GCI Update

How to understand the Bible

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach
Joseph and Tammy Tkach

The Bible is one of the world’s most accessible books, having been translated into most of the world’s major languages [1], and in many of those languages, made available in multiple versions. People with computers, tablets, or smartphones are able to download the Bible for free, and even hear it read aloud. Yet, with this accessibility, many people do not read the Bible. Thankfully, most Christians do, but do they understand what they are reading?

The Holy Bible (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
public domain, Wikimedia Commons

Few of the early Christians had access to Scripture, and even when they did, most were unable to read. As a result, learning in the early church came mostly through oral teaching, which often included the reading of letters from the apostles that were circulated among the churches. A few churches had scrolls of the Old Testament translated into Greek, but again, most early Christians could not read.

Some house churches had cabinets (similar to those used in Jewish synagogues) in which they stored letters from the apostles and others. Which letters each congregation possessed varied. Most probably had copies of some or all of the Gospels, a few of Paul’s letters, a letter or two from John and other apostles, and perhaps a copy of the Acts of the Apostles. Many had a copy of a story from someone called The Shepherd, along with letters from a Roman pastor named Clement. Most would not have had copies of some of the letters we now find in the New Testament—Hebrews and 2 Peter, for example. When gathering for worship, many early Christians made use of what we call the Apostles’ Creed (they called it the Rule of Faith), which summarized the apostles’ teaching concerning God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Despite this diversity in teaching resources, the New Testament churches experienced great unity, due largely to the oral teaching based on stories of Jesus and letters from the apostles, understood in light of the rule of faith. This teaching gave them the common, grand understanding that Scripture holds out for us today, namely that all Scripture is about Jesus. Jesus was what the early Christians taught, and what they shared with others. Jesus was (and still is) the gospel.

One thing is sure—when early Christians gathered, they were not arguing over the correct days for ancient Israel’s festivals, the meaning of Hebrew words, or the necessity of learning Hebrew to know God’s love and plan for them. Even the apostles, who as good Jews had observed the festivals, understood that the festivals were part of the old covenant of promise, which pointed to the ultimate fulfillment of the covenant in Jesus (through his life, death, resurrection and ascension). They never taught that Israel’s holy days revealed anything but Jesus.

It is disappointing that among those who read and even regularly study the Bible, interpretations have developed ranging from slight variations in understanding, to totally missing the point. This happens for a number of reasons, but I want to point out one that plagues Sabbatarians in particular. Reading that God rested on the seventh day, then gave Israel the command to rest on the seventh day, Sabbatarians use the Sabbath as the “lens” through which they read and interpret all Scripture. In doing so they completely miss that the Sabbath command was about a covenant grounded in a particular place and time, having largely to do with promises concerning the Promised Land. But before we judge the flaw in their thinking, we must admit that many of us have had the experience of hardening our mental defenses against those who tell us that seventh-day Sabbath observance is not part of an obedient Christian’s life.

The pharisees question Jesus by Tissot (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
The Pharisees Question Jesus by Tissot (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Sabbatarians are mistaken in using a lens other than Jesus to interpret Scripture. Jesus warned of this error when he said this to the experts in the Law of Moses (the Torah):

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40)

Jesus was not saying there is something wrong with the Torah—he was criticizing their use of it as their lens to interpret Scripture. Jesus is to be that lens, and that is why he proclaimed himself Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:5). Jesus called upon the experts in the Law (and all people) to interpret the Sabbath in terms of who he is, not in terms of any preunderstanding they might have concerning the Sabbath.

The apostle John had this truth concerning Jesus’ primacy emphasized to him by an angel:

The angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.” (Revelation 19:9-10)

Scripture and prophecy are not unlocked and understood by anything other than the One to whom they point—Jesus Christ. He (and he alone) is the focus of all Scripture—not geo-political alliances, not British-Israelism, and not Israel’s seven festivals. God has given us the New Testament, which, through the lens of Jesus, interprets the Old Testament. When we use the Old Testament to interpret the New Testament, we make the mistake of doing it “bass-ackwards,” as the old spoonerism goes. An insistence on keeping the Sabbath on a particular day in order to be righteous before God is a prime example of this mistake. Beware of anyone telling you differently!

