God’s Word made clear – Nehemiah 8:8

They read from the Book of the law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read” (Neh 8:8)

After four years at Bible Seminary, I came to a startling conclusion. Theology rates amongst the most demanding of intellectual sciences. Prior to Bible College, I completed a unit of an MBA at one of the most respected Universities in my state. However, I found a single unit at Seminary more challenging.

Choose any verse from the Bible and then open some commentaries of renowned theologians and you will inevitably find critical debate. Theology grapples with a language’s grammar (including Greek and Hebrew), literacy devices such as chiasms, and delves deeply into ancient historical context.  Then comes Hermeneutics! (I wont bother explaining). After reviewing German Theologians such as Moltman or the past ‘greats’ like Karl Barth, I honestly came to the conclusion that these people were not writing for the average man on the street. Rather, they were writing for a highly educated elitist sect. One that valued their articulate conjecture and amassed superlatives.

During my studies I watched the movie “Educating Rita”. I felt like God was educating me. This Oscar winning eighties movie portrays an English working girl; one who is rough around the edges but is unique in her outlook on life. Her alcoholic professor (played by Michael Cain) is captured by her uniqueness, especially in comparison to his egotistical self seeking students. By the end of the movie, however, the Professor proclaims he has become Mary Shelley; the author of Frank Einstein. He also has created a monster. Rita has gone; she is now as egocentric as all her peers. The knowledge he has given her ultimately puffed her up.

This verse from Nehemiah could not be any simpler. It does not need exegetical insights to unearth hidden treasures within its meaning. A rouge scholar is not required to decipher its concealed code. Not even a Hebrew Rabbi to explain its relevance to the Torah. They read from the Book of the law of God making it clear so that the people could understand what was being read. The ‘they’ are the Levites (the priests of the day) and the task – make it (God’s Word) clear for the average person. Strange how in some circles latin is introduced to help or German linguistics and hermeneutical debate?

Here is one such example of theological ‘insight’, not singling out any particular theologian – there is plenty in this league to choose from –

“Making it clear” (meporas) translates the Pual participle of the verb paras, a form that occurs only here (cf. the Aramaic Pael passive participle meparas in Ezra 4:18). Many would derive its meaning from the sense “to separate,” “to determine,” hence “to make clear” (cf. RSV, “clearly”).Rabbinic tradition, however, from the epoch of Rab (A.D. 175-247) has understood this word as referring to translation from Hebrew into an Aramaic Targum. Thus the Babylonian Talmud (Megillah 3a) comments: “What is meant by the text: `And they read in the book, in the law of God, mephorash, and gave the sense and caused them to understand the meaning”? `And they read in the book, in the Law of God’: this indicates the Hebrew text; mephorash: this indicates the targum” (see R. le Deaut, Introduction a la Litterature Targuminque [Rome: Institute Biblique Pontifical, 1966], p. 23; M. McNamara, Targum and Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972], pp. 79-80).

Clear as Mud?  If the above was not actually transcribed from a published work you could almost assume it was sarcastic satire. Making it clear, for whom, Einstein? (I doubt Einstein would have been overly concerned with the ‘Pael passive participle’ either). Is that God’s purpose for us? Is it His will to take such ‘knowledge’ to the third world to enlighten them? I would hazard a guess it more likely the devil in the detail.

A pastor’s job is to make the Bible clear (Neh 8:8). Jesus Christ utilised parables to explain complex ideologies. He weaved parables with narrative knowing that they would cross cultures and help the average person understand God’s Word. Parables such as the Lost Sheep or the Good Samaritan are timeless. Their message (even though Theologians seem to convolute it) are simple and direct. A Human Being can grasp their meaning.

The religious leaders of Christ’s day held onto their knowledge in an attempt to separate and exonerate themselves. The lust for ecclesiastical (it means Church) power. Ironically the story of the blind beggar uncovers their deep seated pride and insecurity. When questioned of who had cured his blindness, he challenges them to become Jesus’ disciple. Their rage (born of inflicted pride) lashes out at him. Accusing his original blindness of SIN! Yet this simple man of the street perceived more than all their learned study combined. He knew and believed who Jesus was.

God is not concerned with egotistical endeavour. As I myself survey the theological landscape I am acutely aware of man’s pride and ego. His need to elevate himself is born from internal insecurity. His unspiritual mind and hardened heart seeks even God’s knowledge as a means to an end. However, it seems that the message of love is much simpler.

Thousands of would be theologians die unknown. Their impact minimal; forgotten less than a decade after their passing. Yet an old nondescript Melbourne man can write one word “eternity’ and leave a legacy known by millions. Even though he would never know or see his name discussed. A Catholic nun would leave her protective convent and enter the slums of India, never dreaming she would one day hold the Noble Peace Prize. God loves to humble the proud with the weak.

God’s Word is not an exclusive pursuit only available for the chosen few. Nor is it given to exonerate Theologians, Priests or Pastors. It is given as a gift to all. Those who are indeed given the privilege of helping provide its meaning – are to make it simple, to make it clear. More often than not, they can achieve this in action as much as in word (1 Jn).