How do you deal with the old and strange and culturally foreign stuff in the Bible?


John Piper, on coming to something in the Bible that is ” Old and Strange and Foreign to Me”(as in Hebrews 8 )

It’s almost inevitable that people who live in the modern world of computers and jets and television and antibiotics will read these verses with a sense of tremendous foreignness. That is not my world, we feel, even if we don’t say it. What should we do about that sense?

When you read about something old and strange and culturally foreign to your present world, you have three choices (at least) in how you can deal with the difference and the distance you feel from this oldness and strangeness:

1) You can say, “The world of this text is so old and so foreign and so strange—with its tents and altars and animal sacrifices and ceremonial defilements and washings—that they have no relevance for my life today at all. So I will ignore them and deal with more contemporary things.”

2) Or you can say, “Well, the truths that really matter in life are not historical truths, but timeless truths above history, and so in every generation these truths get expressed in some way or another in the world. I will look for some of these timeless truths in these old strange days of priests and ritual and sacrifice and ceremonial defilement. Perhaps my life will be enriched in some way by connecting with the eternal realm through these old practices.

3) Or you can say, “I believe that God governs history and is progressively revealing himself to the world by the way he guides history from one period to the next. Yes, old periods of God’s design in history are strange and foreign, but, no, they are not irrelevant. Each successive period helps interpret the next and sheds light on what God is doing in the present. And, yes, there are eternal truths that we can learn from old and strange periods of history, but, no, this is not all that God is doing. History is not just an unreal shadow of heaven. God himself comes into history and does things. And we cannot just stand back and try to see symbols of eternal truths; we have to become a part of what God is doing in history if we would be saved and live with him forever.”

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