The People in the Old Picture

See this picture?

Looking at the picture, I could speculate that it’s a family photo with parents, children, and grandchildren. Perhaps it was taken at a family reunion–or maybe on a Sunday afternoon after church. The picture could also be of friends getting together. The picture most likely was taken at the family’s home by a professional photographer since I don’t think most people owned cameras back then. Or maybe the photographer had traded something for a battered old camera, and he was earning his living traveling and taking pictures of people he met. “Back then” might be in the 1920s….or 1930s….or 1940s. I could speculate that some of the people in the photo might be named Alice, or Edward, or Elizabeth because those names were common in the first half of the 1900s.

I might be right in my speculations, but I also might be totally wrong. I don’t really know because this is a random picture from the Internet, and I have no idea who these people are or when they lived or where they lived. So it’s all speculation. You could speculate about this picture too, and your guesses could be completely different and yet be as valid as mine–because neither one of us really knows anything about the photo.

Except…

At the site where I found this picture, I also found a little bit of factual information about it:

This old photograph shows the ranch house as it was during the Great Depression. Despite hard economic times, the family was rich in many ways, enjoying the fruits of the land and their close family ties.

On the left is Goldie Peterson and the little boy on the horse is Jack Peterson, who was born in the ranch house in 1930.

The house was built in 1925 from timber harvested on the ranch.  The boards were all rough-cut and their width was determined by the size of the tree.  In those days, all of the neighbors pitched in and helped build houses for each other.

The original house was much smaller and sat just behind the trees in this photograph.  It was dismantled and rebuilt into what is now the garage/shop on the ranch.

The trees shown are now fully grown and provide shade from the hot sun in the summer, yet allow sunlight to warm the house in the winter.  One of Jack’s chores as a child was to water the trees using an old coffee can.

Doesn’t this description make the picture so much more interesting and alive? Added factual details help me “know” and relate to this family. There was also another picture:

This second picture is not an isolated picture, but it is connected to the first picture. If I had only the first picture, I’d know what the people looked like but I wouldn’t know their names or the area in which they lived. If I had only the second picture, I’d know the layout of the land, but I wouldn’t know what the people looked like who lived on the Peterson property marked on the photo. With both pictures, and with background information about the pictures, I have a little bit of factual information. I know some of the names of the people. I know when the picture was taken. I know a little bit about the historical context–it was during the Depression. I know a little bit about the family. I know how their house was constructed. I know a bit about their land. I know the name of one of their neighbors. I get a glimpse of their life. I could probably find out more of their lives if I searched–like where they came from, where their land was located, their genealogy, and maybe more family history and stories. Curious, EJ just Googled information in the pictures that I posted here, and he discovered that the Peterson ranch is 25 acres and is located in southwest Colorado. It was recently sold. Why was it sold? Who was it sold to? What has happened to the Peterson family since this picture? The more information I have, the more complete of a picture I have of the people in the picture and their lives. It’s not speculation, it’s fact.

The same is true of the Bible. Many of us read the Scriptures in insolated, unrelated segments and we form beliefs and doctrines. We say “I think this verse means this…” But we have no idea of the historical context or language. Our beliefs about what the Scripture means is more speculation than anything. We might be more or less right in our speculations, but we also might be wrong. The truth is that the church through the ages has developed some doctrines based on error, not truth. There have been arguments, denominational splits, oppression, and even people killed because of incorrect beliefs formed on incorrect understanding. Understand me: The Scriptures are the Word of God and absolutely true; however, our understanding of them has often been faulty. For example,

