Teachers of Revelation & Lamed
Updated: May 15, 2019
"This is the expanded version of Truth Re-visited article" Please note that this is a long study so you may prefer to download it first and study it when you have time.
By Peter McArthur
Some time ago the Lord showed me that the teachers of ‘the Word’ would be enriched by the coming forth of ‘the Teachers of Revelation’. This doesn’t mean that “revelation” will supplant the Word of God. Never! But it does mean that revelatory insight (entirely in agreement with the Scriptures) will begin to come into play in a very rich way as a blessing for the Body of Christ. Of course there have always been ‘teachers of revelation’ throughout the ages, but there seems to be a time coming when great understanding will erupt bringing forth deeper insight of the Word through the process of revelation. May I put out quickly now, that I am NOT referring to any New Age, heretical or “emerging church” teaching.
Let me continue: Not long after I received this from the Lord I had a very powerful dream.
I was looking at a man standing before me. All I could see was his torso, not his face or feet. He was quite a tall, large man dressed in some sort of nondescript white robe. He spoke no words. He was holding an open book with its pages in front of me to see. He flicked through the book until he came to a particular chapter, and then held it open for me to see the heading which simply read: “Truth Re-visited”. I instinctively knew that the ‘man’ was a messenger angel. The dream abruptly finished having only lasted about 20 seconds.
From this dream I knew that the Holy Spirit would begin to teach me the truths of Scripture that I had either become complacent about, or misunderstood. Since then I have been alert to study the Word carefully, slowly and with fresh revelation.
It’s been an exhilarating time and challenged much of my traditional thinking. I realise that I had “learned” things from a mixture of different sources, and pieced together my views of Scripture in a very ad hoc manner.
Like most of us I had taken a bit of teaching from one preacher, some from another, some from a conference, a little from this book and that book, etc. Gradually I had collected views, opinions and ideas from all sorts of ministries, and amalgamated them with Scripture.
Generally this worked out OK and as time passed I began to sieve out what was not in line with Scripture and I managed to fine-tune my knowledge. The only thing was that I had relied more on Man than the Holy Spirit to teach me. I had also accumulated much “knowledge” but failed to integrate it successfully into my life.
On top of that I had many stops-and-starts in the learning process, and didn’t consolidate very well what I had learned. I believe the dream came to adjust my thinking in these areas and put me back on track.
This writing is to help us understand how revelation might come forth, and how we as the Body might begin to appreciate in a fresh way, having a more Biblical approach to learn the wonderful truths of our God.
There are sufficient texts in Scripture that highlight how important revelation is in God’s grand purposes. Note these examples:
“...the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery, having been unvoiced during eternal times…” (Rms 16:25)
“For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it except by a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Gal 1:12)
“…that by revelation He made known to me the mystery…” (Eph 3:3)
“A revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him to declare to His servants things which must shortly come to pass…” (Rev 1:1)
It’s only through revelation that truths come to us. Understanding this principle will save us much heartache when we don't see people respond to teaching the way we think they should.
Because truths do come to us in the form of revelatory light, it’s fair to assume that not everyone is going to enter into the revelation at the same time. We only have to look at Scripture to see this (Acts 15:1-6). In fact some will be recipients of the revelation first and then given a ministry to inform others about it, e.g. Paul. In such cases we find that revelation normally precedes calling.
It’s fascinating to see how the Lord uses one person, or a small group, to bring in a new revelatory truth or move of the Spirit. This is a common factor right throughout Scripture, and in Church history. The Lord looks for those with receptive hearts and usually finds such among a willing minority.
“And they came, everyone whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing...” (Exo 35:21)
“And every man and woman whose hearts were willing, to bring for all the work which YHWH commanded to be done by the hand of Moses...” (Exo 35:29)
“And Moses called to Bezaleel, and to Aholiab, and to everyone wise of heart, to whom YHWH had given a heart of wisdom, everyone whose heart had been stirred to come near the work, to do it.” (Exo 36:2)
Here’s another principle worth considering:
The more people, the less truth;
the more truth, the less people.
What does that mean? Reflect for a moment on a large church with say 5,000 members. By its very size that church is going to have a very wide number of opinions. There will of course be much common ground of doctrine, especially over the fundamentals of salvation, but sadly, not always! But you can be certain there'll be divergent views on things like the “rapture”, can a Christian have a demon, is it possible to lose your salvation, etc.
Any honest pastor will acknowledge this to be so and usually this great divergence of views is accommodated within the larger group through some form of healthy tension. But I’ve always wondered if this should be the case. Should it be that the People of Truth have such different views about the truth? And of course right there you have the issue of denominationalism. Some churches even name themselves after their favourite doctrine: Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, and Pentecostals - you can easily think of others I’m sure.
Why is it that we, who have the Spirit of Truth resident within, should have such different opinions about the truth? Something is obviously wrong, very wrong. The Holy Spirit was sent to lead us into all truth (Jhn 1:11) yet somehow we haven’t allowed that to happen as fully as it should. No doubt part of the problem is due to our “opinions.”
Opinions can often be more entrenched within us than Bible doctrines. Have you noticed how often believers will hold onto an opinion like grim death, and if you confront it you’ll quickly find out what’s what! People become animated, accusative, their voices rise, the eyes become fixed and defiant, and you receive a tongue lashing. Well maybe that’s a little exaggerated, but not too much I dare say. As the saying goes: God offends the mind to reveal the heart (e.g. Jhn 9:16).
We value our opinions highly don’t we, and will defend them strongly. This is a good thing when our opinions have been formed by the Word AND the Spirit of God; but when they are opinions of Self, watch out.
There’s one thing I’ve especially learnt over the years; not everyone actually wants Truth! And I’m not talking only about the unsaved, but about believers as well. Many say they want truth and deeper insight, but when the crunch comes they back off or defend some privately held opinion. We’ve all been there, we’ve all done that, and God is wonderfully gracious and long-suffering with us, more so than we are with each other. But it’s time we grew up into He who is Truth and started walking the walk He’s purposed for us.
This disinterest in truly wanting Deeper Truth is particularly a condition of large groups. That’s why it’s been said: “Crowds lie.” Pretty blunt, but probably correct. The more people you have, the more compromise you’re likely to allow as a leader. This is why smaller sized churches are probably better, numbers around 80 to 150 individuals. Even then you’ll still find differences of view points, but at least it’s workable.
For the life of me I can’t see how a church of 5,000 can easily have unity of mind - unity of faith, yes, but not necessarily unity of spirit! It would be better for such a large group to divide into 100 smaller assemblies of about 50 people. One of the usual arguments against this is the logistics; e.g. how can we find 100 extra pastors? All such ‘problems’ can be overcome, after all this is where the New Testament ministry of local elders can so easily help. (The New Testament pattern is quite straightforward: leadership of the local assembly is plural, not singular. A plurality of elders is responsible for overseeing the local brethren, not a single leader ruling from the top, like a “Pastor”. We have the latter operating purely out of man’s tradition.)
It would be exhilarating to have a large church break up into much smaller assemblies each with two or three local elders having the oversight, and they being responsible to an Apostle or group from the Ephesians 4:11 style ministry. Imagine the difference? Lord, may that day arrive soon!
Now back to truth and revelation. It would be most unfair to say that all large churches compromise issues; there may well be some who have both unity of faith AND unity of spirit, but they would be rare. Biblically speaking it was the smaller intimate gatherings that produced mature saints, thus the strength in today’s house churches and small assemblies.
Generally speaking, the small assemblies are the places where revelatory truth is easier to teach and impart. When the numbers get too big, a different dynamic enters in. The normal way of dealing with this in large congregations is to have small study groups, or mid-week home meetings. While this goes some way in addressing the problem of a very large church, it falls short of allowing other dynamics to operate well.
