The Teaching of Jesus; New light on "Hard Sayings"
by Mr. Philip Richards
This talk is in three parts.
Two hard sayings
- When we read Luke 14 : 26 it makes no sense.
-The context of Mark 10 :29,30 is that this passage is in response to
Peter’s remark that "We have left all and followed You" and
Christ makes a seemingly strange answer which seems to urge us to leave
our family members, wife and children, and house for His sake and the
gospel’s and and we shall be rewarded with very much more of these together
with persecutions and eternal life in the
These passages have puzzled many many people over the centuries.
- Let me give some examples of how these passages have been dealt with in recent times in my experience.
1. In a book titled "New Solutions to Difficult Sayings of Jesus" its author Gordon Powell says that when his radio audience was invited to submit difficult topics for him to preach on, Luke 14 : 26 was requested more than any other.
- The answer he gave in his book as to the meaning of this difficult
saying - after speculating that a shade of meaning in the Aramaic idiom
has been lost in translating from Aramaic to Greek by Luke
- I do not see anything new about this answer - it is the literal sense and the difficulty remains. Why should we hate our father and mother etc.
- The New King James Bible (which is an excellent translation
from the original languages into English) - in its notes on the verses
below the text - tries to get over this shocking use of the word "hate"
by saying that "hate" here means ‘to love less’. It goes on
to say that ‘our love for Jesus must be greater than our strongest human
ties. We must value Him more than life itself’.
- But look what the Good News Bible did with this passage :
Whoever comes to me cannot be my disciple unless he loves me more than he loves his father and his mother, his wife and his children, his brothers and his sisters and himself as well. Here the translation from the Greek is adjusted to suit the preconceived ideas of the translators rather than what is plainly said in the Greek text. The implication here is that the translator knows better than Christ as to how He should have expressed Himself here.!! At the same time the translator changes the meaning by breaking the correspondence - but more of this later.
2. With regard to the second passage, the one in Mark, I heard a minister
say last year in relation to this passage, and don’t forget that it is
Christ’s response to Peter’s remark that "We have left all and followed
You" - and I quote, because he published his sermon, "Imagine
yourself having a harem of a hundred spouses and a nursery of a hundred
children or grandchildren to look after. God spare us".
-This again is in line with the literal sense - making a joke of it - in fact, the title of his sermon was "Be careful what you ask for, you might get it."
-These passages are good examples of passages where the literal sense is difficult if not impossible to understand. I’ll come back to these passages later.
How is the Christian Church coping with Biblical interpretation?
-I read in a church magazine that at the Uniting Church Assembly in Adelaide in July 2000 the chairperson of the Task Group on the Bible reported to the Assembly that the church was in trouble and cruelly divided over biblical interpretation. This is reflected in the sermons of church ministers when they either avoid the ‘hard sayings,’ make the best of the literal meaning, or stick to ‘safe’ passages where the meaning is clear.
-It is plain that literal interpretation of some of the sayings of Jesus as we have just seen - and other passages of scripture as well - such as the seven days of creation, Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden etc, - have caused and are still causing the Christian Church a great deal of difficulty.
Science has long challenged the Biblical Creation Story Scripture is no longer seen as infallible and it has lost much of its authority. Liberal theologians like Bishop Spong have attacked the so-called supernatural elements of the Gospels such as the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection of Christ, the Ascension and the miracles and call for the Gospels to be "demythologised." The Book of Revelation remains closed as far as its interpretation is concerned. As a result the Christian Church has lost a lot of credibility and its appeal to the masses continues on a downward trend as periodic surveys clearly show.
Bishop Spong sums up the situation for the Christian Church quite well :
-He sees modern man as being ‘in exile from God, and lost in a theological wilderness, trying to find a 21st century meaning to ancient writings from another mind-set, another reality.’ His solution however is to "demythologise" the Gospels as part of a process of radical revision to make Christianity acceptable to the modern mind.
2. Is there a way out from the impasse arising from literal interpretation?
The Story of Biblical Interpretation
Before answering this question it is useful to see how the Christian Church got into this situation in the first place.
