Lecture 20: Hermeneutics for Exaggeration (Part 2)
Course: Biblical Hermeneutics
Sometimes a statement is interpreted by an evangelist in a non-literal way. We had that example in Luke 14:26 – “You have to hate your father and mother.” and Matthew has “You cannot love father and mother more than me.” Whereas Luke gives a more literal word for word translation of Jesus’ words, you have a more meaning for meaning or thought for thought in Matthew here. That helps us.
In Mark 10:11, you have a statement in Mark on divorce. Jesus is teaching His disciples and lets get right to the heart of it - in Mark 10:10, “then in the house, the disciples asked Him about the matter. He said to them, ‘whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Luke has the same saying. Matthew has the saying in two different places and in both instances Matthew has an exception, except for adultery – except for porneia – for fornication. How do we understand this?
Mark, Luke – no exception. If you look at 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, Paul seems to also be aware of this saying on divorce and he understands it as not having an exception associated with it either. Let me read that for you.
“To the married, I give a command, not I but the Lord.” He is saying now, with respect to the married, I am going to give you a command, but it really doesn’t come from me. Jesus said it. It comes from Jesus. “That the wife should not separate from her husband but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And that the husband should not divorce his wife.”
Then he goes on and says, “To the rest, I say – I and not the Lord.” What he is saying is that now I am giving you a command as the Lord’s apostle. Jesus didn’t say this, but I am telling you. So he is not saying, “Well, the one thing is inspired by God and the other is not.” He is saying Jesus said it. Now Jesus didn’t comment about this, but now I am telling you this. And then He gives an exception as well.
My understanding of how that – to make the most sense out of that is that Matthew understands the saying of Jesus as being an exaggerated one. The general rule so emphasized that Jesus does not want to talk about exceptions. He just wants to say that God hates divorce, there is no such thing as a good divorce. A man should not divorce his wife, a wife should not divorce his husband. Matthew understands that the law permits an exception in the case of immorality in general.
Now a lot of attempts have been… a lot has been written on this. A lot of attempts have been made to try to make this understanding of Matthew’s porneia, something very specific such as incest, “except in the case of incest.” Which means there wasn’t a marriage to start with, so there is no breaking of the absolute forbidding of divorce. But the word used for fornication is a very very general word. Sexual immorality in the broadest sense. I think that what he means here is that this is a permissible, not a required thing that you have to do, but divorce is permissible in the case of adultery – in the case of immorality of one sort or another.
I think Matthew’s exception indicates to me that he understood the other sayings as being overstatement – that Paul also seems to have understood it that way is the fact that he gives and exception and that is that if the unbeliever departs and leaves, then the woman is free – an unbelieving husband who deserts – the woman is free.
What is interesting – he doesn’t envision that the believing husband would ever do that, but it is the unbelieving husband, and so that there is also another exception. So that you have then in this regard, two possible exceptions I think. What I would understand this is that Jesus is being asked the question “What are all the good reasons for divorce?”
I can’t answer something like that. You answer by saying, “There is no good reason. God hates divorce.” Years ago when the God-is-Dead controversy was in and a lot of relativistic views of morality were going on. I remember going in lunch -just walk through the lunchroom and a couple of my colleagues said “Bob. We are talking about – when would immorality not be wrong?” I said, it is always wrong.
Now you know upon reflection, what would I do if someone said “There is a Hydrogen bomb in the middle of Manhattan and its going to blow up and kill 5 million people unless you Robert Stein commit immorality. But you know I hardly ever get that temptation. It seems to never arise in my life, so why speculate about stupid things. The answer is, “It’s always wrong.” And if you were able to conjure up some crazy exception to this – Alright, but you don’t emphasize the exceptions. You emphasize the rule and Jesus wants to say “Look, God hates divorce.” And the fact is there is never a good divorce. Every divorce shows a failure of God’s intended purpose. Whether some are less worse than the continued marriage, brutality in some of these things, people come up with different conclusions.
I remember my pastor counseling someone back in Minnesota, who was being abused by her husband and was thinking about divorcing him. In the middle of that counseling, not during the exact time he was counseling, but in that period that he was counselor, he killed her. I would hate to be a pastor and say, “No. You can’t divorce him.”
There may be a less worse situation by leaving that kind of abusive situation to protect your children and something else. So I think what we have here is a possibility of an overstatement for effect, to emphasize God is interested in the picayunish reasons why you think divorces may be good or bad or no matter what religion or not. He dislikes divorce. He hates divorce. His purpose is marriage, that’s a continual thing and therefore when you marry you commit yourself and you work on that marriage from the beginning day until death to make it a great marriage and something that will be a pattern and example.
Student: In an instance such as this are you suggesting that there are two exceptions to this – two alone or ???
Dr. Stein: Yeah. That is a good point. For instance, if as some people say there are two exceptions that are legitimate: desertion by an unbeliever and immorality by the partner. The only time you would ever have been able to come to that conclusion was after there was – the 4 Gospels and the whole New Testament together and now we are talking about “But what happened when Mark wrote this commentary – this this Gospel rather to the Church. He anticipated that it would make sense to them even apart from the others.” I think he anticipated that they would understand this is – this is the main principle pattern. There may be an exception here or there but that is not Jesus’ concern. Furthermore if you start counseling and saying, “Well, I think this is a legitimate reason for divorce and so forth.” One thing you have to realize is, that the burden of proof is to demonstrate that it is legitimate in light of what Jesus says in these words, to go through a divorce proceeding.
And on the Day of Judgment, you have to stand before God and say, “I know this is what the Bible said and I did the following because …” and that’s a lot to be feared of ... to explain that.
Student: Would you mind if we called you when one of these things ???
Dr. Stein: No. Uh. Don’t call me. I’m a teacher. I am not a pastor. Some of us cop out on that. [Hard To Hear] It is a difficult situation. You want to be sympathetic. You know, you have so many people who are now divorced in our churches. The question is what do you do? Well the one thing you want to do is – if you made a mistake to start with, let us make sure the second time we don’t make a mistake. This one has to work, because if the second one fails, its all over. There is no success after two of those. The success ratio of marriages goes dramatically down once you have broken a commitment like that. The second one if you break – now it is just rooming arrangements kind of thing that you do after that.
So as pastors you have to really emphasize… the best way you handle divorce is by building good marriages and how are we doing that in our churches? How are we emphasizing that? Sometimes the church does more to separate parents by having them go through so many different activities that they don’t have time with one another or something like that. How do you build that relationship?
Ok. I have said enough about that.
Sometimes an evangelist interprets something in a non-literal way. If you look at Matthew 10:34, you have this saying about Jesus coming not to bring peace but a sword. Do not think that I have come to bring peace on the earth. I have come not to bring peace, but a sword. But notice that Matthew has right next to that two verses in a context which indicates, what kind of sword he is bringing.
He says, “For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And the ones foes will be members of his own household. Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me.”
So you have a context when you indicate, we are not talking about in any way about political matters. We are not talking about revolution. We are talking about that fact that sometimes, Jesus brings division at homes. Usually He brings healing. But at times He brings division.
Sometimes and especially in certain cultures that are very strongly ethnic and religious, its is very very difficult for a Jewish person to put their faith in Jesus. You find that they may be ostracized from their family as a result. For some that’s – that’s the unpardonable sin. You turn against the family, you turn against everyone. Sometimes He does bring a sword.
Alright - statements not always, literally fulfilled in practice. Mark 13:2. As they are sitting opposite to the temple mount on the Mount of Olives. The disciples have said to Jesus, “Look. What large stones and what large buildings.” And they were. The Jewish temple was not the largest temple in the world, but it was the largest temple complex in the world. The mount on which it stood was larger than any other complex at all. And it could easily have been one of the Seven Wonders of the World except they were written up three centuries earlier than that. It was a magnificent site. Some of the stones were just monumental and huge. You wonder how they ever moved the stones of that size.
But Jesus says, “You see these great buildings, not one stone will be left here upon another. All will be thrown down.” Any of you have been to Jerusalem? Seen the Wailing Wall and the temple mount? Did you go to the one place inside the Wailing Wall where one of the stones are removed and you can see all the way down to the foundation, bedrock? Right next to the Wailing Wall, they have a section removed. It is inside, a covered area and they have lights down there. You can see 16 layers of stone that are based on the rock foundation of the mountain.
Because when you build a wall, you have to be built on a rock otherwise they can tunnel under it. They all go back to Herod’s time. You remember the Herodians don’t have those embossed edges, so you know right away they come from Herod’s day. They are still there. A lot of them are standing on each others. They [Hard To Hear] little ground however.
So its not literally two. But wait a minute. Would anybody in A.D. 70 have said this was not true? On the Western wall of the temple mount, there was a valley – a cheese makers valley – that was not a valley any longer until A.D. 70. From A.D. 70, I mean till the present day, because the ruins of the temple filled the whole valley. There is not a valley anymore. If you had been there A.D. 70, you would have said, “Of course. Yes. Jesus said that would happen.”
And the fact that there are still some stones together is no more significant than if I said “I hate to tell you, but next Tuesday night we will not be meeting in this classroom. All of the Norton complex will be a heap of rubble. There won’t even be two bricks cemented together.
And you come and you see this huge pile of rubble, broken glass, splintered wood, and somebody climbs the top of it and says “Hey. Here are two bricks. They are still cemented together. He is wrong!” Well. That’s the kind of thing I am talking about. Exaggerated language. Very powerful.
Matthew 7:7 and 8, “Ask and it shall be given to you. Seek and you shall find. Knock and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives and he who seeks finds and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
Am I the only one in this class that had not had prayers answered or some of you also have not had their prayers answered. Excuse the frivolous example – I used it before in another class, but I have always wanted to be a missionary. Long before I wanted to be a professor of theology, I wanted to be a missionary and I looked at unreached people groups and the group that I chose were filthy rich of the world.
And I thought there needed to be a special mission effort for them because no one was really going out to try to win them to the Lord and I just thought I would start working in the city of Monaco where there are a lot of filthy rich people and I have been trying to collect funds for that mission but it takes a lot of money to reach the filthy rich unreached people group. Praying you know … houses … should get anything for less than 20 million dollars in the town, that you could bring rich people to and not feel embarrassed about. And how do you witness to them, well you can’t drive them in that Passat, you have to have … maybe a Lexus you can get by on if not, but it has to be top line Lexus otherwise they wouldn’t ride with you. And then maybe the best way to really witness is to have a nice 70-80 foot yacht sit in the harbor and then you could drink your sweetened or unsweetened ice-tea and share the Gospel out there. I have asked but it aint been given, I have sought but I ain’t found it yet and so I have unanswered prayers.
Somebody says “Yeah. But Luke says, you ask and receive not because you ask amiss to consume it on your own lust.” Well. You take your theme verse, I’ll take mine. Mine is 7 and 8 of Matthew. “Ask and it shall be given to you. Seek and you shall find.” I like that one better. Now of course there are exceptions. Everyone would realize that you can’t ask God to cease to exist.
Jesus didn’t somehow believe that the people, He was trying to encourage in the Sermon on the Mount, needed to be told, that stupid prayers like Stein is uttering or a prayer like God not existing, God is not going to answer those kind of thing. He wants people to be encouraged to pray and to realize that God delights in hearing the prayers of His people.
Now you could have of course say, “Ask and it shall be given to you. Seek and you shall find. Knock and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives and he who seeks finds and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
Except of course in the following instance, 1, 2, …
What would happen if you put a list of exceptions? Where would the focus of attention go? The exceptions. Is that what Jesus is wanting to do? No. He assumes that there are exceptions and common sense will provide those. And so therefore you don’t give exceptions.
When I lived in White Bear Lake, we had in our backyard, two very large Weeping Willow trees. And when Fall would come, of course it was time to rake leaves, well, Weeping Willow trees are lousy trees to rake, because it is not leaves alone, they are all, the leaves are tied to these strings of branches and they get all caught up in the rake and every three times you rake, pull the rake and then you have to by hand separate them all. The Weeping Willow trees came into existence, we know from the Bible after the Fall because the curse came, because they are cursed trees. Maples are nice. Colors. [Hard To Hear] rake leaves. Weeping Willows, bad stuff.
Well. My daughter and son and I had been raking for several hours on a Saturday afternoon and sometimes around 4, Julie my daughter said, “Dad. Keith and I are tired. We would like to quit.” And I said, “Well. You know its just about done. In about 15 minutes we will have all of it done. The yard will look great and we will go out. We will go out to eat and you can have anything you want. You can order anything.”
Well, Julie knew and Keith knew, they couldn’t order anything. They knew we were not going to [Hard To Hear] Steakhouse. No way. We were going to McDonalds and anything they wanted on the menu, they could get.
But supposing I had tried to qualify that. Much of the joy and the enthusiasm would be lost. They knew it was exaggerated. They knew there were certain things you couldn’t do. We were not going to eat a lobster or something like that, but we would have a good time and they put in the qualifications.
I heard Keith once say later when I used that illustration “the real exaggeration was when he had said it would only be 15 or 20 more minutes.” But anyhow. We use it because it is effective. It is an effective way of communicating. And we allow people, for themselves, to understand what exceptions there are and to fill them in.
In Matthew 5:29, we have a statement that taken literally is meaningless. For instance Jesus says, in the context of you shall not commit adultery, “I say to anyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than that for your whole body to be thrown into Hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off, throw it away… better for you to lose one of your members than that for your whole body to be thrown into Hell.
