November 30, 2003, © Homer Kizer
Commentary – From the Margins
Text & Texture
I have told the story before -- of being drafted to reread biblical prophecies. I knew then that I would have to write about a subject I had studiously avoided: religion. Indeed, I have written a reasonable amount since that day on the second Thursday of January 2002, about 12 minutes after 10 CST. And I have stumbled over what I previously believed, placing in print what I had been taught by physically minded teachers of good intentions. Most of what I have written has been about eschatology. I have written very little about Christian living, about applying the Bible as a moral instruction book, about day to day application of the laws of God. I started to write a correspondence course, the first lesson being about how to study the Bible. Immediately I found that the concept of precept-upon-precept exegesis that I had been taught for thirty years was how the drunk prophets of Israel taught Scripture, that Isaiah under inspiration condemned the practice of such a reading strategy. I have not yet returned to the idea of writing a correspondence course, for I found that the story of the Bible was in its texture. Yes, the text is important. But the text has been picked clean by generations of precept-upon-precept scholars, most combining that reading strategy with historical exegesis. A turkey carcass four days after Thanksgiving has more meat on it than does the Greek signifiers that comprise the Gospels (not that meat hasn’t been missed here and there). Higher criticism has made turkey soup from the text throughout the late 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries, the recipe not one that I wish to share. It makes Christ gag. And for all of the gleaning, the entirety of the "story" of the Bible has been missed, or badly misunderstood.
The key to understanding the Bible and to understanding biblical prophecies is that in all things, the physical precedes the spiritual, and the visible reveals the invisible. A person doesn’t need to know the identity of the descendants of the ancient house of Israel. A person doesn’t need to know the nuances of koine Greek phrases – readers assign meaning to words, so unless a person is of the same mindset as the writer, the person will not assign the same meaning to a linguistic icon even if both use the same language. A person doesn’t need to know what scholars have written about a word, a passage, a Gospel. A person needs only to understand that the visible, physical sequences of events reveal what the reader cannot see, hear, touch, or taste. And understanding some of what humans cannot directly observe or input is absolutely necessary for the mental development of the sons of God; hence, the Bible exists both as revealing document, and as a witness against spiritual juvenile delinquents.
Human beings are physical creatures restricted to living within the fluid called space-time. We cannot physically cross out of the four dimensions in which we live. Yet the promise of the Bible is life outside of our four dimensions. And to receive this promise of life – and before receiving changed bodies that can cross dimensions -- human beings are mentally modified through receipt of the Holy Spirit, or the Breath of God. Only those individuals, once mentally modified, who will be ruled by the supreme sovereign of the supra-dimensional realm usually identified as heaven will actually receive a body that can cross dimensions. So the modification of a person’s mind is made to determine whether the person will be ruled by this ultimate sovereign. And in order for this test to be valid, the person must be subjected to the Adversary’s attitude of rebellion for a determinant period of time.
A simple plan? You bet. But in the past, both recent and distant, so much has been written by so many about the Bible that what can be said has been, a statement that is not true, a statement that only seems true. The text itself says that the text conceals meaning – and the text reveals how that meaning has been concealed. For the text is a mirror that reflects events in that supra-dimensional realm.
The Apostles, including James and Paul, who were taught directly by Christ Jesus understood the concept of literary texture, even if they didn’t have a word or phrase for the concept. John writes in terms of light and darkness. James describes the perfect law as a mirror. Paul says that what happened to Israel in the wilderness was an example for the Church. In each case, their meaning was not in the exactness of their word usage, but in the texture of their context.
My wife attended Ambassador College, Big Sandy campus, for a short while. In a student body assembly, Garner Ted Armstrong questioned the study of literature, asking how could anyone, after the author’s death, know what the author meant whenever he or she wrote a particular passage. He went on to mock literature as an intellectual discipline.
The teachers of spiritual Israel who promulgate the study of the Bible by examining precept upon precept and line upon line are carnally minded. They cluster together like house finches around a winter bird feeder. Flocks of them fly off to exotic vacation spots to keep the Feast of Tabernacles each fall. They distribute tapes and magazines, sponsor a few small market television and radio broadcasts, and believe that a famine of the Word has or is about to occur. They have turned the preaching of the good news of the soon-coming kingdom of God into a cottage industry, and have then restricted entrance into their guild to a double handful of apprentices each year. They actually do more harm to the greater Church than they do good. But they are sincere.
Jesus said that He spoke in parables so that those who heard Him speak would, indeed, hear Him ‘"utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world’" (Matt 13:35) and not understand what He said (vv. 11-13). Is not a parable a literary construct closely allied to other forms of fiction? Is a parable to be understood literally? No -- and yes.
At the time of the end, when knowledge had increased, the prophecies of Daniel were to be unsealed – and they have been. They were sealed with their shadow. Their unsealing required an awareness of literary texture.
I started college as a math/physics major. After a year, I transferred to Oregon Tech, where I entered the Gunsmithing program. English had been my poorest subject in high school. I had two years of college, but only one semester of Intro to Lit and one quarter of Freshman Composition behind me when I dropped out at eighteen years of age. I didn’t return for twenty-three years. And when I returned, I entered graduate school in University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Creative Writing program. My first degree is my M.F.A. in Creative Writing. I am actually supposed to know a little bit about what I do.
