Does God Mean What He Says?

I read another article on what the author characterized as the Bell/Piper divide, referring to the ideas set forth in Rob Bell’s promotional video for his book Love Wins and John Piper’s Twitter response. The author’s conclusion was that the debate which centers on heaven, hell, and who is saved, depends on hermeneutics, or how one goes about interpreting the Bible.

Probably so.

I’ll admit, it’s not my field. I took a look at the article about this discipline the blogger referred to, and quickly felt overwhelmed. It seems our understanding of the Bible depends on our philosophical outlook, our cultural background, and the ideologies we embrace.

Really?

How does faith like that of a child which Jesus referred to, fit in with hermeneutics?

Is the Bible too hard for the average person to grasp, or is its meaning ever changing because it is part of a “living tradition,” one that “is fundamentally a matter of perceiving a moving horizon, engaging a strand of dialogue that is an on-going re-articulation of the dynamically historical nature of all human thought.”

Perhaps all human thought is moving and changing, but God’s thoughts are the same yesterday, today, and forever. Or so He says about Himself in the Bible. Did He mean it?

As I look at this issue, it seems to me we may believe either that the Bible did indeed come from the inspiration of God’s Spirit and reveals what He wants Mankind to know about His person, His plan, and His work in the world, or we can believe the Bible is a book many authors wrote about their perceived experiences with God.

The latter is open to much interpretation. Some portions of it might be myth or conjecture. And what we do with what the Bible says is determined in part by how it impacts each individual.

The former establishes the Bible as the authoritative source to which we can go when we want to know about things like heaven, hell, and who can be saved.

But here’s the thing we must not lose sight of. If God wrote it, He wrote it all. We can’t isolate verses and camp on them as the One Truth by which we live. I’ve seen people do that. Last year I wrangled with another blogger because he believed his Christianity called him to ridicule false teachers. Not love his neighbor or his enemy or treat all men with gentleness—none of the things Jesus commanded His followers to do. Somehow he rationalized away his disregard for those scriptures and focused on just that One Thing.

I’ve seen other take a handful of verses and explain away any contradictions, thus formulating a doctrine that a plain reading of Scripture can’t sustain.

Did God mean what He said, or did He speak in code or perhaps symbology, so that “narrow way” actually means “broad” and “separate” actually means “unite”? Perhaps “accursed ones” mean “beautiful children” and “eternal fire” means “everlasting bliss.”

Or did Jesus really mean what He said:

Then [the King] will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels … These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
– Matt. 25:41, 46

Published in: on March 4, 2011 at 2:20 pm  Comments (7)  
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7 Comments

  1. I also like to ask people whether a “God of love” would (supposedly) make the Bible really so difficult to understand. Hiding Himself amongst all the jargon and leaving people to flounder to know what He’s about — that’s hardly love.

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  2. If we leave scripture “too open to interpretation”, our cultural interpretation is “fine” for a while until someone wants to interpret it in a way that might be repulsive to our cultural context. Are they wrong in their interpretation? And if so, how? This is the great flaw in emergent theology. All this talk of an “ongoing dialogue” is wrongheaded because it only holds meaning in the immediate, not in the far-reaching degree in which the Bible purports to God operates. Decontextualizing means you’re inviting any kind of context to take hold.

    If someone is really searching for ultimate, metaphysical truth how could any of mention of an “ongoing dialogue” be appealing at all?

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  3. For all the talk about interpretation—I just hope we realize that when any of us read the Bible we are interpreting it through our lenses of seeing the world and how our mind works. Now in no way am I giving credibility to these “interpretations” as the way to go, but like it or not we all interpret the scripture. It’s like bias, no one is really non-biased. And in stating that fact I showed my own bias.

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  4. “I also like to ask people whether a “God of love” would (supposedly) make the Bible really so difficult to understand. Hiding Himself amongst all the jargon and leaving people to flounder to know what He’s about — that’s hardly love. “- Stephen Burnett

