do his Father's will and please him.
With this portrait of the perfect Son of God in mind it is of interest to give thought to something the Scriptures tell us was his practice:
"And he came to Nazareth, where he had been reared; and, according to his custom on the sabbath day, he entered into the synagogue, and he stood up to read." (Luke 4:16)
Before proceeding further with some of the significance of this custom referred to, it would be helpful to give attention to some historical background. In so doing it should become apparent that some things are not exactly as we would have them.
Physical Israel was a nation whose members were such solely by virtue of fleshly descent. Individual Israelites were born into an arrangement and relationship with attendant obligations. The generation of Israelites that agreed to be in the law covenant when mediated by Moses between Jehovah and representative elders, obligated future generations as it was a national covenant. (Ex. 24th chapter) This partly explains why Israel proved to be a conglomerate of the good and the bad, and why they were largely renegade. Opportunity to draw close to the true God was there by reason of the covenant, but obviously no guarantees that individuals simply born into the arrangement would so respond.
Although Jewish tradition contends that the Sanhedrin was set up by Moses and reorganized by Ezra after the exile, there is no historical evidence to support this idea. Apparently the Sanhedrin seems to have come about during the time of Greek rule of Palestine. It was an accretion,
The word accretion is defined in part as: the process of growth or enlargement: as increase by external addition or accumulation; an extraneous addition; and perhaps an understandable development and outgrowth of ideas contained in the Pentateuch. (Num. 11:16-25; Ex. 18:13-27) However or whenever it developed, it was an accretion; and its authority was recognized by Jews in the time of Christ, and the Son of God refers to it in his Sermon on the Mount, and apparently alludes to it later in his ministry as well.--Matt. 5:21,22,25,26; 23:1- 3.
Another accretion that came to serve a useful purpose was the synagogue. There the Scriptures were kept and regularly read, considered and expounded on. Such things as the Sanhedrin and the synagogue were realities the Jews of Christ's day--both as a people and as individuals--had to reckon with. And though not originally prescribed in the Law that Jehovah gave through Moses, still these arrangements developed and were put to good and bad use.
Interestingly, not only did the perfect Son of God direct people to a prescribed arrangement, namely, the temple and its ministries and functionaries--as riddled with flaws and corruption as these were in his day (Luke 17:11-14); but, as alluded to above, he also showed recognition for the Jewish legal arrangements of the time as they had come to develop. Additionally, Jesus attended synagogue regularly where he was surely exposed to both sound and unsound expositions of Scripture.
It is necessary to keep in mind that a Jew born "under law" (Cf. Gal. 4:4) and living at the time of Christ had to reckon with the realities around him. If he desired to hear the Scriptures read he had to seek out where they were kept and considered. And so it was with other arrangements, both the prescribed and the accretions. So, in a certain sense, the Jews then 'couldn't fight city hall', as it were. And, as noted regarding the synagogue, it was Jesus' custom to attend. To better appreciate what this likely meant for him, consider:
Recall how on one occasion during his public ministry, after listening to a scribe briefly expound on a passage of Scripture, the account observes:
"At this Jesus, discerning he had answered intelligently, said to him: "You are not far from the kingdom of God." (Luke 12:28-34)
So, too, it must have been that while regularly attending synagogue, Jesus certainly would have discerned intelligent exposition of the Scriptures.
On the other hand, even when he was but twelve years old he must have heard things at synagogue that did not make sense. Bear in mind that at that age the teachers he quizzed at the temple were impressed -- "...all those listening to him were in constant amazement at his understanding and his answers." (Luke 2:47) Certainly, as an adult engaged in his activities as the foretold Messiah, Jesus was confronted by erroneous viewpoints. (See for example: Matt. 22:15-46
It is noteworthy that Jesus addressed wrong teachings when openly challenged. However, the impression given is that he principally shared truth, and only disputed error when circumstances dictated that he do so. And that such wrong views were also a regular feature of at least some of the exposition to be heard while attending synagogue, is indicated by Jesus' allusion to 'hearing' views of the Jewish teachers of tradition. (See for example: Matt. 5:21,22,27,28,31,32,43,44)
In addition to erroneous exposition of Scripture, in his teachings Jesus refers to hypocrisy in the synagogues. (Matt. 6:2,5) Also, it is evident that while attending he observed prideful ambition on the part of some. (Matt. 23:6; Mark 12:39; Luke 11:43) All of this makes Jesus' regular attendance and participation at the synagogue noteworthy.
It is obvious that Jesus did not oppose certain customs of his day. He could have taken the position that the synagogue arrangement was not prescribed by Law, but was just an accretion anyway, and so why attend and be apart of it--especially if you had to hear such drivel. But, clearly, this is not what he did. He was sensitive to the people around him and the realities they all had to reckon with. He was sensitive to those in attendance, and to their interest in God's Word. He gathered where such gathered--such was his custom. We are informed of an occasion when people reacted negatively to Jesus' own exposition. (Luke 4:16-21) However, we are not led to believe that such attendance and participation on the part of God's Son in anyway jeopardized his relationship with Jehovah or marred his perfect sinless state.
Indeed, the Scriptures show that the Son of God utilized this Jewish accretion as a forum for teaching and preaching:
"Now Jesus returned in the power of the spirit into Galilee. And good talk concerning him spread out through all the surrounding country. Also, he began to teach in their synagogues, being held in honor by all.
...But he said to them: "Also to other cities I must declare the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this I was sent forth." Accordingly he went on preaching in the synagogues of Judea." (Luke 4:14,15,43,44)
Significant too, is the fact that Jesus frankly told his disciples:
"Be on your guard against men; for they will deliver you up to local courts, and they will scourge you in their synagogues.