The Sabbath was given to point us to Jesus, not the other way around. The Old Testament Sabbath is a sign, which like all signs is given to point to its fulfillment—its reality. The commandment to “keep the Sabbath holy” is magnified under the New Covenant. Under the old covenant, the tabernacle and later the temple were holy because God made them his place of dwelling among his people. This was a temporary arrangement designed to point to Jesus coming and making his dwelling among us. Once Jesus fulfilled his atoning work on the cross, leading to his resurrection and ascension, he moved from dwelling among us (John 1:14) to living in us through the Spirit (Ephesians 3:16-17). God, through Jesus, by the Spirit, now dwells in us, making us and all our time holy. Under the old covenant, God’s people sought a holy closeness to God once a week; under the new covenant, we are given a new life with Jesus living in us and transforming us from the inside out. It is no longer a once-a-week time with God, it is now a new life in him and he in us. Jesus, and not any day, is our Sabbath rest, and so we celebrate him when we gather as his people.

When we read the Bible, we do so to help us see Jesus—to help us learn from and about him. We read the Bible to help us understand that, by the Spirit, Christ lives in us as we respond to him in faith, hope and love. We read Holy Scripture to help us see God’s faithfulness for his beloved throughout all history—working all things in preparation for the turning point of history—the Incarnation, which was God’s plan from before the foundation of the world. We read the Bible to remind us that we are God’s chosen ones—made holy and righteous through Jesus. We read the Bible to see how God has invited us to join him in his continuing work of revealing himself to others so they too can know the true lens of life, Jesus Christ. We read the Bible because it is the written word of God designed to always point us to the living Word, Jesus, our Lord.

Reading the Bible with joy, through the lens of Jesus,
Joseph Tkach


[1] As noted by Wycliffe Global Alliance, though there has been much progress in recent years, much more needs to be done to get the Bible into the hands of all people groups on earth. There currently are about 7000 languages in active use in the world, and at least one book of Scripture exists in over 2,900 of these languages. However, of the (approximately) 7.2 billion people on earth, about 1.5 billion of them do not have the full Bible available in their first language, though over 663 million of these have the New Testament. For more information on this topic, click here.

Nepal update

GCI Mission Developer Rod Matthews provided this update on our ministry in the nation of Nepal. 

Not long ago the Nepalese government had been targeting Christian pastors who run orphanages—accusing them of teaching Christianity to the children to convert them from Hinduism. Several pastors were arrested and the children in their orphanages removed. Our ministry partner there, Deben Sam, had requested our prayers about this persecution. Last month we were relieved to hear that the government of Nepal had changed and a new alliance between Maoists and the Nepali Congress Party had come to power. The new Prime Minister, Pushpa Karmal Dahal of the Maoist Party, has taken no further action to arrest pastors as before. However, we understand that there is a developing political and social environment against Christianity and all religious conversion. While the three main political parties espouse support for a secular state with religious freedom, each has notable leaders whose personal agenda is for the reinstatement of a Hindu kingdom.

Himalayan Bible School groups

Deben Sam continues to ask for our support through prayers for his ministry through the Himalayan Gospel Church and his work in supporting orphaned children and those whose remaining parent cannot support their children. Each summer, the Himalayan Gospel Church takes a Mobile Bible School (MBS) to the rural villages of this mountainous country (see pictures above). This event, lasting several days, is hosted by a local congregation or Christian group and is a highlight for those who can attend.

This year, with Deben having been unable to travel due to his illness, the MBS was conducted by his brother-in-law, Raju, and the Kathmandu congregation’s Pastor Joseph. So far, seven locations have been served by the MBS and Deben mentioned that if circumstances permit, they will try to fit in another four or five before winter. From these MBS locations, about 12 students will be chosen to attend the Himalayan Bible School in Kathmandu starting in February each year and lasting three months. During that time, intensive classes are held for six days each week, before the students return to their home areas to apply what they have learned in the service of the local church, and in evangelistic efforts in their local areas.