Certainly people from a large congregation can, and do, grow through small group meetings, but the error is to think that a once-off mid-week meeting will suffice. The Biblical concept is actually much more frequent, and has a special core to it. That core element is what we can call Lamad Teaching. To strengthen this idea we can look at how the early church grouped together. The church in Jerusalem was basically a network of interrelated “house churches” probably numbering in their thousands. But we also know that the very early believers regularly attended the Temple (Acts 3:1 / 21:26-27).
Historical records show that the Temple area was filled with many porches in which groups of about 20 to 50 people at a time could be accommodated for teaching. So there’s a clear Biblical underpinning for the small church concept, whether in a house, or in small groups at a larger gathering such as the Temple. It’s in both that we find the lamad style of teaching operating in early Christianity. So what is this lamad learning?
The Hebraic method of learning
We find in the Hebrew language there’s one root word for the two words “to teach” and “to learn”, that is the word lamad. It derives from the seventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and has particular helpful insight (see page 18). In the Hebrew culture, the teacher has not truly ‘taught’ unless the student has learned. This is a fundamental principle, and the teacher will continue to go over and over the same truth, often expressing it in different ways, until the student has learnt it (e.g. see the parables of Jesus). Only then is it deemed that the pupil has truly understood and appropriated the truth for himself.
We know that the Rabbis used this method and we can see the pattern also expressed in the ministry of the Lord Jesus, with this normally occurring in either a one-to-one situation or a very small group, such as the Twelve. As the teacher taught, the learner would gradually become aware of the reality of the truth and the source of that truth. This would bring forth a great respect for both the Source of Truth, and the Deliverer of that Truth. In the Biblical understanding this is reflected in what we call ‘the Fear of the Lord’ (meaning, respecting and honouring the source of the truth).
“The fear of YHWH is the beginning of knowledge; it is fools who despise wisdom and instruction.” Prov 1:7
So Biblically speaking, all learning and teaching are ultimately to be found in this honouring of the Lord as the source of all truth. The Hebrew mindset holds that all truth emanates from the Lord God; He and His truth are the standards by which we are to measure all things pertaining to life. However in the Western mindset, which is based on Greek philosophical concepts, “Man has become the measure of all things”. Sadly the church hasn’t clearly discerned this and has allowed this concept to dictate to us in such a way that we’ve fallen prey to the spirit of the age.
The views of the Greek and the Hebrew mindsets are greatly at odds with one another. One declares that man’s understanding of reality should be imposed on life; the other states that the sum of all knowledge is found only in God whose ways are certain and sure. So in the Hebrew thought pattern it is “Knowing God” that’s all important, while in the Greek thought pattern the goal is to “Know Thyself”.
One has Man as its object; the other has God as its all-consuming focus. One starts with Man, and one starts with God. One says Man is able to rise up and know truth (through academic ability or secret knowledge), the other declares that truth will come down to you (“Unless you are born again from above...” Jhn. 3:3).
According to Scripture we cannot know who we are and why we are in this world until we first know the Lord God and submit to His will. The Biblical view is that we require a birthing from above by the agency of the Holy Spirit in order to know truth and live by it. This brings wisdom and knowledge into our lives.
“...that you may be filled with the full knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, for you to walk worthily of the Lord to all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work and growing into the full knowledge of God.” Col 1:9-10
Unlike the West, the goal of teaching in the East is not the impartation of facts, but the transforming of lives. For the Hebrews, knowledge (yadah) involves a personal encounter with God and a specific response to Him.
If there’s an encounter but no response from the pupil, then truth has not been successfully implanted in the learner. And if there’s some kind of response forthcoming that’s not accurately founded on truth, then the result will be less beneficial than it should be. There is to be a harmony, a link between the encounter and its appropriate response. The result of this dynamic is a transformation; a transformation into the likeness of the Son of God (Eph 4:13 and 15). This style of teaching was used both by the Lord Jesus, and by Paul; it was thoroughly rabbinic.
So in the lamad method of learning, we are returning to the Hebraic concept of education, which includes this Encounter and Revelation concept. And it’s to be a personal encounter at that, not a second-hand experience or a vicarious one.
The time of instruction is meant to become a time of transformation, not one simply of imparting knowledge. The classroom is to be a place of impassioned discussion and the sharing of real life experiences. It becomes a place where we meet God through the sharing of real life experiences of other believers. If you’ve ever seen a Jewish yeshiva in action, and heard the noise level, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about here. (Yeshiva or yeshivah (Hebrew ישיבה literally meaning “sitting down” or in modern Hebrew “meeting”) is an institution for Torah study and the study of Talmud primarily within Orthodox Judaism attended only by males. Yeshiva is also the “generic” name for the entire system of education that teaches all age levels.)
The Jewish students debate, throw ideas around, challenge each other, all with much gusto, action and noise. Certainly it’s a cultural thing that might not work exactly the same way in our western culture, but the basis of the yeshiva is still one of sharing experiences, and learning to relate those to Scripture in order for transformation to occur. And while there may be much disagreement between various views, it rarely reaches the point where deep division occurs.
Compare this attitude with what so often happens in many churches, where one brother will set himself against another over even small doctrinal differences. The result from this is the formation of yet another church! In fact the modern western church is highly fractured due to the inability of brethren to stay together even though they might hotly differ over Scripture. We could well learn something from the yeshiva method and the Jewish mentality. The modern church is far too individualistic and has forgotten its corporateness.
So, in the Hebraic (and Biblical) view the classroom becomes a place where we practice truth, not just talk about it. The classroom is not separated from life but is actually part of our lives. It’s in the classroom environment where we begin to “walk the talk.” If someone should have a different slant on a certain truth, then we are to lovingly listen, really listen, to what they’re saying. This is more than just being polite, it’s preferring one another and being willing to learn something fresh from a different perspective. And, it will take much humility!
The “classroom” becomes a place where we can model what we’re learning. For example, say we’re looking at what the Word says about patience, forbearing, loving the brethren, etc. - as we throw ideas back and forth, open the Word, share ideas and feelings, it probably won’t take long before somebody crosses swords with someone else.
What transpires will test whether or not we’re learning truth at that moment. Should someone get short or uptight with another of the brethren, then the very lesson we’re supposed to be learning (about patience, love, etc) will quickly be seen to have failed. Love and patience was not shown by one brother to another, and the lesson was not learnt, and the truth of it wasn’t personally appropriated.
Now not only wasn’t the lesson received and believed, everyone in the group saw it! So this immediately brings in another dynamic. Imagine the scene for a moment: the lesson is about patience, love, and preferring the brethren. Somebody presents an idea, but someone else wants to push their view forward without really listening to the other brother. Tension fills the room, the body language changes, the pitch of voices rises, eyes narrow, and every one feels on edge. They all see what’s going on. They know they’re supposed to be talking about “brotherly love” but little is being shown between the two brethren concerned.
Not only does everyone see and feel what’s going on, the one who’s causing the tension now feels more tense because he’s instigated it. Then it occurs to him that the lesson is supposed to be about “brotherly love” and he’s not really showing it - but he wants to stick to his guns. What does he do now? Does he back off? Does he abruptly leave the room? Does he pull back and hide in himself? Or does he show humility and say sorry?
If he does apologise, he’s actually showed he’s learning the lesson, simply by apologising for offending both the brother and the group. If he doesn't apologise, he’s actually dug another hole for himself, for not only has he caused a stir, now he’s added to it be refusing to apologise!
This is why group settings like a lamad study can be so exhilarating – and sometimes so difficult. In the case above, we have one lesson that was to be learnt, but out of it arose another (whether to apologise or not). In the end both lessons can be learnt, or one, or none!
Those who choose to utilise lamad teaching soon find that study and life interact quite dynamically through such a method. A concept like this will reveal the state of our heart very quickly, and publicly. We see this of course in the gospels where the Lord Jesus in his teachings revealed what was truly in the hearts of the Pharisees and scribes - and it was done in public!
So, clearly in the Biblical concept, learning is meant to be about life, and it’s meant to be life-long. Even though we begin to learn from an extremely early age in childhood, we all know it's unrealistic to think we can cram education into the first 20 years or so of our lives. The process of accumulating information, learning how to use it, letting it transform us, and finally becoming creative with it, are all life-long issues.
Adjusting to the truth
There are many differences between the two great competing cultures of the West and East, but it’s in the area of education that we find one of the most marked divergences. The Greek or Western idea of education emphasizes what we might call “detached information,” while the East or Hebraic idea stresses something akin to “a personal encounter.” This of course is a generalisation, but nevertheless is basically true.
Biblically speaking it was important to the Hebrews that each learner should have a personal encounter which would transform them. It’s obvious that having an encounter and responding to God are the central dynamics of Scripture. For the Hebrews all of life became a classroom.
Should we choose to use this method today we need to ensure that our “classrooms” are where we practice truth and love (Eph 4:15 - “Being the truth in love” is a more accurate translation of the Greek than “speaking the truth in love”) and be willing to adjust to it where needed.
One of the key factors about participating in a Lamad-style encounter is understanding the need for each participant to have love from a pure heart, have a good conscience, and a sincere faith (1 Tim 1:5). Each of these are heart issues, and anyone participating in Lamad will soon come “undone” if they have a bad attitude or selfish motive.
I recall one time some years ago when someone was asked to share a personal reflection at one of our lamad-style meetings. The person utilised the occasion to attack the policies of our Church, as well as me as the Minister, taking us all by surprise! It wasn’t long before it became clear she had a major grudge and seized the moment to deliver it, virtually wrecking that Lamad encounter. Unfortunately this just happened to be our first meeting, and it turned many people off from coming again. It took some months of careful preparation and the binding-up of hurt souls before we could initiate another attempt. I learnt a significant lesson that day.
While this kind of thing isn't at all uncommon in congregations, it does show how many believers allow the mind to subjugate their spirit. Biblically speaking the mind is made to serve the spirit. All spiritual instruction and training is to be focussed on the spirit (or heart), so it’s important that a healthy Lamad group should have participants who have already dealt with many of their soul issues, or at least are attending to them for adjustment.
Now this doesn’t mean you can only have a Lamad group if you have “mature” people, but it does mean that those in the study group should be willing to strive for maturity. Being open and teachable is something vital to Lamad experiences. There’s a helpful adage that goes like this:
The spirit is king;
The soul is a servant to the spirit;
and the body is a slave to the soul.
As we adjust more and more to the Word of God, we find that our personal encounter demands a teaching style of Holy Spirit guided discovery. Lamad learning encourages the flow of revelation within the hearts of the students. Discovery often happens best in a lively interchange within the classroom. Therefore, effective group interaction must be promoted by the lamad teacher.
However we do need to be aware of those who might highjack the encounter for their own purposes, as in the case mentioned above. Also, the leader or facilitator will need to carefully but firmly address inerrant doctrine. I find the best way of doing this is to encourage the person who’s spoken by affirming their right to speak to the group, but then to let Scripture adjust the issue by saying something like: “Now let’s reflect on what Mike said by seeing what the Word says about that.” If the comment was unscriptural then the Word will show it to be so. It’s very hard to disagree with the Word, but they might well disagree with the leader!
So it’s helpful to keep the focus firmly on what the Word clearly says. Certain things are central to life and eternity, others are not. Anger, fear, and doubt are temporary and will be swallowed up by the realities that abide forever: faith, hope, and love.
The Lamad curriculum constantly emphasizes the abiding, eternal realities, instilling these into the lives of the students. For this reason it’s vital to conclude a lamad meeting with prayer; praying for one another in small groups, asking the Holy Spirit to bring about a reality in our lives based on what’s been discussed.
Man is to live in the constant flow of God’s grace and purposes. This is accomplished by lifting up our eyes in worship to the King, and becoming consumed by His presence. While we are in the Lord's presence, we acknowledge that we no longer live, but that Christ is our life, and the life we now live is by faith (Gal 2:20). We live out of daily fellowship with the Holy Spirit, recognizing that everything done outside of divine flow is a dead work. Such is the joy, the thrill and the aim of a Lamad style encounter. An encounter with our brothers and sisters, an encounter with our God, and an encounter with those things that are eternal.
Lamad encounters will bring us into confrontation with the thoughts of others, and especially with our own ideas and thoughts. Have you ever noticed how we as humans react rather then respond to new ideas? Very few people “respond to”; most of us “react against” what might be presented. This isn’t such a huge problem because it’s natural that we would defend long-held opinions. But it does become a problem when, after due consideration, we begin to actively resist what’s being shared.
In a lamad style encounter we don’t set out to neither pull down the views of others, nor do we attempt to exalt our own. What we do is to listen, and then measure everyone's views against the standard of Scripture.
For some years now I’ve wondered what it would be like to have a group of believers meet together for one purpose: to methodically go through all the fundamental doctrines of “church teaching” and to be scrupulously honest in seeing how they measure up against the plain teaching of Scripture. I wonder how many of us would be so brave. To test how you might react, I’ll throw something your way right now.
As Christians we commonly speak about the New Covenant; when we share communion we usually refer to that whole event as the inauguration of the New Covenant; and some groups even call themselves “New Testament churches.” Now - here we go, so get ready! Scripturally speaking what group of people are associated with the “New Covenant”?
Some might answer, “All who have faith in Christ”, others might say “Those who are born again”, and others might boldly declare “Only true Christians are members of the New Covenant.” Now, what does Scripture simply and plainly say? Read it slowly and out loud to yourself.
“Behold, the days are coming, says YHWH, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.” Jer 31:31
“Listen! The days are coming, says YHWH, and I will establish a new covenant over the house of Israel and over the house of Judah.” Heb 8:8
Now please read it just once more before we go on, asking yourself that one question, ‘With whom is the new covenant made’? Note what the Word says, in two different places (“two” for witness - Deut 17:6); “...with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…”
Not a mention of the gentiles here! No mention of any other group except the houses of Israel and Judah. The Word plainly says the new covenant will be established with Israel and Judah. Let that sink in for a moment. Now please, I’m not trying to stir you up and get you all agitated, but I do want to ask you a question.
What are you feeling right now? Are you stunned by what you plainly read from Scripture? Are you agitated that I should throw you a curly one? Are you angry with me because you conclude I have some weird doctrine? Is your mind already racing ahead and making certain deductions about me and my opinions?
Well, that’s OK because I’m not going to defend myself about what I’ve asked you to read through. What I would like you to consider is ‘How do you feel? What emotions has this brought forth in you?’ What has just happened is what happens when we share in a lamad encounter. Issues will definitely come up that will test whether you’re going to respond to or react against something.
I’ll let you mull over those two Bible verses for a while; the Word and the Spirit will be the only ones that will work it out for you. Besides, my point in doing this little exercise was NOT to try and change your doctrine, or to make you run to other verses to support your entrenched views (and by that I don’t mean to be demeaning). I’m not making any judgement on you, truly! All I wanted to do was to see how you felt about something that would challenge your understanding. That’s all.
Let’s move on. If you can tap into your feelings about being challenged and begin to assess them, then we’re off and running. What will happen as we further investigate our opinions, is that the Word will open new ways to us. We’ll begin to see how long-held understandings can’t always be supported by the direct reading of Scripture. Gradually the Holy Spirit will enlighten us about some of our views, even dearly held ones.
It’s not that we’ve believed a lie and exalted it as truth, but that we’ve simply taken on-board some teaching in good faith, often from a respected preacher or established doctrinal stance. If the Word shows us that our view point isn’t quite accurate, all we need do is to adjust to the truth.
This is a regular feature in Scripture, but often we overlook it. Revelation is progressive, and so too should be the formation of our mind. We are to conform to the mind of Christ and to His Word, not to what our favourite preacher said or what the latest best-selling book propagated.
I prefer to not try and “change” a person's mind; that rarely works. And actually it’s not the way of Scripture either. What is needed, and what works best, is allowing our opinions to be re-evaluated against the standard of Scripture. This is what I prefer to call “adjustment”. It’s a less confrontationist word and encourages us to re-think our ideas by testing them solely against Scripture and no other source. Quite exhilarating really!
So let’s look at some examples from the Word.
“And going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. And He called them.” Mtt 4:21
In this verse the word “mending” (or “repairing”) is where we start in considering adjusting to the truth. In Greek it’s katartizō (G2675) and a more accurate meaning is “to adjust, to put to rights, to articulate, to mend if needed, to get ready, to equip thoroughly, to fully train, to render fit, to make complete again, to make sound, to restore, to mend what has been broken or torn”. What rich insights are here! You can probably already see where we’re going with this.
Here we have James and John “restoring” their fishing nets because they needed to be made sound again, they needed to be adjusted and put to rights so that they'd be useful, equipped and functional at sea. Now transfer that kind of concept to a believer who needs their doctrine re-aligned so that it comes back into harmony with Scripture, and there you have it - adjustment to the truth. Other supportive texts in Scripture are:
“(Apollos) began to speak boldly in the synagogue. And Aquila and Priscilla heard him, and they took him aside and expounded to him the way of God more perfectly.” Acts 18:26
Here we find a believer called Apollos, fervent in spirit and who taught boldly about Jesus as Messiah (vs. 25), but who was nevertheless limited because he only had John’s baptismal understanding. So Aquila and his wife take Apollos aside and adjust this thinking so that it more accurately reflects the complete truth about Jesus. Apollos is thus rendered fit, made sound and put to rights.
Aquila and Priscilla did it the Biblical way, and re-aligned a new believer so that he’d be equipped for further ministry. They didn’t chastise him, run him out of the synagogue, confront him rudely or criticize him - they simply took him aside and explained things more accurately to him. There was a re-alignment of received truth. This should be a good model for us.
Let’s continue with this vein of thought:
“But I exhort you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same purpose.” 1 Cor 1:10
Here we have the same Greek word katartizō as found in the text about repairing the fishing nets (Mtt. 4:21). Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to be like minded and wants them to be adjusted in their thinking so that they all have “the same mind and same purpose”. If only today’s churches would sit down and do this, what single-minded purpose we would have as the joint Body of Christ! (see 2 Cor 13:11).
Paul gives us a clue towards the adjustment process when addressing the brethren in Galatia.
“Brothers, if a man is overtaken in a fault, you the spiritual ones restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering yourself, lest you also be tempted.” Gal 6:1
Here is the use of a metaphor taken from the idea of a skillful surgeon restoring a dislocated limb and putting it back in place. Notice that Paul says it’s to be the “spiritual ones” who are to do the restoring. Those believers who are still carnal, loose in their minds, untested by the Spirit, and not been through the adjusting themselves (i.e. unskillful), will not be able to properly adjust others. Leaders in the Body need to take notice of this, and implement it well. Failure to do so has taken a drastic toll through the years.
Should a person considering themselves to be “spiritual” Paul throws in a warning about pride. His exhortation is addressed to the conscience of each believer as if to say, ‘Before you deal severely with your erring brother, consider your own weakness and susceptibility to temptation first, and only restore him in view of that fact.’ This is a good antidote for spiritual pride. An old saying makes the point rather well: “Satan loves a shining target.”
So far we’ve looked mainly at the how to adjust others, but now it’s time to bring the matter closer to home and take stock of ourselves. In His discourse to the disciples on the Mount of Olives, Jesus gives this exhortation:
“Therefore you also be ready, for in that hour you think not, the Son of Man comes.” Mtt 24:44
The phrase “be ready” (G2092 heteos / hetoimos) means fitness, adjusted, made ready, accomplished. It also has an added meaning that is quite striking: to receive One coming (Thayer’s Bible definitions). Here the Lord Jesus is exhorting in very strong terms, the need for believers to be adjusted, and spiritually and mentally fit. And notice how this is linked to being aware of the times and seasons relating to His return.
Further on in the same discourse Jesus tells the parable of the Ten Virgins; and notice what He says about the state of those welcomed into the wedding feast:
“And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came. And they who were ready went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut.” Mtt 25:10
Only those who were “ready” went in to the wedding feast! Guess what that English word means in the Greek? The same as in Matthew 24:44, hetoimos meaning fitness, adjusted, made ready, accomplished. So we have Jesus warning us to be adjusted, for if we don’t bend to it, and if we’re alive at His Return, we will not be welcomed into His wedding feast. Let that sink in!
Hence we find the disturbing truth that adjusting to truth is not simply something for new believers; it’s not just something that needs to happen to those with wrong doctrine or misplaced sympathy for unusual teaching; it’s also got something to do with an issue as large and important as being welcomed into the Lamb’s wedding banquet!
How vital then is it that we give ourselves over to the adjusting work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. This is not an option. It’s a Biblical requirement associated directly with our maturing. Dare we hesitate to not bend to this great adjusting? I think not, and I sincerely pray not.
Paul saw this as a major component of his ministry, and he made a very bold declaration stating that the joint ministries of the apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher would continue to exist until the Body came to the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13).
Adjusting to the truth, being made internally fit for ministry, put to rights, and all the other words that we’ve looked at so far; all these come together when Paul says that individually you and I need this to happen to us. For when that process is underway within us, then the Body corporate, the “Church” will begin to mature.
Then and only then. And it will be the on-going ministry of Ephesians 4:11 that will enhance that maturing. This stirs me; this excites me; this makes me jealous to be part of that great day; this is what our purpose is to be as the Body…
“...with a view to the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the perfecting up of the body of Christ.” Eph 4:12
“For the perfecting” (πρὸς τὸν καταρτισμὸν). This phrase is only used once in the entire New Testament. In non-Biblical classical Greek writings it referred to the idea of re-fitting or equipping a ship, or the re-setting of a bone. This radical idea of adjustment we’ve been looking at is forcefully brought out in the next verse.
“...that we all may come to the unity of the faith and of the full knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Eph 4:13
You can’t get better than that. This is what the Word tells us the Father wants of us; this is what the Word tells us will actually happen in His timing. Fear not that you might die before that day arrives, for Paul encourages us that…
“...we the living who remain at the coming of the Lord will not go before those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Thess 4:15
We go together; we arrive together; we are glorified together, as a Body! Now whether our joint maturing happens all at the same time, or whether it happens to individuals throughout history and accumulates on the Great Day - I don’t know. But logically it would seem that this exhortation by both the Lord Jesus and Paul, indicates that it’s our personal obligation and duty throughout all periods of “church history” to get ready, to be adjusted, to be rendered fit. May it be so, individually and corporately.
The importance of the letter “Lamed”
The tallest letter in traditional Biblical Hebrew is the lamed. This letter is at the very centre of the Hebrew alphabet towering over all other characters. If you draw a horizontal line touching the high point of each Hebrew letter you’ll see that the lamed is the only letter that rises above the top line.
So in looking at the letter, it literally stands above all the rest. For this reason alone the lamed has been the cause of much interest by Jewish scholars, and they’ve reasoned that because God does all things with a purpose there must be some wonderful significance in the fact that it’s so tall.
The ancient Phoenician/Hebrew language consisted of 22 basic letters, each one written like a picture with a certain representation depicting a tent, a door or even an animal. These pictographic letters each have a specific meaning that enables us to gain a significant insight into the Hebraic, and therefore Biblical, culture.
Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this is to look at some examples of ancient pictography. Bear in mind that all these examples are merely pictographs, and that Biblical and modern Hebrew often bears little resemblance to the more ancient form. Therefore the “early” or “primitive” letter form will serve best as indicators.
The second letter of the Hebrew aleph-bet (alphabet) is beyt ב having a “b” sound.
Pictographically the letter is depicted in various forms and looks like the graphics seen below. It thus represents a tent or the floor plan of a dwelling, and so indicates to us what is found inside a tent (house) - a family. So the meaning of this letter Beyt can be “tent” or “that which is within”.
Let’s look at another example. The mem מ has a “m” sound. We see in the graphics below that it looks like a picture of waves on water (in its primitive and foundational form). It can also mean the flowing “water” of man and animals, that is, blood. Because blood is passed from one generation to another (in both humans and animals) it can also mean “from”.
So we’re beginning to see how the ancient letters, using pictographic representations, have some very interesting meanings. One more example then before we get to the special insights about the letter lamed.
The letter hey ה has a “h” sound and its ancient depiction is of a man standing with raised arms as if he’s yelling "look at that". We still do this today when we want to catch someone’s attention and call out “hey you!” using the very same Hebrew letter, hey.
So this letter is used in the sense of directing our attention to something important.
Now to our special letter lamed. The lamed (or “lam” in ancient Hebrew) has a “l” sound and is depicted as a shepherd’s crook or staff. Traditionally the staff was used to direct sheep toward a certain area, e.g. towards water, a pasture or to safety. So this letter is used to mean “toward”.
Originally lamed was depicted as a goad, the main instrument for training and directing oxen in primitive agricultural societies. It was basically nothing more than a wooden pole or stick about 2 or 3 metres long, with a pointed tip. So now if we turn the pictorial graphic of lamed on its side and imagine an extension to its arm, we’ll see something akin to a goad or staff.
You can see that already it's beginning to look more like what we know to be a traditional shepherd’s crook or staff. Putting all this together we start to see why lamed is used as a fitting designation for “teaching” and “learning”, for this is precisely what a shepherd did in caring for his sheep. The shepherd wasn't simply a “carer” of the flock but an educator as well. He knew his sheep intimately, they knew his voice; trust was paramount, and a good shepherd knew the limits of his flock’s endurance, as well as how to educate the young lambs new to it. His staff was truly a lamed.
In fact it’s the very foundation of the word lamed which again means “to teach and learn”. The simple form of the verb means “to learn” and the intensive form means “to teach.”
The Hebraic understanding of education requires that teaching and learning go hand in hand, and that each one of us should be both a learner and a teacher - for the rest of our life. When learning ceases, teaching will also cease.
Lamed, the ox (or sheep) goad has come to represent “education” partly due to the insight that traditionally the teacher would goad his student into acquiring knowledge. In some cultures the teacher would instruct his students with a goad in hand.
For example in Asia, should the aspiring religious student drift off to sleep during instruction or meditation, he will soon be awakened by a sharp hit on the shoulders with the teacher’s goad! Perhaps we who are older will remember only too well the sting of the teacher’s cane at school - the goad. Whether it made us learn any more efficiently is another matter!
Another form of lamed is the word limud which means “learner” or “disciple”. A disciple is one who is taught and who’s been subjected to the discipline of learning, sometimes through the use of a goad. There’s an obvious connection between the words “discipline” and “discipleship”. The discipline of study produces the disciple, and of course this isn’t confined to gaining intellectual knowledge; it’s also to do with “life knowledge”.
We find the Hebrew word limud first used of disciples in 1 Chronicles 25:8.
“And they cast lots for duty, the small as well as the great, the teacher as well as the pupil (talmid).” The word talmid has limud as its root, with talmid originally meaning what we call a “scholar”. As time went on this eventually became the common Jewish term for a student, learner or disciple.
When we come to the New Testament we find the Greek word mathetes (Strongs G3103) being used for “disciple”. Interestingly this Greek word mathetes is the root for our word “mathematics”, and we’re all aware of the discipline that’s required in that field of study.
Jesus’ disciples (talmidim) were instructed to: “...go, disciple all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things, whatever I commanded you”. Mtt 28:19-20
So we see that the foundation of discipleship is learning and teaching, and the foundation of this learning and teaching is the commandments of Jesus. What we commonly call “Christian discipleship” is meant to be a real life exercise of learning through the discipline of being instructed into the specific teachings of Christ. It’s like submitting to the goad of training, permitting oneself to be pricked by the pointed lamed.
With the lamed imagery in mind, we now get a rich insight into Jesus’ words found in Matthew 11:29-30. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest to your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”.
The metaphor used here is really the same as the lamed insight. In ancient Biblical times a young ox was yoked to an older more mature one. In that way when they were sent out to plough the younger “disciple” could learn from the older “master”. Being yoked together meant that the mature ox could instruct at very close quarters. It must've been rough on the young animal being so closely tethered to one who knew the ropes and had learnt the tricks of the trade. But it paid off, and the younger animal learnt the necessary life skills.
Being yoked together with Jesus means learning at very close quarters - and learning “on the job”. Jesus said the yoke would be there, but by submitting to it and to Him, it would prove to be “easy”. I wonder how many of us have really learnt that lesson. The Messiah’s yoke gives us just enough discomfort to nudge and goad us onto the right pathway.
Like the two oxen, the Biblical learning process requires us to learn on the road, to walk the talk, to imitate the elder among us. Hence Jesus said: “It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher.” Mtt 10:25
And Paul is bold to state: “...be imitators of me.” (1 Cor 4:16) and “Be imitators of me as I am also of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1)
This imitating of one who was held in awe and reverence depended entirely upon a willingness of heart to be taught. The imagery we have over and over in Scripture is one of walking with the master, whether it is Elisha walking with Elijah, or the disciples with Jesus. This learning process was intense, demanding and certainly not optional if you truly wanted “to know”. But once you had set your mind to it you would be expected to walk the road with the master no matter where it went and what was at the end.
It was a dynamic in which one followed the teacher and thereby was engaged in the great lessons of life, these being learnt by the day-to-day events that all people encountered. What made the common daily things different was how the master instructed you to look beyond them and to see in them something of God. If only today’s Church still practiced this, what a difference it would make to new believers! “But the cost is too high” men say. And certainly many would also complain that such a process is far too inconvenient for today’s modern life. But look what we’re missing!
The Point of studying the Word
The long term relationship formed between the teacher and the student (rabbi and talmid) was one of ongoing interaction, deliberately fostered by the teacher as he saw fit, when he saw fit. Jesus did this in a special way, not using His own initiative to instruct, but waiting on the Father to “show” him what was to be spoken and acted upon, and when it was to happen.
"Jesus replied, I assure you, the Son is not able to do anything on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son also does these things in the same way.” Jhn 5:19
“...the things that I speak, I speak just as the Father has told me to speak.” Jhn 12:50
For disciples, two of the greatest honours they could receive from their teacher were to be instructed in his unique prayer, and to be “covered in his dust”.
You might recall in the New Testament that one of the disciples asked Jesus, as a rabbi, to teach them all how to pray. For us today this might seem a little strange, but there was a peculiar Biblical reason for doing so. Each rabbi was known for his own style of teaching, and his students could be readily identified by others through the way they incorporated this teaching into a unique prayer. When this specialized prayer was used by the rabbi’s followers, other people could identify them with that rabbi simply by listening to the content of the prayer.
“And it happened as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught His disciples.” Luk 11:1
Evidently Jesus’ disciples heard how John the Baptist had instructed his disciples in prayer, and now Jesus’ followers felt it was time that they too were identified with the Lord by knowing His kind of prayer. It was then that Jesus taught them how to pray by incorporating His own heaven-sent doctrine into what we generally call “the Lord’s Prayer”.
“Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven…” Mtt 6:9
As you read through this prayer you’ll quickly see that Jesus’ declaration about the kingdom, about forgiveness, and about God being a Father, are uniquely His. Allied to knowing this kind of prayer was to be known as a follower of a rabbi by his type of teaching. The word “dust” in Scripture is a metaphor for “teaching”. As we’ve seen in Biblical times, to be pupil of a teacher required you to follow him, literally. You would walk with him, eat with him, serve him, etc. So as you walked the unpaved roads of Israel you would literally be walking in his dust. Therefore to follow a teacher and to be his disciple was like being “covered in his dust”.
This kind of life-instruction goes to the very heart of a lamad-style encounter. Such teaching focuses directly on the teacher-pupil / rabbi-disciple model of inter-relatedness and accountability. It was, and is, the teacher’s role to bring the disciple to a place of self-discovery. Of course in the end it’s not at all a journey of “self” discovery but one of discovering Christ, who is “far above all” (Eph. 4:10).
The disciple’s role is to submit, question and search and having arrived at truth, to stand by it and for it. This is why Paul instructed Timothy his talmid to…
“...be diligent and present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth…” 2 Tim 2:15
One of the most vital aspects of discipleship requires the talmid to “know God’s Word” and to “know the God of the Word”. Sadly in modern Christian discipleship, particularly in western churches, the former is elevated above the latter. We often esteem the written word above the living Word. Any “study” of the Scriptures must be done with a view to “do” what the Word says, and to adjust to what the Word declares us to be. The talmid must set his heart to study the Word in order that he might do it. Only then can a talmid truly have the Biblical and divine right to teach it to others (see Ezra 7:10).
Scripturally speaking, learning without actually doing, is akin to sin. The Word declares that:
“To anyone knowing to do good, and not do it, for him it is sin.” Jms 4:17
This is like believing without decision or action. Any theory without practice is ultimately meaningless and even deceptive luring the person into believing that they really “know” something. We could even go so far as to say that Biblically speaking, anything that’s not practical is not truly spiritual. The proof of our belief is action based upon knowledge, understanding and wisdom. And remember that wisdom is applied spiritual knowledge, that is, it’s practical. Without such proof in our lives as disciples, discipleship is never truly established within us.
Any true disciple of Jesus Christ will be a student of God’s on-going and living instruction. They will have a hunger for the Word, and give time to meditate on it, allowing the Holy Spirit as teacher to bring forth revelation and conviction. Studying God’s Word is essential to true and transforming discipleship, for it’s the Word and it’s Author that imparts life, not the teacher or rabbi, no matter how gifted or anointed they be.
Such is the importance of correctly studying the Word, that the Jews have long believed that study is the highest form of worship. Now this is an astonishing thought. The Jews link studying the Word of God with worshipping Him! On the other hand, the Greek philosophical and educative concept is that “knowledge” should be worshipped. If you want some simple proof of this just look at how “education” is so highly esteemed in modern western society. In fact people are often looked down upon simply because they haven’t been to university or don’t have a degree: the “blue collar” versus the “white collar” syndrome.
So how is it that the Jews link study with worship? The words for worship both in Hebrew (segad) and Greek (proskunéo) mean to “prostate oneself before God”. For the Jews the ultimate form of prostrating before God is to submit to His will, which is found recorded in His Word. Quite straightforward really. The study of the Scriptures has an intrinsic truth attached to it, namely, we study in order to do what God has said should be done! For the Jew the logic is impeccable; the study of God’s Word is a form of worship or submission to God because in it we find God’s will.
In fact the word “worship” in English means “to give worth to, to esteem highly”. So when we worship God, whether at a “worship” service in church, or in the prayer closet, or in studying the Scriptures, we are “giving worth” to that which we esteem most highly. This is why we need to adjust our lives to the Living Word of God, Jesus, as we find truth revealed in the written Word about Him.
With sincerity of heart, teachability of mind, and devotion of spirit, when as disciples we follow Christ, obey what He has said, do what He wants done, we ascribe worth to Him as our Master - we esteem Him highly and worship Him! So we find at the end of all this, that the “highest” and most esteemed letter, the lamed, brings us to a realization that it holds a very special place in the Hebrew mind. It is the goad of our learning and the staff of our Shepherd that prods us onward and upward to truly “know” (Eccles 12:11a). We will find that as wisdom grows, learning continues to ever increase, for it was written by a wise man that:
“The wise man will hear and so will increase in learning…” Prov 1:5
Yes, true disciples are talmidim, yielded to that easy lamed with which the Lord Jesus gently prods those with whom He is yoked. By a willingness to submit and learn, we experience much knowledge, understanding and wisdom. This will bring forth an abundant life within our hearts, and the world shall see to Whom we belong and that we are covered with His dust. “The words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and they are life.” Jhn 6:63
The Harmony of Revelation and Teaching
Revelatory teaching comes in various forms, some of which are depicted metaphorically as dew, rain, raindrops and showers. “(Moses said) My doctrine shall drop as the rain; my speech shall drop down as the dew, as the raindrops on the tender plant, and as the showers on the grass.” Deut 32:2
There appears to be a sequence here - rain, dew, raindrops, and showers. The difference between the types are interesting when considering how revelation interacts with doctrine, or teaching. Let’s look at this passage in some depth.
“My doctrine” (H3948) in Hebrew means to carry away, to attract or gain over the heart by eloquence or persuasive speech. The Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) translates the word as apophthegm which means a weighty saying. Moses is saying he has something of extreme importance to impart to his hearers. He desires that his message would gain authority over men’s hearts, attracting them and influencing them to produce lasting fruit. The phrase “my doctrine” actually means something received and alludes to instruction received by insight (revelation).
“Rain” (H4306) means simply that, rain. Neither a downpour, heavy showers or wild weather. Moses declares that his insightful doctrine shall indeed drop as the rain - it shall come drop by drop as rain, beginning slowly and distinctly but eventually increasing more and more until all is poured down and the whole divine revelation is complete. Some say this refers to the coming of the Gospel and its spread across the globe.
“Dew” (H2919) means a covering over vegetation; a night mist. Moses’ speech shall descend gently and softly on the ear and the heart of his hearers (and later readers), like the dew which moistens and refreshes all that it touches.
“Raindrops” (H8164) from a word that means a shaggy or rough goat (H8163). What’s the connection? Perhaps it refers to the inconsistent falling of rain that is rough in its manner.
“And as the showers” (H7241) means to multiply, abundance, to increase greatly, copious showers, heavy showers, shower after shower, or rather a continual rain whose drops are greatly multiplied on the earth beyond human calculation.
Notice that dew, rain, raindrops and showers are those things that connect the heavens and the earth. These are fitting metaphors to describe how revelation comes down to us, not at man’s bidding but at heaven’s command. We cannot manufacture nor demand any revelation; the Lord will send it when He knows the time.
In verse 31 we find Moses calling on heaven and earth to bear witness to what he’s saying. This was no ordinary speech or sermon, this was truth being prophesied. Moses was in fact bringing an admonition to the people because of their rebellious nature, and what he has to say comes directly from heaven as revelation (Deut. 31:19). In fact it’s a song!
“Now then, write this song for you, and teach it to the sons of Israel. Put it in their mouths, so that this song shall be for a witness to Me against the sons of Israel.” Deut 31:19 (see also verses 21-22 and 30)
It’s an interesting insight that revelation can often come as a song, and that typologically speaking songs are revelations. Compare the Book of Revelation; there are a two definite songs in it (5:9 and 15:3) with the possibility that other sayings (like 11:17f) were in fact song-like too. So instead of calling this book the Revelation of Jesus Christ we could call it “the Song of Jesus Christ”. Think then how this relates to the Song of Songs in the Old Testament. Change the metaphor for that book and you get the Revelation of Revelations, and what revelations there are in that song book!
Back to the rain! In Jewish tradition words of admonition (as in Moses’ speech/song) are analogous to rain. When rain falls on trees, plants and crops, growth isn’t noticed immediately. It takes time for the rain to have an effect. So too with admonition. It takes time for us to listen and respond to an admonition. Generally we react against being told off, but God calls us to listen, really listen to His song and to respond accordingly. This song then is an admonition to Israel of which heaven and earth are called to bear witness (two for witness). In fact that same song will be sung again at the end of the age when it becomes the Song of the Lamb (Rev 15:3-4). So in all of Scripture this song will be sung twice, as a witness and as a completed prophecy. Let’s pursuer the imagery of dew, rain and showers just a little further.
Dew and rain never form together, and note that dew doesn’t have the life-sustaining power that rain has. Dew is usually perennial, unlike rain which comes and goes according to seasons. “Rain” comes down from above, in the atmosphere. “Dew” can come from either the humid atmosphere or the humidity held within the soil. So in the case of “dew” the water can be formed by a coming down and a going up. This is a wonderful metaphor for how truth both comes down to us from the Lord, and comes up from us after it’s done its covering work.
