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Bible Abuse!

How the Bible can be twisted.

So much to say, so little time. How to read the Bible has got to be the key to everything, so isn't it amazing how often we get it wrong! For the Christian it is the source of all our knowledge and the rulebook for all our practices. My task is to condense a library topic into a few articles, so don't expect a thorough treatment, but rather the exploration of a single strand, personified by this question: What can Jewish scholarship tell us about our approach to God's Word? But first, a rant!

If there's one single issue that confuses Christian folk most when it comes to reading and understanding the Bible, it's what to do with the Old Testament. Is it still relevant to Christians today? Is it equal in inspiration to the New Testament? Is it literally true? Is it just for Jews? Is it full of hidden and secret truths to be teased out through arcane knowledge of codes, Hebrew structures or numerological manipulations? We need to know, once and for all, because there are preachers and teachers out there who are using the Old Testament in ways that surely would have Jesus turning in his grave, if he had one!

Let us take a case study to illustrate this. A certain TV preacher's technique is to take a Jewish religious festival and, through a random mangling of Scriptures "connected" to this festival, "proves" that anyone who sends in their cash will be blessed in all sorts of ways and indeed will attain a guaranteed financial return from the "Bank of God". He does this secure in the knowledge that most viewers have little relevant knowledge to query his findings and are simply seduced by his showmanship. Here is what he did.

His target was the Feast of Tabernacles, Sukkot. Not dwelling on the mispronunciations and misapplications of many Jewish terms he used, the crux of his argument was linking Joel Chapter 2 with the festival. The first point to make here is that there are Scriptures connected to Sukkot. There are the primary verses that explicitly describe the festival, in Leviticus 23:33-43, Numbers 29:12-39 and Deuteronomy 16:13-17. Then there are other associated readings in Ecclesiastes, Psalms and Zechariah.

But nowhere in Hebrew Scripture or Jewish Tradition do the verses in Joel Chapter 2 have any relevance to Sukkot.

So in the first place he was taking a totally unrelated Scripture. The passage he dwelt on was Joel 2:18-27. In its context the passage has Joel promising the people of Israel that God would restore things to them if they repent. It was not too late for them. Now this has nothing to do with the theme or the setting of Sukkot. So how did he connect the two Scriptures? He did so by taking one short phrase and totally misusing it - we can only assume he did this out of ignorance rather than cunning intent.

"Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month." (Joel 2:23, KJV)

He took the phrase "in the first month" and assumed that this was referring to the month of Tishrei, the autumn month of the Jewish civil New Year, the month of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles.

There's a big problem with this. Never in the Bible is the first month anything other than Nisan, in spring, the time of Passover. So we could actually stop here because we have taken away the whole foundation of his argument - his tenuous and faulty link between Joel Chapter 2 and the Feast of Tabernacles. But it actually gets worse. Here is verse 19:

Yea, the LORD will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen: (KJV - the version he was using)

Here is his take on the first part of this verse: Yea, the LORD will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you money, and blessing, and anointing (so no weapon may prosper against you).

So, according to him, these are the rewards you will receive. And how will you receive them? Another scripture twist, in verse 23.

Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God ... (KJV)

His take on rejoicing is for you to send money to the ministry that he was working for. Rejoicing implies action and God clearly intended this to be your reaching for your wallet. Only by doing so will you unlock these financial blessings, which will also include a double portion (how he arrived at that is totally indecipherable) for you.

Please, please God protect us from these "teachers". Amen. Enough is enough, it is time we took the Bible seriously. God's Holy word of encouragement, enrichment and truth for mankind cannot and must not be used as a recipe book for manipulation.

Steve Maltz
July 2012

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