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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Jonathan Bernis » Jonathan Bernis - Are We Reading The Bible Wrong?

Jonathan Bernis - Are We Reading The Bible Wrong?

Jonathan Bernis - Are We Reading The Bible Wrong?

Jonathan Bernis: Shalom and welcome to Jewish Voice. I'm so glad that you could join us today. I'm Jonathan Bernis and I'm joined, once again, by my co-host Ezra Benjamin. Well, as a Christian you probably read your Bible every day or couple times a week, often I hope. But have you considered that there is a right way and a wrong way to read your Bible? Actually, Ezra, I'm gonna pose that question to you.

Ezra Benjamin: Sure.

Jonathan Bernis: Is there a right way to read the Bible?

Ezra Benjamin: Right, well, our audience may be saying, "Wait a minute. That's a big statement to make. There's a right way and a wrong way". We're gonna unpack what that means. But our topic today, Jonathan, actually comes from a question we received from one of our viewers who asked, "What's the difference between the Bible we know, the modern Bible, and a Torah scroll"? Or you could say "An ancient, or even a modern, but mainly an ancient copy of the Jewish Bible".

Jonathan Bernis: Well, that's an easy answer. The weight.

Ezra Benjamin: Ever tried to pick up a Torah scroll?

Jonathan Bernis: Yes, they're heavy.

Ezra Benjamin: Yeah, go to a synagogue sometime. I don't know that you'd be allowed to, but you can see people straining under the weight of what's called the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible or what's also known as the Torah. And I wanna expand that question a little bit 'cause it gets us right to meat of what we're gonna talk about. And the question really is what I think you're asking, if you're the one who asked the question, is what's the difference between the way ancient Jewish communities in Old Testament times would have engaged with the word God and the way that we do today. And just wanna talk about a couple things that should be obvious, but maybe we don't think about them that much because we're used to everybody, every believer having at least one, probably multiple, if you check your bookshelves, copies of the Word of God, right? Different translations, different versions, illustrations in there, maybe a concordance in the back. And it's very easy for us to go right to the chapter and verse we want to find the verse we've been thinking of.

Jonathan Bernis: A big difference between a Bible in the form of a book and a Torah scroll.

Ezra Benjamin: Sure.

Jonathan Bernis: Which, by the way is, just to reiterate what Ezra is saying, only contains the first five books of Moses.

Ezra Benjamin: That's right.

Jonathan Bernis: In handwritten Hebrew. And I've, many times in Israel watched the scribes writing from memory the Hebrew with perfect letters. There's no vowels. It's the same thing that we read, basically, in English or any other language. But it's in Hebrew, handwritten in Hebrew and very heavy.

Ezra Benjamin: That's right.

Jonathan Bernis: Written on parchment. And there's very few of them. They are very, very expensive and they are very valuable. The whole process of taking care of it and then, ultimately, when it's not kosher, burying it, goes through a burial process.

Ezra Benjamin: Something goes wrong that makes it ceremonially unclean, it has to actually be put away.

Jonathan Bernis: The point is that the Torah and the scripture in general are revered by a practicing Jewish people or orthodox Jews. And each Torah scroll is of great value. It's holy.

Ezra Benjamin: That's right.

Jonathan Bernis: It's a set apart item.

Ezra Benjamin: You may already be asking, saying, "I appreciate the historical context, Jonathan and Ezra. But what does this have to do with me in the 2020's and how I engage with the Bible in front of me"? But what we have to understand, maybe you've never thought about it, is in the time when the Bible was written in Old Testament times, even during the time when Jesus was ministering on earth, Jonathan, most people couldn't read. First of all, most people were illiterate, and even if you could, people didn't have a copy of the Torah. This is this holy book handwritten on sheepskin, right? They didn't have a copy in their homes. They had to go to synagogue to hear it read. And I'm thinking of the Psalmist who says, "I've hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you". It doesn't say, "I have a copy of the Torah on my shelf at home so that I might not sin against you". What's going on? The Word of God was engaged by someone saying it and a company of people hearing it. And because you couldn't take the scroll with you, you had to hide in your heart. That was the way that the Word of God was living and active in the hearer. I'm thinking of James, even after the death and the resurrection of Jesus, right, James says, "Be a doer of the word, not a hearer only". It doesn't say, "Be a doer, not a reader only". Because most people didn't have a copy of the scriptures. So, there is this idea there of hearing the word, internalizing it. We've talked so many times on this program, Jonathan, about the idea of, hagah, meditating on the Word of God, which means to repeat it to the point where it goes from what you've heard, what you have in your mind, to what actually exist in your heart.

Jonathan Bernis: By the way, you see this clearly it makes sense when you understand this and you read that Jesus is actually called up to give a reading and he gives actually the wrong reading in terms of the cycle. Because there is a cycle for the reading of both the Torah, the first five books of Moses, and for the haftarah, the prophets.