  • JJ and I studied church history a couple of years ago (using the book, The History of Christianity – 2000 years of Faith), and I was appalled at how many of our cherished church doctrines ad traditions are based on pagan beliefs and/or a thirst for power. For example, when the emperor Constantine “converted” to Christianity, Christianity went from a persecuted religion to a favored one. Not long afterwards, people became church leaders not because they loved God and wanted to serve Him, but because they were corrupt and wanted wealth and power. The church became their kingdom, and they the king–and they placed a lot of emphasis on people submitting to their leadership and authority (contrary to Jesus’ teaching in Matt. 20:24-28). Much of the hierarchy that we know today in the church was originally set in place to gain control of the people. The church leadership became the mediators between God and men (1 Tim 2:5).
  • In the Middle Ages, the church was very corrupt. Among other things, they sold indulgences. This meant that people could pay money to have their sins forgiven. They didn’t have to repent.
  • A lot of persecution has been conducted by a corrupt church against people who wanted to walk with God. The church made it illegal for a “Christian” to study Torah and celebrate Biblical Feasts, thereby causing a schism between Jewish and Gentile believers in the Jewish Messiah. People were tortured and slaughtered during the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades by “Christians” who thought they were furthering the Gospel and doing the will of God. Is this what God wanted? Was this His message? It was the church who persecuted Tyndale and others who wanted to translate the Bible into English so the common people could understand it.
  • By the way, briefly, it is my thought that there are historical cycles of corruption and revival in the church. Often the established church became corrupt and then revival broke out by a “radical movement” of people who wanted to serve God. This radical movement was often persecuted….but eventually the radical movement became the established church. I believe that there is always remnant who seeks God. However, I also believe that Satan caused great damage by causing a schism between Jew and Gentile believers. This put a stumbling block in the way of Jews knowing their Messiah, and it resulted in error creeping into Christian doctrine, practices, and traditions because they didn’t have an understanding of the Hebraic perspective of Scriptures.
  • The pastor of the last church I attended declared “Our [Baptist] form of church government is the only Biblical form of church government.” When he said it, alarm bells rang in my spirit. I went home and did simple research. In reality, the “Biblical form” was the Tabernacle/Temple, synagogue, and then house churches. The Protestant Reformation from which the Baptist church came was a split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants during the 1500s. The efforts of the “reformers”, who objected to (“protested”) the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led to the creation of new national Protestant churches. The Baptist church didn’t form until 1609. In fact, at one time Baptists were the “radical fringe” who were persecuted for their beliefs by a corrupt “institutional church.” So do we, today, believe everything we are taught or do we test what we are taught as the Bereans did in the New Testament to see if it’s true?
  • Between the Old Testament and the New, the Greeks came to power and tried to force Jews to accept Greek ways. Some gave in and were assimilated into Greek culture, others stood true to the Torah (the “instruction” of God). Because these people stood firm–at great cost to their lives–we have the Scriptures today. You can read more about it in my post about Hanukkah.

Who cares? All ancient history, right?

No. The Greek vs. Hebrew struggle provides the background for the New Testament and is still going on today. Our society today–our government, our educational system, our way of reasoning, our focus on physical health and beauty and sex, our calendar and holidays–is built on Greek ideals. (Rome “borrowed” a lot of Greek beliefs, which stretch back to Babylon.) Our church structures and traditions are very Greek in nature, and most of us read the Bible through a Greek lens. In fact, the doctrine of the role of women in the church is very Greek, as is the way churches “disciple” and teach. Yet, the Bible was written by Hebrew people in the Hebrew language with a Hebrew mindset in a Hebrew culture and a Hebrew context. The lens through which we view God, Scripture, and ourselves affects what we believe and how we live.

I have learned a lot about the Greek and Hebrew perspectives from Hebrew scholars. One of them is Skip Moen, who offers 30 days of the Hebrew Worldview (one email a day for 30 days) on his website, Hebrew Word Study. You can sign up for the emails here. In his first email, Moen wrote:

…We are the product of both of these [Greek and Hebrew] streams.  But we haven’t taken time to see how these two great streams affect us.  We haven’t listened to the difference between the Greek and Hebrew answers to the biggest questions of life.  And since we have not realized that there is a very big difference, we have all sorts of problems when we try to practice a belief in God based on the Hebrew culture within a framework of the world based on the Greek culture.

Trying to live on both sides of the chasm caused by the great differences between the answers to these questions is very difficult.  This difficulty shows up in stress in Christian living, Biblical interpretation and fellowship with God.  It affects how we think about ourselves, how we treat others and how we worship God.

These two cultural streams answer the fundamental questions of life very differently:

  • What is Man?
  • What is the nature of the universe?
  • Who is God?

The Greeks would answer our questions like this:

  1. Man is unique in the world because he is the only creature who can exercise reason.  It is rational thinking that makes Man who is truly is.
  2. Man can know the truth through his rational abilities.
  3. The world can be fully understood through rational investigation.
  4. Knowledge is power.
  5. Societal institutions are extensions of Man’s knowledge and abilities.
  6. Man is capable of solving the world’s problems.
  7. Man has no cognitive limits.
  8. Self-sufficiency is the attitude needed to accomplish whatever can be imagined.
  9. The destiny of Man is to control his world.
  10. Man has a spark of the divine within him.  Self-fulfillment takes us toward this divine inheritance.
  11. All religious paths lead to spiritual enlightenment.