For this reason, here I am sending forth to you [Jerusalem] prophets and wise men and public instructors. Some of them you will kill and impale, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city. (Matt. 10:17; 23:34)
As for you, look out for yourselves; people will deliver you up to local courts, and you will be beaten in synagogues and be put on the stand before governors and kings for my sake, for a witness to them. (Mark 13:9)
But before all these things people will lay their hands upon you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, you being haled before kings and governors for the sake of my name. (Luke 21:12)
Men will expel you from the synagogue. In fact, the hour is coming when everyone that kills you will imagine he has rendered a sacred service to God." (John 16:2)
Obviously, in order for these early Jewish Christians to be persecuted in and expelled from synagogues, they must have continued to attend them. The Scriptures make clear that the synagogue continued to be utilized by the first Christians as a forum for spreading the good news. Concerning the newly converted Saul of Tarsus (the apostle Paul) the book of Acts states:
"He got to be for some days with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately in the synagogues he began to preach Jesus, that this One is the Son of God. (Acts 9:19b,20)
And when they [Barnabas and Saul] got to be in Salamis they began publishing the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They had John [Mark] also as an attendant. (Acts 13:5)
They now journeyed through Amphipolis and Apollonia and came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. So according to Paul's custom he went inside to them, and for three sabbaths he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving by references that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying: "This is the Christ, this Jesus whom I am publishing to you." (Acts 17:1-3)
According to the Biblical record, in its early days Christianity was thought of as just another Jewish sect. Concerning the apostle Paul, Jewish opposers expressed the following through a spokesman named Tertullus:
"For we have found this man a pestilent fellow and stirring up seditions among all the Jews throughout the inhabited earth and a spearhead of the sect of the Nazarenes." (Acts 24:5)
In his defense before Governor Felix on this occasion, Paul replied in part:
"But I do admit this to you, that, according to the way that they [his Jewish opposers] call a 'sect,' in this manner I am rendering sacred service to the God of my forefathers, as I believe all the things set forth in the Law and written in the Prophets." (Acts 24:14)
On a later occasion, while under house arrest in Rome, Paul was told the following by some principal men of the Jews there:
"But we think it proper to hear from you what your thoughts are, for truly as regards this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against." (Acts 28:22) p73
It is evident from a reading of the Gospels and the book of Acts that members of the different Jewish sects were welcome to attend the synagogues that dotted the land. Originally, viewed as just another Jewish sect--"the sect of the Nazarenes"--the early Christians were free to come to the synagogue with all the others. However, ultimately they were viewed as a threat to Judaism and "an apostasy from Moses", and thus, attitudes changed.--Acts 21:21.b
The synagogues during the time of Christ and the early Christians, welcomed non-Jewish attenders known as God-fearers. Such often became proselytes. When beginning to speak at the synagogue in Antioch, the apostle Paul addressed those in attendance thusly: "Men, Israelites and you [others] that fear God, hear." (Acts 13:16b) Later in his speech, he again says, "Men, brothers, you sons of the stock of Abraham and those [others] among you who fear God, the word of this salvation has been sent forth to us." (Acts 13:26) The result of his speech is noted: "Now when they were going out, the people began entreating for these matters to be spoken to them on the following sabbath. So after the synagogue assembly was dissolved, many of the Jews and of the proselytes who worshipped [God] followed Paul and Barnabas, who in speaking to them began urging them to continue in the undeserved kindness of God. The next sabbath nearly all the city gathered together to hear the word of Jehovah. When the Jews got sight of the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began blasphemously contradicting the things being spoken by Paul. And so, talking with boldness, Paul and Barnabas said: 'It was necessary for the word of God to be spoken first to you. Since you are thrusting it away from you and do not judge yourselves worthy of everlasting life, look! we turn to the nations. In fact, Jehovah has laid commandment upon us in these words, "I have appointed you to be a salvation to the extremity of the earth."' When those of the nations heard this, they began to rejoice and to glorify the word of Jehovah, and all those who were rightly disposed for everlasting life became believers." (Acts 13: 42-48) Clearly the Jews incited to jealousy were jealous of their potential converts. Did not Jesus say: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you traverse sea and dry land to make one proselyte, and when he becomes one you make him a subject for Gehenna twice as much so as yourselves." (Matt. 23:15) The first non-Jewish converts to Christianity were Cornelius and his household. Cornelius is spoken of as "a devout man and one fearing God together with all his household, and he made many gifts of mercy to the people and made supplication to God continually." (Acts 10:2) The "people" this God-fearer made gifts of mercy to were apparently the Jews.--Compare Luke 7:1- 5.
The following should stand out from the foregoing: (1) Christ taught and set his example in an atmosphere of sectarianism. (2) At least for some of his teaching and preaching Christ utilized a forum, that was both an accretion and used and supported by various sects of Judaism. (3) The original Christians did the same until they were expelled from the synagogue, and this forum finally became exclusively Jewish.
Understandably, Volume II, page 1051 of Insight On The Scriptures, makes the following point:
"It was not difficult for the first Jewish Christians to conduct orderly, educational Bible study meetings, for they had the basic pattern in the synagogues with which they were familiar. We find many similarities. In the Jewish synagogue, as also in the Christian congregation, there was no set-apart priesthood or clergyman who did virtually all the talking. In the synagogue, sharing in the reading and in the exposition was open to any devout Jew. In the Christian congregation, all were to make public declaration and to incite to love and fine works, but in an orderly way. (Heb. 10:23-25) In the Jewish synagogue, women did not teach or exercise authority over men; neither did they do so in the Christian assembly."
Two other similarities to the Jewish synagogue that came to exist in the first century Christian assemblies--not mentioned in this Insight book article--were these:
First, the early Christians welcomed others to their gatherings besides baptized believers. Paul writes of the "ordinary person", "unbelievers", "ordinary people or unbelievers" and "any unbeliever or ordinary person" as coming to the congregation gatherings of "believers" held in Corinth.--1 Cor. 14:16,22-24.
Secondly, various sects came to be in the congregations of believers. The congregations--the Christian assemblies--were not free from sectarianism.
1. From early on, the Christian congregation had to contend with sectarianism. The apostle Paul warned of it or addressed it in nearly all his letters. See: Rom. 16:17,18; 1 Cor. 3:3,4,18,19; Gal. 4:9; Eph. 4:14,15; Phil. 3:18,19; Col. 2:8; 1 Thess. 3:5; 2 Thess. 2:1-3; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 2:17; 4:3,4; Titus 1:13,14; 3:10; -- The Christian Greek Scriptures give evidence of persons breaking from Christian teaching and conduct. See the following verses taking note of their approximate date in the first century: 2 Tim. 2:16-19/c. 65; 1 Tim. 1:19,20; 6:20,21/c. 61-64; 1 Cor. 15:12,33/c. 55; 2 Thess. 2:6,7/c. 51; 2 Pet. 2:10-22/c. 64; Jude 4, 8-20/c. 65; Titus 3:9-11/c. 61-64; Gal. 1:6-9; 2:4,5; 3:1; 4:17; 5:7-12; 6:12,13/c. 50-52; 1 John 2:18,19,22,23; 4:1-3; 2 John 9-11; 3 John 9,10/c. 98; Revelation chapters 2 and 3/c. 96.
The June 1, 1980 Watchtower (p. 31) states: "[Paul] concluded that there must be factions or sects among the Corinthians. However, the very existence of these factions would show up individuals who were approved from God's standpoint. When factions develop, often certain individuals endeavor to build up a following for themselves. Their spirit of discontent and their desire for prominence or recognition will quickly become apparent. But persons who are approved servants of the Most High continue to aid their fellow believers humbly. By their speech and actions, they demonstrate that they are convinced that the head of the Christian congregation is the Lord Jesus Christ. They will not identify themselves with groups that exalt imperfect men; nor will they try to gain the plaudits of men for themselves. Persons who truly are approved servants of God avoid contributing toward the development of factions and having any involvement with them. Also, when sects come into existence, such approved persons do what they can to promote unity and love. Yes, lovers of truth will stand out by shunning a party spirit and by continuing to help others to appreciate the need for unity under the headship of Jesus Christ. In this way sects or divisions actually serve to identify genuine believers, persons who have pure motives."