“Dew” in the natural is often referred to as a covering, and in fact only covers those things that are somewhat out of direct contact with the ground (earth). Dew forms when radiant heat from an object drops low enough to draw vapour from the surrounding atmosphere or the soil. In many cultures “dew” stands for purity and freshness, so how fitting that Moses should sing a song with such wonderful freshness about it.
Revelation is that which comes down to us at times chosen solely by the Lord. Insight that comes out of such revelation is often presented by the prophets, and sometimes apostles. This would seem natural as the Word declares that the church is built upon the foundation of these two ministries (Eph 2:20). But I sincerely believe that a generation of revelatory teachers is coming forth who will give fresh understanding to such revelations, and anchor them firmly to Scripture.
Sometimes there exists a conflict between the joint apostolic/prophetic ministries and the teaching ministries because of how the two groups tend to function. Apostles and prophets are the foundation-layers and often move in wider revelation than teachers of the Word, who primarily feed the Body. But as mentioned at the beginning of this booklet, I believe that the time is fast approaching when teachers shall begin to receive great revelation that may well astound even the prophets.
All Ascension gift ministries are necessary and are to work together (some scholars hold it to be a Four-Fold calling, not five). Each comes from a different aspect, but none is better than the other. Rather than competing, each is to work to build as God has anointed him or her.
“It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up.” Eph 4:11-12
We are to appreciate and draw from each anointing, while not entering into idolatry by exalting one over another. Clearly apostles are only servants sent by the Lord to equip us. The resulting fruit in our lives is a result of God’s grace.
"For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe, as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” 1 Cor 3:4-7
As a demonstration of His grace, God chooses whom He will. It is God’s choice who will serve as an apostle or pastor, etc. God has both learned and unlearned apostles; for example Paul the pharisee and Peter the fisherman. A brief look at this diversity is helpful to avoid exalting one over the other.
Paul was a theologian, the highest educated of all the apostles of his day. His theological training helped him convince others of the soundness of the doctrine of Jesus Christ, as well as to combat erroneous doctrine. He had received powerful supernatural revelations, and not only was his conversion a supernatural encounter but this theologian was caught up into the third heaven. The natural tendency of most of us would be to be conceited.
Yet after receiving such revelation Paul studied them solely in the light of Scripture (the OT) for years. Then, in humility, he submitted his revelation to those who were apostles before him, regardless of his intense theological training. He respected the insight and understanding of those who were older than he in the Lord, even if they were less educated than he in theology. Paul was the highest educated of all the New Testament apostles and probably had the deepest revelation – a contradiction by today’s standards.
“Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.” Gal 2:1-2
Peter, one of these “leaders” who could’ve asserted his authority in pride as being the premiere apostle, actually affirmed Paul’s revelation. Peter was willing to submit to the revelation of another brother. Yes, and even learned men such as Paul, need to be teachable. They can learn from the unlearned, like Peter. The reverse is also true. All need to be teachable. Please note that being teachable doesn’t mean you’re gullible!
“Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervour and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” Acts 18:24-26
Paul taught that there is no conflict between true prophetic revelation and good Scriptural doctrine. We would do well to remember that the Bible was an experience before it was written down! Sometimes the understanding of Scripture follows a supernatural experience. For example, following the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, Peter explained that only in the light of that supernatural experience did Scripture become clear to them: “This is that…” (Acts 2:16).
We find in the Bible that the apostles’ doctrine was a uniform body of teaching; a consensus of both the prophetic ones and the teaching ones. They recognized the need for one another. The apostles’ doctrine was in harmony with one another and was clearly communicated to the brethren. The highest-educated ministers of today still need to speak in a way that the common person can understand.
The gospel is actually quite simple and straightforward; this doesn’t of course mean it’s “simplistic.” Even so-called “deep teaching” can be understood when communicated in a simple and clear manner. True apostles are concerned for the building up of the Body of Christ, not for their scholarly kudos or approval. Having self-sacrificial love is more important than revelation or miracles or a formal education. Character is more important than gifting. Maturity is more important than anointing. Christian maturity is being like Jesus in character - that is, the Word becoming fleshed out in our individual lives (see 1 Cor. 13:2).
So we find that apostles are to proclaim the mystery of Christ which has already been revealed, beginning as far back as Genesis 3:15. Therefore all subsequent apostolic-prophetic revelation is to retain Scripture as its one foundation and plumb line of truth, with Christ as the Head of the Body. There is to be no deviation in this. Christ must remain pre-eminent (Col. 1:18) and the Word must remain our standard of truth (1 Thess 2:13 / 2 Tim 2:15).
Good students will receive all God has to say, whether it be through teaching or revelation, rightly discerning and judging the content of the message. None of us individually knows it all, or has perfect understanding, no matter how many diplomas we have or how many trips to heaven we’ve had. We need each other. Apostles need pastors, and teachers need prophets. Together we are to grow up into Christ.
“...in whom all the building being fitted together grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” Eph 2:21-22
The Four Levels of Biblical Understanding
Obviously there are many ways we learn truth from Scripture, however most of the ones we’re used to are “western” methods based on Greek educational concepts. There is though an interesting Hebraic way of understanding, known as pardes.
While not all scholars believe the whole four aspects of it are valid, certainly the first three are generally agreed upon. In some quarters the fourth view (sod) has less support as a valid interpretation of Scripture, but nevertheless should be considered - especially since we're looking at the role of ‘revelation.’ Discernment is always a factor here.
Pardes (Strongs H6508) is a Hebrew word used in Scripture that means “a forest, orchard or park” and is generally referred to as Paradise. It corresponds with the Greek paradeisos (G3857) which also means “a park or paradise” (Eden).
The English transliteration of the Hebrew word pardes is spelled as PRDS - which is also an acronym for the Hebrew words Pshat, Remez, Derasha, Sod. Each of these four words represents one of the four different levels of understanding the Scriptures. Each level of understanding becomes deeper as we press in, starting with pshat and moving right through to sod.
The journey into pardes also represents our journey into deeper levels of intimacy with our Father, based on the example of Adam and Eve walking in paradise (pardes) with God (Gen 3:8). It represents our journey into the relationship we once had in the Garden of Eden, hence the word pardes = Paradise. Based on this concept of PRDS the four levels of Biblical understanding are:
Some Jewish thought teaches that these four levels are actually four dimensions of meaning, or interpretation. These dimensions are the measurements of Breadth, Length, Depth, and Height as revealed in the following New Testament text.
“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fullness of God.” Eph 3:18
The word “comprehend” (Strongs G2638 / G2596 / G2983) means to “find, obtain, or perceive down in opposition, position or intensity.” It means to seek, search out, look at, and obtain what is beneath the surface of the Scriptures. Could it be that Paul was encouraging us to come to truly know by seeking the breadth, length, depth, and height of truth? Was he encouraging us to take a journey into pardes (paradise) taking a path from pshat to sod? Perhaps, but please use Holy Spirit discernment.
Interestingly enough we see these four dimensions being used by the Lord Jesus. Note that He rarely used the pshat (literal) level to teach the masses of the people. He usually expressed the literal interpretation of the Scriptures only when He addressed the Pharisees. But when He did address the masses He tended to use the remez (parable) level. And notice that when Jesus chose the Twelve apostles from among the masses, He used the derasha (seek, search) level to reveal to them the deeper understanding of those parables. In the sod (inner) level He chose three from among the twelve apostles, and on the Mount of Transfiguration the Father revealed something special to them about Jesus.
So we find that the use of these different levels or styles can be used at different times appropriate to different seasons, and even for different individuals. This gives us a clue to how we perhaps can use the different styles in our own ministries. There are certain styles that are called for in certain circumstances. May we learn from this how to listen to the Father for His direction, just as the Lord Jesus did.