How would the Hebrews answer these questions?

They might say something like this:  (pardon me if we use a Greek technique to do this).
  1. All creation begins and ends with God.
  2. Man is no different than all the rest of creation (he is finite and dependent) but, at the same time, he is created to have a different and special relationship with his Creator.  This relationship is a gift from God.
  3. Man is completely dependent on God even if he does not acknowledge this dependence.
  4. Every aspect of Man’s life is under God’s sovereignty and control.
  5. Man greatest problem is his choice to rebel against His creator.
  6. Man does not have a spark of the divine.  He has “fallen” from the original design and is now a disobedient violator of God’s perfect harmony.
  7. Man cannot solve his most fundamental problem on his own.
  8. God will judge Man’s deeds according to the standard of absolute holiness.
  9. God is the central focus of all creation, not Man.
  10. Knowledge, self-reliance and self-sufficiency are seductive foolishness with regard to Man’s real problem.
  11. God’s Truth is power.
  12. Wisdom is the application of God’s Truth.
  13. God is the only Being who can determine what is finally good and true.
  14. God expects all men to follow His instructions for living (the Torah).

This helps us see how completely different these two views of Man really are.  Fundamentally, the Hebrew view is that God is the principal player in this universe.  Everything revolves around Him, His purposes, His will and His control.  The Greek view is that Man is the central player on the world’s stage.  Man’s goals, creations, abilities and decisions are the most important elements in this world.  These two approaches are simply not compatible.  Their differences are so far apart that no compromise can even be imagined.

Skip Moen also wrote:

Greek vs. Hebrew

  • Mind – Cognitive  vs. Heart – Attitude & Action
  • Believe correctly vs. Behave righteously
  • Education vs. Submission
  • Knowledge vs. Wisdom
  • Reason vs. Revelation
  • Material vs. Spiritual
  • Outer recognition vs. Harmony between inner self and outward action
  • Fulfilled vs. Fruitful
  • Body-Mind-Spirit vs. Person (in Hebrew, nephesh)
  • Enlightenment vs. Repentance
  • Destiny vs. Purpose

Of course, there are overlaps in concepts.  Whenever entire cultures are reduced to a dozen words, many of the nuances are lost.  But in general, we can see the striking differences between these two views.  The differences are not just about the nature of Man.  They are different in their outlook regarding history, purpose, epistemology (how you know what’s true), ethics and religion…

Today’s cultural orientation is based on Greek thinking and assumptions.  If we are going to express Hebrew faith in this Greek world, we need to know when we confront these fundamental differences.  This does not mean that we can’t be Christian in the workplace, in civil and social settings or in education.  Obviously, God is the God of all creation and sovereign over every circumstance.  So, God expects us to behave like His Son.  But we usually try to do the “right” thing without even knowing what God’s viewpoint really is.   Maybe we need to take a serious look at what we really believe by looking at how we act, not what we say.

For example, we teach our children that success in life is the result of education.  We tell them that knowledge and study is the way to happiness.  This idea is thoroughly Greek.  God’s way is quite different.  First, life is not measured by material gain and success.  Secondly, life is not about education; it is about wisdom.  Thirdly, knowledge is valuable only if it produces a submissive attitude toward God.  Degrees on the wall, sales awards, career promotions and corporate titles mean nothing if they are not part of God’s purpose for us.  This does not mean that we take an anti-educational stance.  It means that we evaluate our education by God’s standard of useful holiness.  We do what makes sense for a much bigger, eternal picture.  We are not limited by the human horizon.

Do you see how easily our Greek perspective shows itself?  Do you see how hard it is to make sense of life when your Greek-based assumptions thwart your attempts to be a good Hebrew-based Christian?

I know I have written about this subject recently, but it’s important. When we read the Scripture apart from it’s language, culture, and context, its almost like speculating about a photo of unfamiliar people. However, when we put the Bible in context–when we learn it’s language, history, culture, context–then we develop a more accurate understanding of what it is saying. The Bible is not a bunch of unconnected stories, “pictures” and truths. They weren’t written in our times (although they are “timeless” and relevant). We can’t read the New Testament apart from the Old. It is said that the Old Testament is the glossary of the New and that “The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.” The Scriptures that Jesus and His disciples referred to and quoted is the Old Testament–because the New Testament had not yet been written. Scripture is connected, and they are Hebrew. It is vital to place it in its context to understand it and how to live.

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