By Philip L. Powell
What follows has been adapted from a new book by the author entitled Understanding the Kingdom Parables, which will be available at the CWM Camp/Conference, September 9 to 15 and through the CWM catalogue.
Paul instructed Timothy:
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15 NKJV).
The Greek spouda&zw spoudazo (Strong 4704) for "diligent" is rendered "study" in the King James Version (KJV), which is part of what Paul encourages from his spiritual son Timothy in his "rightly dividing the word of truth". The clear implication is that if this is not done then the "worker", in this case Timothy, will end up being ashamed. The expression "rightly dividing" Greek o)ryotome&w orthotomeo (Strong 3718) is from a compound of o)ryo&v orthos (Strong 3717) = "straight", "upright", "not crooked" and the base of tomw&tero tomoteros (Strong 5114) = "sharper", which occurs only once in the New Testament:
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart(Hebrews 4:12).
The effect of "tomoteros" is that of a single stroke from a sharp incisive instrument in contrast to repeated blows of a blunt instrument, which simply hacks away — compare Greek ko&ptw kopto (Strong 2875). The rightly divided Word of God is upright and straight and cuts to the core. It does not chip away as humans are so prone to do.
Sadly we live in a time when many preachers are twisted. They "pervert the gospel of Christ" (Galatians 1:7) and "corrupt (Greek kapeleuo = "to peddle") the word of God" (2 Corinthians 2:17). Those who follow them are like them "supposing that gain is godliness" (1 Timothy 6:5) they "speak evil of those things which they know not" and "they corrupt themselves" (Jude 1:10). Peter warns of those who "through covetousness ... make merchandise" of their followers and who will face ultimate "damnation (= utter destruction)" (2 Peter 2:3). The imagery is that of buying and selling, i.e. trading in the Word of God for monetary gain. The New Testament writers could not have made the matter more plain, or the warning more serious.
I was horror struck, recently as I watched a documentary entitled Suffer the Children, in which the popular evangelist Benny Hinn (BH) made a promise to set up a trust for the education of a seven or eight year old partially blind boy, who was alleged to have been healed. BH promised and then repeated his promise, that all money donated would go exclusively to this boy. The father of the boy claimed that there was no healing and that no money had ever been sent to the boy or to his family. The Benny Hinn organisation predictably claimed that very little had been donated not withstanding the appeal having been seen by millions of people worldwide. They claimed that about $200 or $300 had been received for this cause. The father and family were incredulous. But even that small amount was not sent to where it belonged. The partially blind boy received nothing.
The documentary exposes organisations like those of Kenneth Copeland, Morris Cerullo, Oral Roberts, Joyce Meyer and other televangelists as being "traffickers" in the Word of God for personal gain to the extent of undreamed of wealth. Copeland has several oil wells, a huge multi-million dollar mansion, and his own airfield with a number of aeroplanes including one valued at twenty million dollars. The wealth of these people is predicated upon distortions of the Word of God and for that they will be held to account as well as for their utter dishonesty. They claim to be "ministers" of Christ when in fact they are servants of mammon. Jesus said:
No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (Luke 16:13).
That is an absolute. The Lord Jesus Christ said that it’s impossible for anyone to serve both God and mammon. So how is it that preachers so often present the direct opposite to what Jesus clearly says and certainly implies in respect of mammon, i.e. money? The answer to that in most cases is that these preachers have no conscience and they are basically dishonest. They serve their own interests not God’s. They are not true servants of the Lord Jesus Christ and in most instances one would have to question whether they are Christians at all.
In some cases (I would suggest very few cases) they are misled because they do not understand the implication of "rightly dividing the Word of God". They may have read their Bibles but they know nothing about interpreting the scriptures according to established principles (hermeneutics), which is crucial.
Hermeneutics is defined as "the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially of scripture or literary texts."1 The application of a correct hermeneutic is essential to proper Bible study and the deducing of right conclusions from scripture. In this regard and for our purpose, the rules are few and simple:
1) CONTEXT—always examine truth in context. i.e. The textual setting — what precedes and what follows;
2) COMPARISON— Paul speaks of "comparing spiritual things with spiritual" in the context of being taught by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:13);
3) NO CONTRADICTION—"God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent [change His mind]. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?"(Numbers 23:19 NKJV). "Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven" (Psalm 119:89 NKJV).
