Today, I would like to share another excellent post by one of my Facebook friends. This is by Barry Smith, a man whose honesty and faith walk parallel mine closely. I won’t do a long introduction, so over to Barry:
At a moment of deep disappointment while attending Bible College I cried out to God and said “I will trade everything I will ever be if you will teach me one thing. How to love.” What? You attended Bible College and didn’t love? Yep.
You see I was devoted to truth. And in the battle that rages for truth sometimes love takes a back seat. At least it did for me. I had convinced myself that speaking the truth was in fact love. Some of my friends even referred to me as ‘Prophet’ not because I saw what others didn’t. But because I would boldly deliver the truth no matter how cutting or who I wounded with my harshness. I ‘loved’ you enough to speak the truth even if it killed you. I’m not proud of this, but you need to hear this. There is truth that is devoid of love. And it cuts and wounds those who need your love the most.
Being dedicated to truth I was forbidden to love others unconditionally because I couldn’t risk devaluing truth by making someone think I condoned their sin. You see, crusaders of truth must be able to judge right from wrong which so easily spills over into judging others. Every time I would do this intellectually I felt satisfied, but my heart wasn’t satisfied.
Fast forward 25 years. In this in between time I searched for this elusive love I knew I needed. Truth would comfort me at times but it was cold. It lacked the warmth that real love offers. There is truth that brings destruction. There is also truth that brings life.
I was in a predicament because I gained my authority for truth from the Bible. Yet this same Bible told me that if I didn’t have love, I had nothing.
Then one day I was asked to do something that I intellectually did not agree with. My wife was in the same place (boy do I thank God for her). My understanding of what the Bible taught me conflicted with my heart. Being a warrior for truth this was a tough place to be. Around this same time I watched a series of documentaries. The first one I saw was called ‘Furious Love’. God absolutely body slammed me. Something inside me cracked. An awakening had taken place. I could sense this was what I had been searching for. My wife and I both ‘knew’ that we had to obey the voice inside of us that made it clear “you must do this”. I put aside for the first time in my life what I knew to be truth in order to obey the voice in my heart. I did so thinking I was doing this for someone I loved. The impact it made on them I honestly don’t even know. But I was forever changed.
Obeying the voice began an avalanche of revelation in which I discovered God is not angry with humanity. He would rather die for it than condemn it. He has chosen not to hold our sins and shortcomings against us. For the first time I could not only give lip service to the fact that He is good. I knew with everything I was that He was in actuality good. When we see a ‘prostitute’ our Heavenly Father sees a daughter. We see a drug addict He sees a son. His goodness far exceeds our comprehension.
Finally for the first time I not only knew unconditional love. But I also knew how to share it. I was no longer forbidden to love others by the Bible I knew as a book of truth. I was now compelled by the Bible, and I knew it was far more interested in love than truth. I was finally free. Feeling no obligation to judge others. No longer worried if they thought I condoned their ‘sins’ or not. I was free to love and let the judge of the universe be their judge.
I also discovered that this judge who taught me how to love was the one who encouraged me to defy the truth of the Bible. His judgment was one of restoration and not retribution. Of transformation and not condemnation. I know this may make you bristle but this isn’t truth bound between leather covers. This is the way the truth and the life that explodes into humanity’s reality and offers hope. Shouts from the mountain top that God is good and thinks more highly of you than you dare to believe.
Are you hurting? There’s hope. Are you worn out? There’s rest. Are you angry? There’s joy. Have you failed to live up to others expectations? You’re not alone. Do you want to be free? You may have to let go of something. Jesus said you search the scriptures because within them you think you find life. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
If there is anything in your life that prevents you from valuing every single person you meet as someone God unconditionally accepts. Let it go! Even if it means sacrificing your own understanding of something as valuable and worthy as the Bible. If anything contradicts love, follow love. The opposition I faced as a truth warrior was nothing compared to being a love addict. But am I ever addicted… Thanks for reading. I love you all.
After my recent blog post, sharing a friend’s testimony on how he came to value love above ‘truth’, I wanted to add in some personal observations too.
There are so many Pharisees* in Christianity today. Which is fine in one way; there were believing Pharisees in the early Church too (Acts 15:5).
But one of the main problems with today’s Pharisees is that, armed with their Bibles (unlike the early Pharisees – well, they did have Scriptures, those that could read, anyway, but they weren’t the same Scriptures…) these Pharisees have a way of ‘shutting the door of heaven in men’s faces’ (Mt 23:13) by making belief in God look so unattractive, by brandishing their Bibles, pointing out ‘sin’ in others, insisting on adherence to ‘Biblical’ Rules, and generally being obnoxious. They try to ‘evangelise’ people, and pay lip service to the ‘relationship with Jesus’, but in actuality what they are selling is more of a relationship with a book, not so much with Jesus.**
Jesus also said of these people,
“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” (Jn 5:39-40).
Or, to quote the Message translation (slightly more paraphrasing, but it gets the meaning across clearly):
“You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want” (Jn 5:39-40 Message).
Wow, that’s tremendous .
Another way of putting this is to ask the question, “Which is the most important? Jesus, or the Bible?” Any answer other than ‘Jesus’ is bordering on idolatry (or, more specifically, Bibliolatry). Even the answer ,”Well, Jesus, but….” isn’t really any good. There is no such thing as ‘Jesus, but…’. It’s Jesus first, middle and last. Period.
I don’t even know why I should need to put this in writing, but Jesus has the primacy. Always. One bloke said to me on a forum tonight that ‘Jesus never, ever, ever contradicts the Scriptures’, missing entirely the point that I was making that sometimes Jesus contradicts our interpretation of the Bible. But actually in His earthly ministry He did indeed contradict the Scriptures. ‘You have heard that it is written…do this…but I say to you….do this instead’. And He still does this today, and I realise that will look like heresy to some. When there is a choice between Jesus’s Voice and the Bible, Jesus wins every time. I think that part of the problem is that in the same way that the Pharisees of today don’t trust others to have a relationship with Jesus, so they also don’t trust themselves to have that relationship with Him either, and therefore they miss out on so much freedom.
2Tim 3:16 is the Scripture trotted out almost every time by people trying to prove the primacy of the Bible. But it says there that ‘All Scripture is useful…‘. Not essential; but useful. If Paul had meant essential, he’d have said so!***
So how can I quote Scripture in support of my arguments, like I just did, if Scripture is not infallible? Well, I have several ideas about that which I will share in a future post. But, for now, let’s just say that when God speaks a Bible passage into a believer’s heart, that is the point at which it becomes the Word of God because it is given the life and power by the Holy Spirit. I’ll leave it at that for now.
So remember, Jesus is the point of the Scriptures. The whole idea is to point us to Jesus; after that, the Scripture changes its role to support, training, encouragement and all the other things – and more! – that are listed in 2Tim3:16 – but not as Rules, and it’s not infallible, and it’s useful, not essential.
The Scriptures are there to point us to, and teach us about, Jesus. They are not there to be revered to the point where we worship the Scriptures themselves, rather than He Whom they are about.
Jesus always has the last word!
