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Stones to Bread Revisited

“But He answered and said, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”’

Most readers will recognize these words from Matthew 4:4 as those spoken by Jesus when confronted by Satan in the wilderness and challenged to prove that He was the Son of God by turning the stones into bread. While I can’t imagine a Christian questioning Jesus’ answer, based on things I’m reading and hearing from some of my brethren, I’m convinced that if this had been said or written by a gospel preacher it would have been criticized in one or more of the following ways.

  • I noticed you quoted from the Septuagint, but are you sure it translated the Hebrew correctly here? The Septuagint is not a bad translation, but a lot has been learned about Hebrew in the last 250 years. Unless you have done sufficient research on the original language, I would be hesitant to rely too heavily on a translation that old. 
  • Have you ever stopped to think that you are reading Deuteronomy as a 1st-century inhabitant of Galilee when these words were spoken to a people who had been wandering in the Sinai wilderness for 40 years? To a people living in a barren land like that bread may have had a different meaning.
  • While everyone recognizes there are portions of the Scripture that contain Law, in Deuteronomy 8 Moses is telling a story, and it’s a perversion of the original to go over a narrative in that manner and pick commandments from it that you turn into law. In those sections we need simply to read the story and learn to be more like Moses and other faithful men and women who loved the Lord their God.
  • While your interpretation of Deuteronomy 8:4 has been the prevailing one taught in the stricter synagogues for some time, we must be willing to challenge orthodoxy and not be trapped in a traditional mindset.
  • Why must you come across as so rigid in your approach to questions like this? I can understand why you may not be comfortable with turning stones to bread, and if that’s the case, then don’t do it. But why bind your interpretation on everyone else? 

Lest anyone misunderstand, I believe studying the original languages of Scripture, viz. Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, can be very helpful and would recommend such study to anyone who has the time and opportunity. However, when New Testament speakers and writers quoted from the Old Testament, more often than not, they relied on the Septuagint (a Greek translation begun ca. 280 B.C.), rather than cite the “original Hebrew.” Today, we have multiple translations done by large committees of the best Hebrew and Greek scholars available, so let’s be careful not to imply that “real” knowledge of the Scriptures is only for those who have studied the original languages.

Anyone who has heard me teach or preach knows I put great emphasis on knowing the context of passages. We must know who is speaking, to whom, under what circumstances, etc., and I appreciate those who call attention to the error of making passages mean something the writer never intended. However, some are carrying the importance of “historical context” to such an extreme that we are left with one of two ideas. Listening to some would leave you convinced that we can never know the truth on a subject because we can never properly relate to their circumstances. This goes against everything the New Testament says about truth and our ability to know and understand it (John 8:3132Ephesians 3:3-5; et al). The second option is that we become dependent upon the elite among us who must enlighten us on these matters. Aren’t both points refuted when Paul wrote to the predominantly Gentile Corinthian church and, without a long and extensive course in understanding the ancient Hebrew culture, made reference to the Passover and other Old Testament occurrences in 1 Corinthians 5 and 10? If Macedonian Gentiles could relate to Middle Eastern Jewish history, is there any reason we can’t do the same with both the Old and the New Testaments? Context does matter, but it is neither unknowable nor the exclusive property of the elites. 

In recent years I have read a lot about the narrative portions of Scripture and how we must not make the mistake of reading them as law, or going through them expecting to find laws. However, if Jesus would look to Psalm 82:6, a piece of poetry, and call it “law,” “the word of God” and “the Scripture,” perhaps we should not be so quick to decide that narrative can’t contain God’s commandments. Since James used the story of Rahab and the spies to teach a lesson on faith and works, shouldn’t we seek to discern the will of God in all of Scripture? (See Matthew 7:21 and 2 Timothy 3:1617.)

Defenders of traditionalism and so-called orthodoxy will not find a friend in me; I believe very strongly that we always need to maintain the spirit of an open-minded quest for truth (Acts 17:1011). However, the problem I see is that far too many are no longer searching for truth as something attainable. They question everything anyone before them has believed; they denounce as mere traditionalism everything practiced and taught by those who have gone before them, yet they offer no truth in exchange. While Jesus frequently attacked the traditional interpretations of the scribes and Pharisees, in return He offered a, “but I say to you….” Our Lord promised that truth could be known (John 8:32), and we need to be committed to knowing and practicing it. And let’s remember that truth is determined by God (John 17:17) and is neither validated nor invalidated by the number of people before us who have believed it. 

May we all long earnestly for God’s word (1 Peter 2:1-3) and grow in our ability to handle it properly, thus discerning right and wrong and being able to teach others (Hebrews 5:12-14). May God help us all to develop the meekness and honesty of application spoken of in James 1:21-25Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”

All quotes are taken from the New King James Version, copyright 1994, Thomas Nelson Publishers.