Providing these principles are clearly established you will not go far wrong. In my own study I have accepted God’s Word as being totally inspired (ie. "God-breathed" cf. 2 Timothy 3:16) with the thought that inspiration shines out brightest and best through our Lord Jesus Christ. Based on these considerations both consciously, and at times unconsciously, I always ask the following three questions of any difficult text:
a. What light does the context shine on the text?
b. What do other scriptures say on this matter?
c. What did Christ say if anything on the subject?
If you approach scripture humbly in this frame of mind and not primarily with a predisposition to investigate what other men have said or written, the Holy Spirit will lead you into ALL truth (cf. John 16:13). That is not to say that we do not consider the thoughts, ideas and teachings of others — especially those great and godly men who lived holy lives. It simply means that we are doing what we should viz trusting God above men.
The truth that God never contradicts Himself and that He is IMMUTABLE—ie. not subject to change — is fundamental to His WORD and to the interpretation of it.
I recently outraged one or two people in a pentecostal church when I alluded publicly to a slogan that had been adopted by a well-known Hillsong ladies’ conference in Sydney: "Hey princess! Heaven believes in you [and so do we]." No, that is NOT true. It turns the glorious gospel of Christ on its head. God’s Word tells us that God does not believe in us and that we should believe in Him. Self-faith is a false faith.
It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes (Psalm 118:8-9).
If that is true of princes, it is most certainly true of princesses.
Let God be true, but every man a liar (Romans 3:4).
While God and His Word never contradict themselves, they do contradict just about everything else. The word "contradiction" is derived from "counter" = "against" and "diction" = "a word". The Bible is "a word against" sin which is the foundation of our present human existence; "a word against" human wisdom which is folly to God; and "a word against" the social fabric which will perish.
In my book I have endeavoured to apply the hermeneutic principles cited above. I am of course aware of the fact that hermeneutics extends beyond the principles I have listed, but for our purpose they will suffice. To discuss the entire subject would involve much space and would undoubtedly divert us.
I do need however to mention one more important matter relating to proper interpretation, and that is the need for clear definitions of words and phrases. It has been well said that words are "lame vehicles of expression". This is something that we all struggle with and particularly so in the light of modern usages. Words grow and change, particularly now in our electronic age and our multi-cultural and multi-national societies. Of course this has always been the case in degree. The change in the meaning of words is not something new, but now the change is more rapid than ever before.
Based on this we too often assume that the modern meaning reflects the original and that may not be the case. Part of the problem is laziness, which is one of the contributing factors to the obvious diminishing level of biblical literacy among Christians. Another major contributing factor is the number of modern versions of the Bible, some of which actually contradict earlier versions. They do not build on early manuscripts and are in essence the reflection of the ideas of the publishers some of whom have hidden agendas and ulterior motives. Beware of many of the modern versions.
The proper approach is to establish clear definitions. As a starting point it is good to consult a good well-established and recognised English dictionary. But we should not stop at that point. We must also consider the meaning of the word as used in the original language of the written scriptures, i.e. Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). This need not be too onerous, nor do you need to be a Greek or Hebrew scholar. There are numerous tools available including some excellent electronic Bible programs that will help enormously.
I merely raise this matter here on account of what we are endeavouring to do in the book as suggested by our cover title Understanding the Parables of the Kingdom — Matthew chapter 13. Most of this study relates to Matthew chapter 13 and the synoptic parallels in Mark and Luke. We have called them the parables of the kingdom not in an exclusive sense. There are others. The reason for our title is that all eight parables listed in Matthew 13 are said to relate to the kingdom. Six of them start with the expression: "The kingdom of heaven is like" or an equivalent. Traditionally this passage has always been known as the Kingdom Parables.