*Historical note: Pharisees were a strict sect of Judaism in Jesus’s time who tried to be right with God through obeying lots of picky little Rules as well as the ‘big’ commandments, and they also looked down on others, non-Pharisees, who did not obey the Rules like they did. Today’s Pharisees, in the Christian sense, are those people in the Church who judge others, point out ‘sin’ in others, and generally don’t get the plank out of their own eye before trying to take a speck out of someone else’s! (Mt 7:3)
**”These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught” – Isaiah 29:13, quoted by Jesus in Matthew 15:7-9
***And nowhere does the Bible itself claim to be the word of God. So actually, the idea is itself a non-Scriptural concept. Sure, God does speak through the Bible, more than any other book. But the Word of God is a Person – Jesus Christ! – and He has the supremacy (Col 1:18) It’s actually somewhere in between; yes the Bible is God’s ‘word’, but it is not all for everybody all of the time. So a passage saying to go and attack a tribe of people over there and make sure you kill all their donkeys – maybe that’s not God’s Word to you right now?
This post, after my two recent posts (here and here), completes what is almost a mini-series on the dogged insistence of some believers on following Scripture to the letter and even placing it above Jesus, and thus misusing it completely.
The other day, I read a terrible piece criticising the book (and the new movie) The Shack. The book and movie have brought a lot of people into wide-open freedom already, and I have no doubt that many more will be touched by its message. Personally, I love the book and I can’t wait to see the movie (which comes out in June here in the UK). But it should come as no surprise that ‘religious’ people find that sort of thing difficult – the idea of people finding complete freedom – and so the article was critical, dogmatic and judgemental. The article is here if you want to try to stomach it. I don’t recommend reading it unless you have a bucket handy, it’s so negative.
But the thing that I found most disturbing was that the author of that article wrote this (and I hate to contaminate my blog with this sort of thing):
“In The Shack, Mack (the main character) finds true relationship with God in contrast to those who have traditional Christian beliefs based on the Bible. This subtle message qualifies as a wind of doctrine as mentioned in Ephesians 4.
“There is an undertone within The Shack, that relationship with God is something independent of the written word of God, and nothing could be further from the truth.
“There is no sweeter, no more assuring, no more real and living relationship with God than knowing him through his Word, especially when the Word is mixed with a prayerful heart. Earnest and heartfelt time in the Word of God, is time spent with God.
“Relationship with “the god of The Shack” is not true relationship with the Living God, because it is relationship with someone other than the true God we fellowship with in the scriptures.
“It is through the knowledge of God revealed in his holy written word that we grow in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and as we grow in the Lord we embrace sound doctrine and good biblical theology which makes us spiritually healthy.”
I have to say that I actually feel physically sick from reading this, even if only for the purposes of debunking it. (And I don’t have a bucket to hand…) He’s saying that the only true ‘relationship’ one can have with Jesus is only and entirely through the Bible.
And this is what I am most concerned about. Sure, some people may well have experienced only that ‘Bible relationship’ with Jesus, but for him to say that anyone who has a personal relationship with Him, which transcends that of the Bible, to say that that person is wrong, is plain disrespectful and ignorant. In fact, ‘Ignorant’, in its true sense – lacking knowledge – is exactly what it is. These people know not that of which they speak.
I know what it’s like; when God speaks through the Bible, you do indeed ‘hear’ His voice inside you. I do understand that for any believer reading the Bible, there is indeed a sweetness when God is speaking through the Bible in that way. I fully agree with that. I have experienced that. And that sweetness is sweet indeed. It’s the witness of our spirit and the Holy Spirit within us.
But to name that sweetness as the ‘ceiling of sweetness’, as it were, that it doesn’t get any better than that, only means to me that that writer has never experienced anything better than that himself. I’m not saying that my spiritual walk is superior in any way, just that there is more, much more, than that fellow has yet plumbed. It is suggesting that they have only experienced God through theBible; that they have never experienced the powerful reality of God actually walking and talking with them in their daily lives; they have never experienced anything other than just reading about Him in their Bibles and the sweetness that brings. I have. I can testify to that personally, and my regular readers will be aware of just how much He has brought me through over the last few months in the strength and love of that relationship, since the loss of my beloved wife, Fiona, to cancer last October. The Presence of God is an almost constant, bubbling-up wellspring of joy, power and freedom deep within. (Jesus spoke about this in John 4:14 and John 7:38).
Of course, that writer has it all covered, by asserting that the “…relationship [is] with someone other than the true God”, thus passively-aggressively hinting that it’s the Enemy with whom I fellowship*. Well, there’s a simple test, isn’t there? By their fruits you shall know them. (Mt 7:16) If my life shows the fruits of the Spirit, then it’s a life lived by the Spirit of God, and not by any other shady spirit, thank you very much. And they’re a cheeky so-and-so for trying to intimate that I’m not ‘in Christ’ 😉 Which I am, and I know it for sure. It can happen that people realise that God speaks through the Bible, and the sound of that Voice they make synonymous with the Bible rather than God. I liken it to an iPod. With an iPod, what comes through is the music but the iPod is not the artist that did the music. Similarly, the Bible is (one of the) means by which God speaks, but it is not God and some people make the mistake of deifying the Bible for that reason.
Does this not demonstrate a classic example of people like those Jesus was talking to in John 5:39-40?:
“You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want” (Jn 5:39-40 Message).
And so, I want to share with you today a little analogy I wrote some time ago, illustrating this relationship with Scripture against a Relationship with Jesus Himself. Here it is.
It’s like a sad middle-aged man still living with his parents, even though he’s met the girl of his dreams. The Bible leads us to Christ; once we have the relationship with Christ, it should ideally become the main relationship, not completely superseding the Bible relationship – which still exists – but still it is the main relationship. The sad man moves out of his parents’ house and marries the girl. He still has a warm, loving (and somewhat relieved!) relationship with his parents, but now his main focus is his wife. And so it is with Jesus. He is now the main focus and the Bible has done one of its main jobs which is to direct us to Him.
I understand that trusting a living person rather than a book is far harder; with a book you know where you stand; it’s all written down (but even then it’s open to misinterpretation!). The thing is that you stand, and you stand, and you continue to stand. There is no moving forward as God is not allowed to say anything that is not either ‘in’ the Book, or at least closely related to it, in that you hear evangelicals all the time saying that the Spirit will not go against anything that is in the Bible. That is neither Scriptural nor true. He will definitely go against things like hamstringing donkeys and battering children, killing all the inhabitants of a city – and even against the stuff in Job where the ‘friends’ are supposedly proclaiming God’s word but in fact they are doing nothing of the sort. Jesus said’ “There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now” (Jn 16:12) and this sort of thing – the Relationship with the Real and Living Person of Jesus – is precisely (but not exclusively) what He was talking about.
Far be it from me to denigrate someone else’s experience of God – for that is indeed what they get through reading their Bibles, as we have already seen. If someone wants to have a relationship with God through the tight limitations of a Book, that’s all well and good, and good luck to him – although if he stops there, with the Bible, then he’s missing out on so much more. But to criticise the true and real relationship of another believer in Christ by essentially saying that that relationship isn’t allowed, because that relationship not only exceeds but indeed transcends the words in the Bible – that’s just not on.
And to condemn someone else’s real and living relationship with Jesus and claim it is Satanic (which is what they are passively aggressively claiming) just because it doesn’t jive with their interpretation of Scripture – now that is reprehensible.
