And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32)
You will come to know the truth, and the truth will set you free, according to God’s Word (John 8:32). What is the reality that liberates us? Is it merely a matter of believing in Jesus? That sounds overly simple when you say it out loud, don’t you think? That is because it is too basic. Why isn’t the Church experiencing miracles, signs, and wonders (naturally and spiritually) if we all believe that Jesus is the truth? The reason: there is more to it. The Early Church taught that correct doctrine contains the truth. Without correct doctrine, we cannot serve Jesus because He is the Word, and we cannot truly know Him. All things lead back to the Word.
Jesus is the Word
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14
Jesus is the Word (John 1:14) and the Word is truth (John 17:17). So, for us to know Jesus, we must know the Word (Truth). Just as in any relationship, in order to know someone you first get to know their character, their likes and dislikes, and so on. Throughout the Word, the character of Jesus is revealed. His likes and dislikes are distinguished in the commandments (the 613 mitzvot) and in addition to the commandments, the entire Bible is parabolic and conceals God’s nature beneath its surface. If this sparks the question, how does the entire Bible show His character? It is because we read with a Greek reading mindset (historical/literal) as opposed to a Hebraic mindset (deeper understanding). More on that later…
Scripture is the blueprint for us to form an intimate relationship with Jesus and without knowing the Word, we cannot know Him. On the sermon on the mount Jesus spoke to his disciples:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.
Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’
And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ Matthew 7:21-23
This scripture is clearly not talking about the world, but people in the Church. There will be those who believe they are serving Christ but are actually far from Him. Jesus clearly states only those who do His Father’s will will enter the Kingdom and He later expounds that those who will not enter the Kingdom are those that are lawless. His will is the law, or Torah in Hebrew (comprising the first 5 books of the Bible). In Hebrew, the word Torah literally means instruction in the direction one is to take in life (1). For us to do the will of the Father, we must first know it, so ignorance is not an option.
Justin Martyr, a highly revered Christian apologist of the second century, wrote the following in response to criticisms by Trypho (a Jewish man, who followed the letter of the law) of Christians:
And Trypho said, “I believe, however, that many of those who say that they confess Jesus, and are called Christians, eat meats offered to idols, and declare that they are by no means injured in consequence.” And I replied, “The fact that there are such men confessing themselves to be Christians, and admitting the crucified Jesus to be both Lord and Christ, yet not teaching His doctrines, but those of the spirits of error, causes us who are disciples of the true and pure doctrine of Jesus Christ, to be more faithful and steadfast in the hope announced by Him. For what things He predicted would take place in His name, these we do see being actually accomplished in our sight. For he said, `Many shall come in My name, clothed outwardly in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.’ And, `There shall be schisms and heresies.’ And, `Beware of false prophets, who shall come to you clothed outwardly in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.’ And, `Many false Christs and false apostles shall arise, and shall deceive many of the faithful.’ (2)
Justin very plainly explains that there are individuals in His day who declare themselves to be Christians but do not teach sound doctrine, similar to the scripture from which Jesus talked to His followers previously. He continues by saying that the fraudulent Christians make the genuine and orthodox Christians more obedient to the Word. He continues by citing other biblical prophecies regarding those who pretend to be Christians but are actually not. They do not adhere to correct and pure doctrine, which is the foundation of his argument. Again confirming, the Word is at the center of everything.
Jesus is Revelation
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” John 6:63
We now know that Jesus is the Word and that the Word is Truth, but the Word also has a letter and a spirit. The apostle Paul warns that “the Letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6), and to the Church of Rome He explains that the “letter” is the literal interpretation of God’s Word (Romans 1:11). Jesus said the Word of God is Spirit and it is life (John 6:63). In the following passage Paul gives us an understanding of what the Spirit of God really teaches:
“However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written: “EYE HAS NOT SEEN, NOR EAR HEARD, NOR HAVE ENTERED INTO THE HEART OF MAN THE THINGS WHICH GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” (1 Corinthians 2:6-12) [emphasis added]
According to verse ten, the Spirit of God reveals the deep things of God. The word for “deep” in Greek means mystery (3) and the secret, unrevealed purposes of God (4). By this, we understand that the Spirit of the Word is the deeper teachings, or the revelation of the Word. Revelation is a removal of the veil (5) which is the flesh (Hebrews 10:20), or the literal interpretation (the letter) of the Word.