Though Paul condemned sectarianism as "fleshly" and a "work of the flesh" (1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:1-7; Gal. 5:19-21), still, he wrote the following:
"For first of all, when you come together in a congregation, I hear divisions exist among you; and in some measure I believe it. For there must also be sects among you, that the persons approved may also become manifest among you." (1 Cor. 11:18,19)
Thus, Paul states that the existence of sects was a must. The allowance of such would be for the purpose of giving opportunity to individuals to prove whether they were genuinely a follower of the Son of God or simply a member of a sect or a party-follower.'
Some Scriptures with comparative thoughts:
Deuteronomy 13:1-3: "In case a prophet or a dreamer of a dream arises in your midst and does give you a sign or a portent, and the sign or the portent does come true of which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us walk after other gods, whom you have not known, and let us serve them,' you must not listen to the words of that prophet or to the dreamer of that dream, because Jehovah your God is testing you to know whether you are loving Jehovah your God with all your heart and all your soul."
Luke 2:34,35: "Also, Simeon blessed them, but said to Mary its mother: 'Look! This one is laid for the fall and the rising again of many in Israel and for a sign to be talked against (yes, a long sword will be run through the soul of you yourself), in order that the reasonings of many hearts may be uncovered.'"
1 John 2:19: "They went out from us, but they were not of our sort; for if they had been of our sort, they would have remained with us. But they went out that it might be shown up that not all are of our sort."
The above verses, all have some common denominators. A situation was allowed to come about that essentially gave individuals an opportunity to show what sort of persons they were.
It is obvious that when Christ preached and taught in the synagogues, and when his early genuine disciples did the same (both in Jewish synagogues and in their own sectarian-affected gatherings) that Christianity rose above the sectarian spirit.
Again, though Jesus Christ did discuss certain differences of view he had with his opposers when circumstances dictated it; still, we mainly read of his sharing truth. The definite impression is given that he did not come to take on the great avalanche of error that had come about, and so we do not read of his going around attacking all the erroneous beliefs of the various Jewish sects. When he did aggressively take others to task, he seemed more concerned with the spirit and behavior of his opposers than with the minute details of all the flaws in their belief systems.
1. To allude to a parable of Jesus--men have tried and failed over the centuries to weed out the weeds. (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43) The many efforts and energies put forth to try and combat or correct the great avalanche of error that has come about is simply a never ending battle. An example is the Catholic Church and how long it has continued in existence. It is bigger than ever today; yet consider how many assaults on its errors that have been made over the centuries. Endeavors to correct the problems of persisting errors has proved to be much like Don Quixote's chasing and tilting windmills.
(Matt. 15:1-11; chapter 23) Interestingly, in the Scriptures we only learn of some of the beliefs of the Sadducees and Pharisees, and these in but an incidental way. The Essenses and their beliefs are not mentioned in the Bible at all. These false beliefs are not given the chief focus.
It is the unvarnished truth as presented by Jesus as found in the inspired writings of his disciples, that is given the chief focus. And the Scriptures provide indications as to why this is so.
In the apostle Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome, the context suggests a spirit of rivalry existing between Gentile and Jewish Christians.
Some Jewish Christians were evidently "resting upon law and taking pride in God." (Rom. 2:17) Whereas certain Gentile Christians were having "lofty ideas" and "exulting over" the fact that as non-Jews they had been "grafted" into an exclusively Jewish arrangement, due to the rejection of faithless Jews. (Rom. 11:20,18, 13-24) Gentile believers are counseled not to yield to the temptation to despise the Jews. If it had not been for the undeserved kindness of God they would not have been grafted in among his people and made "fellow citizens of the holy ones", as it is stated elsewhere. (Eph. 2:19) On the same token, the apostle makes the point that to be a Jew will do one good before God, only if he keeps the law of God. A Jew who breaks the law in any way is no better than a Gentile. (Romans 2:21-25) The apostle provides a real balancing view:
"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:23)
Thus, neither Jew nor Gentile has any inherent or intrinsic superiority over the other. And, yet Paul notes a definite advantage that the Jews have had over the Gentiles:
"What, then, is the superiority of the Jew, or what is the benefit of the circumcision? A great deal in every way. First of all, because they were entrusted with the sacred pronouncements of God." (Rom. 3:1,2)
As custodians of the Sacred Scriptures, the Jews as a people had access to beneficial laws and knowledge that gave them a decided edge over other peoples. As members of "the state of Israel" they were privy and party to "the covenants of the promise" of God, which engendered hope of the coming Messiah or Christ.--Cf. Eph. 2:12.
When Jesus appeared on the scene, the Jews as a people were governed by foreigners. The majority of them were scattered outside Palestine, governed by a number of nations and rulers. Yet, as noted above, wherever the Jews lived, they would establish synagogues. In the synagogues, copies of the Scriptures were kept, to be regularly read and considered. It was this being entrusted with these Sacred Scriptures that resulted in "the superiority of the Jew."
Again, the Jews of the first century were divided in their beliefs. Some had embellished and added to the Law--so much so that even simple commands such as the Sabbath, were nearly impossible to obey. The worship carried on in Jerusalem was corrupted by commercialism as well as meaningless rituals and formalities.
However, in spite of this situation, Jesus' ministry was directed "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Matt. 15:24) In spite of unfaithfulness and apostasy, the Jews were still God's chosen people. It was only after their rejection of God's Son that their house was abandoned to them.--Matt. 23:38.
To connect some thoughts from earlier, restating them in terms just discussed: The Son of God taught and set his example among people who had the advantage of possessing the Scriptures, but who were divided in beliefs. Plus, he made use of arrangements that had become corrupt and commercialized--ills that he condemned. (John 2:13-17) In imitation of their Master, Jesus' early Jewish disciples continued to use a familiar forum being utilized by the unbelieving Jews, who entertained a variety of beliefs.
In the centuries since Christ, when "wheat" have been growing together with "weeds" (Matt. 13:30), Biblical understanding has not been the exclusive domain of any one religious group or system. Paul wrote that "the superiority of the Jew" was due to the fact that "they were entrusted with the sacred pronouncements of God." The Jewish people were the custodians and keepers of the Sacred Scriptures. Since the first century, the Jews have continued to preserve copies of the Hebrew Scriptures. However, during this same period of time, many professing to be Christian have kept both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures circulated and translated. No one group or religious system has had this privilege.
It is a genuine response in faith to the truth as presented in the Scriptures that works wonders in disabusing a person of wrong ideas that he might have as he grows spiritually. Genuine response to the teachings of the Son of God has a desirable effect on a person's outlook, personality and the positions he takes.