So, I would say for these people: it’s time for them to trust Jesus, both with their own lives, and with others’ too – which are in any case none of their business (Jn 21:22). It’s time to stop criticising and judging others’ relationship with the Lord. Jesus is more than capable of looking after His Church; His people, and drawing near to each of them as He sees fit.
It’s strange, really. My header picture was originally intended to show somewhat cynically that a relationship with a Book is no replacement for a Relationship with a Person, specifically the Person of Jesus by His Holy Spirit. But, you know, the primary function of the Bible is to lead us to Jesus; in some ways, then, we can indeed meet Him in its pages, thus enabling us figuratively to ‘hug’ Him like the picture shows. But the thing is that Jesus exists outside the Book, far more so than He does inside the Book. And that’s the message I’m trying to get across. You can’t limit the Creator of the universe to a book, no matter how special that book might be. There is far, far more to knowing God than simply what we find in the Bible. The Bible is, in fact only our starting point – it introduces us to Jesus, it introduces us to the loving Heavenly Father, and it instructs us in God’s ways. But it must be read with Jesus in mind – remember the Scripture’s primary purpose is to lead us to Christ!
*I know he’s not writing to/about me specifically, but as one who agrees with all the theology in The Shack, it’s as good as him writing about me.
I have previously written three pieces* explaining how the Bible, despite being the book that speaks to us about God more than any other, is sadly sometimes effectively given a higher spiritual standing than God by some Christians. The main reason it’s sad is because these people are missing out on a real, full relationship with God Himself; they are missing out on much of what Life in all its fulness is about (Jn 10:10). And that’s more than sad; it’s tragic. And then telling others that their narrow way (<sarcasm on> because Jesus mentions a ‘narrow way’ in the Bible, therefore it must be true! <sarcasm off>) is the only way; that’s even more tragic because then they spoil it for others too; indeed, they shut the doors of heaven in men’s faces (Mt 23:13).
I’d like to recap a little before I begin. In my piece, ‘A Relationship With a Book??‘, I quote from a website where the author claims that the only way to have a ‘relationship’ with God is through the Bible, and that’s the only place you can find such a relationship. Now, (apart from the obvious flaw here in that we should ask exactly what sort of relationship believers had with God before the Bible was compiled!) this is clearly a major issue. This is because the overarching theme of the books of the Bible is that God wants to have a loving, close Relationship with each individual human being, and therefore the Relationship (deliberate use of the capital ‘R’ because this is the most important Relationship there is) is one that must be God-centred, and not Bible-centred. Sure, God speaks to us in the Bible, and for some of us, presumably including the writer of that website, there is a definite sense of His presence when we read it. But this is not the pinnacle of the experience.
And, in fairness, I should also say that most Evangelical Christians do not believe that this Bible-based relationship is the whole package; I write this piece not to them, but to those who have been told that the Bible is indeed all that’s available for those seeking a Relationship with God – because it’s simply not true! There is more!
I’d therefore like to use an analogy to explain why there is more – far more – to the Relationship than simply meeting God in the Bible.
I’m sure that website author would agree with me that many Evangelical Christians think of the Bible as ‘God’s Love Letter’ to His people; some also see it as ‘God’s Autobiography’. Certainly it is mainstream Evangelical doctrine that all Scripture is inspired by God (2Tim 3:16) and many also see it as inerrant and infallible. (This is not entirely my viewpoint, but that’s not really relevant here except in that I am approaching this argument from the standpoint of Evangelical Christianity). But the take-home message is that if God ‘wrote’ the Bible, through the ‘inspiration of the Holy Spirit’, then even though it was actually penned by humans, in a way it is still God’s Autobiography because He inspired their writings**. Had it simply been humans writing about God without any kind of inspiration, then it would have been simple biography, and not autobiography. Clear so far?
So, if the Bible is indeed ‘God’s Autobiography’, then here’s how I see things with regard to the Relationship:
An autobiography is a book in which a person writes about themselves. So it might be their life story so far, it might be just a part of their life, but it’s me writing about me; you writing about you. If you write your autobiography, it will be about you.
When you read an autobiography, you can learn a lot about the person who wrote it, much more indeed than if someone else wrote the book (and that would then be simply a biography, as we saw above) because you get an insight into their thought processes, the things they have done, the way they work. Remember that although the Bible was written by humans, we are still working with the assumption that God wrote the Bible ‘through’ those humans. And so, this Bible, we presume, is the nearest thing we can get to getting God’s thoughts in written form. And therefore we can learn a heck of a lot about Him, and especially about people’s interactions with Him and their impressions of His character. In short, we get a pretty good picture, and especially when Jesus comes along and shows us how to interpret the Old Testament by showing God’s nature as being loving, kind, longsuffering, forgiving, serving, and many, many other characteristics. And to cap it all, He sends His Spirit not only to teach us more about Him (Jn 16:13) but also, wondrously, to actually live in our hearts. That’s just incredible, isn’t it? And so it is easy to see the mechanism by which God does indeed speak to us, and in fact conduct a relationship of sorts with us through the pages of the Bible.
But here’s the thing. There is so much more to it than that book-based relationship. You see, unless an autobiography is published posthumously, you can also potentially go and meet the author. You could go to a book signing; you could correspond with the author, you might – if you are lucky – even get to know the author personally and go out for a pint with him, maybe catch a movie; you get the idea.
So, if we can meet a human autobiographer, how much more will this be the case with God, who is not only alive and well, but everywhere at the same time and instantly available to all who would seek Him? It simply makes no sense whatsoever that the Living, teeming-with-life, love and creativity Creator God is not available to chat about His autobiography and maybe even go out for the proverbial pint with those who would seek to know Him better.
Now, Jesus said that eternal life is ‘…to know the Son, and the Father who sent Him’ (Jn 17:3). Jesus said also to the Religious people of His day:
‘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’. (Jn 5:39-40)
This is a plain as day. Yes, study the Bible, but let the Bible lead you to come to Jesus Who is the One who gives Life. Again, that Life in all its fulness (Jn 10:10). That’s the Relationship – that we know the Father and the Son Whom He sent. That’s a Relationship – knowing Someone.
Jeremiah 31:34 foretold this when he said, “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest…”
So, how then can anyone say that the only way to know Jesus is through the Bible, when Jesus Himself expressly says that the Life is with Him? Let’s therefore meet the Autobiographer in person, as well as reading His book!
It’s also analoguous to love letters – as I said above, another analogy that some believers use about the Bible is that it’s ‘God’s Love Letter’ to His people. So, let’s imagine two people who have met on an Internet dating forum and are falling in love. They will write letters/emails back and forth, professing their mutual affection and growing love for one another. Also, they discuss their intended future lives together; what they will do, where they will go, what their hopes and dreams are. And this is all very good and right and proper, but there comes a point where they actually have to get in a car/bus/train/aeroplane and actually go and meet each other face-to-face. The letters alone are simply no substitute for this; indeed, at some point, the letters will actually express the desire to meet up at last. And then, once they have met, sure, the letters will still be important (I still have the letters Fiona and I wrote to each other when we were at separate Universities!), but once they move in together the letters will become largely redundant because they have been replaced by a real live face-to-face relationship. Sure, they can still write little letters and notes to each other, but their relationship itself becomes the primary focus.
And so it is with the Bible. I still meet God in the Bible, but I also carry Him around with me in my heart (that’s evoking really funny images in my head; carrying the Creator of everything around with me like some sort of pet, lolz). I am aware of His presence most of the time. I talk to Him, and He talks to me. It’s real. Of course, I am by no means advocating throwing out my Bible as useless; no, I love my Bibles and I treasure them.
But still the Relationship with God in addition to and external to the Bible ‘relationship’ is far more important to me. It’s interesting that one of the ‘heresies’ levelled against ‘The Shack‘ (the article is linked to in this piece) is that the book promotes this same idea of a relationship with God over and beyond that in the Bible. This belief that there is nothing beyond the Bible is apparently quite deeply-rooted in some believers’ theology.
But the Relationhip with God is exactly that. Jesus says things to me, and to countless other believers all across the world (ironically, almost certainly including those people who claim that the Bible is all there is!) that are not in the Bible. God cannot, almost by definition as God is infinite, be contained only within the thousand or so pages of a book.
I suppose that one reason why some believers (especially leadership) have a problem with this ‘free’ Relationship is because it’s outside the limits of their control. Either controlling leadership or those believers who would like to have, shall we say, ‘constructive input’ (read: sin-policing!) in others’ lives; both these groups stand to lose much of their control if each individual believer has their own individual, autonomous Relationship with the Higher Power that we call God. All of a sudden, these fortunate individuals with this Relationship are answerable only to God. And some of these controlling people might say, ‘Well, we can’t have people just ignoring the Rules in the Bible and going off doing their own thing’. Well actually this is precisely what God lets us do, once we are free from the shackles of Religion and its controlling influence. We are free to walk as God would have us walk, not answerable to men with their home-made doctrines (Mt 15:9).
It seems that, according to the ‘controlling’ types, we ‘sinning’ humans cannot be trusted to have a Relationship with God that is free of Rules (or even Guidelines, which in the hands of legalists always become the same thing!) because we will always wander off into ‘sin’. No, we have to adhere to what the Bible says and that’s the only source of our relationship with God. Back to that again.
Do they really think that God has not factored human freedom into His plans? That freedom of choice is essential in order for us to make decisions at all; else it is no freedom at all? And so the Relationship, yes, becomes ‘risky’; God actually takes the risk that we will go our own way, we will ignore Him, we will see our freedom as a ‘licence to sin’ [Edit: I address the issue of the ‘Licence to Sin’ in this article] – but nothing could be further from the truth. Because, you see, that Relationship removes the desire to sin; in fact, the Relationship is indeed the life lived ‘in the Spirit’ which is the life of perfect freedom. And therefore, because we love Him, we live our lives to please him, not because someone (or the Bible) tells us to, but simply because that is our desire. The risk has paid off; we are His people by our own free will, which is the only way that Love works anyway, through free will. If it’s not a free choice, it’s not Love.
So, then, let me encourage you – which is always my objective in my blog posts anyway. If you have become frustrated with the relationship you have with God in the Bible, let me assure you that there is more. Do not be afraid (the most common phrase in the Bible!) of ‘wandering off’; God knows your weaknesses and He works with them. This is not error; this is the overarching theme of the Bible, the redemption of humanity in order to enable us to walk in Relationship with God in the power of the Spirit. If you are worried that maybe this growing Relationship you have felt is somehow dangerous or anti-Scriptural, please be assured that it’s not. Remember that you died to the Law (Rom 7:4). Remember also that if you are afraid of ‘punishment’ for ‘sinning’ in any way, that God’s perfect love drives out all fear, for fear has to do with punishment (1Jn 4:18) and as a believer, you are eternally unpunishable in any case. But of course those who would ‘control’ don’t want you to know that!
No, you can rest in your Father’s Love at all times, because underneath are the Everlasting Arms (Dt 33:27). In God is the Relationship that the Bible hints at. Yes, there is indeed more, and it’s found in the Relationship with Father God through Jesus and the Spirit. In the same way as Father, Son and Spirit have existed forever in the eternal dance of mutual love, so you too can join in and be part of that Relationship. All you need to do is to ask God to lead you into it, and then take the first steps as He leads.
Grace and peace to you. Be blessed!
*Here are links to the previous articles I mentioned:
**The natural extension of this idea is that when modern-day people write about their experiences with God, people like me, people like any modern-day Christian writer, some of it is going to be inspired too. My writing stems directly from my Relationship with Jesus, as does that of other similar writers. In that way, what I and others write is also inspired writing. We too are bringing God’s Word, that is, Jesus, into the limelight for people to see and learn about.
I’ve always found ‘proof-texting’ to be disrespectful both to the Bible itself and also to the person to whom that proof-texting is being done.
There is a world of difference between showing occurrences in the Bible of phenomena or ideas (which is what I do with my Scripture references), and ripping verses out of context (both local and taking account of the whole Scripture) in order to prove a point.
For a while now, I have wanted to write a piece on proof-texting. But my friend Tim Chastain, author of the blog ‘Jesus Without Baggage’ has gone and beaten me to it 🙂 Good on yer, Tim!
Without more ado, here’s his excellent piece which says all I ever wanted to say, and more!
How Proof-texting is Ineffective and Disrespects the Bible
As a progressive blogger people often disagree with me—sometimes vigorously, and this is as it should be. I believe any statement, conclusion, or opinion I share is open to challenge. Exploring disagreement can be a very valuable experience; often I gain insights or learn something new from those who express opposing opinions. How much can I learn if I interact ONLY with those who already agree with me? I need to hear and understand the perspectives of those who think differently.
There are various ways to discuss disagreement, but today I would like to mention one particular method (used by many fundamentalists and evangelicals) that I consider totally ineffective and without value whatsoever—proof-texting. I assume most of us have experienced proof-texting.
What is Proof-texting?
Proof-texting is citing a biblical passage in defense of a belief. Sometimes it will include a short text of a passage along with the book, chapter, and verse reference, but often the proof-text will be only the chapter/verse reference without any text at all as though the biblical reference alone is sufficient as authoritative proof—without need of the actual words.
Now there is nothing wrong with citing biblical passages in support of our views; in fact, I cannot see how we can avoid it or why we would want to. But proof-texting is different in that there is little or no exploration of, or elaboration on, the text itself. The text is its own authority simply because it exists and it requires no explanation or interpretation beyond the short text itself.
It seems that any verse in the Bible, or even a phrase separated out of a verse, is a stand-alone truth slogan—a nugget of authoritative truth in concise form. It has no need for context, reflection, or explanation because it is self-evident and requires no elaboration.
The essence of proof-texting is quoting or referencing passages without elaborating on them due to the understanding that the proof-text carries its own clear, undeniable authority.
Frequently, a person will make a point followed by a number of chapter/verse references pulled from throughout the Bible and listed, without discussion, as proof of their point (with or without the texts themselves). Such a list of references is considered devastating against an opposing view, and the recipient is expected to accept them as listed; the proof-texts are the final conclusion to the discussion and that there is no escape from their ‘truth’ and applicability.
Many conservative believers are fond of this method of argument in debates. But I find proof-texting totally ineffective based on two very important failure points.