-Christ’s apostles received understanding of the deeper meaning of Old Testament scripture when at the end of Luke’s Gospel it is said that "He opened their understanding that they might comprehend the scriptures" and they in turn handed down this knowledge to their immediate successors.
-Clement of Alexandria, Ignatius of Antioch, Origen, St Augustine, St Jerome and others all testified to an inner meaning - a spiritual meaning beyond the literal sense- in scripture.
- St Paul also affirmed the existence of a spiritual meaning when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 3 : 6 that "the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (That is, the sense of the letter kills but the spiritual meaning gives life.)
-The early church Fathers could see that the Word of God must be more than a collection of ephemeral events with changing people, times and places.
-To be the Word of God, God speaking to Man, God must reveal Himself and speak of eternal things such as the Divine end and purpose of Creation, the Divine laws of life and the eternal destiny to which He is leading both the individual and the human race.
-They saw the literal stories as allegories or parables pointing to spiritual truths as the Lord Himself showed in the Parable of the Sower. (Here Christ explained that the real subject was the way the truth of the Dive Word (the seed) is either received into the human mind or is rejected by it.) It was not guidance on agricultural practice.
-So they looked for a deeper, or spiritual meaning in the sacred text and this kind of biblical interpretation can be described as allegorical interpretation.
-But since they lacked a rational revelation of spiritual truth which would be a guide in reaching the spiritual meaning of biblical passages, there was a tendency to error when using this method of interpretation.
-Allegorical interpretation prevailed through the Middle Ages (500AD - 1300AD) with dogmatic theology rather than exegesis being the main interest.
-As the church declined and focussed more on external matters, errors in allegorical interpretation increased and so did confusion of understanding of scripture.
-To put a stop to this confusion, the Catholic Church ruled that its clergy alone would have the right to interpret scripture in line with the creeds and decisions of Church Councils.
-Official Church teaching was the only game in town and ordinary people were denied access to the Word.
-Religious Reformers Wycliff, Huss, Luther and Calvin rose in revolt against this assertion of ecclesiastical authority and they in turn asserted that God should be allowed to speak directly to every man, with each man allowed to draw his own conclusion from the sacred text. To curb the role of the imagination in biblical interpretation they demanded that scripture should be understood literally in accord with the plain and open meaning of every passage.
Luther dismissed the allegorizers as "clerical jugglers performing monkey tricks" and said that Origen’s exegesis was "worth less than dirt" and expressed a strong preference for the literal sense. However, A.M. Hunter has observed that in practice Luther remained fond of allegorical interpretation and his own exposition showed as many monkey tricks as Origen’s.
-This remains the position with the Protestant Churches and they still
have a prejudice against anything but a literal interpretation of Scripture.
So here we are with literal interpretation reigning supreme.
At this point let’s have another look at Allegorical Interpretation.
-Now from the Gospels we know that "without a parable spake He not
unto them," so that all His stories and sayings must have a spiritual
meaning beyond the literal meaning - unless the spiritual meaning is plain
to see - for example - "You are My disciples if you have love for
-This is also the implication of Christ’s words to the 2 disciples at the end of Luke’s Gospel when "beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the scriptures (Old Testament) the things concerning Himself."
-Since the name of Jesus never occurs in the Old Testament, all those things about Him must have been told in the form of parables. In other words, scripture itself must have an inner meaning, a spiritual meaning apart from the literal sense.
-This of course brings us to the same point as the early Church Fathers who also realised by similar reasoning that scripture has an inner sense.
-In John 16 : 25 Christ says "These things have I spoken to you
in figurative language: but the time is coming when I will no longer speak
to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father".
Enlightenment of Emanuel Swedenborg
- A further revelation was made by the Lord to Emanuel Swedenborg who
lived from 1688 to 1772 and it has been published in his theological books.
-His theological writings show that everything in the literal sense of
the Word has a spiritual counterpart, that is, the earthly or literal
thing and its spiritual
3. The passages from Luke and Mark Revisited in the light of knowledge
of Correspondences and clear teaching or doctrine from the Word
-The key to what is involved in following the Lord we find in the Gospels
-To deny himself is to turn away from what is bad within him, his evils or his evil loves, and in so doing he is led by the Lord.
-Mark 10 : 29.30 starts to make some sense if we regard ‘father, mother, wife, children, brethren, and sisters, also houses and fields’ as symbols for things in man himself which he must forsake.
-In other words, to deny oneself is the same as forsaking ‘father, mother, wife, children, brethren, and sisters, also houses and fields’ AND THESE ARE CORRESPONDENCES and we progress to the spiritual meaning by use of clear teaching or DOCTRINE.
-A man’s evil loves are the love of self and the love of the world and these are in opposition to the good loves, love of God and the love of the neighbour.
-From these two primary evil loves, symbolised by ‘father and mother,’ are derived the related evils, symbolised by ‘wife, children, brethren, sisters, houses, fields.’
-These things a man must hate or shun if he wishes to worship the Lord and to be His disciple, and in return he will "receive a hundred-fold" of these things from the Lord, indicated by the same symbols, that is,"houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields," but since they are from the Lord they will be the opposite of evils, that is, good things, and "in the world to come, eternal life."
-The process of following the Lord involves ‘persecutions’ or temptations which have to be undergone and overcome. -Another formulation of the same idea is in Luke 14:26 :
-If a man is primarily motivated by love of self and the world then his life will be evil and his soul evil and vice versa if motivated by the love of God and the neighbour, but his soul cannot be both good and evil at the same time since we are taught that we cannot serve two masters.
-So for a man in the former category, that is - primarily motivated by
love of self or love of the world
-This is the essential meaning of what is involved in following the Lord,
and its importance is underlined by its repetition in all the Synoptic
Before leaving these two passages I want to point out that in approaching the spiritual sense we must be aware that the Word is written by pure correspondences and that it cannot be understood without doctrine drawn from the literal sense of the Word. We see this in TCR 254 :
"The Word cannot be understood without doctrine, and doctrine resembles a lantern which allows genuine truths to be seen; and that this is because the Word is entirely written by means of correspondences. That is why many things in it are appearances of truth and not bare truths, and why many things are written to be intelligible to purely natural people, and yet in such a way that the simple can understand it simply, the intelligent intelligently and the wise wisely. Seeing the Word is like this, the appearances of truth, which are truths wrapped up, can be taken for bare truths; and when these are confirmed, they become fallacies, which in themselves are falsities. It is the taking and confirming of appearances of truth for genuine truths which have given rise to all the heresies, which there ever have been and still exist in the Christian part of the world. But what damns people is not the heresies themselves, but drawing on the Word and using reasonings on the part of the natural man to confirm the falsities contained in the heresy, and living a wicked life."
-These two examples shows the power of the allegorical method of interpretation
when based on knowledge of Correspondences and the use of doctrine.
SS 51. i. The Word cannot be understood without doctrine. This is because the Word in the sense of the letter consists exclusively of correspondences, to the end that things spiritual and celestial may be simultaneous or together therein, and that every word may be their container and support. For this reason, in some places in the sense of the letter the truths are not naked, but clothed, and are then called appearances of truth. Many truths also are accommodated to the capacity of simple folk, who do not uplift their thoughts above such things as they see before their eyes. There are also some things that appear like contradictions, although the Word when viewed in its own light contains no contradiction
Mark 10: 29,30
Luke 14 : 26 Good News Bible
Science has long challenged the Biblical Creation Story
-Clement of Alexandria, Ignatius of Antioch, Origen, St Augustine, St
- St Paul also affirmed the existence of a spiritual meaning when he
wrote in 2
-In John 16 : 25 Christ says "These things have I spoken to you
-To be the Word of God, God speaking to Man, God must reveal Himself
SS 51. i. The Word cannot be understood without doctrine. This is because
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