Prolific early church father Origen of Alexandria, wrote on this matter:
Therefore, just as “the visible and invisible,” earth and heaven, soul and flesh, body and spirit have mutually this kinship and this world is a result of their union, so also we must believe that Holy Scripture results from the visible and the invisible just as from a body the letter, which is certainly something seen, and the soul, the understanding of which is understood within, and of the Spirit, according to that which some also hold in “heaven” as the Apostle said, “They serve as models and shadows of the celestial things.,, (6)
Origen affirms that the Word consists of the spirit, which is the revelation that only the Holy Spirit can reveal, and the letter (flesh), which is what can only be seen at face value. In another passage, Origen contrasts our literal grasp of the Bible with how crucial it is that we understand the revelation:
THE APOSTLE PAUL, “TEACHER OF THE GENTILES in faith and truth” taught the Church which he gathered from the Gentiles how it ought to interpret the books of the Law. These books were received from others and were formerly unknown to the Gentiles and were very strange. He feared that the Church, receiving foreign instructions and not knowing the principle of the instructions, would be in a state of confusion about the foreign document. For that reason he gives some examples of interpretation that we also might note similar things in other passages, lest we believe that by imitation of the text and document of the Jews we be made disciples. He wishes, therefore, to distinguish disciples of Christ from disciples of the Synagogue by the way they understand the Law. The Jews, by misunderstanding it, rejected Christ. We, by understanding the Law spiritually, show that it was justly given for the instruction of the Church. . . .
Let us see, however, what sort of rule of interpretation the apostle Paul taught us about these matters. Writing to the Corinthians he says in a certain passage, “For we know that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all were baptized in Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. And they drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and the rock was Christ.” Do you see how much Paul’s teaching differs from the literal meaning? What the Jews supposed to be a crossing of the sea, Paul calls a baptism; what they supposed to be a cloud, Paul asserts is the Holy Spirit. He wishes that to be understood in a similar manner to this which the Lord taught in the Gospels, “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” And again, the manna which the Jews supposed to be food for the stomach and the satiation of the appetite, Paul calls “spiritual food.” . . . (7)
Here, Origen explains how Apostle Paul had to teach the Church to correctly interpret the law. Paul was concerned the Church would misinterpret the law and only understand it according to the letter, so he gave examples of interpretation for their benefit. Origen highlights how Paul teaches the spiritual meaning of the historical account of the Israelites in the wilderness. Origen stresses that just as Apostle Paul taught the spiritual meaning (revelation) of the historical account in 1 Corinthians; for us to correctly interpret not only this scripture, but all Scripture, we must understand the revelation.
What then are we to do who received such instructions about interpretation from Paul, a teacher of the Church? Does it not seem right that we apply this kind of rule which was delivered to us in a similar way in other passages? Or as some wish, forsaking these things which such a great Apostle taught, should we turn again to “Jewish fables?” It seems to me that if I differ from Paul in these matters I aid the enemies of Christ, and this is what the prophet says, “Woe to him who causes his neighbor to drink by foul subversion!”; Let us cultivate, therefore, the seeds of spiritual understanding received from the blessed apostle Paul, in so far as the Lord shall see fit to illuminate us by your prayers. (7)
According to Origen, Paul’s method of interpretation (the revelation) was a general principle that could be applied to all of the Bible. He warns us that if we merely read the Bible as a history book and not as a spiritual guide, we will reject Christ like the Jews did.
Although we have covered a lot of ground in this article and given you something to ponder, the main point is that understanding the Word—the revealed Word of Christ—through the revelation of the Holy Spirit is how one comes to know the truth. The Early Church opposed anyone who did not adhere to the same teaching since they were all united in their understanding of the Bible. We need to get back to the sound doctrine that the apostles and the early church taught if we want to free the Church and see the signs, wonders, healing and deliverance that the Word promises us. Let us press on to dig into the truth that sets us free!
1. Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of The Bible “law” (H8451)
2. Justin Martyr, The Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter XXXV [Emphasis added]
3. Strong’s Bible Dictionary: ‘deep’ (G899)
4. Complete Word Study Dictionary: ‘deep’ (G899)
5. Thayer’s Dictionary: ‘reveal’ (G601)
6. Origen, Homily on Leviticus, Homily V, Ch 1 [Emphasis added]
7. Origen, Homily on Exodus, Homily V [Emphasis added]
All scripture references from The Holy Bible: New King James Version: NKJV. Thomas Nelson, 2010 (bold emphasis added throughout).