What should we do when our interpretations of Scripture differ? To know what to separate over, and what we can agree to disagree on requires much wisdom, so let us discuss it.
In Acts 15 Order and other studies, we show that there are five points which we all must obey (or a separation must occur). These first four points are idolatry (which is spiritual immorality), sexual immorality, strangled (including unclean) meats, and blood.
Ma’asei (Acts) 15:19-21
19 Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are (re)turning to Elohim,
20 but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.
21 For Moshe has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
We discuss the exact definitions of these first four points in other places, but the fifth requirement is to submit to the synagogue leadership. This is implied by verse 21 (and it is required because Yahweh is an Elohim of order). If we refuse to obey any of these five things, we may not enter the assembly.
Beginners can enter into fellowship by obeying just these five things. However, leaders and teachers need to agree on almost everything, lest they cause confusion by their preaching. However, it is very difficult to agree on almost everything. Even most husbands and wives have some differences of opinion, so what must we absolutely agree on, and what can we agree to disagree on? Let us search this out further.
Some things are non-negotiable not because of any man’s private interpretation, but because of objective reality. For example, if we do not all share the calendar we will not meet on the same days, and this will make it impossible to worship together.
To make things more interesting, some issues are vitally important, and yet there is more than one interpretation possible. An example of this is with the sacred names. This is without doubt a very important issue, because the Third Commandment speaks of the importance of Yahweh’s name.
Shemote (Exodus) 20:7
7 “You shall not take the name of Yahweh your Elohim in vain, for Yahweh will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”
In Hebrew, this can be read as, “You shall not bring the name of Yahweh your Elohim to nothing, for Yahweh your Elohim will not hold him guiltless who brings His name to nothing.” Based on this, some groups who pronounce His name one way will often attack other groups who have different pronunciations (because they consider that other pronunciations “bring His name to nothing”), even though it is not truly possible to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt what the exact specific pronunciation of His name truly is.
I personally believe our Father’s name is pronounced Yahweh (and not Yehovah), for a variety of reasons. Yet I don’t think it is wise to take offense if another brother pronounces His name as “Yehovah”, or even some other pronunciation, because despite my strong convictions, it cannot be conclusively proven either way. Also, the concept of a “name” in Hebrew has more to do with one’s reputation (or fame) than it has to do with any specific pronunciation. Further, Yahweh does not say that we must pronounce it a certain way, or we are “going to hell.” I believe Yeshua will straighten out when He returns, so in the meantime as long as another believer is trying to pronounce the Hebrew letters Yod-Hay-Vav-Hey to the best of his convictions, it is not an issue to divide (or argue) over.
When there are disagreements, the first thing to do is to focus on what the letter of Scripture says. Then once we agree on the letter, then we can discuss the interpretation. Some interpretations are valid (and lead to good), whereas other interpretations are not valid (and lead to evil). But in our interpreting, we also need to make sure not to add anything, or take anything away, as this is strictly prohibited, and bears an extreme penalty. For example:
Hitgalut (Revelation) 22:18-19
18 “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, Elohim will add to him the plagues that are written in this book;
19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, Elohim shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the set-apart city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
Yet even when do not add or subtract, still we need to use wisdom. For example, we need to know if we should take a passage at its face value (literally), or if it is best understood in a spiritual sense, or even as poetry. We have to get this correct, or we will misunderstand the meaning of the passage. That is to say that while most times we need to take Scripture at its face value, there are times when we should not. A good example of this is Daniel chapter 2, where Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had a dream about a statue set up on the earth in five parts.
31 “You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome.
32 This image’s head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze,
33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.
34 You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces.
35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.”
However, this dream did not mean that we should expect to see a literal statue set up on the earth in five parts. Rather, it meant that the world would be conquered by a series of five empires, all of which would be Babylonian in nature, but that one day Yahweh would strike it down with a righteous government of His set-apart ones, and that His righteous government would rule the earth.
36 “This is the dream. Now we will tell the interpretation of it before the king.
37 You, O king, are a king of kings. For the Elohim of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory;
38 and wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all — you are this head of gold.
39 But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth.
40 And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others.
41 Whereas you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; yet the strength of the iron shall be in it, just as you saw the iron mixed with ceramic clay.
42 And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile.
43 As you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay.
44 And in the days of these kings the Elohim of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.”
The point is that if we try to interpret this literally, we will look for a literal statue to be set up on the earth, and we will miss Yahweh’s prophetic and spiritual meaning. There are many other examples we could use, including the bottomless pit of Revelation.
