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What is Paul [Actually] Saying?
My Reflections
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February 21, 2011

Question/Topic in focus: Taking care in interpreting biblical texts


The 4 HorizonsLast weekend I taught cross-cultural communication principles to a handful of extremely bright seminarians. During the class we covered the four "horizons" of biblical interpretation and communication. The horizons are (I) Old Testament, (II) New Testament, (III) present-day communicators, and (IV) present-day hearers.


The basic principle is if we want to make the jump from horizons III to IV properly, it's imperative that we get the jump from I to II right. Too often, we miss the I to II jump and, as a result, botch up the III to IV. Who wants to be guilty of that mistake?


Below you'll find an example of a common horizon error. It's a doozy, so brace yourself. Study the text yourself to see if what I am suggesting is true. Regardless, let's make a pact to handle the Word of God with the care it deserves.


What is Paul [Actually] Saying?
Excerpted from Paul's Letter to the Believers in Colosse (Colossians 2:16, 17)


Paul while writingDue to faulty biases (i.e., an insufficient regard for the horizons), the words in red are problematic.


New International Version
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.


New Living Translation

So don't let anyone criticize you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating Jewish holidays and feasts or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these were only temporary rules that ended when Christ came. They were only shadows of the real thing - of Christ himself.


Literal Word-for-Word Translation from the Greek

No therefore man you let judge in meat or in drink or in respect of an holyday or of the new moon or of the Sabbath days which are a shadow of things to come, the but body is of Christ.


My Reflections

 Magnifying glass
First, let's establish who Paul is writing to. At the beginning of the letter, Paul writes, "To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse" (NIV). After comparing the NIV to the Greek text, it's a fair translation. So, Paul is writing to Christians who are trying to be Christian in a pagan setting.


Horizon I: For illustrative purposes, let's say I've been faithful to train my sons in matters concerning cigarette smoking. I give them the following directives. Don't hang around people who smoke. Don't touch cigarettes. Don't smoke cigarettes. Tell me immediately if anyone pressures you to do any of the above.


Horizon II: Then I say, "Don't let any person judge you on this issue of cigarette smoking."


Horizon III: Now, let's suppose a couple years later someone who's a cigarette smoker somehow reads (because I wrote it down) my directive in Horizon II without understanding or knowing my Horizon I directives. They may very well think I'm endorsing cigarette smoking.


Horizon IV: God help the young person who twists my words by telling my son, "Come on! Have a smoke! Your dad said let no one judge you on this issue."


Twisting. Twisting. Twisting. The truth is we read the Colossians text from a backwards point of view. Horizon I says to observe all the things listed in Colossians 2:16. Since these new Christians are trying to obey these commands in a place where these particular practices are frowned upon, Paul is giving them some encouragement. "Let no one judge you."


Whether you agree with Paul or not (not all scholars approve of Paul's actions...for example, his Nazarite Vow), we shouldn't misread what Paul is saying. As disciples, it's simply not responsible.


As always, The Banqueting Table hopes this was of some benefit to you.


Traver Dougherty
The Banqueting Table

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The Banqueting Table does not necessarily endorse the contents of all videos, papers, or websites linked above. As with all information, please test everything you read and hear against the Scriptures.