“Short-sighted exegesis” – the danger of easy beliefs.
”For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?” (I Cor 14:8)
Sometimes the irony of flawed Biblical interpretations, the “indistinct sounds” we often hear, leaves me chuckling under my breath. Recently, I heard a preacher quote Joel 3:10 to emphasize the point that “the weak are strong” in the Lord, etc. It seems harmless enough… until you check the context!
”Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears: Let the weak say, I am strong.” Joel 3:10
It is inspiring to say that when we are weak in ourselves, Christ’s power can be made strong in us. This is exactly Paul’s meaning in his letter to the Corinthians:
“For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10)
However, in this passage from Joel 3:10, it is clear (if you know even the very minimum about the book) that this is an “End Times / Revelation 19” scenario and that the “weak” are the Gentile nations who are told by God that they should not exempt themselves from the Last Battle because they feel weak! They should grab their plows and beat them into swords and fight! Its “payback time” and God wants everyone there who can possibly make it to experience His wrath. No Excuses!
Well, we are all guilty of such short-sided exegesis and not taking the time to “take pains with these things and be absorbed in them”. (1 Tim. 4:15) I do not wish to point fingers at any one, preacher or layman. What I wish to do is call our attention to the woeful, short-sided exegesis of other parts of the word of God that have weakened and diluted the Body of Christ for centuries.
Where the rubber really meets the road.
Can I offer up one case in point that get us knee deep into exegetical trouble? The centuries old misguided interpretation of the prophetic parables of Matthew 13.
In Matthew 13 Jesus paints a one-of-a-kind picture of the future kingdom of heaven on earth using seven parables. These parables act as a prophetic summary of the historical development of God’s future church – during the time when the King is absent from His Kingdom. (Luke 19:15)
Traditional exegesis of these parables is so dreadful and so entrenched that you must really work with me to see through the fog. I have found it necessary to read and re-read this chapter for months to be able to “think outside the box”.
1. The parable of the sower.
“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.”
In the first parable we see the present reality of the kingdom of heaven as Jesus demonstrates to His followers the effect of His sowing good seed in the world. But, noticeably, we see that this sowing produces “mixed results” amongst the four different types of soil – beside the road, on rocky places, among the thorns and on the good soil. Not only do we see mixed results but an “evil one” comes in, an enemy, and snatches away the seeds. The good soil did produce a crop 100-fold but the other seed fell into worthless conditions. Three out of four is not too good!
Other texts agree with this view that the road into the kingdom would be narrow and few would find their way into it. (Mtt 7:14)
2. The parable of the tares of the field.
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away.”
In the second parable, in which Jesus Himself gives the interpretation, we see that into the good soil of the first parable tares are sown by an enemy – the devil. These tares are imitation wheat (NOT “weeds” – see NIV) and are sown “among the wheat while men were sleeping”. Jesus called the tares “sons of the evil one” and explains that they are to grow side by side with the wheat until the end of the age, until the harvest.
Once again we see that this parable points to “mixed results” and leaves the kingdom of heaven infiltrated with satanically sown evil impostors. Jesus further declares of these tares that He would “gather out of His Kingdom all stumbling blocks and those who commit lawlessness and cast them into the furnace of fire.” (Mtt. 13:41-42)
The tares are not sown outside the kingdom but inside of it! One writer suggests that:
“The bad seeds grow to become poisonous weeds that allow only the healthiest of the wheat to survive.” (Martin G. Collins)
Is this not like our God, to allow evil and imitation to co-exist in our midst so that we will fight against it and grow inspite of its presence?
3. The parable of the mustard seed.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field…”
Here is where we will run into our first wall. We come now to the second parable in a row depicting the kingdom of heaven without its King. In this short parable we have presented to us a mustard seed which is smaller than any other seed, but when it is full grown becomes a tree and “birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”
I consider that for the correct interpretation of this parable we must read it in its immediate context. Here is a review:
a. Mixed results within the kingdom is the message of the first two parables.
b. Tares co-exist with the wheat in the kingdom of heaven until the harvest.
c. Birds in the parable of the sower were a type of Satan, “snatching away what was sown in the heart”.
d. Satan was active sowing seeds of imitation tares amongst the wheat.
Now we come to the small mustard seed transforming itself into a huge tree. The implication here is this is at the end of the age (i.e. “when it is full grown”). So at the end of the age we find a huge tree with birds nesting in its branches.
Either Jesus is throwing us a curve ball or He is here further clarifying His first two parables. How you decide this point brings you to your answer.
Either He switches metaphors and pronounces “universal success” of the kingdom (birds eating and nesting in a huge tree = the gospel triumphing all nations) or He stays consistent and pronounces continued “mixed results” with attending evil (birds are satanic; a tree from an annual plant is unachievable growth and therefore speaks of corruption or fraud).
To me the honest interpretation, unclouded by tradition, speaks for the latter. The mustard seed becoming a tree is another instance of Satan’s influence in the kingdom of heaven. This time it is abnormal growth with attending evil. Don’t be too surprised by this explanation. It is consistent if you take in this whole chapter!!
4. The parable of the leaven hid in the flour.
“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.”
Get ready for the next wall. The common interpretation suggests that the leaven of the gospel will act as an invisible agent (virus) that ever expands within the flour (world) until the whole is transformed. Yet this short-sighted exegesis comes at the expense of Jesus’ three other previous parables and at the expense of the reality that leaven throughout Scriptures is a type of evil.
Chuck Smith has spelled this out directly for us: “Leaven is actually the process of deterioration by rotting.”
Let me breakdown this short parable:
The leaven in this parable is “hid in the flour” by the woman. This seemingly insignificant act has great outworking because the word used for “hid” is the same word we use in English for “encrypt”. Why would the woman secretly encrypt the leaven (Gospel) into the flour? There is no good answer for this within the short-sided exegesis family. My preference is for the leaven that is hid in the flour is a further work of an enemy who by imitation influences the kingdom of heaven though false teaching leading to corruption of the whole.
Jesus told His disciples to “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Lk 12:1) and to “beware of the leaven… of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Mtt 16:12
Can you not begin to see that the “conventional explanation” is inadequate? This is God’s Holy Word and needs to be seriously studied.
”Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15)
5. The parable of the treasure hidden in the field.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
If you look carefully at the parable – which is my main point of writing all this! – you will find that the treasure is not only hidden at the start of the story, but the man, when he finds it, hides it again! Curiously, then, the man then goes and buys the field that the treasure is hidden in.
”From joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Mtt. 13:44
The man is Jesus and His purchase is the church! The “knee jerk exegesis” is that we are the ones to sell all we have and “buy the treasure.” We got it backwards!
Why does the man hide his new found treasure?
”Jesus reveals here how He views the world in relation to the church. Instead of glorifying us immediately, He hides us after we are called by physically sending us back into the world.” Martin G. Collins
I trust this short overview of Mtt. 13 has helped stir you up and will lead you back into your Bible with eraser in hand…