Liberia update

This update on ministry activity in Liberia is from GCI Mission Developer Kalengule Kaoma.

robert-browne-iiI returned recently from Monrovia, Liberia, where I officiated at the funeral of GCI Liberia National Director, Robert T. Browne II (pictured at right).

The funeral service was held in GCI Liberia’s main church hall in Gardnersville, Monrovia. The hundreds of mourners included friends, relatives, pastors from neighboring churches, Christians from various churches, and community and political leaders. Robert touched many lives. He will be missed.


On Sunday October 30, I met with church leaders and their families (pictured below) from our four GCI congregations in Monrovia. The meeting looked at the future of GCI in Liberia. These leaders are eager and willing to continue working with GCI. After prayer and examining a few scriptures about leadership transitions, we sought God’s guidance by asking the leaders whether Pastor Robert had left anyone in position to continue in his leadership role. Robert’s widow, Deddeh O. Browne, had been designated to succeed her husband and the leaders were happy with this transitional assignment for “Mother” Browne, as they call her.


20161101_132951Bishop Davies, one of the leaders who worked with Bishop Browne, attended part of the meeting and commended the GCI Liberia leadership team for accepting Mrs. Browne (pictured at right) as the successor to GCI Liberia national leadership.

I plan to return to Liberia in the first quarter of 2017 to affirm Mrs. Browne’s leadership, and to continue working with the leadership team there. The pastors there are young and inexperienced, though they have lots of zeal and energy and are willing to work. Please pray for them all.

Here is a hand-written thankyou note to me from the Liberian leaders:



Advent-Christmas resources

The November edition of GCI Equipper provides resources to help congregations and ministries prepare for the upcoming Advent-Christmas season. Here are links to the five articles in that issue:

From Greg: Humanizing humanity
Greg Williams reminds us of a central truth of the Advent-Christmas season: Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, has humanized our humanity.

Advent-Christmas celebration resources
Here is a series of GCI-produced Advent videos and other resources to enhance your worship in the upcoming Advent-Christmas season.


Use Christmas for outreach
Heber Ticas offers tips about how a congregation can use Advent-Christmas as an opportunity to connect with unchurched people.

Sermon summary: God’s “one and only”
Lance McKinnon’s sermon celebrates the Incarnation of God’s “one and only” Son, who has included us with him in the “bosom” of the Father.

Kids Korner: Use Christmas to teach kids about Christ
Ted Johnston notes how children’s ministers can use Christmas as a “teachable moment” for showing kids how much God loves them.

Joanna D’Costa

Joseph and Joanna
Joseph and Joanna

Thanks for your prayers for Joanna D’Costa, wife of GCI-India Pastor Joseph D’Costa.

We thank God that Joanna has recovered fully from the stroke she suffered in early September. She was able to attend the church’s recent family festival in South India near Mysore, and is now back at work, doing, as Joseph put it, “What she does best – teaching French!” Joseph said that she is also focusing on improving her general condition and health; and that “Our God is truly a great healer who brought her from near death to life.”

Deben Sam

10Deben Sam
Deben Sam

Some time ago we requested prayer for Deben Sam, our ministry partner in Kathmandu (capital city of Nepal). Deben had been hospitalized due to various symptoms that could not be positively diagnosed.

We thank God that Deben is now at home recovering, though he still suffers from occasional dizzy spells and ringing in his head. His doctors have advised him to minimize his time on the computer and phones so that he gets complete rest.

Please continue to pray for Deben’s complete healing.

Movie: “The Shack”

A movie currently in production will bring to the screen Paul Young’s best-selling book, The Shack. The movie (with the same title as the book) will be released in select U.S. theaters on March 3, 2017. To learn more about the movie, click here.

shack shack-ad