How do we view and handle the Bible? This is not an arbitrary question, but it lies at the very heart of us discovering its many truths. When we look and compare both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, we discover that they both emphasize only part of the Bible, and they both use a latter writing to interpret and understand the Hebrew Scriptures, or what Christians have been erroneously taught to call the “Old Testament.” Rabbinic Judaism interprets and understands the Hebrew Scriptures from the perspective of the Talmud and other Rabbinical writings, and Christianity interprets and understands the Hebrew Scriptures, or what Christians have been taught to call the “Old Testament,” from the perspective of the New Testament, and the writings of the Church Fathers and other Christians. However, as we can see, both rely on their respective religions to dictate how they should view and understand the Scriptures.
Christians have been erroneously taught that the first part of their Bible is called the “Old Testament,” and the second part of their Bible is the “New Testament.” However, there is not one single verse or passage in the Bible that defines the phrase “Old Testament” as the first thirty-nine books of the Bible, nor is there a single verse or passage in the Bible that defines the “New Testament” as the last twenty-seven books of the Bible. Consequently, this teaching that the Bible is a divided book is entirely man-made, and does not come from God at all. Therefore, Christians would be better off to just rip those two dividing sheets out of their Bible: the one near the beginning that says “Old Testament” and the other right before the book of Matthew that reads “New Testament.”
Instead, we should view everything from the view point of the Hebrew Scriptures (i.e., “Old Testament”). God gave us the first part of the Scriptures for a reason. It provides us with the framework, context, and foundation for how we are to interpret and understand the later writings. In fact, there are FOUR tests that we can apply to any biblical teaching to see if it something that we should consider:
- THE TEST OF CONTEXT. The most basic rule of properly interpreting and understanding any written text is that of CONTEXT. Any written text needs to be placed back into its original context, then interpreted and understood within that context, and then have that meaning brought forward to our day and time, and seen how that meaning can be applied.
Unfortunately, there have been several Christian leaders that have violated this basic rule of CONTEXT numerous times. For example, I have heard ministers quote only the first line of Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge,” and then they apply this to whatever “knowledge” they feel the congregation is “lacking.” However, if they would just read the whole verse, the “lacking knowledge” is actually named within that verse.
My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law (Heb. Torah) of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hosea 4:6)
As we can see here, this is not just a case of ignorance about something. They lack this knowledge, because they have willingly rejected it, and what knowledge have they rejected? The Torah (trans. “law”) of your God. This same exact accusation could be made against most Christian churches.
Another example of this is from the book of Proverbs: I have heard ministers teaching about Positive Thinking & Confession, and they will quote Proverbs 6:2 as a proof text, “You are snared with the words of your mouth,” and then argue that if you say anything negative, you will be “snared with the words of your mouth” and that bad thing will happen to you. However, when we place this verse back into CONTEXT, we will see that this verse has absolutely nothing to do with positive thinking and confession:
My son, if you have become surety for your neighbor, have given a pledge for astranger, if you have been snared by the words of your mouth, have been caught with the words of your mouth, this then, my son, and deliver yourself; Sinceyou have come into the hand of your neighbor, Go, humble yourself, and importune your neighbor. Do not give sleep to your eyes, nor slumber to your eyelids; deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hunter’s hand, and like a bird from the hand of the fowler. (Proverbs 6:1-5)
In this passage, Solomon is giving us advice about what we are to do if we find ourselves in a situation where we have agreed to co-sign a loan for either a neighbor or a complete and total stranger. If we find ourselves in that situation, Solomon says that we should not wait until the next day – “Do not give sleep to your eyes, nor slumber to your eyelids” – but we are to go that day, humble ourselves and admit to the person that we cannot do it, and free ourselves from this financial obligation. Solomon here is discussing how we are to handle our finances, not how we are to handle our thoughts and words.
2. THE TORAH TEST. This second test is based on God’s teaching found in Deuteronomy. In this
passage, God says,
What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it. If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams,and gives you a sign or a wonder. And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he speaks unto you saying, “Let us go after other gods, which you have not known, and let us serve them;” you shall not listen to the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proves you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear Him, and keep His commandments, and obey His voice, and you shall serve Him, and cleave unto Him. (Deuteronomy 12:32-13:4).
In this passage, God forbids anyone to add to His commandments or to take away from them. This same prohibition is given earlier in Deuteronomy,
You shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish ought from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. (Deuteronomy 4:2)
After giving these prohibitions, God gives the example of a religious teacher coming, whether they are considered “a prophet” or “a dreamer of dreams,” and they offer you “a sign or a wonder,” and it comes true, but he tries to encourage us to do something that would be in violation or against anything that God has commanded us in His Written Torah – the first five books of the Bible – we are not to pay attention to that teacher or to do it. In this particular example, the teacher says, “Let us go after other gods, which you have not known, and let us serve them.” We are not to do it, because God says that He is testing us to see “whether [we] love the LORD [our] God with all [our] heart and with all [our] soul.” Therefore, if I hear a teaching that violates the teachings in the first five books in any way, I dismiss it, and do not pay attention to it, but if it is consistent with what is taught in the first five books, then I move it to test 3.
