Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Seriously — You’ve Got Mail

Another piece written by my husband:

Imagine, for the sake of illustration, that you’re cleaning out a drawer and come upon a letter that your father wrote to your sister. You read it and find it very interesting. You learn some things about your father that you didn’t know. You find a bit of advice he gave her regarding a choice she had to make and are able to fit that advice to a situation in your own life. Reading the letter is beneficial, but while you’re reading it, there’s something you can’t lose sight of — you’re reading somebody else’s mail. Not everything in that letter will apply to you directly, and there may be some things that it would be very foolish to use in your life.

That’s the way we need to read a lot of Scripture. It is all God’s Word, and, as such, is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). But not all of it applies directly to us. Before you react too strongly against this, I would suggest that you already view Scripture this way.

For example, how many of the following verses have you applied to your life?

• Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch (Genesis 6:14).

• Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the Lord 's release (Deuteronomy 15:2).

• Or if a person swears, speaking thoughtlessly with his lips to do evil or to do good … he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering (Leviticus 5:4, 6).

“Yea,” you say. But that stuff’s from the Old Testament. What about the New Testament?

He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36).

And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need (Acts 2:44-45).

From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none (1 Corinthians 7:29).

So the issue isn’t whether or not all Scriptures apply directly to us — we know they don’t. The issue is which Scriptures do apply directly to us. Which books of the Bible are our mail?

I’ve learned that one of the most important keys to understanding a portion of Scripture is figuring out to whom it was written.

The vast majority of the Old Testament — from Genesis 12 through the end of Malachi — has to do with Israel. It was written by Jews to Jews and about Jews. During the time of the Old Testament, for a non-Jew to be saved, he or she had to become a Jew. Everything in this portion of Scripture must be viewed through that lens.

The four Gospels relate the Lord’s ministry while He was on earth. That ministry was to the Jews. That’s exactly what He told His disciples — Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:5-6).

Everything Christ did during His ministry on earth was part of the prophetic program of Israel.

What about Acts? Acts can be a tricky book if you don’t keep all of this in mind. The beginning of Acts, certainly through chapter 7, is all Jewish. From that point on, when the Jews reject the Holy Spirit, the book is a history of the continued rejection of God’s plan by Israel and the concurrent offering of reconciliation by God to the Gentiles. Without Acts, we’d go immediately from the Lord’s instructions about ministering only to Jews to Paul’s offering of salvation to everyone without explanation.

Paul was chosen by God to be the example of salvation by grace through faith to all who believe, Jew or Gentile. That’s us. Paul’s letters are our mail — although even those we must read with an eye on the specific audience.

What about the rest of the books in the New Testament — those written by James, Jude, Peter and John?

In Galatians, we read this: When James, Cephas [Peter], and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised (Galatians 2:9).

Nowhere in Scripture are we told that this decision was rescinded. The letters of James, Peter and John were written to an audience of Jews. We aren’t told specifically about Jude, but as he was James’ brother, we can figure this is the case with him also.

James probably wrote his letter in AD 46 which was probably five years before Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the first of his letters. In addition, James makes it very clear who his audience is in the first verse — To the twelve tribes (James 1:1).

Peter and John wrote later, after Paul’s message to the Gentiles was widely known. Their letters, while written to and about Jews, reflect the progression of revelation. Peter, in particular, credits Paul with some of his information — as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:15-16). But we need to remember who they were writing to.

That leaves Hebrews, which the title and contents clearly mark as also having been written to Jews.

This post is already a lot longer than I intended it to be, so I’ll end with this. I believe the entire Bible is God’s Word. I believe that He wants us to be familiar with all of it and understand all of it and to gain benefit from all of it. My point is only this — in order to understand it and gain benefit from Scripture, we have to interpret it correctly. And to interpret it correctly, we need to know who the audience is.


  1. If I understand the illustration
    My Father would be GOd
    My Sister would be Israel
    I would be me/NT Christian/Church

    If that's the case, a problem with your illustration is that my Father told me to read the letter to my sister to the extent that it can make me perfect (2 Timothy 3:16--and the Scriptures he is referring to are the OT, the stuff his mom taught Tim).

    It is more than just "beneficial" Paul says it was written for "our" learning, our being the church. It's not just that we found this letter lying around, it's that the Father tells us we can be perfected by it.

    Also, it is true that people don't live by the verses you quoted above and it is also quite true they don't live by many of the verses in the books they deem are "written for them!"

  2. The point of this post is simply that in order to understand Scripture and properly apply it to yourself, you have to know who the primary audience is.