This is partly what is involved in recognizing the implications of the following words of Jesus where he refers to his disciples as sheep and himself as the fine shepherd :
"...he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice. A stranger they will by no means follow but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers." (John 10:4,5)
Interestingly, the cross reference system of the New World Translation, links the following Scriptures with the expression "the voice of strangers":
"However, even if we or an angel out of heaven were to declare to you as good news something beyond what we declared to you as good news, let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8)
"Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ." (Col. 2:8)
Likely, this matter of anyone declaring a message beyond the good news of Scripture, and Christ's teachings being wrongly superseded by the traditions of men, are connected with "the voice of strangers" because of how Jesus uses this phrase in context.
Jesus' words about the fine shepherd were preceded by the incident involving his healing of a blind man. This man's parents "were in fear of the Jews, for the Jews had already come to an agreement that, if anyone confessed him as Christ, he should get expelled from the synagogue." (John 9:22) Thus, questioned about their son by the Pharisees, this couple directed these men and their questions to the healed man himself.
On being interrogated, the man confesses his belief that Jesus is "a prophet" and "from God." (John 9:17,33) He makes this confession despite the tyranny of authority brought to bear by the Pharisees (verse 28), and the threat of expulsion from the synagogue. The result?
"In answer [the Pharisees] said to him: "You were altogether born in sins, and yet are you teaching us?" And they threw him out!" (John 9:34)
The context suggests that they not only threw him out of the place where the interrogation was held, but expelled him from synagogue membership. It is apparent that the Pharisees saw it as an impertinence for such an untrained member of the common people to argue with the acknowledged interpreters of the law.
And, so we learn something of value from the man who had been healed of his blindness. This man held to what he understood as the truth about Christ, and in so doing, refused to succumb to the empty deception of the traditions of men, or to the close social and religious pressures of the Jews as represented in synagogue membership. Additionally, though an ordinary man, having simply heard the Scriptures read and expounded in synagogue, and with no pretensions to having the skill or training of the religious leaders--still, he thought nothing of disagreeing with them when it came to the truth about Christ.
The posture and behavior of the Jewish religious leaders in Christ's day, has proved to have not been all that unique. In the centuries since then, religious leaders of professed Christian systems have called upon others--both openly and by implication--to accept their own word and religious rulings as if these came from God. Such have taken authority to themselves that they had no right to take. Those questioning the opinions and rulings of these leaders have been censured, or worse. And, of course this type of thing still goes on today.
McClintock and Strong's Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (Vol. I, p. 553) has this to say in the article titled "Authority":
(1.) in matters religious and ecclesiastical, an assumed right of dictation, attributed to certain fathers, councils, or church courts. On this subject Bishop Hoadley writes: "Authority is the greatest and most irreconcilable enemy to truth and argument that this world ever furnished. All the sophistry--all the color of plausibility--all the artifices and cunning of the subtlest disputer in the world may be laid open and turned to the advantage of that very truth which they are designed to hide; but against authority there is no defence." He shows that it was authority which crushed the noble sentiments of Socrates and others, and that by authority the Jews and heathens combated the truth of the Gospel; and that, when Christians increased into a majority, and came to think the same method to be the only proper one for the advantage of their cause which had been the enemy and destroyer of it, then it was the authority of Christians, which, by degrees, not only laid waste the honor of Christianity, but well-nigh extinguished it among men. It was authority which would have prevented all reformation where it is, and which has put a barrier against it wherever it is not. The remark of Charles II. is worthy of notice--that those of the established faith make much of the authority of the church in their disputes with dissenters, but that they take it all away when they deal with papists.--Buck, Theol. Dict. s.v.
Yet Jesus said that his sheep would "listen to his voice", but that "a stranger they will by no means follow...because they do not know the voice of strangers."--John 10:3,5.
The chief priest and the scribes and elders confronted Jesus in a body and asked him directly:
"Tell us by whose authority you act as you do--who gave you such authority?" (Luke 20:1,2; Phillips)
It is apparent from the Gospels that authority was the issue lying at the crux of the conflict between the Son of God and the religious leaders of his day. The Jewish religious leaders considered authority as centered in themselves and extending outward to those upon whom they chose to bestow it. These Jews viewed Jesus as a threat to their authority structure. To them he was an outsider, a religious seditionist undermining their position with, and authority over the people. Jesus' teachings were considered heretical and dangerous because he did not conform to the norms the elders had established, or to the interpretations the Jewish teachers had developed for the community of the covenant people of God.--See: John 11:47,48.
The same issue has arisen repeatedly during the centuries since then. Incredibly, people who at one time have boldly and courageously resisted the tyranny of authority, have often later been seduced themselves by its appeal to what seems "expedient" or "practical" from a human standpoint--or simply by the opportunities it offers for power and control over others. And so it has been that truth has often been replaced with specious reasonings and conscience has given way to expediency. Integrity has been replaced by practicality and the view that the end justifies the means.
Remarkably, men seduced by the appeal of the tyranny of authority, and familiar with the evil record of the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day, have apparently failed to see the similarities in their own behavior. However, recall how Jesus testified to how the scribes and Pharisees of his day were able to look back on the religious misdeeds of their forefathers and yet were incapable or rather unwilling to see similar misdeeds in themselves.--Matt. 23:29-33; Cf. Rom. 2:1,3.
Tyranny of authority combined with the close social and religious pressures of a given community of faith are very powerful forces. These forces have had a definite role to play in insuring that ordinary people read the Scriptures with a certain theology in mind--a theology duly approved and authorized by those in authority. It would seem that very few people have sought to avoid reading the Scriptures without first filtering the words through the theology of their particular religious system.
At Luke 11:52, Jesus is quoted as pronouncing woes on those versed in the Law because they had 'taken away the key of knowledge.' The scribes had knowledge but by their multitudinous explanations and even false interpretations they had obscured the meaning of the Scriptures for others--taken away the means of understanding the simplicity of the Bible's message. Similarly, throughout the centuries since Christ, various theologians, expositors and instructors have through their explanations, allegories, etc., taken the 'key' away so that the average person has been faced with no way to 'unlock' the meaning of Scripture.
And thus a situation has developed and persisted over the centuries of people having the same Bible, and yet different Bibles. Consider: Greek- speaking Jews of the diaspora who utilized the Septuagint, had a different view of the Bible than the Hebrew-speaking Jews using the Hebrew Bible; for the simple reason that the Septuagint contained the apocrypha. The Sadducees accepted only the Pentateuch and saw it as only an ethical work. The Pharisees accepted the entire Hebrew Scriptures, but imposed their traditional views on them. The Jewish sect known as the Essenses allegorized the Scriptures. So too, with the Catholic Church and its view of the Bible and the Greek Orthodox with theirs. Or the various Protestant groups holding to teachings like predestination; or the Baptists with views like 'once saved always saved.' A religious group's views makes the Bible a different book to them than it is to other groups.