The Bible is not a book intended to be understood by everyone. If a person regards it as the instruction book for humanity, or as a moral guidebook, the person misses most of its meaning. Certainly, it is a moral guidebook and an instruction manual revealing how to live, but these are rather minor aspects of why it exists. When an individual receives the Holy Spirit, three things – and a fourth -- occur to the individual. The individual knows God. No one has to teach the individual about God, or convince the individual that God exists, or construct elaborate arguments for why the Bible is the Word of God. Shocking? Why? Because someone argued you into believing that the Bible was the Word of God? You knew it was the Word of God before any proof was ever offered. So the universal first two lessons of every correspondence study course – the lessons devoted to proving that God exists and that the Bible is the Word of God – are superfluous.
Hermann Melville in Moby-Dick raised the question of how can a person trust a received text, a question he continued to explore throughout the remainder of his literary career. The answer is the one he found: whatever a text gives, the text can take away. Faith is required to trust any received text. If a person believes that the Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ, then it is for that person another testament of Jesus Christ. Young L.D.S. missionaries don’t try to argue a person into belief. Rather, they give a prospective convert a book, ask the prospective convert to read the book and then to pray about it, and then see if the person doesn’t believe. Many do. Many do not. But the essence of their technique is valid: a person accepts or rejects a received text for reasons apart from logic.
The natural or carnal mind is actually hostile to God (Rom 8:7), so until a person has been drawn from the world by God, the person doesn’t know God, doesn’t want to know God, isn’t interested in having a relationship with God, and certainly doesn’t accept the Bible as the Word of God. And I am certain you know someone like this. Talking religion to this person is a waste of time, and usually harms your relationship with the person, who won’t spend eternity in hell even if you would like the person to go there as the person’s next vacation destination.
The second thing that occurs to a person when he or she receives the Holy Spirit is that the individual has the laws of God written on his or her heart and mind. The individual knows what is right, and knows to choose to do what is right. The false teachers of Israel will now have to teach this individual to erase those laws that have been inscribed on tablets of flesh. These false teachers will tell this spiritual infant that to attempt to keep the commandments of God is legalism. They will say that the commandments cannot be kept, that the person is not under the Law but under Grace. Yes, the person is under Grace, which remains outside the person. The laws of God are now inside the person – and a conflict has been established between the law that is in the convert’s mind and the law that rules the convert’s physical appetites.
The first lesson of most Bible correspondence courses focuses on proving that God exists; the second lesson focuses on proving the Bible is the Word of God; and the third lesson focuses on proving that the commandments of God are still binding. The individual who has enough interest in the subject to take such a course has already received the Holy Spirit. And if this individual has received the Holy Spirit, this individual already knows God and has the laws of God written on his or her heart and mind (Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:8-12). Yes, this person needs to learn to read the fine print of what has been inscribed on tablets of flesh. But these first three lessons of our generic correspondence course really teach the disciple nothing. At best, they confirm what the disciple already knows, and assures the disciple that he or she isn’t crazy and hasn’t suddenly become a kook. The Apostle Paul had to write to the formerly Gentile saints at Colossae to reassure them that they hadn’t suddenly become kooks now that they had begun to keep Jewish festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths, all of which are shadows of the reality that is Christ. The seventh day Sabbath is the weekly spiritual memorial to saints entering Christ’s rest as the glorified sons of God who were foreknown, predestined, and justified (Rom 8:29-30); Christ rests from the hard work of bearing their sins as the reality of Israel’s Azazel goat. The Sabbath was the weekly physical memorial to the Logos resting on the seventh day after doing the hard work of physically creating the universe (Gen 2:1-3). Two creations. One physical. One spiritual. One with a memorial to the Logos resting after creating physically. One with a memorial to Christ Jesus, the last Adam, a life-giving spirit (1 Cor 15:45), creating spiritually. The Sabbath commandment as part of the laws of God that have been written on the hearts and minds of drawn disciples bears the same relationship between spiritual and physical as anger/hate does to murder, and lustful intent does to adultery. Murder and adultery and Sabbath-breaking are done with the body, are physical, and are part of a law that has been abolished. Anger/hate and lustful intentions and Sabbath-breaking are done with the mind, which should rule over one’s body. They are spiritual transgressions of the laws of God that have been written on the hearts and minds of born-from-above disciples. These inner laws must be kept to the best of the person’s mental ability. They are love.
Are you beginning to see the spiritual problem with writing a physically-oriented correspondence study course? The voiced Ten Commandments are but audible shadows of the spiritual laws of God inscribed on the hearts and minds of drawn disciples.
With exceptions here and there, all of spiritual Israel has flocked to one bird feeder or the other. Those who teach legalism are convinced that those who teach iniquity/lawlessness are doomed, and vice versa. The truth isn’t in the middle, nor located along the bridge between the poles. Satan rules that bridge. Rather, the truth is above both divisions of the greater Church. And it is past time for disciples to think physically. It is past time for those who would erase the laws of God from the hearts and minds of spiritual infants to lose all credibility. It is time to look up, acknowledge God and Christ, and to begin thinking spiritually. That is possible. All a disciple has to do is to quit being ruled by his or her appetites.