Now if you took it literally, the fact is, it wouldn’t do anything. In the context of looking at a woman to lust, removing the right eye doesn’t remove the fact that you can still lust with your left. And if you remove the left eye, you can still remember. Still think. Now if you want to remove the grey matter of your brain, that will… do it.
But common sense here would indicate, if you did it literally, it doesn’t do anything. The power of the verse is in this over-exaggerated form, “Hey. There is no sin worth going to Hell for.” Even if its as painful as plucking out an eye or tearing off an arm, better to go through that, pain of repentance and so forth and enter life than never having done so to perish. That’s a powerful, powerful statement. If you begin to qualify it, you lose that power.
Sometimes there are particularly reforms that are prone to exaggeration, for instance we have talked already about proverbs and prophesy and poetry, and that many times they use exaggerated terminology, metaphorical language that shouldn’t be taken literally. We looked at idioms earlier today. Faith to remove mountains, referring to great faith, not to be taken literally. Sometimes we have idiomatic language that no longer bears its literal meaning like, gnashing of teeth to express horror. There is going to be weeping or gnashing of teeth. Well. [Hard To Hear] joyous occasions in life have often been accompanied by weeping.
People can weep for joy. Maybe there is no joy in Heaven either. No, weeping is generally associated with pain. No sorrow or pain. The gnashing of teeth - unbelievers who do not now have teeth will have teeth so they can gnash them. No… It is idiomatic for expression of [Hard To Hear]
Sometimes we have all inclusive language. You can use all inclusive language literally, but many times it’s a sign that we should not press the language literally. Matthew 9:23, lets look at that. Let me just read that real quickly. A man comes to Jesus and says my son needs help and your disciples were no help and he says, if you are able to do something have pity on us and help us. And Jesus says to him, verse 23, “If you are able, all things can be done for the one who believes.”
“All things” – universal language. But its much more powerful than “lots of things can be done.” Right? But not things can be done, if you have faith. We have looked at that earlier.
Luke 6:30, let me read that one real quickly and then try to bring some of these to a summary conclusion. Ok.
“Give to everyone who begs you and if anyone takes anything from you of your goods, do not ask for them.”
The universal language I think also should warn you, warn us there. Now why this use of exaggeration? Well, its powerful language. It is language that commissive language, effective, it reveals emotions and the like.
Now sometimes, some people will say something like “Well. Now that we know that these are not mean to be taken literally – now we know what it means – ok, that’s the end of it.” No, that is not the end of it. There is something very important you miss, if you simply say, “Well. We have to interpret it as not being literal.” When do you use exaggeration when you speak?
Students: [Hard To Hear]
Dr. Stein: When it is important. When you come across a saying of Jesus that uses exaggerated terminology, what you need to do is say, “This must be especially important, because He is using exaggerated language. This must be so important to Him that He is evoking language to show it is importance and in many ways it is these things that give us the flavor of the heart of Jesus much more than the non-exaggerated language.
You can get a feel of the heartbeat of Jesus when He uses exaggeration. So I would say, rather than simply say, “Well. You just have to make sure you don’t take it literally, you have to interpret meaning as allowing exceptions and so forth,” I would say, “Boy. This must be really important. I better pay attention to it, because He used exaggerated terminology.”
You might also remember that the disciples and the crowds that heard Jesus, did not have tape recorders. They did not have pencil and paper like we have. How would they retain the sayings of Jesus? This is one that is easy to retain. It is probably unlikely that there would be a lot of corruption in this exaggerated terminology because it just stamps - burns in your mind what Jesus said. You would probably never forget it and the like, so.
It was a very good communicative form to use in His teaching ministry. Questions about exaggerated terminology?
Student: Mark 10 of the Gospel [Hard To Hear] It is easier for a rich man than a camel to go through the eye of the needle?
Dr. Stein: - Easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God? Right.
Many people have tried to say, since there are rich people in the Kingdom of God he can’t mean what it looks like literally. Probably it means that there was a gate called the Eye’s Needle in the Temple wall that a camel could only go through with great difficulty. There has never been a gate in the Temple wall that we know of that was called the Eye’s Needle. That whole thing only came to existence around 800 or so. People started to use the – that as a gate or something like that. Furthermore if you know that Jesus uses exaggerated language. You don’t have to try to figure out how this is literally possible.
The fact is a camel can never go through the Eye of a Needle, anymore than a left hand cannot know what a right hand is doing. What Jesus is trying to impress is the great difficulty there is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. And that’s why He uses that kind of terminology. It is powerful. How difficult it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the Eye of a Needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. Have you ever thanked God that you are not rich?