With regards to the foregoing, insightful are the following comments of Bible scholar Brooke Foss Westcott, written over one-hundred years ago:
"It may be objected that devout students of the Bible have often proved to be the sternest p.3P fanatics. But the answer is easy. They were fanatics because they were students not of the whole Bible but of some one fragment of it to which all else was sacrificed. The teaching of one part only, if taken without any regard to its relative position in connexion with other times and other books, may lead to narrowness of thought, but the whole recognizes and ennobles every excellence of man."
(The Bible in the Church, p.13)
Yet curiously, despite the insistence of the various systems of having an exclusive on understanding the Scriptures--when it comes to translating the Bible from the original languages, no one group has had it all when it comes to their efforts and findings. Note acknowledgment of this fact as found in the preface to the Tanakh, a translation of the Holy Scriptures, produced by the Jewish Publication Society:
"The Septuagint and the Targums are not only the oldest translations of the Bible but also the most influential. Down to our own day, virtually every Christian translation has followed the methods of the Jewish translators who created the Septuagint, and generally followed their renderings of the Hebrew as well. The Christian translators also were influenced by the interpretation of the Hebrew text set forth in the Targums (much of it in oral form at the time) and by the writings of the Jewish philosopher-interpreter Philo of Alexandria (died about 45 C.E.).
The forerunners and leaders of the Renaissance and the Reformation (fourteenth-fifteenth centuries), and especially Martin Luther and William Tyndale (sixteenth century), made use of Latin translations of the classic Jewish commentators Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Kimhi (eleventh-thirteenth centuries), whose works were imbued with the direct knowledge of the Targums. Luther was greatly indebted to Nicholas of Lyre (1270-1349), who had adopted Rashi's exegesis for his Latin Bible commentary. Rashi's influence on all authorized and most unofficial English translations of the Hebrew Bible becomes evident when Tyndale's dependence on Luther is considered. Tyndale is central to many subsequent English translations: the King James Version of 1611, the (British) Revised Version of 1881-1885, the American Standard Version of 1901, and especially the Revised Standard Version of 1952." (pp. xv,xvi)
The translators of the New World Translation also acknowledge their dependence on the efforts and findings of others. Please see: "All Scripture Is Inspired Of God And Beneficial", p. 326; Reasoning From The Scriptures, pp. 276,277.
For all their differences, over the centuries, most people professing to be Christian have shared a similar experience: All individuals, early on, received instruction and education under an influence that gave their minds a bias to a particular theory or manner of interpreting the Scriptures; being so taught by teachers who most likely had their opinions shaped by it as well. And, it is understandable that a like situation existed among the many Jews living up to, and at the time of Christ. Case in point: Saul of Tarsus who became the apostle Paul. Note his recounting of his own religious background:
"I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but educated in this city [Jerusalem] at the feet of Gamaliel, instructed according to the strictness of the ancestral Law, being zealous for God just as all of you are this day." (Acts 22:3)
Concerning this Gamaliel that Paul refers to, the book of Acts has this to say:
"...a certain man rose in the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a Law teacher esteemed by all the people." (Acts 5:34)
It is evident that Gamaliel's influence gave Paul's mind a bias to a particular manner of interpreting the Scriptures, for note again Paul's own words:
"Indeed, as to the manner of life from youth up that I led from the beginning among my nation and in Jerusalem, all the Jews that have been previously acquainted with me from the first know, if they but wish to bear witness, that according to the strictest sect of our form of worship I lived a Pharisee." (Acts 26:4,5)
"You, of course, heard about my conduct formerly in Judaism, that to the point of excess I kept on persecuting the congregation of God and devastating it, and I was making greater progress in Judaism than many of my own age in my race, as I was far more zealous for the traditions of my fathers." (Gal. 1:13,14)
It was Paul's dramatic encounter with the Son of God on the road to Damascus, that forever broke his Pharisaical mindsets.--Acts 9:3-8; 22:6-11; 26:12-18.
Variations of many themes have been replayed time and again throughout the centuries of what can be called the Christian era. To adopt an historian's perspective, we could say that looking into the past can give us insight into the present, and even a glimpse into the future. Unfortunately, the lessons of the past can be, and frequently are, lost on people living in their respective present.
William Tyndale, in his desire to get the Bible into the hands of the plowboy, defied the Church, and translated the Scriptures into the common tongue. Tyndale acted as an individual before God--responsible to Him--personally sensitive to His Word. Though unauthorized by humans, much of his work laid the basis for the later humanly authorized King James Version.
Martin Luther, in his stand against false teachings refused to be persuaded by Pope, human counsel or creed. Rather, he insisted that he would be convinced only by the Sacred Scriptures. Luther acted as an individual at odds with the prevailing--and really then, the only--Christian religious system of his day.
Charles Taze Russell and early associates engaged in "independent study" of the Bible that resulted in their seeing the falseness of human creeds and p23`P exposing same in the light of the Scriptures. Having broken free from the religious affiliation of his youth, Russell had no Church system or organization to fall back on. As an individual he simply relied on the Bible and recognized his personal accountability before his Creator.
(See: God's Kingdom Of A Thousand Years Has Approached, pp. 185,186, par. 4.)
Some common points shared by Tyndale, Luther and Russell stand out. Though acting in concert with others, still it remains that in a very real way they acted as individuals. They viewed the Word of God as the authority, and were enabled by that view to question human authority. As a consequence they had no human system to fall back on as a safety net, so to speak. Tyndale was ultimately killed by human authority. Human authority would have had Luther killed if it could have. Human authority viewed and treated Russell as an outcast, and likely had earlier practices persisted to his day, he too would have been threatened with death.
However, consider this: Though all three men acted in concert with other individuals, only Tyndale did not start a religious movement; whereas both Luther and Russell did so, in spite of what could be said of their original intent. All three men saw errors being promulgated by human authority. However, Tyndale's sole concern appears to be getting the Scriptures themselves into the hands of the common people. And though Luther and Russell had that concern as well, the difference would seem to be their willingness to lead people into specific concerted actions as well as their espousing of what hindsight tells us were some peculiar ideas.
(For examples of some peculiar ideas held to by C.T. Russell, see the book Jehovah's Witnesses--Proclaimers Of God's Kingdom. Note for instance, reference to the Great Pyramid of Gizeh on page 201.)
The dynamic lead they each provided, coupled with peculiar ideas contributed to these men being viewed by others as somehow special. However you may personally view the differences between Luther and his accomplishments and Russell and his, one undeniable result was the establishing of human authority with preferred religious views. Yet, ironically, such religious traditionalism is what these men themselves had reacted against as individuals.