- The Berean Test. This second test is in the book of Acts in the “New Testament.” This test is really an expanded version of the Torah It is found in Acts 17.
And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, Greece, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks and of men, not a few. (Acts 17: 10-12)
Here we can see that Paul and Silas have been sent now to the city of Berea, and while they are there, they attend the synagogue there for prayer and to study the Scriptures. Apparently, they have asked Paul to speak. It does not provide us a reason for this, but they are willing to eagerly listen to what he has to say. However, although they are willing to listen to him teach, they do not automatically believe what he has been telling them. Instead, it says that “they search the Scriptures daily, to see if these things were so.” The question we need to ask is, “What Scriptures were they searching?” There were no “New Testament” at this time, so they could not have been searching any of these writings; in fact, the Hebrew Scriptures only existed on a series of written Scrolls, it had not been published in one bound book yet, that would not happen for another thirteen hundred (1,300) years.
Therefore, since they are in a synagogue, they would have been searching the same readings that are often read and studied in the synagogue: the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings (i.e., “Old Testament”). Now if the congregation there would have found contradictions between what Paul and Silas taught them and the Hebrew Scriptures, they would have dismissed it and probably thrown them out. However, this did not happen. Instead, we read,
Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks and of men, not a few. (Acts 17:12)
This means that what Paul and Silas taught them was consistent with the Hebrew Scriptures, and therefore, many of them believed. This was a mixed congregation of both Jews and “God-fearers” (or Gentiles who were attending to learn more about the God of Israel.)
- The Repetition Test.
The final test I use in deciding what teachings to focus on as more important than others; in otherwise, “Doctrines,” are those that I find repeated in and through the Scriptures. The God of Israel is a Teacher, and like any good Teacher, He repeats what He thinks is important for people to know and understand. Based on this test, I do not believe that we should ever use what is taught in one verse of Scripture as a basis for any doctrine held by Jew or Gentile (or “Christian”). This teaching is first mentioned as a criteria for who should receive the death penalty (or “capital punishment”).
If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of
witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness.
Here we can see that Mosheh uses the term “witnesses,” which suggests more than one, but how many witnesses does it take? Although the passage does not answer it here, he does in the next book of Deuteronomy.
On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. (Deuteronomy 17:6)
I wonder how many people have either died on death row, or are currently on death row, and there has only been one eyewitness or even no eyewitnesses? Here we can see that according to God’s Torah, there needs to be at least two or three eyewitnesses before ANYONE can receive the death penalty. However, a couple of chapters later, we discover that this principle is applied to all sins:
A single witness shall not rise up against a man [or a woman] on account of any iniquity or any sin which he [or she] has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed. (Deuteronomy 19:15)
Here we can see that it doesn’t matter what the sin or Torah violation, there needs to be at least two or three witnesses in order to find that person guilty of any sin. Now by the time of the Second Temple period of the first century, C.E. – the time period of the “New Testament” – this Torah principle becomes a basic principle for establishing any fact or truth:
And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. (Matthew 18:16)
Here we can see that Yeshua (Jesus) is clearly applying the basic principle of the Torah in this situation to confirm any fact. The believing Pharisee, Paul of Tarsus, also applies this basic Torah principle in his second epistle to the congregation in Corinth, Greece:
This is the third time I am coming to you. EVERY FACT IS TO BE CONFIRMED BY THE TESTIMONY OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES. (2 Corinthians 13:1)
Here we can see Paul counting every visit to them where he spoke, or will be speaking, to be an equivalent to a witness. He also uses it in his epistle (letter) to his protégé, Timothy:
Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of TWO OR THREE WITNESSES. (I Timothy 5:19)
Paul shows here that this basic teaching in the Torah is to be applied to Christians as well as Jews. In this case, when it comes to “accusations against an elder.” Finally, we can see this same principle discussed in the book of Hebrews:
Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Hebrews 10:28)
Again, here we can see that for anyone to receive the death penalty, it takes at least two or three eyewitnesses to the crime. If two or three witnesses to the crime are not available, then the death penalty cannot be handed down for that particular crime. Some other judgement must be given.
When I study and research the Scriptures, I use these five tests as part of my research. As I said, we must study the whole Bible for what it teaches throughout its pages, and not just what it teaches in part(s) of the Bible. We definitely should not teach either the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament Scriptures in isolation of one another, but we should teach the Bible as one continuous revelation from God to us: “the whole Bible for all people for all time.”