Ezra Benjamin: And he doesn't read what everyone is expecting him to read.

Jonathan Bernis: He doesn't read what's allotted that week, but instead, read from Isaiah, "The Lord has anointed me". So, it's out of order, but he's using that to expound on his ministry.

Ezra Benjamin: That's right.

Jonathan Bernis: And again, the tradition is that people are hearing, internalizing, and then they're actually repeating back. Meditation, in Hebrew, just to add to this, is the word "Hagah," which means to confess, which means to mutter, which means to proclaim. The "Haggadah" which is the Passover, retelling, is read so that we remember the story of the Exodus. So, you're to hear, internalize, and then recite back, you meditate, you confess.

Ezra Benjamin: And you repeat it because we're prone to forget. And so, to answer that question, how is engaging with the Bible today different than how it was in ancient times, or the larger question from, that we started with, what's the right versus the wrong way to read the Bible? I wanna challenge us. We have such a, I mean, even on our phones, right, you can find a verse and you can read it for five seconds and you can move on with your day. But maybe there is more to it than that. Maybe the whole idea is that we're supposed to meditate on it, hear it or read it and let it internalize in our hearts so that we can live, so that we can walk worthy of the calling we've received.

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah, and speak it back. "He who calls out upon the name of the Lord shall be saved".

Ezra Benjamin: Jonathan, elaborate on that a little bit for us, because many may be listening and saying, "Wait a minute, I thought salvation was an issue of belief alone". But there's a confession component.

Jonathan Bernis: That's right. So, I'm referencing Romans 10, which talks about, as I said, "All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved". But if you look back through that chapter, it's actually reiterating something that goes back to Torah times. Which is, we believe with your heart, we hear the word, right? By hearing the word, we believe with our heart and then we confess with our mouth unto. So, in the case of confessing the Lord, or crying out to the Lord, it's talking about salvation, but in fact, it refers to every promise of God. It refers to all of Torah, all of the prophets. We hear the proclamation, as you said, the word is read, we hear it, we then hear it again - faith cometh by hearing, hearing by the Word of God, we receive it into heart and then we speak it forth. And things are changed, our lives are actually changed. And that process of hearing, believing, and confessing closes the loop on a commandment to, both in the old and New Testament, that we're just not hearers of the word, but we're doers only.

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly.

Jonathan Bernis: How do we become doers of the word, and of course, in the Torah, be a doer of my commandments. If you follow, obey my commandments, and do them, because we hear them, we internalize them with our heart, we speak forth, we listen again, we believe and by faith we do.

Ezra Benjamin: Right, we hear the word with our ears, we store it up in our heart to not sin against the Lord, we respond with our mouths and we live it out with our hands and feet.

Jonathan Bernis: That's right.

Ezra Benjamin: That's the whole picture, and answering that question again, what's the right and the wrong way to engage with the Word of God, with the Bible. It's not just, "Yep, found the verse I want, thank you". It's all of these things. It's hearing, internalizing, saying it, doing it.

Jonathan Bernis: And the benefit is that God responds. --. That's right.

Jonathan Bernis: God responds and because we're building faith, and we're confessing the word by faith, and that process is not new to the New Testament, if I can say it that way. It's a biblical principle that goes back to ancient times, the Old Testament times.

Ezra Benjamin: Right, exactly, I'm thinking of Abraham, right? Abraham heard God's voice, right, this was the Lord, himself speaking, right and the word, you know, Jesus is the living word, the word made flesh, and here, the father's speaking to Abraham, right and it says, Abraham believed God's words, and it was accounted to him as righteousness. So, there was a hearing and a responding.

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah, and we can't miss that. This is really important. We need to take a short break, whether it's a scroll or a book, the Bible contains the Word of God that can transform lives, you're life as well as those in remote parts of the world. We wanna invite you to partner with Jewish Voice today, we wanna send Bibles out to Jewish communities in Africa, and for your own personal study of scripture as well. It's about the Bible today, and it's about a Bible that will change your life because it's the Word of God. Listen for details, right now.

Jonathan Bernis: Welcome back. Today, we're looking at how to read the Bible correctly. There really is a right way and a wrong way. Before we go into that any further, I wanna say thank you for your support of Jewish Voice. We simply could not do what we do without you. We couldn't do it, we couldn't go to the remotest parts of the world to reach lost Jewish communities. So, thank you for making that possible. It means so much on behalf of all of us at Jewish Voice. And if you're a donor, thank you for being part of our mishpacha, our family. Well, Ezra, let's get back into this, the Bible is, we forget our imperative it is to our relationship with the Lord. And again, think of it, throughout the history, not just of the Jewish people but of the new covenant faith, most never had the benefit of being able to read the Bible for themselves and we have that benefit now.

