As a child, did you ever understand the song "Ring Around the Rosie"?
Ring-a-round the rosie,
A pocket full of posies,
We all fall down.
You can read about the background of this song here:
Clearly the original meaning of this song is lost in the mists of time. Although all the words are in English and we understand each word, the original meaning of each line escapes us. If we were living in England or Europe at the time this song originated, we would be better equipped to understand it.
People with a common culture can communicate concepts, ideas, shades of meaning, and such without explicitly defining every single idea or concept referred to. Someone who knows English but is not knowledgeable of our technology saturated culture would have difficulty with the following question:
"Do you know how to use hashtags?"
This sentence refers to communications between people, social media, use of a computer or smart phone, typing on a keyboard and other concepts. All these ideas and concepts are contained in this question without ever being mentioned or defined.
So it is with the Bible. The men and women God spoke his words to were generally of the Middle-Eastern Hebrew culture, speaking the Hebrew language.
Through the centuries, the translators of the Bible have not had training in the Hebrew culture, so they have been greatly handicapped in their labors. Additionally, the King James Version of the Bible was written in a very old version of English. No wonder there can be much difficulty in understanding the Bible.
Understanding the cultural context of the Bible can restore the deep understanding of the spiritual truths that are contained in the scriptures.
Notice that there is no need to participate in our technology laden culture in order to understand the example question posed above. Similarly, there is no need to change our culture or engage in an old form of religion in order to gain an understanding of the scriptures. There is no need to convert to Judaism in order to "get right with God" or to practice the truth of His Word.
Here is a quote from John Brown, (posted on his "Straight Bible" blog which can be found here)
If the Hebrew world view had not been lost, so many things modern Christians take for granted would be completely different! The ancient Hebrews, including the first apostles and early believers comprehended many topics of the faith very differently from modern Christians. For example, the ancient Hebrews described the power and presence of God as "wind, breath or light breeze." This was translated as "spirit" in both Latin and English versions. To a gentile "spirit" became an object which was later defined as a thing, a person, a personality even deity. But for a Hebrew, this term is only a description of what they cannot see, never a thing, person or object. "Spirit" was a explanation for observed phenomena. If a miracle occurred or some one prophesied, it was called "spirit" upon a person as a way to explain it.
ESV: Job Chapter 32  But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand.
Just this switch to a Hebrew comprehension of spirit would totally change the face of Christianity! Adopting a Hebrew comprehension of spiritual reality would completely change modern Christian doctrine. It would change the the comprehension of what is salvation and how do you know when someone is converted. It would refocus the efforts and practice of Christians, channeling their activities into different directions. Comprehending how the first apostles understood spiritual reality would completely redefine the faith from a "social gospel" into an apostolic gospel of power and a dynamic presence of God in the congregations.
End of quote
Do you know about the Hebrew concept of "agency"? Not knowing this concept has caused all kinds of doctrinal error and confusion. In the Hebrew culture, the first born son was authorized and empowered with the same power and authority of his father. He had the authority to act in place of his father, when his father was not present. To the Hebrew mind, if you were to deal with a mans first born son, it was the same as if you were to actually deal with the father. In legal terms, the father is the "principle" and the first born son is his "agent". This is the reason that Jesus could accurately say "…he who has seen me has seen my father…"; not because Jesus was God, but because of the concept of agency!
There are more details. If the father and his first born son are not physically present, then any of his other sons become agents in that situation. Note that the entire purpose of the agent is to act on behalf of the principle in accord with the will of the principle. In other words, the agent is not acting on his own self interest, but in the interest of his father or the principle.
If Jesus Christ were still physically present upon the earth, no other person could be an agent of the father of Jesus Christ. Since he is not physically here, all those who are "born from above" are authorized and empowered as agents of our heavenly father, God.
Now we can make some sense out of a seemingly impossible verse. I have wondered how this verse can possibly work in our lives. Now the understanding of this concept of agency has allowed me to understand this verse.
ESV: Ephesians 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
Revised English Bible: Ephesians 5:1 In a word, as God's dear children, you must be like him.
George M. Lamsa's Translation: Ephesians 5:1 Be therefore Godlike, as beloved children.
How can this be possible, to imitate or be like the creator of the heavens and the earth? This answer is "by being his agent!" In order to be an agent for the creator, you must have a relationship with him and be familiar with his will. All those born from above have the authority and the empowerment to walk as agents of the living God, brining His will to pass on this earth.
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(C)2013 Keith S. Radcliffe