Expectations, Greed, and Hyperbole in the New Testament

Check your Superlatives at the Door

Every store cannot be the best. Every daughter cannot be the cutest. Every spouse cannot be the kindest and sweetest. There is a store, a daughter, and a spouse that wears the crown, but we humans may never know because of our biases and hypocrisies. The Bible contains 59 superlatives (adjectives and adverbs). They are not always absolute. There is a relation between these superlatives and the idea being presented. Perhaps the most popular adjective is “all”, naturally superlative. When Paul, for example, writes that “We shall all be changed”, there is no exception. When our Lord predicts that “all that are in their graves shall hear the Son’s voice…” there is no exception. Some other superlatives need to be checked at the door.

God’s Unique Superior Position

When Scripture tells us that God is above all, there is no question about what this position means. He does not share it with anyone.

God is above all gods, above all the earth, above all nations, above the heavens, and His word is above all His name (his word is the ultimate authority)

  • For the LORD [is] a great God, and a great King above all gods. Psalm 95:3

  • For thou, LORD, [art] high above all the earth: thou art exalted far above all gods. Psalm 97:9

  • The LORD [is] high above all nations, [and] his glory above the heavens. Psalm 113:4

  • I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name. Psalm 138:2

Other Uniqueness, Natural and Enhanced

It is not unusual to hear someone talking about his or her personal uniqueness. Every human being has this, but Scripture distinguishes individuals for particular traits or generally. We find that Moses was so singled out for meekness. (Now the man Moses [was] very meek, above all the men which [were] upon the face of the earth.) (Numbers 12:3 ) and John the Baptist (Matt 11:11, Luke 7:28) “no greater” born of woman.

Even the Hebrew nation had a unique pedigree. Every nation is distinct but a conditional arrangement was in place to create superiority for the Israelite nation. The purpose is clearly stated in Deut. 7:6 and the conditions in Deut. 28:1.

For thou [art] an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that [are] upon the face of the earth. Deut 7:6

And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe [and] to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: Deut 28:1

The descendants of Abraham during the monarchy earned for themselves a reputation as more evil than all their forebears by provoking God with their sins.

And Judah did evil in the sight of the LORD, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins which they had committed, above all that their fathers had done. 1 Kings 14:22

God is Rich to All

For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. (Romans 10:12)

You do not need a certain amount of faith to be treated well by God. You cannot have several things that are above all. How can several virtues be above all? Is (the shield of faith really above all? Or is it love that is needed above all? Or is it unvarnished speech as James says?

Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. Eph. 6:16

And above all these things [put on] charity, which is the bond of perfectness. Col. 3:14

And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and [your] nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation. James 5:12

Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth. 3 John 1:2

From the ignorance and dissension and debates it is quite obvious that not all believers are taught all things, not that Holy Spirit is not teaching, but that many believers shun learning. They merely want to live a fairytale and Pollyanna lifestyle. They are people who never had enough to eat and had less than adequate clothing, so now they turn to God to try to fill these temporal gaps.

Education that Covers all Things

There is no need for anyone to teach us because we are anointed (1 John 2:27) and God knows everything (1 John 3:20).

I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. Phil. 4:12

Heb. 4:15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as [we are, yet] without sin.

Lifestyle that Covers all Things

Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. Heb. 13:18

If any man speak, [let him speak] as the oracles of God; if any man minister, [let him do it] as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:11

Abraham was blessed in all things, according to Genesis 24:1

And Abraham was old, and well stricken in age: and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things.

In the narrative that follows verses 2 to the end of chapter 24 we learn that Abraham had no wife for his son and heir. This was a unlikely condition to foster the promises. Abraham’s blessing was obviously incomplete.

By far the most obvious hyperbole in the phrase “above all”.

When Scripture says that Christ is above all the assertion is absolute.

John 3:31  He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.

What then when it says that the Father is above all?

Ephesians 4:6  One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

The shield of faith, to be our priority.

Ephesians 4:6  One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

Love is to be our priority.

  • Colossians 3:14  And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.

  • 1 Peter 4:8  And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.

Oath-less speech is to be our priority.

James 5:12  But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

Picking out superlatives and building theories on them is poor practice. This phenomenon should be called racing away from the finish because a journey or race has (1) starting blocks, (2) the course, and (3) the finish. It has become popular to fast-forward resurrection, eternal judgment, the eternal kingdom, the immortality of man, and the perfect fellowship with God. The phenomenon is rooted in the destructive idea that gain is godliness.

Superlatives ought to be reserved for divinity, but where they do apply to creatures, we had better be aware that humankind is on a downward spiral, and superlatives are daily being degraded to mere comparatives. The zenith in human achievement has been reached. Just ask the investigators into mega-structures of the ancient world. No amount of gee-whiz technology can make a nation in modern times the greatest. As for righteous and courageous persons the pinnacle, as we see it today, is still Abraham, Daniel, Moses, Peter, James, John and Paul. These were humble individuals whose life experience still blows us away. So please be careful when you use superlatives.