Ezra Benjamin: That's right. We have it right at our fingertips. And so, we've already talked at length about what we do with the Word of God as a whole. But we're gonna get into now, in terms of handling the Bible, handling the Word of God rightly versus maybe not so rightly. What do we do with the words themselves? And I think Jonathan, you know, we've heard this from so many in our audience that people feel frustrated because sometimes, we just, we pick a verse or even a portion of a verse, even a phrase that we want that sort of meets our need in the moment, and then we take that for ourselves as a blessing or as an encouragement, as exhortation, but we're not actually accessing the full meaning of that scripture because we're missing the context. Someone said text without context is pretext, and something we say so often here at Jewish Voice is that before you understand the application, you have to understand the interpretation.

Jonathan Bernis: This is so important and I think this is part of the reason that replacement theology, the idea that the Jews, that the Jewish people were replaced by the church has been so successful and we continue to hear this teaching because there's a random spiritualization of the word, Israel and the word, Zion. So it's not the right way to read the scriptures whenever you see Israel, you say, "That's the church". And it's completely out of context because it's talking about Israel taking the Promised Land or Israel fighting the battle of Jericho. That is not the context to say, "Oh, that's the church". The church did not fight the battle of Jericho.

Ezra Benjamin: And you know, let's just, if I can, let's jump right into it to give our viewer some examples. I'm thinking of Ezekiel 37. And if you don't know that chapter address I almost guarantee you, you know the words because we sing about it, we declare it, right? It's the story of the dry bones, right? And there's worship songs galore, right? "Dry bones arise," right? "And God's calling, he's raising up an army from the bones, amen". But we go right to the application, meaning what does it mean for me or my circumstances and we miss the interpretation. This is another example, where we've sort of removed Israel from the equation. But if we look at this whole passage it's very clear to Ezekiel, these bones are the whole house of Israel, right? It's chapter - excuse me, verse 11 of chapter 37, "Then he said to me: 'Son of Man, these bones are the whole house of Israel or the people of Israel,'" right? "They say, 'our bones are dried up and our hope is gone, we are cut off'". And then he commands Ezekiel, "Prophesy to the bones that they might live again". So, amen to God resurrecting our dead or broken circumstances. Amen to God raising up armies from the ashes or from the dry bones. But the context here is actually God's enduring promise to take a people who felt, "We're dry, and dead, and hopeless," and to resurrect them to life again.

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah.

Ezra Benjamin: These bones are the whole of Israel.

Jonathan Bernis: And it's great to then make application that the same God who did that for Israel will do that for me. You know, another example that comes to my mind immediately, and that's a very good one, by the way, is the popular song "Blow the trumpet in Zion. Sound the alarm on my holy mountain". And we dance around proclaiming the victory of blow the trumpet in Zion. Now, I love that song also, but if you go back to the context it's proclaiming God's judgement on the earth.

Ezra Benjamin: Right.

Jonathan Bernis: So, rather than shout it out in victory, we should actually be warning ourselves, "Get ready for a shaking".

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly.

Jonathan Bernis: "Where only that which cannot be removed will remain".

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly. You know, this is good. We're giving you, I hope, a lot of examples. And we'll go to the New Testament in just a minute. But one more from the Old Testament. Jonathan, Jeremiah 29:11, right, you know this verse, "'for I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope'". An 'aharit' it says in Hebrew. It means a certain determined end. And we say, "Amen, God knows the plans he has for me". But the context of this passage is actually during one of the darkest times in the history of the Jewish people, 'cause God says through Jeremiah right before this, "I'm gonna send you into exile and it's gonna be a hard 70 years and make no mistake, you deserve it. But also know this, I still know the plans I have for you". So, I actually hope the application there is encouraging for you, today. Maybe you're in a - you feel like you're in an exile season, where is God in my circumstances, right? Has God forgotten me, is he punishing me? Even where the circumstances are difficult, just like he said to Israel in darkest of times, he knows the plans he has for you.

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah, one of my favorite verse, as you know. But let us not forget that it's a promise to Israel in exile saying, "I will bring you back and I will fulfill my promises to you and that's why there is a state of Israel today". That's why Jerusalem has been restored as the capital because Jeremiah 11 says, "I'm not finished with you". So, when you rejoice that God is watching over you, when God has a plan for you, a hope for you, an aharit, an expected end for you, don't forget that the original context is the promise to an exiled Israel, an exiled Judah. "I will bring you back, you will rebuild temple and the Messiah himself will come to that temple".