Paul the apostle had to learn, or re-learn, how knowledge at one level could interact with knowledge at another level. Despite his intense religious education and knowledge of the Torah, he needed a spiritual encounter. His conversion experience on the Damascus road followed by some time in Arabia and then Damascus (Gal 1:17-18), would’ve been a tremendous realignment to truth. Interestingly enough, this was similar to Moses’ forty years in the desert, with the spiritual encounter for him coming at the end of it rather than at the beginning, like Paul.
Both of these great men were trained by the Spirit “on the job” which is still the best way to truly learn something. However even on-the-job training can still lack spiritual input and leave a person relatively untouched by eternal things. So what’s desperately needed is learning that’s firmly founded on what Scripture has already revealed, plus that revelatory knowledge that comes to enhance what the Word discloses. Exactly what this “enhancing” is can be difficult to put into words, but it does rely on what seems to be a direct, spontaneous insight that has an immediate effect on the mind, and which causes an inward readjustment. Let me try to explain if I can.
An example of this kind of dynamic happened when I first realised that Biblically speaking (in context) the New Covenant only involved the houses of Judah and Israel without any participation of the gentiles (see page 13). I had read the relevant verses often during the past 30 years, but one particular day as I was “just reading the Bible” I abruptly stopped. My mind raced; my posture changed as I sat up; my eyes actually opened wider; and I “saw” a truth!
No, I didn’t let out a yell of exclamation or shout “eureka.” I simply sat looking at something that intensely grabbed my attention. Outwardly I was stilled, but inwardly everything was racing around in my mind. Yet strangely one part of my mind was perfectly at peace, resting in what I had just perceived, and strangely content with it. At the same time I was struck by the consequences of it all. In a matter of a split second my doctrine and theological education began to move aside, and I “saw” something I had never “seen” before. This wasn’t something I was searching for, nor had I been challenged by someone to consider the idea; I was simply reading a portion of Scripture as part of my daily devotions.
Strangely it didn’t threaten me, nor did it drive me to make a rash decision like to immediately confront others with it. I didn't rush out and preach it - in fact I didn't decide to do anything about it! I just sat there looking at the text and let it sink in, very deeply. I felt as though I had been exposed to something lost but now found, and I wanted to revel in the enjoyment of the moment. But I knew that I would “awaken” from the revelation of it and have to test it against the rest of Scripture, work it through, and reason it out from the Word of God. This proved to be more tedious than I expected, as I re-read Scripture, re-thought doctrine, and re-worked my theological position. At times when doing this I wondered if what I had perceived (or strictly speaking “received”) was valid, because my logic and reasoning kept trying to “block” it out of my mind. On many occasions I wished I could just go back and enjoy the moment of the revelation, rather than ponderously work it through theologically.
But somehow I “knew” I’d been given a revelation. Now all this sounds very subjective and I fully realise that many believers, particularly Bible scholars, would say I’ve allowed my subjectivity to override the objectivity of Scripture. I’ve been around long enough to be aware of how that works, and how certain groups and cults use the very same excuse to formulate their new teachings. Take Joseph Smith of the Mormons or any cult for that matter; they all say they’ve had a personal revelation of new truth.
Please be assured that I’m not attempting to change your views about the New Covenant. Nor am I trying to being forth some new truth. I’m simply trying to show how revelatory insight operates as a dynamic. All I’m saying is that I read the Word and found it said something quite plain actually; it said that the New Covenant was to be made with the Houses of Israel and Judah. Fact.
Where you take it from there, or where I go with it from there isn’t the point. The point is that we can read the Bible for years and years before suddenly having some insight that trips us up and we “see” a new revelation. It doesn't destroy Scripture; it doesn't take away any of the truth, beauty or uniqueness of it, but it does cause us to re-think what we think we know. That’s all.
Revelatory insight enhances what is already True; it doesn't change truth, and it doesn’t introduce anything new in the sense that it didn't exist before. Revelatory truth does introduce fresh ideas in the sense that what has been popularly believed was probably stale and had wandered away from truth, usually by the doctrines of men (and sometimes by the doctrine of demons).
Revelatory teaching comes in many forms not commonly associated with what we call teaching. Take for example some of the ways the Lord communicated truth in Scripture:
· He spoke thunderous words from heaven
· He sent supernatural beings with messages
· He gave dreams, visions and trances
· His finger wrote on tablets of stone and on palace walls
· He even made animals talk
· He personally confronted people without their permission
· He opened spiritual eyes to see what the natural eyes couldn’t see
· He became flesh
· He altered the laws of nature
· He gave insight into the future
All of these are valid methods of imparting truth, but they are far from what we today refer to as “teaching.” Here the supernatural or spiritual component far outweighs the normal mode of education. Many of us would even say that the greatest moments of our own spiritual growth have come via such encounters rather than through learning in the formal sense. Of course it’s true that some subjective spiritual experiences may not be as valid as we think. Yet it’s strange that while we might readily accept such experiences because they’re in the Bible, we’re pessimistic about them when someone says they’ve had such an experience today! What’s the criterion for that?
Clearly revelatory insight isn’t something we conjure up; it’s given by the Lord. This means He knows when and who is predisposed to such revelation, and even how to deliver it. To one He gives a dream, to another He sends an angel, and to another He does whatever He knows is best!
It’s an old adage that “pupils only learn what they set out to learn.” Yet we can take great assurance that the Lord of heaven and earth knows the heart of each man and so knows precisely what our mental and spiritual makeup requires. We might be going about our daily business totally unaware that heaven is about to confront us; but in God’s good and perfect economy He intervenes and shows us truth.
Truth is often seasonal, and we can only bear so much of it at a time (Jhn 16:12). Too little and there’s no impact, leaving us floundering; too much and it simply overwhelms us and brings confusion. How wonderful it is then that He knows just how to meet us, when and with what!
That’s fine for He who is the greatest of all teachers, but what about us as we teach and disciple others? We need to know the ability of each disciple, taking into consideration their emotional state, their educative ability, their age, spiritual development so far, etc. We should not throw everything we can at the disciple or student. Often it’s assumed by us in the west that we can simply teach “truth” and think that they disciple is going to apply it to life. Ask any preacher worth their salt and they’ll tell you that having preached the truth of the Word they know that most of their hearers will not apply it to themselves. Sad, but true.
Time must be given allowing the disciple or student to assimilate it into their own life. The danger I see in rushing truth too fast is that people just get confused. And even if the teacher should methodically and patiently impart truth it still doesn't mean it’s going to “take”. Something else is needed, and that something is prayer, very specific prayer.
When Paul instructed the believers in Ephesians and Colossians he spent the first three chapters outlining doctrinal truth, and then three chapters showing how to apply it to life. But doing what he did is no different from what thousands of preachers do today. What made Paul different was that he “bridged” the doctrinal section to the practical section with prayer - specific prayer that asked God to make it “take” in the lives of the believers.
“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom every family in Heaven and on earth is named, that He may give you, according to the riches of His glory, by His power to become mighty in the inward man through His Spirit, that through faith Christ may dwell in your hearts, having been rooted and founded in love, that you may be given strength to grasp, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the surpassing knowledge and love of Christ, that you may be filled to all the fullness of God.” Eph 3: 14-19
It doesn't take too much to see how specific Paul’s prayer was. This made all the difference. He taught the doctrine, he exhorted them to live it, and most importantly he prayed for them that they would get it. This is a fine model for any teacher or preacher of the Word.
I would think this is precisely what the Lord Jesus did when He had taught, either directly or by parable. After He would go aside to some secluded place and pray about what He had taught and for those whom He had taught. Any so-called “successful” ministry will probably tell you that this is their secret. Prayer, specific prayer, fervent prayer, continuous prayer, asking that the truth would find receptive hearts in which to dwell. While some of us do this some of the time, most of us need to do it most of the time. Our failure to establish mature disciples is proof of this. May the day of maturity soon rise upon us, singularly and corporately!
The Issachar Ministry
Images of the Hebrew alphabet are from http://www.ancient-hebrew.org