Hitgalut (Revelation) 20:1-3
1 Then I saw a messenger coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
2 He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;
3 and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.
If we take this passage literally, we should expect to find a bottomless pit here on earth. The only problem with that is that there is no physical bottomless pit here on earth. (I have had some people tell me that the earth is hollow, and that the opening to the bottomless pit is at the north and south poles. I have had other people tell me that this refers to the Marianas Trench, which is very deep. However, these answers do not work.)
Another example is how the book of Revelation calls for a literal lake of fire.
Hitgalut (Revelation) 19:20
20 Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.
As devout as we might want to be, it does not work to look for a literal lake of fire here on earth, because there is no literal lake of fire. (A brother once insisted that there is so much salt in the Dead Sea that it could catch fire, but the problem with that is that salt does not burn.) So, what makes more sense is to understand that the book of Revelation is a vision, and to treat it as such.
There are also many places where Scripture is poetic. It is even considered that there are three different kinds of poetry in Scripture, including lyric poetry (accompanied by music, as in the Psalms), didactic poetry (which uses maxims to communicate basic principles of life, such as in the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes), and dramatic poetry, which uses dialog to communicate a message (such as in Job and the Song of Solomon). It doesn’t make sense to take poetry, and demand it be taken literally.
Iyov (Job) 38:4-11
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone,
7 When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of Elohim shouted for joy?
8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors, When it burst forth and issued from the womb;
9 When I made the clouds its garment, And thick darkness its swaddling band;
10 When I fixed My limit for it, And set bars and doors;
11 When I said, ‘This far you may come, but no farther, And here your proud waves must stop!’
If we take this verse literally (instead of as poetry), then we should expect to find doors for the sea (verse 8). We should also seek to find the womb from which the sea burst forth. However, where is this hypothetical womb? We should also look for bars on the doors of the sea (verse 10), but no such bars exist. Therefore, as devout as we may be, we should realize that this is dramatic poetry, which uses dialogue to communicate a message (which in this case is that no matter how good our walk may be, pride in our walk is never justified).
So now we come to the Flat Earth theory. One of the many problems with Flat Earth theory is that it requires us to take poetic, prophetic, and spiritual verses as being literal. As well-intended as this may be, it just does not work. For example, the passage we just read in Job 38 speaks of a flat earth, because it says the earth has foundations, and a cornerstone (verse 6), and doors to the sea (verse 8), with bars on the sea doors (verse 10), and that the sea issued forth from a womb (verse 8). Yet since these things do not exist, should we interpret this passage literally? Or understand that it is poetry.
I do not want to rebut the Flat Earth theory point for point. Rather, I want to propose an alternate construct, for those who are willing to accept it. And that is that while the earth looks round in a physical sense, it may seem flat from Yahweh’s perspective (in a spiritual sense). To see this, let us consider what Moshe prophesied over the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 30.
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 30:1-5
1 “Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where Yahweh your Elohim drives you,
2 and you return to Yahweh your Elohim and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul,
3 that Yahweh your Elohim will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where Yahweh your Elohim has scattered you.
4 If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there Yahweh your Elohim will gather you, and from there He will bring you.
5 Then Yahweh your Elohim will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers.”
Verse 4 tells us that the children of Israel would be scattered out to the farthest parts under heaven. If we use the land of Israel as the center point of a flat map, then the “farthest parts under the heaven” would be the Christian nations. Let us consider this map (borrowed from Business Insider), which has Israel near the center of the map. Around it is a ring of Muslim nations, and around that is (almost) a ring of Christian nations, in what could qualify as “the farthest parts under heaven” from the land of Israel.
Could it be that from Yahweh’s perspective, the earth has Israel at the center, and looks flat? I believe it could.
But just because Yahweh looks at the earth as being flat in a spiritual sense, does this mean the earth has to be flat in a physical sense? No, for although the dream that King Nebuchadnezzar saw looked like a statue set up on the earth in the dream, the fulfillment of the vision was a series of empires which looked nothing like a statue.
Some devout believers insist that the earth is physically flat. While it is to their credit that they want to believe what the Scriptures say, it would be better if they were to realize that while Scripture is true, not every verse is intended to be understood literally, just as Deuteronomy 10:16 is not a command to have open-heart surgery.
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 10:16
16 Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.