We need to establish some idea about the term Kingdom. We will limit our definition to general terms and to the clear implications of the passage:
1) An organised community headed by a king;
2) The territory subject to a king;
3) Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven
a. The spiritual reign attributed to God (Thy kingdom come).
b. The sphere of this kingdom (kingdom of heaven)2
The Greek basilei&a basileia (Strong 932) from which the English "kingdom" is derived appears 162 times in the New Testament where it is linked with the Greek yeo&v theos (Strong 2316) – AV "kingdom of God" x 71; ou)rano&v ouranos (Strong 3772) "kingdom of heaven" x 32; "your kingdom" x 6; "the kingdom" x 5; "my kingdom" x 4; and "kingdom" (general or evil) x 20 and miscellaneous x 18, e.g.
Who through faith subdued kingdoms , worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions (Hebrews 11:33).
And the woman which you saw is that great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth (Revelation 17:18).
According to the online Bible program, the word conveys the ideas of royal power, kingship, dominion, rule — not to be confused with an actual kingdom, but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom. It is used of the royal power of Jesus as the triumphant Messiah, and of the royal power and dignity conferred on Christians in the Messiah’s kingdom. It is the kingdom, or the territory subject to the rule of a king and is used in the NT to refer to the reign of the Messiah.
The same online Bible program, which is linked to Strong’s Concordance, adds:
1. "Kingdom of God" #Mt 6:33 Mk 1:14,15 Lu 4:43
2. "Kingdom of Christ" #Mt 13:41 20:21
3. "Kingdom of Christ and of God" #Eph 5:5
4. "Kingdom of David" #Mk 11:10
5. "The kingdom" #Mt 8:12 13:19
6. "Kingdom of heaven" #Mt 3:2 4:17 13:41
All denote the same thing under different aspects, viz:
1. Christ’s mediatorial authority, or His rule on the earth;
2. The blessings and advantages of all kinds that flow from this rule;
3. The subjects of this kingdom taken collectively, or the church.
In approaching The Parables of the Kingdom I have discovered that all sorts of confusion arises if you start with the assumption that the word "kingdom" always means the same whenever it appears in the Bible. That is demonstrably not so. Here, as elsewhere, we must apply the hermeneutic principles that we have suggested.
Context - Comparison - No contradiction
My total thesis in the book is based on the truth that God and His Word are immutable. It is my affirmed conviction that providing truth is examined within the immediate context, and compared in the light of the full revelation of God’s Word and His unchanging character, its meaning will be clear.
It seems to me to be unreasonable that terms and words, which convey ideas of evil or wickedness throughout scripture, will convey an opposite idea in an isolated passage. For this reason I take it that what is generally referred to as the parable of the leaven teaches the effect of evil and not that of good, as a number of respected Bible commentators and teachers have suggested. It seems to me that consistency demands this interpretation.
I have avoided the tedium of listing in the book the thoughts and ideas of others in my attempt to keep to the hermeneutic principles that I have listed above.
Finally, I need to point out that while I have endeavoured to provide footnote documentation for the various quotations that I have given, my book is not intended to be scholarly in the general meaning of that word. I make no grandiose claim in that regard. The chapters about the Kingdom Parables were written much earlier and have been previously published in article format, albeit with some slight differences.
Of interest is the fact that the English language connects the first four parables of Matthew chapter 13 by using the word "another." This is the translation of the Greek allo&v allos (Strong 243), which signifies "another of the same kind" or "another of more than two" as distinct from etero&v heteros (Strong 2087) implying "another of a different kind" or "the other of two."
The first four parables relate to the world of agriculture and were told in the open air to the gathered multitudes.
The next four were told by Jesus to His disciples in the house and are linked by our English word "again" Greek pa&lin palin (Strong 3825), which coveys the thought of association but with a renewed or new idea. These as we shall see relate to the world of commerce and fishing.
Throughout the book, I have tried to put my reflections in a modern context. My hope is to provide a biblical perspective to the things that concern an increasing number of God’s people. I believe the Bible is never out-dated. It is always relevant. We simply need to apply the message — not change it in order to become relevant. Efforts towards relevance often destroy effectiveness and end in our becoming irrelevant.
1 The Concise Oxford Dictionary, ninth edition © Oxford University Press 1995 – Clarendon Press Oxford