What if I told you that Jesus exaggerated a lot? Mobs would cry, “Heresy!!! Heresy!!!” LOL! But in fact, Jesus, and His culture (Ancient Near East) spoke very, very often in hyperbole, which is an exaggerated way of describing a thing. You know, like in today, saying of a big snowstorm, “This is ‘Snowmaggedon’, or a “New Ice Age!, hide the bread and milk!!!” LOL! It is an exaggeration for a pointed effect. The scripture is truly a book to be taken very seriously. It is the Word of God, no mistake about it. But it is NOT to be interpreted with literalism in every way. It is amazing how much people in today’s church climate think otherwise.
In Jesus’ public ministry, ‘everything’ (see what I did there?) he spoke was presented in parable and idiomatic forms. Are parables literal? No. They are fictitious analogies intended to bring about a specific idea or truth. The “truth” being portrayed is the real takeaway, not the details of the parable itself. When Jesus would say, “There was a certain man….”, the implied fictitious man is not important! The parable or idiom is just the visionary vehicle used to present the true message. I mean, is it really possible to put a camel through the eye of a needle? HaHa. Yeah right! The point of the idiom is: “People who are caught up in the socio-economics of this world system will have a really difficult time laying that aside to actually obey the path of Christ, by dying to self-interest.” Most people hear that parable/idiom and do not take the camel and needle literally. That’s good! But sadly, when it comes to much of the Biblical narratives, they actually do.
I was reading some stuff by another scholar today, (which really prompted me to stop putting off writing this blog), and he had mentioned how God’s Word speaks in figurative language regarding almost everything in creation at times. Such as calling the Holy Spirit by the Hebrew word “ruach” (רוּחַ), which is “breath/wind.” Or calling man “dust of the earth”, angels as “stars”, and Jesus even calling Simon a “rock” (petros). None of these are taken literally. Peter wasn’t a literal rock, nor was he referred to as the rock the church would be founded upon, but rather that ‘rock’ being the revelation he had of who Jesus really was. These things are Hebraisms that are intended to be figurative, and visionary. FYI: visionary prophecy a.k.a. apocalyptic narrative, is ALWAYS figurative. Let’s look at some major areas of the text where its purpose is completely overlooked through a taught lens of literalism, when the biblical authors were not speaking literally. DISCLAIMER: This may sting a bit.
If you’ve read my chapter by chapter blogs on the visionary images in the book of Revelation, you should be well aware that literalism is blinding in the western church. The book of Revelation is not a mystery. It is the revealing of Jesus Christ as Yahweh, creator of all things. The symbolism is never literal, but a figurative reapplication of the only scripture the early church knew: The Old Testament. I mean, in the New Covenant Jesus clearly uses temple imagery to depict a “New [figurative] Temple” that is symbolically made up of Himself as the Cornerstone, the teachings of the Prophets and Apostles as the foundational footing, and those “believers” who actually apply those words in walking out the road of Jesus’ path to salvation. Is there a literal building? No. It is figurative/ metaphorical.
So let’s take some words of God/Christ and see how they are not literal, but hyperbole in their intent. Please understand that this way of speaking was a culturally understood thing. God and man are in a coop to fulfill the plan of redeeming all things back to God. This is the greater narrative of the entire culmination of scripture, but within its books are various artistic writing styles known to the ancient world authors, and obviously unknown to most today. Hyperbole, chiasm, poetry, apocalyptic genre, etc are all styles in the text. Do people realize that God didn’t really fight a seven-headed sea dragon to deliver Israel from Egypt? It was a metaphor wrapped in the Akkadian “Leviathan” lore imagery of that day.
As pertaining to hyperbolic narrative, let’s take the words “forever, eternal, never-ending, and always.” We read these very words from the mouth of God Himself in the biblical texts in regards to Old Covenant temple worship and order. We see it regarding Sheol/ Hell, the afterlife, and various other applications. So, because God used these terms, are we to take them always literally? The answer is emphatically, no. Before anyone gets discombobulated, let’s look at the actual texts…..
In these next four passages it is clear that God wanted the Sabbath Laws to continue forever, right? Not really….. The term translated from Hebrew is ‘Olam.’
Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever (olam עולם).
Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before the Lord regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever (olam).
It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever (olam).
From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the Lord.
And yet we see the Old Testament systems actually do come to an end. Was God lying? Certainly not. Look at the contrast of these two passages:
and you shall gird Aaron and his sons with sashes and bind caps on them. And the priesthood shall be theirs by a statute forever (olam). Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.
Yet Hebrews 7:11-12 tells us that Aaron’s office was permanently dissolved at the command of Jesus Christ and replaced by a new order:
Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest (Jesus) to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.
So does “forever” actually mean forever in scripture? Obviously not always. Maybe culture, context, and language actually are the key to rightly dividing God’s Word, you think? Perhaps hyperbole is a much bigger thing in scripture than the literalist minds want to acknowledge? If I said to you, “It took my ride forever to get here”, does that actually mean forever, or is it an exaggerated language to emphasize the importance of a point? If we humans today speak and communicate in such ways, why in God’s name do we refuse to accept that the ancient people did the same? After all, they’re no less or more made in God’s image and likeness than we are. But people are so willfully and blindly religious sometimes. What did Paul say…. “ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
There are people in modern Christianity who ignorantly think that people should still follow Mosaic Law because of the “forever” terminology being used in the texts. I know people who also try to keep and teach that the feast days of the Old Covenant are for today, in what is known as the Hebrew Roots movement. This view is permeating modern Christianity and teaching that even the four feasts that Jesus has clearly already fulfilled (Passover, Unleavened bread, First-fruits, and Pentecost) are for today, even though those are impossible to keep due to the obvious fact that there is no literal temple from which to operate and perform them. Hello! Big Red Truck!!!! (Face-palm here) Did I say that literalism is due to spiritual blinding???
