Reading the Bible in the 21st Century

Language and culture change over time and the rate of change has been accelerating tremendously in the modern and (so-called) post-modern age.  As such, it is difficult enough to retain a good sense of the literal meaning of these ancient texts, much less to really stay connected to them in spirit and in truth.  Clearly, some set of hermeneutical principles (or general interpretive framework) is required if we are to begin to make sense of the Bible in the 21st Century.  And while most people absorb some such set of principles as they attend church— or from materials that they read in conjunction with their personal bible study  —these often emphasize doctrinal and dogmatic “belief” to the detriment of living faith in the living Word of God.  As such, for those who feel stuck in their current understanding— for those who feel a pressing need to grow in grace and knowledge of the truth —below are some additional interpretive guidelines to consider.  These are the same guidelines that are operating (both implicitly and explicitly) in Getting to Know Jesus in the 21st CenturyAs you continue study the written word, consider the possibility that:

1.  The written word points to the Living Word.

2.  The “I Am” Presence within us IS the living Christ.

3.  “Faith” or “Belief” ≈ Trust and Reliance

4.  The Carnal Mind ≈ The Egoic Mind

5.  The Cross of Christ is Our Cross

1. The written word points to the Living Word.  Christ IS the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  We have reverence for the scriptures because they point us to Christ, but we should not become so obsessed with the letter, that we miss out on the Spirit:

“You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.  But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40).

“It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).

 As such, we should take care not to mistake the map for the territory; nor the word “water” for the substance that quenches our thirst.  The primary value of the written word is its capacity to point us to the Living Word.

2.  The “I Am” presence within us IS the living Christ.  By virtue of our existence as human beings— created in the image of God (i.e. created in Christ) —we have a very intimate point of contact with God (and with the living Word of God) which is the “I Am” presence or the image of God within us (aka Christ-in-you).  While on the one hand, the scriptures point us to the “I Am” presence which IS the living Christ, on the other hand, as our recognition of this aware presence grows from day to day, the written word also tends to become more alive—i.e. increasingly relevant and meaningful.

It is worth noting, at this point, that our emphasis on the “I Am” presence has nothing to do with being “selfish” or having a “me first” attitude.  Rather, it is about stilling our selfish mind— by the grace of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit —and becoming truly unselfish in contemplation of the Divine presence which is with us always, here and nowLearn to feel the I Am presence in the stillness of the present moment—in the space between the out-breath and in-breath, for example, or in the silence between each heartbeat.  Then, as you read references to God or Christ (or the Spirit of God or the Word of God) in the scriptures, don’t imagine some strange force or alien being that exists totally other than and apart from you, but remember the presence of God that IS within you—realizing that we are, indeed, reconciled to God in Christ; and that, indeed, we live and move and have our being in Him:

“Indeed he is not far from each one of us. . . . as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring’” (Acts 17:27-28).

“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us . . . The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one” (John 17:21,22,23).

We are One in the Spirit and our point of entry into this dynamic Oneness is the “I Am” presence within us which IS the living Christ.

3.  “Faith” or “Belief” ≈ Trust and Reliance.  The Greek word for faith in the New Testament is usually some variation of pistis.  The verb pisteuo is often translated “believe” but did not originally have the heavy connotation of “intellectual assent” or “dogmatic belief” that it does today.  Indeed, when getting to know Jesus, it is better to think of faith in terms of “trust” and “reliance” rather than belief, in the modern sense of the word.

“Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts” (I John 5:10).

In the final analysis, to really live by faith is to trust in and rely on the “I Am” presence which IS Christ-in-you.

4. The Carnal Mind ≈ The Egoic Mind.  Unfortunately, the tendency of many Christians over the centuries— in a kind of legalistic zeal or ascetic enthusiasm —has been to disparage the body and to condemn natural appetites, per se.  This has introduced much unnecessary conflict into the lives of many Christians and has also resulted in both a misunderstanding of and a reactionary rebellion against the biblical condemnation of the flesh or the mind of the flesh.  One way to compensate for this is to understand that the carnal mind, in scripture, is roughly equivalent to what is referred to, in more modern parlance, as the egoic mind.  The egoic mind is the false, mind-made sense of self which attempts to persuade us that we exist separate from God, separate from other human beings, and separate from creation as a whole.  The egoic mind is one of the by-products of our having eaten of the forbidden fruit (i.e. the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), as portrayed in Genesis 3.  Moreover, the egoic mind is the false self-image which continues to tempt us away from the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Always anxious about the future, the egoic mind is constantly attempting to control and manipulate people and circumstances to its advantage (always judging; always pursuing that which it erroneously judges to good and always attempting to avoid that which it erroneously judges to be evil).  And by virtue of the egoic mind, natural appetites are often amplified, multiplied, distorted, and redirected into endless combinations of self-destructive potential.  In contrast, by trusting in and relying on the “I Am” presence, we are no longer enslaved by the mind of the flesh as we put on the “new man” which is “created after God in righteousness and true holiness”  (Ephesians 4:24 KJV ) and which enjoys “the peace which passes understanding” (John 14:27).   Consider the following verses in this light:

“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder.  And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts” (James 4:2).

“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want” (Galatians 5:16-17).

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19-20).

If we wish to declare war on our bodies and mistrust every instinct and every appetite as sinful, there will be no end to the conflict (cf. Romans 7).  But if we realize that it is “the mind of the flesh”— i.e. the egoic mind —which plots and plans and generates so much sin and suffering in our own life and in the lives of those around us, we can begin to circumvent these conflicts through the power of the Spirit as we trust in and rely on the “I Am” presence which IS the living Christ.   As such, when you read about “the flesh” or “the mind of the flesh” or “the carnal mind” (or “the old man”) in the New Testament, try substituting the word “ego” or the phrase “egoic mind” and see if it makes more sense that way.

5.  The Cross of Christ is our Cross.  When you read about the cross, realize that the cross of Christ is our cross, too.  We are called to

  • drink that cup and being baptized with that baptism (Mark 10:38; Matthew 20:22; John 18:11);
  • present our bodies a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1);
  • give up our own priorities and submit to God’s will for our life (Philippians 3:7-9; cf Luke 22:42).

“Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it” (Luke 17:33).

Whereas, the carnal or egoic mind is more than willing to exploit others in an effort to satisfy its desires— and in its futile attempts to evade suffering and death —the mind of Christ accepts the will of the Father, unconditionally, and recognizes that we are members one of another.  By taking up our cross and truly trusting in Christ are enabled, by the grace of God, to fulfill the two greatest commandments:  1) Love God with all our hearts, and 2) Love our neighbor as ourselves.  As such, we would do well to keep in mind that the cross of Christ is our cross, too.

So, as you continue read and study the written word, keep these 5 principles in mind and try them on from time to time.  The chances are very good that doing so will enhance your understanding of scripture and help you to grow in grace and knowledge of the truth: 

1.  The written word points to the Living Word.

2.  The “I Am” Presence within us IS the living Christ.

3.  “Faith” or “Belief” ≈ Trust and Reliance

4.  The Carnal Mind ≈ The Egoic Mind

5.  The Cross of Christ is Our Cross

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