Proof-texting is Based on a Faulty Presupposition about the Bible
Proof-texting assumes that each passage, verse, or segment of a verse is a propositional truth statement. It is clearly stated in the Bible and needs no context or explanation because the statement is clear and self-evident as it is. The name for this assumption is inerrancy: anything written in the Bible is God’s own clear truth without error and is not open to question. But let me emphasize that this view is a mere assumption; inerrancy is not even taught in the Bible but is a presupposition that some people bring to the Bible.
The idea is that ‘God said it; I believe it; that settles it.’ But this does not consider that the Bible was written over thousands of years, in many places and cultures, in many situations, by many individuals who didn’t understand things the same way.
One big problem with proof-texting is that it only works in arguments between inerrantists who both hold to this assumption; proof-texting is of no benefit in discussion with a person who does not hold to inerrancy.
I do understand the perspective of those who use proof-texting. They have been taught a doctrinal system in which each thought and phrase in the Bible is an ‘absolute truth’. I was taught the same thing, but I discovered many of these ‘truths’ are not so much what the biblical writers say but what some believers along the way interpreted them to mean.
I might respond to a proof-text that includes the text (after placing it in its biblical context), but more often I ask for clarification on what the proof-texter intends me to understand from the text. The bottom line is that I do not find proof-texting persuasive.
There is a second big problem with proof-texting.
Proof-texting Ignores Context
I think the biggest difficulty I have with proof-texting is that the method does not consider the context of the individual passages—and the point of the context cannot be reduced to a few words extracted from it. Proof-texting assumes that the passages are relevant to the topic when in fact the authors might be addressing quite different issues, and it also assumes that the intent of each short snippet is self-evident, which it is not.
Lists of proof-texts tend to harmonize passages without letting each passage speak for itself within its own context. The individual passages might seem to speak to a common theme, but their significance can only be determined by the context within which they are found. Biblical verses are not slogans, or even arguments, that can be detached from the situation in which they are written. The intent of a proof-text can often be easily debunked simply by reading the context in which it is found, as we noticed in a previous example.
The richness of the Bible does not consist in unrelated proof-texts that can simply be strung together like beads or put together like puzzle pieces; rather it is in understanding the passages in light of the lives, culture, and understanding of the writers–and especially in the light of Jesus.
Click the graphic below to go to the original post:
Biblical Literalism…or the belief that the Bible should be taken literally. It’s the viewpoint of many – but by no means all – in the fundamentalist/evangelical church.
But I don’t think that this viewpoint does the Bible justice. The Bible is a complex tome, written by many different people over a vast period of time. People with hugely different viewpoints, from all walks of life and from many different cultures and in many different circumstances.
In short, the Bible was not written as a Rulebook, an Instruction Manual for Life, God’s Great Plan, to be believed and acted upon word-for-word; it was written, by those many people, to tell us what their views were on God. To tell us stories, to tell us the history of a people (the Jews), to tell us how people’s viewpoints on God have changed over the centuries, to offer advice – and many other reasons. To take it literally and to treat it as completely infallible is to fail to let it live up to its huge potential; to fail to give it free rein and to miss out on so much of the wisdom that it contains.
But enough of my chatter. Here’s a great blog post on Patheos by the brilliant Matthew Distefano, about the problems with Biblical Literalism. Read this piece – it brings things into a better perspective than I ever could.
Over to Matt:
5 Things We’ll Miss If We Take the Bible Too Literally
We all want certainty. I get that. It makes us feel better about ourselves. It makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It makes us feel like the big, bad monster we call “Doubt” isn’t going to get us.
So it is no wonder that, when approaching the Scriptures, many of us opt for literalism above all else. It gives us that sense of security, that sense that we have a grasp on the situation. However, I’ve discovered throughout my long and winding journey that the security we get from biblical literalism is nothing more than a façade. And, when that foundational card in our meticulously built house gets yanked out, down goes the whole thing; our faith crumbles and we are left without even a basic foundation. To use comedian Pete Holmes’ analogy, we are left with an apartment void of all furniture.
Furthermore, when we approach the Bible too literally, we are doing nothing more than embarking on an adventure in missing the point. Sure, we think we are being faithful servants of the almighty God — and perhaps some of us really are — but what we are primarily doing is nothing more than defending a position that, ironically, the Bible never asks us to defend. And when we do this, we end up missing a ton of great things that go on throughout the Bible. I’d like to mention 5 of them.
The Theology of Jesus
There are so many things said about God in the Bible, from the slightly obscure to the out-and-out insane. I won’t get into all of them here — as if we have the time or space — but those of us who use our brains from time to time know what I’m talking about. So, when we believe that every theological claim made by every writer of every book of the Bible is undeniably true, that it is theologically on-point at every turn, we hardly leave any room for Jesus to offer any critique. For instance, when we literally believe Deuteronomy’s claim that “If you do not diligently observe all the words of [the] law that are written in this book [Torah], fearing the glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God, then the Lord will overwhelm both you and your offspring with severe and lasting afflictions and grievous and lasting maladies,” then when we turn to John 9, we end up in a bit of a conundrum. Why? Because this is not what Jesus teaches.
In John 9, when Jesus is pressed on the issue of intergenerational curses, Jesus doesn’t affirm the cultural norm that people are afflicted by God with grievous and lasting maladies for failing to observe every jot and tittle of Torah, but that grievous and lasting maladies afflict people so that “God’s works might be revealed.” What are God’s works? Contrary to Deuteronomy 28, where it is claimed that God is a blessing and cursing God, God’s works are wholly for the purpose of blessing (Matt 5:45), for healing and restoring: “When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s face, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.’ Then he went and washed and came back able to see.”
Indeed, there are other cases where Jesus reorients our way of theologizing, but I don’t have the space to discuss that here. If you are interested, pick up my book From the Blood of Abel and then, when you’ve digested that, Michael Hardin’s The Jesus Driven Life.
The Old Testament Dialogue
This may come as a surprise to some, but it’s not just Jesus who critiques the views of his people. The writers (primarily the prophets) of the Hebrew Bible do this too. In other words, the Old Testament is a dialogue about, among other things, God and God’s nature. For one example of this, consider what happened to Jezreel.
In 2 Kings 9, there is an account of a massacre at this place by the hands of a man named Jehu. What happens is that Jehu is ordered — nay, anointed — by the prophet Elijah to strike down the entire house of his master Ahab over their tyranny and wickedness (2 Kings 9:7–8). So, he does! And he is championed as a righteous man of God for doing so.
A few generations later, however, the prophet Hosea sees things differently. Speaking on behalf of the Lord, Hosea writes: “For in a while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel” (Hos 1:4). In other words, according to Hosea, God is not all-too-pleased with what the murderous zealot Jehu did to the house of Ahab. This, in spite of Elijah’s commanding such a thing.
This move away from violence is a key component to the overarching biblical metanarrative, but it is a move that is far from a neatly drawn straight line. Rather, the Bible is a “text in travail,” as René Girard calls it, and as such what needs to happen is that the Bible needs to be “rightly divided,” rather than always being taken so literally.
The Opportunity to be Credible in the Modern World
It’s quite laughable that, to this day, some of us think Genesis 1 is attempting to put forth a scientific explanation of creation. I mean, you’d think the fact that the sun is not said to be created until the fourth day would be enough evidence for us to conclude the days in this story are something other than literal 24-hour periods. And yet, many of us continue in our ignorance.