So…..under which conditions, or on what basis are we to understand when the scripture really means “forever”, when it uses such a term?
The Hebrew term used in all these passages is olam (עולם, as I’ve shown), and its Greek derivative, “aiōn” (eon) in the New Testament. Both terms can mean eternity, but can also refer to a period of time, or an age or era. With scripture, context is ALWAYS king, and not in our arrogant, modern contextual understanding, but in the proper worldview of God’s authors’. That’s a big difference that some self-implied experts really need to learn.
Ancient Jews divided time into two ages, or worlds: עולם הזה (olam hazeh), meaning this age or world, and then עולם הבא (olam haba), meaning the age/world to come. So, in this context, it is very obvious that there is not this “current eternity” and then another “eternity to come.” Context will denote the finite duration intended to be described. Sorry literalists! Replying to questions with answers like, “The Bible says it so I believe it” is not faith, it is blind ignorance. That is a defense for not being informed one’s self. Believing a view simply because one chooses to, rather than proving it by what the text actually states is utter religious stupidity. True Christians are called to give educated, contextual answers for the scripture, not defensive, blind, religious responses, or outward behavioral shows, trying to depict themselves as “spiritual elites.” The only spiritual people in God’s kingdom are those who know and apply His teachings. Everything else is just fraud and acting.
There’s many scriptural examples where ‘olam’ simply cannot mean “eternity.”
then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever (olam).
This English term rendered is translated here from the Hebrew construct, לְעֹלָֽם (l’olam). But could a slave actually serve a master for eternity here in life? The obvious answer is no. It’s hyperbolic language. Every slave was human, and subject to die. So the term ‘eternity’ does not always mean literally forever, and vice-versa. In fact, what this tells us in this example is that death freed men from those binding commandments. In comparison, Paul said in Romans 7:1-4, that a Jew who became ‘born again’ was no longer bound by the Mosaic Law, which is who chapter 7 was speaking of; people bound in Adam (the flesh) by trying to keep the law of Moses as a means of salvation. But remember, if some old covenant commandments were ratified by Christ under the New Covenant, then believers would still keep those, because it is a totally different covenant.
So as relating le’olam in the context of this slave narrative in Exodus, the time span is actually relative. Rashi, a medieval French/Jewish rabbi, said in his commentary on the Jewish Talmud, that le’olam in this passage does not mean eternity, but rather עד היבל (ad hay’yovel), meaning until the jubilee, or fiftieth year. With that said, I don’t follow Talmudic literature, nor deem it in any way as authoritative, but do look at it at times for contextual identifiers. But in this case, my point of reference is simply the grammar and language. So, let’s say a slave was taken in the 49th year, two days before the Jubilee, then he would go free after serving those two days. Yet, another person taken as a slave right after the Jubilee would be bound to serve for the next 50 years. See how the English terms “forever” or “eternity” become relative in the given context? This is how scripture must be interpreted. Literalism is sheer insanity when it is applied to aspects of the scripture. But that is the consequence of Evangelical, Dispensational ideology. It is just utterly ignorant of the worldview of the biblical writers, and the stylistic context in which they wrote.
There are divisions even in modern Judaism, as to whether the Mosaic Law is eternal, based on the terminology used in the texts. Some say ‘yes’, and others, ‘no’. Religion is always divisive. If you recall, Jesus’ biggest opponents were Jewish church leaders, and they too were blinded by literalistic views of the text. I mean, when you think a grown man needs to re-enter his mom’s womb to be “born again”, you have utterly missed the metaphorical context!!!
So looking at the terms God uses for these things, do you see how hyperbole and idiomatic language are deeply woven into the fabric of biblical narrative? Culture, context, and language: this is the key to faithfully handling the text. Olam is used in many capacities throughout the Bible to denote many things. In some places it simply denotes the word “long.” The English translations interpreted many individual Hebrew words into various different English words, or at times, multiple Hebrew terms were translated into the same English term. The translations are not a word for word thing, ever. They merely take a Hebraic passage and try to capture the essence in the English tongue. Although they’re often fairly close in doing so, all aspects can never be translated.
Let me leave you with this……
One of the biggest issues we find in the Bible where olam, and other Hebrew terms are used for “eternal, forever, never-ending, perpetual, always”, etc is in the context of Sheol/Hell and the Lake of Fire. Some believe we burn in a literal fire forever, if we die apart from God. Others believe we burn up like a piece of paper. There is an equally logical textual argument for both sides. So, when scripture says a man is cast in the “Lake of Fire”, and tormented forever, does that mean literally forever, or does it imply something else? Was that statement made in apocalyptic narrative, or another form of scriptural writing? Obviously Hell is not an eternal place, or ‘forever’, as depicted by the textual wording, because it is merely a jail sentence awaiting final court judgment. Also, where in all of the Bible does it ever say that the rebellion can never occur again after the judgment? Where free-will exists, there is always a possibility of someone falling, even in the afterlife. I mean, if obedience to Yahweh existed before the fall of man and Lucifer, why would it not exist after the redemption of all things? Fact is, if people don’t live in obedience here and now, why would they in eternity? There is no such thing as a Lord without a servant. There’s ya some meat to chew on!
So there you have a dichotomy of sorts. Hopefully your curiosity is now piqued, and you will go digging for yourself. That is my desire for people. The answer always lies in the proper context of the text itself. Will you dare to search it out?
“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.”