One reason we need the work of the Holy Spirit in our life is to protect us from the distortions of Biblical truth. The Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of truth” and He leads us into all truth. And it is the Spirit that breathes life into the Bible.
“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.” John 16:13
“Who also has made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” 2Corinthians 3:6
We are shown by the comments of the Apostle Paul that it is possible to distort the Bible and use it deceitfully.
“For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.” 2Corinthians 2:17
“But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” 2Corinthians 4:2
Missing the Truth
We can miss the truth of God’s Word because we are deceived by preachers who are deceitful and who corrupt the message of the Bible.
We can also miss the truth because we interpret the Bible through the filter of our own culture and perspective. We may inadvertently suppose something to be true, because that makes sense in our own cultural setting, but it may not be what the Bible is teaching. For example, the natives of Papua New Guinea brought their cultural concept of the “payback system” into their Christianity. Instead of catching the Bible truth about total transformation and the worthlessness of human effort, some natives felt they owed God a payment for salvation. They followed Christ for years, then came to the conclusion that they had paid God back for their salvation. At that point they went back to their old life. The Bible teaching was subordinated to their cultural understanding.
We can also miss the truth in the process of translation from the original languages. Many concepts in the Bible are not easily conveyed into another language. As an example, the word “you” in English can refer to a single person, “you are my friend”, or a group of people, “you are all my friends”. In the King James Bible the translators used “thee, thou, ye and you” to help English readers know when one or more people was being referred to. In modern translations that distinction has now been lost.
Church traditions also blind us to the fuller truth of God’s Word. People raised in a traditional, hierarchical church system tend to read the Bible in support of that system. People in non-traditional, loosely-knit fellowships read the same Bible but find in it support for their system. Those who believe in baptism of believers readily find it in the New Testament. Those who embrace infant baptism do not notice the texts which describe believers’ baptism. And so it goes.
Popular cultural ideas also distort our reading of the Bible. In the past half century much emphasis has been given to removing gender references in the Bible. He is taken to mean ‘he or she’. Brothers is taken to mean ‘brothers and sisters’. Yet in some Bible passages it is clear that the term ‘brothers’ only means the men. So how do we now confidently recognise teachings that are directed at men, when we have generalised the term to mean ‘men and women’?
The Great Commission Has Been Abducted
Jesus’ Great Commission is one of those Bible truths that has been abducted along the way. English readers have lost some of the import of the Great Commission by the process of translation, and the church’s development of dedicated mission ministries has also stolen truth from us.
So, let’s take a look at the Great Commission given at the end of the Book of Matthew.
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Matthew 28:19,20.
Interpreting the Great Commission
What is the key impetus of this command of Jesus? For many it has been on the word ‘Go’! They have seen this as a missionary mandate, commanding Christians to be ready and willing to traverse continents, cross oceans, learn foreign languages and commit to a lifetime of ex-patriot ministry.
Some have seen the importance of baptising converts. Taking the rite of baptism to foreign lands has been an important issue in the minds of some missionaries and churches.
Various teaching ministries have been set up in pursuit of the command to teach all nations.
How do we get to the grist of the passage?
Back to the Greek
The Greek language offers us a level of meaning that is not readily transferred into an English translation. That is in the ranking of verbs.
In English we do not have a mechanism for giving weight to verbs in a sentence. So “Go and buy me a coffee” has two verbs of equal weight in English. However, the real intent may have little to do with coffee and much to do with telling someone to get lost! “GO and buy me a coffee”. But then it could be that you are desperate for a caffeine fix and so the key word is BUY, not go. In that case the going is an incidental part of the process of you getting your coffee. “Go and BUY me a coffee!”
In Greek it is possible and usual to give weight to verbs in a sentence, so the reader will immediately know which verb has priority and which is subordinate to it. That gives Greek students an advantage over those who can only read the English version.
My son, Stephen, took a look at the Great Commission in the original Greek and came up with an interesting discovery. There are several verbs in that commission and they do not have equal weight.
Greek Verbs in the Great Commission
In the Great Commission the key verb is the instruction to “make disciples”. This has been translated as “teach” in the King James Version (KJV). The going and the baptising are ancillary, though appropriate supportive actions.
The command is not focussed on going. It is not a missionary command in the classic sense of sending people to the nations. It is about making disciples. That will likely necessitate going to the people, but the going is not imperative.
Similarly, baptism is an outworking of the process of making disciples, but making disciples is the key.
Stephen’s notes on the Greek verbs has been posted on the Chris Field Blog Forum at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/forum/index.php?topic=20.msg39#msg39
Church Tradition Has Abducted the Great Commission
Following my son’s explanation of what he found in the Greek verbs, I realised that the Great Commission has also been abducted by church tradition over the past century.
The advent of the global missionary societies in the late 1800’s has caused a perception to be built in the minds of most Christians, contrary to the command of Christ. We now take it for granted that there are people who are called to be missionaries. Those people will have a missionary call. They will go to missionary training. They will work with a missionary association. They will raise missionary funding. They will go to an approved missionary field. They will work as missionaries. They will come back home on furlough to raise further funding for the missionary work. They will send out missionary reports to their supporters. And so on.
As a consequence the rest of the church members and Christians feel relieved of the missionary burden. Going and preaching to the nations is now a profession, like plumbing or accountancy. Only those who have engaged in that profession need give it any thought. The others have other things to think about.
And therein is the abduction of the Great Commission.
Jesus’ Great Commission
Jesus commanded His followers to “make disciples”. This is a command given to us all. Every Christian is to be a disciple maker, especially good at teaching people how to follow Christ’s instructions.
But now most Christians have abdicated that responsibility to the clergy and missionary forces. The idea that ordinary church members should be engaged in discipling people is foreign to most church attenders.
So, here again the Great Commission has been stolen from our consciousness. It has been distorted and relegated to special missionary services, as only relevant to those who are going overseas.
Both the English translation and church practice are keeping us from the truth.
Led by the Spirit
This is just an example. There must be other key Bible truths which are being lost to us because of similar, non-sinister developments. Then there will be some truths that are deliberately misrepresented as well. To counter these influences we need to have the quickening work of the Holy Spirit involved in our daily Bible study.
As the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth we may at first be resistant, since it may challenge our surface reading of the text or our church traditions. Be open to the instruction of God.
However, this is not to say that you should reject the clear teaching of the Bible or the truths embraced by the church because you have some whacky private interpretation. If your interpretations put you at variance with other Christians you need to be careful of deception and self-serving ideas. Submit yourself to godly and learned people.
But, having said that, I encourage you to read the Bible daily and to seek the Holy Spirit’s illumination of His Word. As you discover inspired insights you will find that Bible believing people will support them and be built up by them, even as you are built up by what the Lord is showing them.