Book Reviews

Right Texts, Wrong Meanings

Busting Myths from Popular New Testament Texts

Sam Tsang Eugene, OR 2013

In this little volume, Sam Tsang targets commonly misinterpreted texts in an attempt to help the average evangelical churchgoer better understand the Bible. After a brief introduction explaining the need and method for the study, he covers 28 passages for comment (some passages have more than one issue involved). He divides these into narrative (13 passages from the Gospels: Matt. 7:1–12; 11:28–30; ch. 18; Mark 6:14–29; 11:22–25; Luke 2:1–20; 6:17–26; 10:38–42; 11:1–13; ch. 15; 16:1–15; 21:1–4; John 10:1–21), letters (12 passages: Rom. 8:28; ch. 13; 1 Cor. 6:12–20; 11:1; 2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 2:14; 2:20; 6:10–18; Phil. 2:5; 1 Tim. 4:8; 2 Tim. 3:16; Jas. 3:1–2), and Revelation (3 passages: Rev. 3:16–20; 7:1–17 and 14:1–5; 22:18–19).

Each passage is covered in a similar manner. After a title intended to catch the reader’s attention and the NIV translation of the verses under examination, Tsang approaches them in a six-part manner. For example, Tsang’s discussion of Revelation 3:16–20 is entitled, “Lukewarm? An Invitation to Unbelievers?” (p. 155). The question marks are intended to cast doubt on common interpretations. Then Tsang discusses that popular idea of the text. Most are familiar with the views that the lukewarm Christian is someone who is neither excitedly serving God (hot) nor ignoring God (cold) (3:16) and that Jesus is asking the unbeliever to let him into his or her heart in order to experience salvation (3:20) (p. 155). The second section discusses the context within the book and asks where this passage begins and ends. In this case, these verses occur within the message to the Laodicean church (3:14–22) (p. 156). This orients the reader to where the passage falls within the larger argument and message of the book.

After a brief introduction to apocalyptic literature, a section unique to this chapter (pp. 156–58), Tsang begins his third section, which focuses on the meaning of the text. Here Tsang brings in historical and other contextual points that support his interpretation. First, he discusses geographical information that makes it clear that “lukewarm” is referring not to “spiritual temperature” but rather to usefulness (pp. 158–59). The terms “hot” and “cold” refer to healing springs and refreshing water respectively (pp. 158–59). Second, the message to the Laodiceans was to Christians. Through arrogance and their own means, they did not depend on Christ and left him outside (p. 159). John hopes this message will reveal their true spiritual state and allow Jesus back into the church’s experience (p. 159). Fourth, Tsang provides application for today. There are many parallels between the church in Laodicea and the evangelical church in America, and we must not allow our wealth to render our churches “useless” (p. 160). Fifth, Tsang provides instruction on how to avoid interpretive mistakes. He helpfully warns the reader not to impose what is culturally normal for us (e.g., our understanding of “lukewarm”) on the text (pp. 160–61). Instead, the reader should look for clues that may lead to the proper interpretation. In this case, concerning the spiritual temperature view, why would Jesus prefer anyone to be “cold” (pp. 160–61)? The final section includes questions for discussion. These are simple and pointed, such as “How does lukewarm apply to the church?” (p. 161).

Tsang ends the volume with a conclusion that essentially summarizes potential problems and the means by which to avoid them.

There is much of interest in this little volume. Although Tsang’s emphasis is on misinterpretations, for a reader without a planned approach to Bible study, this six-part methodology can be helpful.

Readers may quibble over the selection of passages as well as some of Tsang’s interpretations. However, most will acknowledge these passages are often misunderstood. Tsang usually puts forth an extreme misinterpretation, and he usually includes an anecdote in which he was exposed to this version of the view. Dealing with the extreme version makes it easier to discuss directly. This will make it easier to follow for many who are unaware of some of the finer nuances that scholars discuss.

Also, readers must keep in mind that the focus here is on misinterpreted texts, not necessarily difficult texts. Problem passages such as John 15:1–6, Hebrews 6:4–6, and James 2:14–26 are not commented upon.

This volume is aimed at the layperson who has been exposed to considerable Bible teaching. Such readers will benefit much from this book. The interpretations are challenging and may cause the reader to dig deeper into the Bible. However, scholars will not find much help here. There is no interaction with commentaries and no sources are provided for the misinterpretations or Tsang’s preferred interpretations. Nevertheless, Tsang’s reasoning is usually sound and easy to follow. Each of these passages is handled in a manageable chapter, usually around five pages long. Also, Tsang’s work can be revealing for pastors and other more seasoned Bible students in order to help them understand how people whom they teach and with whom they interact view Scripture.

 

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