I listened recently to a conversation in which the dominant spokesperson vehemently asserted, “The whole Bible is based on a big lie!”
He then proceeded to present as evidence of his claim that the Genesis account of the Tower of Babel, which, he correctly stated, is found in many versions, in many diverse cultures , portrays “a god who is afraid of his own people”, and consequently takes action to separate them, from himself and from each other, lest they become more powerful than he. This thesis was so preposterous that my first inclination was to dismiss it as sheer madness.
On further reflection, however, I realized that, although seriously misguided, the speaker had stumbled upon an excellent example of one of the best reasons why folks whom I consider to be the most faithful followers of the Lord Jesus Christ do NOT subscribe to the “flat book” approach to the Biblical writings (which holds the Old Testament and New Testament to be of equal value and authority), but rather find both their inspiration and their instructions almost exclusively in the New.
Like ancient writings from many cultures, the Old Testament certainly bears testimony to varying degrees of people’s perception/acceptance (or not) of God’s attempts at self-revelation as described in Romans 1:19-23. But as described in Hebrews 1:1-2, 8:7-13, and 10:1-7, “if the old had been satisfactory, there would have been no need for a New!” And Jesus provided the New Way, in which we are privileged to walk with him! The rest of the letter to the Hebrews, as well as the overt corrections he detailed, as quoted in the gospel writings, make the contrasts abundantly clear. One of the sharpest of these contrasts concerns the idea of separation.
While it is certainly true that much of the Old Testament is concerned with separation – Jew from Gentile, priest from lay-person, even to the point of dividing the temple (earlier, the tabernacle) into sections reserved for God, for the High Priest, for lesser priests, for men, for women, for Gentiles, with each area forbidden to any but the designated group – Jesus, and the whole of the New Testament, is about bringing together not only all people, but “all things”! (See Ephesians 1:10 and elsewhere). I have dealt in greater detail in Citizens of the Kingdom with the observation that one of the reasons for Jesus’ coming in person was to correct people’s mistaken understanding of God and his purposes, by creating a “demonstration project” – a “show and tell” — of his actual intentions. Here, I will confine my observations to four examples of Jesus’ radical departure from the customary culture of division and exclusion.
- During his earthly ministry, Jesus flatly ignored any convention that demeaned, denigrated, or oppressed any person. This included his habit of “hanging out” with the “wrong kind of people”, whether that classification involved their health, their race, their gender, their employment, or their social strata. This aspect of his behavior is trumpeted loudly by members of assorted “equality” movements today: however, those well-meaning folks often forget that the Lord’s parting admonition to many of those whom he had so graciously included, was, “Go in peace, and sin no more!” Please see Word Study #177 for an exploration of this perspective. Lives were transformed, not “affirmed”, by his presence.
- At the moment of Jesus’ death, the heavy veil of separation in the temple was ripped from top to bottom! (See chapter 8 of Citizens of the Kingdom and Word Study #127.) Later, in addition to that dramatic destruction of separation, the writer to the Hebrews, and Paul to the Corinthian church return repeatedly to Jesus’ glorious accomplishment of the destruction of death itself, the ultimate separation! The corollary of that achievement is the concomitant destruction of bondage to fear. Jesus said nothing about the popular notions of wings, halos, and harps, but promised his presence with his followers, on either side of the “death” transition.
It is normal to be apprehensive about the unknown.
I found an interesting illustration of this when we were privileged to visit our oldest son in his mission assignment in Tanzania. Although I was still ignorant of the language, culture, and just about everything else, as soon as we cleared customs and caught sight of Dan waiting at the door, my apprehension melted into delighted anticipation. I expect the same thing on the other side of that ultimate door!
- The re-creation of Jesus’ people into the members of his own Body, as described in the Acts and the epistles, is the ultimate in bringing people together. His final recorded prayer, in John 17, focused repeatedly upon his people becoming one, with himself and with each other – in order to “do what he had been doing” – the direct opposite of the Babel concern. Please see word studies 84, 150, and 197, and chapter 7 of Citizens. Whether the focus is on the care of the members for one another, or their care and service to the hurting world, a faithful Body is probably the most effective demonstration that our Lord is alive and active, and still intent on bringing people together.
Historically, it took some rather dramatic events to get that point across, even to Jesus’ earliest disciples. Even after Peter’s unusual vision (Acts 10), the idea of separation or exclusiveness died hard. Understanding began to emerge at the Jerusalem Conference (Acts 15), and gradually became clarified as scattered congregations learned to work together and care for one another.
- Perhaps the starkest contrast between the old pattern and the new lies in the Biblical description of two cities, both said to be “of God.”
The first is Jerusalem, during and just after the exile. The city had been laid waste: its protective wall in ruins, and its gates destroyed by fire (Nehemiah 1.) The returning exiles poured their energy into rebuilding the wall and restoring its gates, while being harassed by those whom they were expecting to exclude by the construction. Read that whole account, as well as the parallel in Ezra! Observe how zealously they pursued their policy of the exclusion of all foreigners, even to the cruel extreme of breaking up family units! And they considered this a triumph! For God! How very sad!Then look at John’s beautiful description of the final “City of God”! (Revelation 21). This city, too, has walls and gates, as did all cities in ancient times. But the gates of this city are never closed (v.25)! All nations are welcomed (v.24), and bring their honor into it! Its light is the glory of God (v.23), and it needs no temple (v.22), because the Lord himself is there, and is gloriously accessible! The only “exclusion” is (v.27) whatever is “not devoted to the Lord”, whoever is “committing abominations” (more specifically defined in the next chapter), and “all liars”.
Interesting, that we should end about where we started: with the idea of “lies.”
Jesus, please remember, by his own word, and by that of faithful followers, is the very personification of the truth. (please see Word Study #26)
Consequently, we must ask, “Which, then, is the bigger lie?” Is it the scornful caricature of a frightened, vindictive, self-defensive god, or the representation of that caricature as an accurate analysis of “the whole Bible”? Or does that even matter, seeing that ALL lies are excluded from the Kingdom of Truth?
While it may be necessary, sadly, to agree that much of what has been presented to the world as “Biblical” is less than an honest picture of the genuine message of Jesus, it is also necessary to challenge the folks whose perception has been colored by that misrepresentation of the message as consisting of alienation and fear, at least to consider a first-hand investigation, in the New Testament, of the Real Thing, independent of “flat book” assumptions. It is likewise necessary to challenge those who are committed to Jesus and his Kingdom, more honestly to represent his gracious and inclusive invitation to Life!
In the words of the writer to the Hebrews, (12:2),May we focus our entire attention on Jesus! HE is the beginning, goal, and end of faithfulness!