I find this sad, because not only does this rampant literalism prevent us from gleaning some of the actual theological and anthropological nuggets Genesis 1 presents (as in, when we compare it with the Babylonian myth Enuma Elish), it also forces us to under-appreciate any and all scientific discovery. And when this happens, we end up looking rather silly in the process. Anyone who uses their brain knows that it is ridiculous to think that, somehow, someway, Noah literally got all of the thousands of species of animals onto a wooden ark and cared for them for months without having all manners of chaos ensue; that Lions and tigers and bears — Oh my! — all swore off being carnivores because they understood the survival of their species depended on them becoming vegans. So, when Christians turn off their brains and say otherwise, it in turn only turns off critically thinking folks who could actually use the Gospel in their lives. All for the sake of taking the Bible literally.
The Psychology of “the Fall”
Snakes don’t talk. But many readers of the Bible point to Genesis 3 as evidence that some snakes do. This is silly. Something else is going on here, something we’ll miss if we hold fast to a literal reading of Genesis 3 and 4. I’ll begin by saying that the serpent is used as an analogy. It represents the type of corrupted, twisted desire that arises when prohibitions are placed on things (René Girard’s work has gone a long way in teasing out the specifics of phenomenon). Notice the corruption in the very first question asked of Eve: “Did God not say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?’” (Gen 3:1) As we know, that is not what God said. There is only one prohibited tree, not many. This is a trap. Sure, Eve initially corrects the serpent, but she then imitates it by making up her own lie. It’s subtle, but it’s there, plain as day. She answers: “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die” (Gen 3:3, emphasis mine). So, what began with one prohibition has now been twisted into two.Initially, however, nothing happens to Eve. It is only after the man — who was there with her the whole time — eats of the fruit that both of their eyes are opened. This suggests that all three of the characters — the serpent, Eve, and Adam — are connected in a certain way. In other words, as Michael Hardin points out: “All of this literarily suggests that the man, the woman and the serpent are one big figure of the process of mediated desire and its consequences.” What are these consequences? Initially, accusations and scapegoating: the man blames both God and the woman (Gen 3:12), then the woman follows by turning it back onto the serpent (Gen 3:13).
The story goes on, and more consequences follow. What begins with a lie in chapter 3 quickly turns into a murder in chapter 4. In his grasping for God’s blessing, Cain kills Abel. Brother rises up against brother. Then Cain founds a city; civilization built upon blood. From there, violence escalates until the whole world is corrupt and full of wickedness.
Again, to read the “fall” literally ensures that we will miss much of this look into our psychology and how it relates to violence. It ensures that instead of digging deeper for further levels of meaning, we’ll be content to just skim the surface.
The Profundity of John’s Revelation
The book of Revelation is scary, amiright? At least, it was for me. I mean, dragons and fire and slaughter — that’s enough to keep any kid up at night. But that’s all changed now, since I don’t take it all so literally anymore.
And once I ceased believing in literal multi-headed, multi-horned creatures who were going to devour my face off, I was able to see how profound this book actually can be. For instance, I was able to see the insights this book gives regarding where the violence of empire leads to; and in contrast, I was able to see just how powerful the Gospel can be in overcoming such violence. Before, though, I couldn’t; I could barely keep from going insane over whether I would be raptured or not, whether I would be thrown into a literal lake of fire or not.
Whether we take seriously or not where our violence is taking humanity remains to be seen. That in itself is scary. But, if we can step back and see the forest in spite of all the individual trees, we can see that we have a promise: The gates of New Jerusalem never shut (Rev 21:25). So, may we heed the warnings in this book so that we can help bring about, insofar as we are able, the kingdom of God. And may all join us in the call to enter the blessed City.
One of the big conundrums in the study of the Bible is that the god of the Old Testament (OT) is often portrayed as a vengeful, capricious and vicious deity – although also often loving and compassionate – whereas the Father God of the New Testament (NT) is seen as far more gentle and ‘nice’. In the past, I’ve called this the ‘nice God/angry god’ problem and I have written on it before.
The way I see it at the moment is that the OT reflects humanity’s, or at least, Israel’s, concept of God as it evolved from the primitive human-sacrifice gods ‘worshipped’ in Ur of Chaldea that Abram walked away from (in Genesis 12). Back then, all good and bad things were ascribed to supernatural causes, so, things like famines, volcanic eruptions and storms were seen as the result of the ‘anger of the gods’ who of course had to be placated. And the history of religion – sacrifices, Laws, prohibitions, rituals, high places of worship and all the rest – is the history we see in the OT.
In the NT, however, Jesus came to show us what God is really like. He came to correct our misconceptions of the ‘angry god’ of prehistoric civilisations, and demonstrate the love, power, beauty. compassion and above all love of the real God, whose image humanity had been so mistaken about all down the ages.
So, yes, the Bible does contradict itself, in its description of God’s character and nature, because fallible humans, just like you and I, wrote down their insights – and some of them got it wrong, again just like you and I!
In the following excellent piece, Jacob M. Wright expands on these ideas and explains how to reconcile the apparent difference between the Nice God and the Angry god.
“The most defining difference between the Old and New Testament is that Jesus refines our understanding of the character of God. God is not the one who comes to steal, kill, or destroy, that’s the enemy; God comes to bring life (John 10:10). God does not accuse and condemn, that’s the enemy; God comes to heal and save (John 3:17). God does not demand the stoning of sinners, that’s the enemy; God enables them to live free of sin (John 8:11). God does not command the wholesale slaughter of enemies including their wives, children, and pets; he commands to love and forgive them, for in so doing we are like our Father. And if we don’t, Jesus says, we are no better than the pagans (Luke 6:27-36). God dies for his enemies and doesn’t count their sin against them and by doing so, reconciles them (2 Cor. 5:19).
“God is not a God of retributive justice, but a God of restorative justice (Matt. 12:15-21). God freely forgives (Luke 5:20, 7:48; Matt. 9:5) and desires mercy instead of demanding sacrifice (Matt. 9:13, 12:7), and he offers himself as a sacrifice to prove it. God does not demand blood to make peace with him, he gives his own blood to make peace with us. God is not the destroyer, nor does he hold the power of death over us, that is the enemy; God comes to destroy death, and to destroy the destroyer who holds the power of death (Heb. 2:14).
“God does not send evil spirits to torment and deceive people (1 Samuel 16:14, 1 Kings 22:22), rather God casts evil spirits out (Matt., Mark, Luke, and John). God does not render the lepers and the sick as unclean and command for them to be abandoned to die outside the camp (Num. 5:2), but embraces the lepers unto healing (Matt., Mark, Luke, John). God does not want us to live in fear, but reveals a perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18). God is not wrathfully destructive towards us, but is in hot pursuit of us to bring us out of our own self-destructive waywardness and back into his fold (Luke 15:1-7). God is not an angry abusive father prowling the city streets looking for his rebellious son to beat him senseless in his white-hot wrath, but a kind Father watching the road longing for one sign of his sons return so that he can run to him and embrace him and bring him back to the safety of his home (Luke 15:11-32).
“God’s intent is to free the oppressed, bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, heal the sick, and set the captive free (Luke 4:18). God is Abba, the Father of Lights, from whom all good things come, and there is no shadow of turning from this (James 1:17). God is light, and does not have a dark side (1 John 1:5). God comes to heal us of our sin disease (Matt. 9:12, Mark 2:17), and raise us up to the dignity of sons and daughters (1 John 3:1). God cries out our forgiveness while we murder him (Luke 23:34). God is Christlike, and in him there is no un-Chrislikeness at all. This and this alone can change our hearts of stone back into beating, throbbing hearts of love that manifest the image of the divine.
“The writer of Hebrews said that all before Christ was a mere shadow of the reality (Hebrews 10:1). It’s kind of hard to decipher the true form of something by looking at its shadow. You can get some stuff wrong. John makes the audacious claim that “No one has ever seen God”, even though Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, and Ezekial had all claimed to have seen God. But regardless of the dreams, visions, revelations, epiphanies, theophanies of these men in scripture that claimed to have seen God, John says that no one has ever seen God until they’ve seen Jesus. Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus appeared and was the image of the invisible God, the exact representation of God’s being, the radiance of the Father’s glory, the Word made flesh, the fullness of God in bodily form.
“So, if what is written by those who only saw a vague shadow contradicts the actual flesh and bones incarnation of God, then go with the latter. This is demonstrated in certain strands of the shadowy Old Testament. Whereas it was common for people in the Old Testament to slay enemies and say that God commanded them to do it, Jesus tells us that we are no better than the pagans if we do that, and reveals that if we love our enemies, then we are like our Father.
“When the Pharisees wanted to carry out what was written in their law of Moses to stone an adulteress, Jesus called them of their father the devil who was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). When his disciples wanted to follow in Elijah’s footsteps and call down fire on Christ-rejectors, Jesus rebuked them and said, “You know not what spirit you are of.” (Luke 9:55) When Peter rebukes Jesus concerning going to the cross because Peter believes the Messiah will establish his kingdom through violent subjugation, Jesus says, “Get behind me satan!” (Matt. 16:23)
“Jesus expressly names all which steals, kills, or destroys as not of his Abba, but only that which comes to give life. It is never okay to quote the Old Testament to endorse something that Jesus clearly forbids.”
So then, it seems to me that if the OT and the NT say two different things, then the NT takes precedence because it was written after Jesus came, and was therefore better informed because of God’s nature having been revealed through Jesus. To me, the take-home message is this: if something doesn’t look/act/talk like Jesus, it’s not God. It is simply incorrect to interpret the OT as if the NT never happened. The NT trumps the OT every time; in fact, Jesus trumps Scripture every time. Bear that in mind and live in the Spirit, and you won’t go far wrong.
I do believe that the doctrine of ‘Biblical inerrancy’ – that everything written in the Bible is 100% factually and historically correct – is incorrect.
In this quote, the great C. S. Lewis explains his standpoint on the Inerrancy idea:
” “My own position is not Fundamentalist, if Fundamentalism means accepting as a point of faith at the outset the proposition ‘Every statement in the Bible is completely true in the literal, historical sense’. That would break down at once on the parables. All the same commonsense and general understanding of literary kinds which would forbid anyone to take the parables as historical statements, carried a very little further, would force us to distinguish between (1.) Books like Acts or the account of David’s reign, which are everywhere dovetailed into a known history, geography, and genealogies, (2.) Books like Esther, or Jonah or Job which deal with otherwise unknown characters living in unspecified periods, and pretty well proclaim themselves to be sacred fiction.
Such distinctions are not new. Calvin left the historicity of Job an open question and from earlier, St. Jerome said that the whole Mosaic account of creation was done ‘after the method of a popular poet’. Of course I believe the composition, presentation, and selection for inclusion in the Bible, of all books to have been guided by the Holy Ghost. But I think he meant us to have sacred myth and sacred fiction as well as sacred history.”
— C.S. Lewis, in a letter dated 5 October 1955
Gospel singer Don Francisco has ministered God’s Love and Grace to countless millions of people all over the world. Using his tremendous talent for songwriting, coupled with his superlative guitar skills, Don brings to life familiar Scripture stories and tells them in a gripping and moving way. All of Don’s work is based on his relationship with Jesus, Who called him with an audible voice some decades ago. Over those decades, Don has also grown in wisdom, and has written some excellent thoughts on theology, some of which I have featured in my blog before. Here’s a short prose from Don, on balancing the ‘inerrancy’ of the Bible with the reality of God and His Love; a great piece and well worth reading.
“I believe that the Bible is the greatest of all books, not the inerrant Word of God. Jesus– and only Jesus– is the inerrant Word of God. Some of the Bible’s writers have told us what they knew of Him in the hope that we, too, would come to know Him. Jesus Himself said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life– and they testify of me. Yet you are unwilling to come to me that you may have life.” Trying to replace the living Son of God with a book is idolatry, just as much as bowing down before one of the Baals.
“The Bible was written by many different people, people who disagreed– sometimes violently– about whether God is an angry judge, requiring sacrifice to be appeased, or is loving, gracious and forgiving. You are the one who must choose which of those gods is real in your life; patching together a god from two “inerrant” testaments only results in one who’s frighteningly schizophrenic. Trying to use scriptures to prove you’re right doesn’t work, either– there are just as many “inerrant” scriptures that will say you’re wrong.
“Those who knew the Old Testament best were the ones who murdered Jesus on Calvary, and they justified their deeds with their scriptures. In his second letter to the church at Corinth Paul called those same scriptures “a ministry of death” and “a ministry of condemnation”. Moses and Paul weren’t both right– one of them was very wrong about the character of God, and the choice is ours. I believe that those who are committed to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, besides being involved in idolatry, are being intellectually dishonest with themselves as well: “Don’t confuse me with facts! My mind is already made up.”
“Both Jeremiah and Paul wrote that the truth is in our hearts. What does your heart say? Can you hear it? In the end, we will all stand (or kneel!) before God with nothing in our hands, not even a book.
“For those of you who couldn’t hear what I said above, let me put it another way. Here are two of the most obvious Biblical contradictions, one from each Testament:
“2 Samuel 24 says that God moved David to number Israel; 1 Chronicles 21 says that Satan did it.
“Matthew 27 tells us that Judas threw the 30 pieces of silver into the Temple and went and hanged himself; Acts 1 says that Judas died by falling headlong in a field that he’d purchased with those same 30 pieces of silver.
“If the the Bible’s authors couldn’t get such simple facts straight, why do we swallow much more important concepts whole and unexamined?
” ‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool.’
“He didn’t say to hack each other to pieces with well-sharpened Bible verses. Why not have a conversation? Afraid you might be wrong? It happens to the best of us… and it’s forgivable.” — Don Francisco
I have to be honest here. One of the verses I sometimes wish wasn’t in the Bible is the one found in 2 Timothy 3:16 . Here’s what it says in my favourite translation, the NIV (also including v.17 so that the sentence is complete):
You see, the reason I feel like I do is because that verse has been so abused and misued by people over the centuries that it has actually become the source of huge argument, pain, suffering and domination. In my opinion, it is definitely a candidate for the prize of the most destructive verse in the Bible. This verse alone validates all the Scripture-bombing, all the blasting people with Scriptures and weaponization of these sacred texts.
This is in no way what St. Paul intended the verse to be used for, of course. Paul was very much a gentle man, converted completely from the Law-ridden, violent Pharisee that he had once been. Indeed, he was the Apostle of Grace, and more or less everything he wrote was linked with that Grace in some way. Remember, then, that this (what we call a) ‘verse’ is taken from what was just a simple letter of practical, pastoral support to Timothy, a young protegé of Paul. It was never intended to be used by bullying and manipulative people to assert that not only is Scripture itself always correct, but also [by some unexplained and unconnected twist of ‘logic’] that what WE are telling you that any given Scripture means is also correct and therefore you must believe what we tell you, and this to the exclusion of what you feel the Spirit is saying, all your reason, other reading, others’ opinions, logic, your conscience, and science especially, and so on.
Writing it down like this exposes this Scripture abuse for what it is. But still there remains the ‘problem’ of the verse – how do we interpret it; how do we use it for good and for our own (and others’) upbuilding?
“There are so many problems with the way people interpret that verse [2Tim 3:16] to argue for inerrancy that you could write a whole book on that verse and it wouldn’t fit in this world!
1. Circular logic. If I wrote a book and said “these words are all inspired by God” would you believe me? You can’t just say “the Bible is inspired because the Bible says it’s inspired because the Bible…” you get it.
2. The verse does not have a verb. The “is” is placed arbitrarily in translations. It could also translate “all scripture that is god breathed is…” so depending on the translation the verse could be suggesting that some scriptures are god-breathed, and some aren’t!!
3. Even if the usual rendering of grammar is correct, the word “god breathed” does not mean inerrant or perfect. Humans are created by God’s breath but aren’t inerrant. The word “theopneustos” [which is the Greek word we translate as ‘God-breathed’ – ed] is not used anywhere else and we have no idea what the author meant by it. I find it comical that those who authored the Chicago statement on Biblical Inerrancy believe in the “sufficiency” of scripture, but in order to advance their inerrancy agenda had to come up with 19 Articles written in 20th century English to explain how the Bible is inerrant, and what inerrancy means and doesn’t mean. What do we do with passages that contradict each other? Scramble around to find a peculiar solution… What do you do with passages that contradict known historical or scientific facts? Oh those historians and scientists have an agenda to destroy Christianity… It gets ridiculous.
Furthermore, the word “theopneustos” is used only a few times in Ancient Greek literature and we don’t know exactly what it means. One can speculate by looking at its root, theos and pneustos, and infer “god-breathed” or “god-spirited” but it’s not definitely. Etymology does not confirm semantics, just like butterfly does not mean a flying butter and a chairman is not a crossbreed between a man and a chair. Moreover the morpheme “theos” is not a Christian monopoly word and is used in Greek for words that have nothing to do with the Christian God, often just meaning “very” or “really”. “Theobarelo” means a big barrel, “theoptochos” means very poor, and “theotrelos” means utterly mad. So “theopneustos” could just mean really really inspiring. It’s such an issue how it gets translated, but when it is used in a definitive way that shapes how we read all the rest of the scriptures, that is beyond any reasonable application demanded by this passage.
4. We need to address what “scripture” means. Even the Old Testament canon was likely not settled then (depends on when we date 2 Timothy and when we date the settling of the OT canon). The author certainly did not have in mind the 66-book Protestant bible. In fact the author a few verses earlier quotes from Targum Jonathan, an Aramaic interpretation of the Torah, when he mentions “Jannes and Jambles” taking on Moses. The author uses “graphē” for “scripture”, which literally means “writing”, rather than “graphais hagiais” (cf Romans 1:2, “holy writings”). This may suggest that author’s scope of “scripture” is broader. So, do we regard the Targums as also inspired? The Mishnah? How about the Apocrypha, which was canonised by the same church that canonised our “scriptures”? How about the Pseudepigrapha, which includes the Book of Enoch quoted by Jude? What measure do we use to determine what counts as scripture that is true to the historical and linguistic context of 2 Tim 3:16.
5. Let’s assume we somehow arrive at an objectively valid frame of what counts as scripture and what doesn’t. But then, which stages of scripture are inspired? For example, Paul spoke his words and a scribe wrote it down. Were Paul’s spoken words inspired or were the scribe’s writing them down inspired? Also we don’t have any of the original autographs of any of the books. Are the copies inspired? There are so many discrepancies between the copied manuscripts, but are they all inspired? Are the translations we have inspired? If they are, why is there so much difference? If not, why aren’t they? Many inerrantists argue that the Holy Spirit inspired the scriptures to “preserve His Word” but what did he stop at the autographs, when obviously to preserve His Word He would need to have inspired it all the way down to the translations. And specifically about the Old Testament scriptures, was the Hebrew Bible inspired or the Septuagint? If it’s the former, why do Christ and the apostles consistently quote from the Septuagint? If it’s the Septuagint that’s inspired why do most modern translations use the Hebrew? And also I’m sure you know that the Hebrew did not have vowel markers. The vowel markers were added in the 10th century to complete the Masoratic text. A different vowel marker can change the meaning of the whole text and subsequently our theology. Are the vowel markers inspired? Why, or why not?
These are points that must be considered and answered if you want to take 2 Tim 3:16 as proof that all scripture is inerrant and God’s Word.” — Ken Fawcett
Thanks, Ken. Superb stuff.
St. Paul says the Scripture is ‘useful’. He doesn’t say it’s ‘essential’, ‘binding’, ‘Law’ or any other such thing that implies that we must follow it to the letter, despite what this passage appears to say on the face of it. And remember that Paul is not God. What Paul writes can be seen as suggestions, guidelines, and yes lots of sound ideas and doctrine too. But he was not God, and as such was not in a position to issue any commandments or Rules to be added to the ‘Ten Commandments’ given to Moses, and nor would he have wanted to. Paul was all about getting away from being crippled by the Law of Moses and instead basking, indeed resting in the fulfillment of that Law in Christ.
Remember also that Paul was likely only writing about the Hebrew Scriptures (what we now call the Old Testament (OT)), which were the only Scriptures available at the time (and even then, not easily available like they are today where you can go down to any bookshop and buy yourself a Bible). At the time that Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, the Hebrew Scriptures were undergoing a process of reinterpretation, by Christians, in the light of the total revelation of God’s nature in Jesus Christ. No reading of the OT can ever be complete without interpreting it in the light of Jesus, or ‘through the lens of Jesus’, if you like. To attempt to read the OT while ignoring the facts of the Incarnation, life, ministry, death, Resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and the consequent pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon ordinary humans – to attempt to read it without taking all that into consideration is bound to lead to ‘error’, at least in terms of harmful opinions and attitudes. We humans, especially those from a religious background, have a very strong penchant to want to live by Rules, and then to impose those Rules on others too. It gives us a sense of security. But this is the time when God must be our Security; indeed if we find our security anywhere else than in God, we are not really as secure as we think we are.
And that brings me full circle, back to our verse, 2Tim3:16. “All Scripture is God-breathed…” Do you see how that little verse appears to give us full certainty that all we need to do to feel secure in life is simply to read our little book of God-breathed Rules and follow it? In that way, we find our security in that verse, and in the Bible – with all its different translations and contradictions, rather than in the One Whom the Bible reveals (Jn 5:39-40). That’s quite a shaky foundation to be on. The one Rock is Jesus, not the Bible. Build your foundations on Jesus, and on Him only. He’s the one Who is unshakeable.