One writer, in his evaluation of Jehovah's Witnesses as a religious group, made this observation regarding C.T. Russell's activities and writings: "His comments became for many like the creeds he so despised." (p. 137 of A People For His Name--A history of Jehovah's Witnesses and an Evaluation, by Timothy White.)
History reveals that the traditional views of men have time and again become set in concrete in the forms of creeds. Criterion for approved fellowship (and sometimes life itself), has been the required acceptance of such creeds or official "Church" teachings. An apparent motive for such required conformity to man-made "articles of faith", has been the conscious or subconscious desire of those in control to maintain control and perpetuate the system or structure they had controlling power in. (Cf. John 11:48) And, to simplify, perhaps such control has succeeded largely due to a need in most people 'to belong' and 'a desire to be under law.'--Cf. 1 Cor. 1:12; Gal. 4:21.
The Scriptures point out that in spite of whatever errors would be introduced into the Christian congregation, the foundation of God is sure--his purpose can never be defeated. Also, Jehovah God has always had those who are his and whom he knows to be his. And those who have professed to be true worshipers have been bound to renounce and depart from unrighteousness. (2 Tim. 2:14-22) That which was bestowed to sinful imperfect uninspired humans was the unvarnished teachings of the Son of God and his inspired apostles and prophets; these writings being 100% correct. Both good and bad developments have been allowed to come about over the centuries among those possessing these writings and professing to be followers of Jesus Christ. Regardless of the religious system or systems prevailing; whether Christ was preached in pretense or in truth, the good news has evoked genuine response and produced genuine disciples.--Phil. 1:15-18.
Understandably, no system or synagogue-like arrangement has ever been 100% correct. And as far as any oral or written presentations from such systems go, to the degree that such are in harmony with the inspired writings, to that degree they are correct. History has shown that any attempt to produce a pure system or synagogue arrangement has failed. And by pure is meant not just 100% correct, but composed completely of genuine disciples without the taint of man-made traditional views.
The apostle John wrote:
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life--the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us--that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete." (1 John 1:1-4; Revised Standard Version)
John writes of a firsthand eyewitness exposure to Jesus and his teachings that he was able to pass on to others. The result of genuinely responding to this testimony in faith, is shared fellowship with the Father and his Son. John writes of others thus being able to have the same fellowship that he enjoyed with God and Christ due to a response to authoritative testimony. That authoritative testimony, since the death of the apostles and the close of the Bible canon, is to be found in the inspired Scriptures. Genuine response to this testimony still results in the fellowship John and others enjoyed, namely a fellowship with the Father and his Son.
Religious systems over the centuries have turned matters around. Generally, a person has been compelled to become a member of a fellowship of men based on response to more than the testimony of Scripture. Upon responding to a theology of men the person then has been led to believe that fellowship with the Father and his Son is now possible--and only then. Thus, human associations have again and again attempted to regulate and determine who exactly shall be admitted to fellowship with God and Christ. But such human structures or systems of men have taken on authority they have not been entitled to.
Just as Jesus indicated in a parable, it has worked out that over the centuries "wheat" have been growing alongside "weeds" awaiting separation to take place only at the "harvest" by "angels." Or, to look at it another way, for centuries "the dragnet" has been hauling in "fish" indiscriminately, awaiting the time when the "fine" fish would be sorted out from the "unsuitable" by "angels."--Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50. p73
Throughout the centuries since Christ, the "weeds" have not been found exclusively in any one system or group, or even a select few religious groups. Nor have the "wheat"--genuine disciples of the Son of God--been found in only certain groups or religious movements. 'Both have grown together.' And too, no sect or system has exclusively contained all the "fine" fish; nor has any group had a monopoly on "unsuitable" fish.
Many religious systems and movements--synagogue-like arrangements--have come to be. Some have endured--others have disappeared; yet, true Christianity has transcended the sectarian spirit since Christ's day, just as it did in the first century. As far as certain good and bad developments have gone, in making a mental scan of events over the centuries, it is apparent that God and his Son have not chosen to intervene--nor have they chosen any humans to do so either; this in keeping with Christ's parable:
"Do you want us then to go out and pull them all up?" said the servants. "No," he returned, "If you pull up the weeds now, you would pull up the wheat with them. Let them both grow together till the harvest." (Matt. 13:28,29; Phillips)
True Christianity trains an individual's conscience and bids him to follow it. Such a conscience--and the Christian freedom connected with it--is the enemy of the compulsory society. It is the Christian conscience that has withstood the many institutional tyrannies that have inevitably developed among professed Christian peoples.
The Scriptures--as far as their basic saving message is concerned-- can be understood by anyone sincerely desiring to understand and willing to put forth the effort they would have to in trying to understand other lesser literary works. Obviously, in a serious approach to the inspired Scriptures, the intent would be loftier and the results far more beneficial than the reading of any other literature--but still, some of the principles of study and research are nonetheless the same.
No one was more forceful in taking a stand that the Bible is plain in its meaning, and that it should therefore be accessible to all, than Martin Luther. His most vigorous affirmation of this principle can be found in his book On the Bondage of the Will, written in response to a work entitled On the Freedom of the Will, by highly respected scholar Desiderius Erasmus. According to Erasmus,
"There are some things which God has willed that we should contemplate, as we venerate himself, in mystic silence; and, moreover, there are many passages in the sacred volumes about which many commentators have made guesses, but no one has finally cleared up their obscurity: as the distinction between the divine persons, the conjunction of the divine and human nature in Christ, the unforgivable sin; yet there are other things which God has willed to be most plainly evident, and such are the precepts for the good life. This is the Word of God, which is not to be bought in the highest heaven, nor in distant lands overseas, but it is close at hand, in our mouth and in our heart. These truths must be learned by all, but the rest are more properly committed to God, and it is more religious to worship them, being unknown, than to discuss them, being insoluble."
Though Luther at first seemed to disagree violently with Erasmus, implying that everything in Scripture was plain and equally available, he eventually settled down and allowed that there were certain kinds of obscurities in Scripture:
"I admit, of course, that there are many texts in the Scriptures that are obscure and abstruse, not because of the majesty of their subject matter [as Erasmus had argued], but because of our ignorance of their vocabulary and grammar; but these texts in no way hinder a knowledge of all the subject matter of Scripture."
(Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation, pp. 39,40,110; translated and edited by E. Gordon Rupp)
A personal firsthand exposure to the Scriptures themselves is invaluable for an individual. This is necessary for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that no matter how sincere or well intended a secondhand source may be, there is the likelihood of its being somehow tainted, biased--shaped by some traditional viewpoints. A firsthand exposure to God's Word is incomparable in assisting one to sort all of this out.
For illustrative purposes, consider: Professional storytellers are encouraged to regularly reread the story at its source (if telling a printed story). The reason: Gradually a person in the telling begins to miss out on some important though minor details of a story. Only rereading a source at regular intervals will keep the story whole and save it from turning into a totally different story from the one began with--and thus prevent the storyteller from becoming a contaminated secondhand source. The lesson should be obvious.