Ezra Benjamin: That's right. One more point real quick. You know, our audience may be watching saying, "Okay, if you're telling me the original interpretation is all about Israel and the Jewish people, what does that mean for me"? But understand that your faith that God can intervene in your circumstances, that he can resurrect dead things, that he can bring you back from difficult seasons is based on his ability to do that for an entire people. If he can do it for the Jewish people, he can and wants to do it for you.

Jonathan Bernis: Amen. Ezra, I'm so glad we're covering this because we have been called to rightly divide the word of truth and I think we have lost that to a large degree. Give us another example.

Ezra Benjamin: Sure, well, I think sometimes where we're called to rightly divide, we actually just divide. And what do I mean by that is we can become masters at taking snippets of verses and assigning them the meaning that that snippet, that we want it to have. And let me give you two examples. One is in Philippians 4 and we know this verse. We have it on rubber bands around our arm. I've seen this on gym t-shirts everywhere and it says, right, "I can do all things through Christ, through the Messiah who gives me strength". And we without the context say, "Anything I set my mind to God is with me". And by application we ask him to bless our efforts and often he does and that's great. But the context that Paul is saying that is, "I've learned how to be in plenty or to be in really difficult circumstances while proclaiming the gospel". He's saying, "I've learned how to suffer in my ministry and the way that I do it is because I can endure, I can do all things through Jesus who gives me strength". It's how to be a believer in suffering, not how to, maybe get physically stronger. A final verse here, near and dear to our hearts at Jewish Voice, because it's been so misused is Galatians 3:28, and I'm gonna tell you the snippet that's been so misused in replacement theology circles, and in erasing why it matters to have Jewish believers in Jesus and it's this, right? "There is neither Jew nor gentile". Have you heard that? I was told that when I did some seminary classes. The professor said, "Jewish, Ezra, your identity as a Jewish believer in Jesus doesn't matter". "Well, why professor"? "Well, there's neither Jew nor gentile". Well, that's not the verse. The verse says, "There's neither Jew nor gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus". Now, last I checked, there's still men and women and one can have babies and the other can't, right? There is distinct roles. What Paul is saying here is in terms of righteousness before God. Jew and gentile, there's no difference. We've all fallen short and we're all justified by faith alone in Jesus. But we misused the snippet to say, "God doesn't care about Jewish identity as believers".

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah.

Ezra Benjamin: We hear that so often.

Jonathan Bernis: Making a specific point that you can't expand on into something that it's not saying.

Ezra Benjamin: Exactly, exactly. Rightly dividing the word of truth. That's what it's all about. That's what you're challenged to do.

Jonathan Bernis: Very good. That's so good, Ezra. I'd love to go on, we don't have time. We want you to hear about an opportunity to spread the Word of God to Jewish communities in Africa and for your own personal study Bible we wanna invite you to partner with us. Ezra and I will be right back in a moment to pray for you and for your family so don't go away. So much.

Jonathan Bernis: Well, we try not to miss a program without praying for your needs. And I know there's a lot of them because we get them through our website and by email, and sometimes by snail mail. Ezra, I'm gonna ask you to pray briefly, and then I'll finish, we only have about a minute and a half left so. Join with us, will you? Will you just stretch your faith with us, and join together. Let's believe God.

Ezra Benjamin: Lord, we thank you for your word. We thank you that your word is living and active, that it's sharper than any two-edged sword to divide soul and spirit, joint to marrow bone. And we thank you, Lord, that your word is not only living and active, it's alive and it's on the move. So, Lord, I pray that as we, men and women after your own heart, engage with you, in your word, as we hear it, as we allow it to sink down into our hearts. As we meditate on it, as we speak it out, and Lord, maybe most importantly, as we do it, Lord that it would bear fruit in our lives, that it would bear fruit in our children, and grandchildren's lives. That it would be fruit in our workplaces, bear fruit and our spouses, and our communities, and all those who know us. Lord, that we would be cities on a hill which cannot be hidden. Lord, we thank you for your words, that it would come alive in us, in new ways in this season.

Jonathan Bernis: Thank you Lord.

Ezra Benjamin: And it's in Jesus name that we pray.

Jonathan Bernis: And Lord, thank you, that you're promises, are yay, and amen. And so, we join our faith with those that are watching, and we say it is done, in the name of Jesus. Amen, amen. If you'd like more information about our ministry, you can log on to our website, it's, and you'll find many helpful resources there, you can send your prayer request to us, right on the website. And there's so much more on that site that we think will be a blessing to you. I want you to know that we care about you, more importantly, God cares about you and we do pray for your needs. We also pray for Israel. That is something that we're committed to as a ministry, and we're committed to asking you to join with us in praying for the peace of Jerusalem, Psalm 122:6, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, may they prosper who love thee". That prayer will mean so much. So, thank you for praying, thank you to Ezra for joining me today. And until next time, this is Jonathan Bernis saying, shalom, and God bless you.
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