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Thu, 26 Oct 2023 Feature Article

Contextualizing Deuteronomy 28: The Misuse of Scripture in Prosperity Gospel Teachings

Contextualizing Deuteronomy 28: The Misuse of Scripture in Prosperity Gospel Teachings
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Deuteronomy 28 is a crucial passage within the Old Testament that outlines the blessings and curses associated with the Mosaic Covenant between God and the Israelites. This passage is often used by prosperity gospel proponents to argue that God promises material prosperity and abundance to those who follow Him. However, a careful exegesis of this scripture within the context of the Old Testament covenant reveals several reasons why it cannot be used to preach prosperity:

Prosperity gospel preachers often resort to eisegesis rather than proper exegesis when interpreting this passage. To understand this issue better, let us delve into exegesis and eisegesis. We will also examine how the context of the scripture in an agrarian economy differs from urban settings where prosperity preachers spread their messages.

Exegesis is the practice of drawing out the meaning of a text based on careful analysis of the context, historical background, language, and cultural elements. It seeks to uncover the author's original intent and the message they intended to convey to their audience. In interpreting biblical passages like Deuteronomy 28, exegesis involves understanding the historical and covenantal framework in which these verses were written. It also involves understanding their relevance to the original audience.

Conversely, eisegesis involves reading ideas and interpretations into a Biblical text rather than extracting its original meaning. It is a subjective approach that often distorts the text's intended message. Prosperity gospel preachers are often criticized for resorting to eisegesis, as they tend to overlay modern concepts of financial wealth and prosperity onto passages like Deuteronomy 28, interpreting them through the lens of personal wealth and success.

Deuteronomy 28 is part of God's covenant with the Israelites through Moses. This covenant is specific to Israel and its historical context, not a universal promise of prosperity to all people for all time. It was a conditional covenant, meaning God's blessings were contingent upon the Israelites' obedience to His laws. This is clear in Deuteronomy 28:1, which states that blessings will come "if you fully obey the Lord your God."

Anyone who took high school geometry or logic understands an if-then statement. An "if-then" statement is a logical construct used in mathematics, logic, and everyday language to express a conditional relationship between two propositions or events. It typically says: If condition A is true, then condition B will be the result or consequence.

For example, in everyday language, you might say, "If it rains (condition A), then the ground will be wet (condition B). A specific set of instructions will be executed if a particular condition is met. Deuteronomy 28:2-14 talks about the blessings they would receive if they obeyed the covenant laws. Verses 15-61 deal mainly with curses if they disobeyed the covenant laws.

Most verses in Deuteronomy 28:15-61 describe the curses upon the Israelites for their disobedience. These curses include suffering, disease, famine, and loss of material possessions. It is misleading to focus solely on the blessings without acknowledging the severe consequences of disobedience outlined in this passage.

Many Christians criticize and debate prosperity preachers' selective use of scriptures. They often lean on passages like Deuteronomy 28:1-14 to support their teachings on prosperity, emphasizing the blessings of following the old covenant law. These blessings might include material wealth, health, and success.

However, they tend to conveniently skip over Deuteronomy 28:15 and beyond. This describes the curses for failing to follow the law. These curses include various hardships and adversities. This selective approach to scripture allows them to create a narrative centered on prosperity while avoiding the less desirable aspects of the Old Testament.

Prosperity preachers then turn to Galatians 3:13 to justify why they are not under the Old Testament covenantal laws: stating that "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us." This verse is interpreted to mean that through Jesus' sacrifice, believers are freed from the condemnation and burdens of the law, finding redemption through faith in Christ.

Critics argue that this cherry-picking of verses can lead to a skewed and unbalanced understanding of the Bible. They believe it oversimplifies complex theological concepts and can potentially mislead followers who may not get a complete picture of the scriptures. Additionally, it can raise concerns about the motivations behind such teachings, especially when they seem to focus primarily on material prosperity.

The prosperity gospel often applies Old Testament promises directly to contemporary Christian life, but these promises were given to a specific group at a particular time. The Israelites were an agrarian society with an unusual relationship with God, and their experiences cannot directly be equated to modern Christian contexts.

One critical aspect often overlooked in the prosperity gospel interpretation of Deuteronomy 28 is the economic context. The blessings and curses outlined in this passage are primarily applied to an agrarian economy. The prosperity gospel is often preached in urban areas where political elites, bureaucrats, affluent businessmen, and women are the primary audience with easy money to give. In urban settings, the economic dynamics and challenges significantly differ from those of an agrarian society. One needs to ask, how many of these sweet talkers operate in poverty-stricken rural areas? Applying Deuteronomy 28 promises and curses directly to modern city contexts overlooks fundamental economic, social, and cultural disparities.

.Selectively using scriptures to emphasize prosperity while glossing over Old Testament curses and responsibilities is a point of contention. It highlights the importance of a comprehensive and contextual interpretation of religious texts. It also highlights the potential consequences of cherry-picking verses to support a particular theological narrative.

With Jesus Christ, the New Covenant came into effect. In the New Testament, Jesus and the apostles teach a different perspective on material wealth. They emphasize spiritual riches and God's eternal kingdom rather than temporal prosperity. For example, Jesus warns against earthly wealth (Matthew 6:19-24) and calls for sacrificial living (Mark 10:17-27).

In summary, Deuteronomy 28 is a passage within the Old Testament that outlines blessings and curses specific to the Mosaic Covenant between God and the Israelites. It cannot legitimately be used to preach prosperity in a universal and unqualified sense, as it was given in a historical and cultural context with conditions attached. When interpreting biblical passages, it is essential to consider the context, audience, and broader teachings of the Bible. This is especially true in light of the New Covenant ushered in by Jesus Christ.

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