Our view of this matter of contaminated sources can be further enhanced by a consideration of the world of research. From a perusal of textbooks having to do with the profession of scholars, it is apparent that among many professional researchers there exists a low opinion of the human capacity for truth and accuracy. The very nature of their work tends to make them skeptical and sensitive to how humans seem to have an inherent tendency to shy away from the exact truth. Even practicing scholars, if honest, wisely recognize their own leanings in this direction. And, inspite of the most rigid regulations and standards of procedure existing for those in the research and writing profession, none is infallible.
Recognizing human frailties, a veteran researcher of necessity has to become reconciled to the fact that in spite of his own best efforts there is apt to be at least a small margin of error in his work. And though resolved to the reality of perfection being beyond his reach, a conscientious researcher must be determined to exercise great care to eliminate all the mistakes he can possibly detect; realizing that after having done so, if a slip or mistake has escaped his view, he can lay the blame on human nature--his own or others.
It is understandable why some contend that one of the most effective pieces of equipment a scholar can possess to be able to properly evaluate any piece of historical information is a good working knowledge of human nature.
This is so, for in his task, a researcher often works with what can rightly be called contaminated sources; as the data received from predecessors contains a variety of misinformation. Such includes: an error in copying a document; a political, moralistic, religious, or personal bias on the part of an early witness; a biographer's striving for artistic effect at the expense of the facts; a slip in the memory of someone recalling an event that happened years earlier; a misprint; a speculation that has been dignified into a "certainty"; an anecdote or an assumption of critics or historians which has gone unchallenged for so long that it now has become an unquestioned truth; or it may be historical fact that has been idealized by an autobiographer, or embroidered due to artistic imagination, or colored by compelling motives such as self- justification--and the list can go on and on.
In literary scholarship, for instance, once a mistake is somehow introduced, it not only embraces its measure of untruth, but a definite proliferation takes place. For the oftener an error is reprinted or retold the more persuasive it tends to become; and the more readily it protectively colors or glosses over any additional mistakes that have come to be associated with it. As a consequence the resulting myth becomes increasingly difficult to discredit. In effect, since woven into a fabric of truth the way it has, the myth takes on a life of its own.
Another compelling reason why a myth persists despite exposure is that it is often much more colorful, fanciful, or picturesque than the truth which is often prosaic in comparison. It seems that a good anecdote, however doubtful, appeals to the romanticist in humans. And for the researcher, in his investigation, the result can be a clash between two opposing inclinations--the scientists's devotion to austere fact and the artist's sense of beauty that resides in what might have been. And so, a scholar's rejection of untruth may often be accompanied by sadness or a certain regret.
To cite an example of a popular myth that passes as historical fact, we have only to consider the contention that men of the Western world envisaged the end of the world and Christ's return in the year 1000. This was debunked by a scholar almost one-hundred years ago. Among the facts discovered: The first printed reports of this myth were discovered to have come out in the late 1600s, which were seized upon and put in print again in the next century. (It even became usual to ascribe the launching of the Crusades as due to the relief felt by the Christians when the end of the world did not come in A.D. 1000.) Research reveals that the end of the world had been foretold so often that only the ignorant in the year 1000 would seriously believe a new rumor. Additionally, however impressive round numbers based on the decimal system are to us today, they had no such hold on the imagination of medieval man, as the numerals of that era were the Roman Is, Vs, Xs, Ls, Cs, Ds, and Ms. For the Middle Ages no magic property would attach to "The Year M." Rather, mystery and significance would have been connected with 3s, 7s, 12s, and their multiples; as these were the sacred numbers of the Jews, and the Christians had repeatedly used them for prophecy. Also, the so-called Christian calendar did not come into general use until after 1000; and even then with no agreement on dating--let alone what month the year would begin. Finally, bare numerical dates meant little or nothing to the ordinary medieval man. He guided his life by the feast- and fast-days of the Church, and not, as people today, by engagement books in which not merely the days, months, and year are marked, but the hours and half-hours, A.M. and P.M. To medieval man, medieval time--differently divided--was of a different texture. The conclusion? It is unhistorical to read back our habits and behavior into a past era; and thus, lacking any contemporaneous evidence of panic together with the facts of daily life and thought in the Middle Ages, a legend is demolished--even though as a myth it endures.
You might take note of your reaction to the foregoing? Are you only mildly surprised? Since you are probably not particularly emotionally disturbed by the above, do you find you readily believe the facts as laid out? Since no threat is posed to any cherished beliefs, do you find yourself willing to discard this popular myth about the year 1000?
Obviously, application can rightly be made to any retelling and interpreting of the Scriptures. Great care needs to be taken so that one does not become a contaminated secondhand source. The prime safeguards include regularly rereading the source, being sensitive to its historical setting and the context; as well as letting the Scriptures communicate in a firsthand way.
As has been touched on earlier in this writing, through the centuries the Scriptures have communicated to people mainly in the light of the theology of whatever religious system they have been attached to; and thus communication has been in a secondhand way. The result has been for people often to be blinded to context. Obviously, any who have sought to let the Scriptures communicate apart from these influences, as much as possible, have in so doing, allowed for communication in a firsthand way. To the degree these other voices or influences have been allowed to communicate, people have been less likely to see in context and distortions have resulted. This is still the issue today. Seeing these issues allows a person to see the reality of the Scriptures--and to better discern that things are not always as they appear or as we would have them.
Life experience often demonstrates that our biases are wrong, and that our preconceived notions are false. Jesus' impalement and the reaction to it on the part of those possessing the Scriptures, is a classic example. Clearly, the fewer preconceptions we personally bring from outside to our reading of the Gospel accounts, the more clearly we shall see or perceive Jesus as he really was.
The perfect Son of God attended synagogue regularly. The synagogue was not prescribed by the Mosaic Law. It was an extraneous addition or accretion that developed before the time of Christ. The synagogue was one of the realities the Jews of Christ's day had to reckon with. It was an arrangement that was put to a good and bad use. While attending, Jesus was surely exposed to sound and unsound expositions of Scripture. It is clear that he did not oppose certain customs of his day, and we are not led to believe that such attendance and participation on the part of God's Son in anyway jeopardized his relationship with Jehovah or marred his perfect sinless state.
It is obvious from a reading of the Gospels and the book of Acts that members of the different Jewish sects were welcome to attend the synagogues that dotted the land. Originally, viewed as just another Jewish sect--"the sect of the Nazarenes"--the early Christians were free to come to the synagogue with all the others.
A reading of the Biblical accounts also makes it apparent that Christ taught and set his example in an atmosphere of sectarianism; that at least some of his teaching and preaching was done using a forum that was both an accretion and one used and supported by various sects of Judaism. Also, the early Jewish followers of Christ did the same until they were expelled from the synagogue.