The third thing that happens when an individual receives the Holy Spirit is that the individual has his or her sins forgiven. No future sin will even be imputed to this individual as long a he or she remains in covenant with the Father and the Son. And therein is the problem: God keeps covenant with those who love Him and keep His commandments (Dan 9:4). The second covenant is just that, a covenant. Both parties to the covenant have obligations. Israel’s obligation is to love God and keep His commandments. This obligation is spiritual, mental. And the first four of the Ten Commandments are the shadow of how disciples are to love God. Paul writes that "the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You should love your neighbor as yourself’" (Gal 5:14). The spiritual laws of God are to love God and to love your neighbor. A disciple does neither by erasing the laws that have been written on his or her heart and mind. All such erasing accomplishes is to cause the disciple to commit spiritual suicide.
Knowing God, internalized laws of God, sins forgiven -- too good to be true? There is more: the fourth thing that happens is the individual receives a second birth after the manner of Adam, and receives life in the spiritual realm. If the individual were to die one instant after receiving the Holy Spirit, the individual would be resurrected upon Christ’s return when the judgment of holy Israel is revealed (1 Cor 4:5). This individual would not be resurrected in the great White Throne Judgment. If the Father felt this individual needed additional time to mature spiritually for whatever crown or office for which this person was called, the individual would have received that additional time. Keeping someone alive is no great task for God. A person who has life in the spiritual realm will die physically when it is time for this person to die, not one moment before. This doesn’t mean the individual won’t experience injury or suffer illness or die prematurely. It means that if the Father wanted the person alive for whatever reason[s], the person would be alive.
The problem with writing a correspondence study course is the problem of conveying literary texture…I first encountered this problem in Alaskan Native stories. Barre Toelken and Tacheeni Scott in their essay "Poetic Retranslation and the ‘Pretty Languages,’" writing about Navajo Coyote stories, say, "[T]he structures and styles we find meaningful in lettered literature are likely to be misleading, or at least irrelevant…the significant part of Coyote stories resides in their texture, not their structure, and excessive attention to structure and stated content may actually stand in the way of our seeing those subtle moral implications and concepts which seem to be the Navajos’ main reasons for telling the story" (p.81 in Traditional Literatures of the American Indian. Ed. Karl Kroeber. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1981.)
The Bible as lettered literature conveys the history of a slave people leaving Egypt, and becoming a nation that experiences civil war and national captivity. The story is regional. The claims made in the story are fantastic. And Melville’s concerns about whether a received text can be trusted are valid – he wanted to believe, but like Matthew Arnold, he had been educated unto unbelief. Hawthorne never figured out why Melville didn’t jettison all belief.
Am I picking a fight I don’t need to make, stating that the structure and content of the Bible might actually stand in the way of understanding its significant parts? Perhaps. But it is a fight I pick knowing that if I don’t, someone else will. It is a fight whose time has come. And it is, really, a fight that I seem to have been selected to start.
I never wanted to be religious – then after I was placed into the Body of Christ, I never wanted to have anything to do with ministry. I was perfectly content on the back side of Kodiak Island, or on Unalaska Island. The farther away from civilization, the better I liked the location. In fact, the only place I ever truly felt at home was at Dutch Harbor (I write of this in the essay collection From the Margins). So I didn’t return to civilization with an expectation of staying. I returned because I had daughters to educate, and very little money. I stayed because there wasn’t money to return. Then came that January morning in 2002. My mindset changed in a moment. I was given a job from which there is no retirement. And that job wasn’t to deliver a kinder and gentler message about the Father, or Christ Jesus. It was to prepare a people to fight against the Cross, and to win.
Jesus told Pilate, ""My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting’" (John 18:36). His kingdom is spiritual, and it is coming here to earth. And His servants will fight in the spiritual/mental realm. The war will be waged with ideas. The territory over which battles will be fought is the mental topography of humanity. The victors will be all who endure to the end – and the victory has already been won. Only the battles remain.
There will be casualties; there have already been casualties. Disciples will either crucify their old natures, or the Cross will murder them spiritually. Calvary represents in a sketch the entirety of human history. The Cross killed Christ, but Christ overcame death and the grave. The Cross also killed two lawbreakers, one of whom demanded that Jesus physically save Himself and the thief. The other acknowledged the justice of his death, feared God, and asked only that he be remembered spiritually. He received the promise of everlasting life.
Humanity will divide itself between those who think physically and look for physical salvation, and those who think spiritually and look for spiritual salvation. The person who would keep his or her life will lose it. The person who dies for Christ, figuratively and/or literally, will save his or her life. The two thieves – they are us, all of us. We are one or the other. And it is this texture that doesn’t easily lend itself to inclusion in a correspondence study course lesson. It is this texture that I seek to convey through many words that return to a simple message: disciples must live within the laws of God, as they know and understand those laws. Anything else is hypocrisy.
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"Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved."