Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has written his memoirs entitled “A Journey.” The international media interviewed him and asked what he thought was the great threat facing the world today. His answer: “Radical Islam.”
Notice he said “Radical Islam.” Most Muslims are not radical. The Florida pastor who wanted to burn the Qur’an as a protest on 9/11 shows he does not know or understand this sacred writing.
The Qur’an is not an evil document. Some people’s misunderstanding of the Qur’an has led to a radicalization of this sacred book.
However, we can say the same thing for the Bible. Many fundamentalist Christians have distorted God’s word because they have misunderstood how the Bible was written. Both the Qur’an and the Bible were written in a particular language, in a Middle East culture, with an entirely different world view than we have.
Christians have often misinterpreted the words of Jesus because they fail to understand the idioms and expressions of his language. The common language in Jesus’ day was Aramaic. That language often used extremes to get an idea across. Speakers would intentionally overstate a principle so the exaggeration would drive home a truth.
For example, when Jesus was pointing out the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisee, he said, “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!” (Mat 23:24) Now I don’t care how hungry you are, it’s impossible to swallow a camel. Nevertheless, the point is valid: Don’t sweat the small things. Take care of the important things in life.
Jesus told us, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Mat 7:3) I do not know anyone who has a “log” in his eye. Again, the point is valid. Look at yourself first and change your own sinful ways before you see the faults in your neighbor.
In Luke 14:26 Jesus uses very strong language, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” Middle Easterners expressed their preference for one thing over another by saying, “I love this and hate that.” Jesus was making a clear statement that if we wanted to follow him, we must not put anyone or anything between him and ourselves.
We can look at what Jesus did to help us understand the words he used. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said, “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” What did Jesus do when he went before the high priests and a soldier struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus did not turn his other cheek, but said, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”
Jesus did not return evil for evil but challenged the soldier. The role of a Christian is not to be a doormat. Neither are we to return evil for evil.
In Matthew 23:9, Jesus said, “Call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father – the one in heaven.” Again, applying our principle, what did Jesus do? If he meant this to be an absolute, Jesus wouldn’t have used the word “father” in his parables.
In the story of the prodigal son, Jesus uses the word “father” 13 times. St. Paul calls himself a father to the Corinthians and to the slave, Onesimus. Jesus is making a profound point: we have only one God.
When we read any book, knowing something about the human author, the culture, the language, and the environment is most important. This is especially true of the Bible and other sacred books.