The Academy for Christian Thought seeks to equip Christians to draw nearer to God through a more accurate understanding of the Bible, a library of different writings by different sources during different periods in history. As a biblical faith, learning is an inescapable part of what it means to be a Christian. But the true mark of theological scholarship is the proper application of the Bible for us today (hermeneutics). Such application is often misguided without an understanding and knowledge of a texts’ original message set in its original circumstances (exegesis). This recognizes that the Christian Bible consists of both the Hebrew Bible (HB) and the Christian Testament (CT) – neither of which on its own truly represents Christian belief as it evolves through the ages.

Read the HB/OT in anticipation of its influence in CT/NT times and read the NT with reference to its OT roots. Thus the NT story of the woman with a 12-year issue of blood who was healed by her faith in Jesus makes more sense if you knew that every element mentioned by the writers of the Gospels made references to the Levitical laws that most first century Jews would have been familiar with. Similarly, the OT theme of miraculous male births by barren women who saw themselves as having been denied society’s approval can mislead the reader into thinking that the lesson was about the value of mothers in the Bible rather than the writers mirroring cultural norms.

These stories were used to convey deeper teachings than what seems ostensibly so on the surface. Many sayings attributed to Jesus have specific references to OT accounts of God’s dealings with the Israelites. A working knowledge of the OT and NT geohistory will explain (i) the significance of the iron swords of the Philistines (c.1200 BC), (ii) that the reason Paul identified Jesus as holding all things together in Colossians has nothing to do with particle physics, (iii) the symbolic meaning of the number 666 as Emperor Nero’s number rather than some mythical creature, and (iv) the absence of the term antichrist in Revelation. A good geohistorical foundation of the biblical times will minimize hasty conclusions that may be dead wrong.


A Bird’s Eye View of the New Testament

At around 5 BC, Elizabeth was told she would bear a son, to be called John. He would grow up to proclaim the arrival of his cousin Yeshua ben Yosef or Jesus, as the Messiah. In his teens, Jesus showed promise as an insightful and learned mind at the temple. At his baptism by John, witnesses say YHWH announced his divine authority. This set the stage for a period[1] of ministry during which he founded no church, did no mission work and wrote no books – but he left a dangerous idea – that God loves, forgives, and desires our presence. Drawing the threads of prophecies from Isaiah, Joel, Zechariah and Jeremiah, Jesus declared himself the true Son of God (in opposition to the Roman use of an ancient Hebrew claim). He performed signs to signify his authority. He selected twelve to disciple. His claim to divinity was a political threat to Caesar and led to his crucifixion. On the cross, Jesus promised a thief paradise, with no baptism, religious membership and merits, declaring the volitional nature of faith. After his death and resurrection, followers known as apostles (the sent ones) dispersed throughout the Roman Empire to share the good news (euanggelion) that the Kingdom of God was near.

Three men led the early Church. James led the first Church of Jerusalem when Peter went to found churches in northern Turkey, and Paul led the Gentile mission. Saul the Roman Jewish rabbinical Pharisee announced his apostleship from a personal encounter with the risen Christ and embarked on a daring mission to the Gentiles as Paul the Christian. He became the most influential writer who shaped our understanding of Jesus’ message and transformed a Galilean following into a global faith tradition. Paul’s four missionary journeys ended in his execution by beheading in Rome after James was stoned to death and Peter was crucified. These three men ushered in a new age of YHWH worship. Thus was born the world’s first global theological religion (Buddhism was the first non-theological religion). The message of the NT is that the triune God became human as Jesus the God-Man, the Holy Spirit is present on earth, and the resurrection of Jesus reconciles us to God. At the end of this life, followers of Jesus’ teachings will be in God’s presence (heaven) everlastingly and not be abandoned (hell).

The word hell is a mistranslation. Three words (sheol, hades and gehenna) describe the place of the afterlife. Sheol is a Hebrew word that refers to the place of the dead. The Greek equivalent is hades. Gehenna refers to the valley of Hinnom just outside Jerusalem, which by the time of Jesus, had become a city dump. During the intertestamental period (between the OT and the NT), the idea of a future place of torment for unbelievers arose and gehenna was picked up to describe such a place. Like any city dump, something at gehenna was always on fire as unclean animals and bodies were constantly burned or cremated. Thus the notion of everlasting fire in “hell” took root. This concept was adopted by the writers of the Gospels in their portrayal of Jesus’ voice. In English translation of the NT, most versions render gehenna as hell. As for the word sheol in the OT, the KJV translated it as “hell” as well, even though sheol refers simply to the place of the dead, with no reference to fire or heat, everlasting or not. Thus two words, which meant “the place of the dead,” came to be called “hell,” a place for unbelievers to suffer burning forever. Other versions are equally unhelpful when they render the words “the grave,” “the power of death,” “the netherworld,” and “the underworld.” The TNIV’s translation as “the realm of the dead” is closest to the original meanings.

[1] Although Matthew, Luke and Mark mention only a single Passover, John mentions three, referring to a 3-year ministry.