It is apparent that, with regards to their own gatherings, the early Christians adopted a similar format as that of the synagogue. Like the synagogue, they too welcomed the "unbeliever" or "ordinary person." And like the synagogue, there is evidence that early believers were troubled with the sectarian spirit.
In reading about Jesus ministry, we mainly read of his sharing truth. When he did aggressively take others to task, he seemed more concerned with the spirit and behavior of his opposers than with the minute details of all the flaws in their belief systems. The false beliefs of the Jewish sects are only given scant mention, if any, as clearly these erroneous views are not a chief focus of Scripture. Rather, it is the unvarnished truth as presented by Jesus and as found in the inspired writings that is given the chief focus.
Possession and regular exposure to the Scriptures can give a person a decided advantage over others, as one thus has access to beneficial standards and hope-engendering knowledge. This was essentially "the superiority of the Jew" that Paul wrote of. However, as with the Jews as a whole, such an edge or advantage does not make one inherently better than others or guarantee immunity from tyranny of authority or close social and religious pressures.
It is genuine response in faith to the truth as presented in the Scriptures that works wonders in disabusing a person of wrong ideas that he might have as he grows spiritually.
The posture and behavior of the Jewish religious leaders in Christ's day, has proved to have not been all that unique. In the centuries since then, religious leaders of professed Christian systems have called upon others--both openly and by implication--to accept their own word and religious rulings as if these came from God. Such have taken authority to themselves that they had no right to take.
Jesus said that his sheep would "listen to his voice", but that "a stranger they will by no means follow...because they do not know the voice of strangers."--John 10:3,5.
The context that leads up to the above, as quoted by John, concerns a blind man that Jesus healed who openly acknowledged what he understood as the truth about Christ; doing so while refusing to succumb to the traditional views of respected leaders, or to the close social and religious pressures of the Jews as represented in synagogue membership. Additionally, though an ordinary man, having simply heard the Scriptures read and expounded in synagogue, and with no pretensions to having the skill or training of the religious leaders--still, he thought nothing of disagreeing with them when it came to the truth about Christ.
This same type of issue has arisen repeatedly during the centuries since then. Incredibly, however, often people who at one time have boldly and courageously resisted the tyranny of authority, have often later been seduced themselves by its appeal, and been shaped by its pressures.
Tyranny of authority combined with the close social and religious pressures of a given community of faith are very powerful forces. These forces have had a definite role to play in insuring that ordinary people read the Scriptures with a certain theology in mind--a theology duly approved and authorized by those in authority. It would seem that very few people have sought to avoid reading the Scriptures without first filtering the words through the theology of their particular religious system.
For all their differences, over the centuries, most people professing to be Christian have shared a similar experience: All individuals, early on, received instruction and education under an influence that gave their minds a bias to a particular theory or manner of interpreting the Scriptures; being so taught by teachers who most likely had their opinion shaped by it as well.
An ongoing problem has been that people have allowed teachers to do more than assist them in understanding the Scriptures. So often it has been that religious teachers have been looked to as infallible guides, permitted to decide authoritatively what the true meaning of God's Word is.
History reveals that the traditional views of men have time and again become set in concrete in the form of creeds. Criterion for approved fellowship (and sometimes life itself), has been the required acceptance of such creeds or official "Church" teachings.
Whereas the Scriptures--as far as their basic saving message is concerned--can be understood by anyone sincerely desiring to understand and willing to put forth the effort they would have to in trying to understand other lesser literary works.
A personal firsthand exposure to the Scriptures themselves is invaluable for an individual. This is necessary for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that no matter how sincere or well intended a secondhand source may be, there is the likelihood of its being somehow tainted, biased--shaped by some traditional viewpoints; hence, somewhat contaminated. A firsthand exposure to God's Word is incomparable in assisting one to sort all of this out.
So often has it happened that various synagogue-like arrangements that have come to be, have created and imposed a sterile atmosphere where traditional beliefs and interpretations can more easily survive unchallenged. For instance, the Catholic Church officially prohibited Catholics from reading the published writings of Martin Luther. Martin Luther in turn banned the writings that opposed or hindered Lutheran teaching.
In a similar way, note the concern of the Jewish religious leaders after Christ had resurrected Lazarus:
"Consequently the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Sanhedrin together and began to say: "What are we to do, because this man performs many signs? If we let him alone this way, they will all put faith in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."...Therefore from that day on they took counsel to kill him." (John 11:47,48)
"Accordingly Jesus, six days before the passover, arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus was whom Jesus had raised up from the dead....Therefore a great crowd of the Jews got to know he was there, and they came, not on account of Jesus only, but also to see Lazarus, whom he raised up from the dead. The chief priests now took counsel to kill Lazarus also, because on account of him many of the Jews were going there and putting faith in Jesus." (John 12:1,9-11)
Obviously, by planning to kill both Jesus and Lazarus, the religious leaders were interested in doing much more than merely suppress the writings of those they considered heretical. But isn't the spirit or intent the same, and p73 aren't similar motives apparent? The means might have been more drastic, but aren't the desired ends the same?
Clearly, those Jews in authority sought the perpetuation of the status quo. They seemed convinced that Jesus' teachings and actions posed a threat to their arrangements, teachings and influence. So a suppression of the threat was decided on, and hence a sterile atmosphere was sought.
Consider: If beliefs and interpretations, as well as the authority they uphold, must require a sterile atmosphere--an atmosphere where they thus are unquestioned and unchallenged--in order for them to survive, then doesn't that in itself suggest just how weak and ill-founded they must be?
A famous statesman observed: "The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie--deliberate, contrived and dishonest--but the myth--persistent, persuasive and unrealistic." -- One definition for myth is: An ill-founded belief held uncritically especially by an interested group.
Looking back over the array of false doctrines, beliefs and interpretations that have been part and parcel to the various religious systems throughout the centuries up to the present, is it not clear that such have essentially been popular mythologies masquerading as Bible truths? And that such myths have indeed been persistent, persuasive and unrealistic--as well as the great enemy of truth?
Thus, one of the ongoing issues confronting an individual attached to a religious system has been, and continues to be, is he attracted merely to the fiction of his system, or is he really attracted to the truth of the Scriptures?
Many do not want to have the fiction--the myths--threatened. Some simply do not even want to think about the possibility that their religious system may teach fiction. Unfortunately, when fiction is pointed out as such to certain ones, they are not moved to study the Scriptures more diligently. And, not so ironically, it has been, and continues to be the case, that it is the study of the Scriptures that makes it possible to distinguish truth from fiction.
Seeing these issues allows a person to see the reality of the Scriptures--and to better discern that things are not always as they appear, or as we would have them--or even as others would have them for us.
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