    So if it is not clear to everyone then God is not a “God of Love”? If a “God of Love” would make it all clear for us then maybe He would have translated the Bible into English for us Himself? But we know lots of different people have done that, and even our English translations don’t agree. I know there are some who believe Jesus was a Baptist (since John baptized him) and preached Hellfire and Brimstone from the King James like any good Christian should. Our scriptures were canonized by men. Did God select the writings that we now call the Bible? What about the ones in the original cannon that the Protestants left out? I do not believe God actually wrote anything that has been passed down to us- as always God works through His people- fallible imperfect humans. That’s why I groan every time I hear a Christian refuse praise for the their use of their talents in the Kingdom- claiming God did it not them… “I am sorry, I was claiming I liked what you wrote- or the message in that song- BUT God would have done better if it was from His Own hand or mouth”. None of the writers of the Bible claimed that God wrote it- they just wrote what they believed was true. They were recorders of the history of God. The Bible never dropped from the sky. And the Bible is not an easily understood book- the context is a foreign world to us- literally- and the words as they’ve been translated are not what was understood back when it was written- that’s why our preachers need so much education- and then every Sunday and Wednesday they try to explain the Bible to us- why? Because it’s complicated and densely packed. I’ve read it myself several times and I still don’t understand it all. And you have teachers teaching urban legends like “the eye of the needle was a gate that a camel had to crawl through” – when such a gate never existed and Jesus was really saying that it is IMPOSSIBLE for us to get to heaven without God- not just difficult. I know- I’m rambling… I just don’t understand how anyone can have so much faith in the Bibles we carry around today… Knowing how different they are from the next guys Bible- let alone the Greek & Hebrew. Unfortunately I don’t know Greek or Hebrew, and I’ve heard enough English translation to not put a whole lot of trust in it. My faith and hope is in nothing less than Jesus. I know God is “God of Love” and I live as The Spirit guides me, convicts me, and shapes me to be more like Jesus. I don’t know why God doesn’t make it clear- but He simply doesn’t. Maybe it would interfere too much with free will? Only God knows why- and to claim that one completely understands the infinite God is ridiculous. The self-righteous are the worst teachers because they are the most blind to reality- yet they seem most likely to lead. Their confidence propels them and draws others to them. It is my experience that God uses few words- he is very concise yet vague when he speaks to me- like he wants to see “will he try to figure out what I meant? Or will he just be obedient to what I said… and he wants me to be obedient with my piece and not worry about the rest of it- If I trust that He is in control and knows what He is doing it doesn’t matter if I understand or not.

    God means what He says- but does He say what you say He says? Maybe, partially, sort-of… but we can never capture the whole bigness, grandness of the whole of anything God says- even when He gives me a single world. And we cannot fully comprehend God, let alone his word.

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  5. This comment refers only to a couple of aspects of “Does God Mean What He Says?”

    There are two ancedotes I recall that were life-changing in their simplicity. While sluggards should “go to the ant,” researchers who wonder if the simple can understand the Scripture should go to the simple, I think. While at Special Touch Bible Camp, one year, designed for both the mentally challenged [and with a separate camp for the phyically challenged], I happened to be ministering to the mentally challenged. In that capacity, I happened to know that one of them had just been offended about something and approached him to ask if he had forgiven the offender. “Of course,” he smiled, and sincerely told me, “I’m a Christian!” End of story.

    It joyfully, took my breath away!

    In the book, “Who Broke the Baby,” Jean tells of the moment when she suddenly knew she had been deluding herself. Her three-year-old, who might not have been born, had the law been changed earlier, left his bed to accidentally view pictures of aborted fetuses. He stared and asked, “Who broke the baby?”

    Similarly, if you want to ask what God intended, it’s a good idea to refer to His Word. Please read Isaiah 5:20-21 and 24b, when you think God might like doublespeak! He says: Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight!”
    v.24b: . . . .because they have rejected the law of the Lord of Hosts and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel, therefore the anger of the Lord is aroused against His people; . . .” (Wording only is from the New King James Version)

    Of course, we have secondary sources to bolster our faith, such as history, archaeology and other evidences, which other theorists are hard-pressed to produce.

    Finally, who does interpret the Word of God to a believer, according to Scripture? Let’s look at I John 2:20: “But you have an anointing from the Holy On, and you know all things. I have not written to you because you do not know the Truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the Truth.” ( NKJ–capitalization mine)
    So, let’s not take credit for our own private interpretation, unless we can’t prove it, or we are off-track!

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  6. Peggy, thanks for the illustration and the verses. Both are excellent and on point to some of what Patrick is asking.

    I’d add that, according to Scripture itself, the Holy Spirit inspired the words:

    All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness
    – 2 Tim. 3:16

    Jesus quoted the Law and the Prophets frequently, always with authority. He answered Satan with Scripture when He was being tempted. I mention this because it only makes sense to me that Jesus would use Scripture only if He believed it to be true and right and applicable.

    How could this be, since men who lived centuries apart wrote it? One answer only: in the same way that the Holy Spirit inspired the writing, He preserved the text and brought it together to be understood down through the ages as the Word of God.

    In 2 Peter 3, the apostle mentions Paul’s letters:

    as also in all [Paul’s] letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction (emphasis mine).

    My point here is that Peter considered Paul’s letters to be like the rest of Scripture.

    Quite soon efforts began to identify those writings that belonged in Scripture. From Wikipedia:

    Thus, while there was a good measure of debate in the Early Church over the New Testament canon, the major writings were accepted by almost all Christians by the middle of the 3rd century [250 A.D.].

    In the same way that God miraculously inspired His revelation, preserved it, unified it, He also makes it possible for us to understand it. Paul said to the Christians in Ephesians,

    I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.

    I think that’s a good prayer for us all when we open Scripture. God revealed Himself to us because He wants us to know, not because He wants to confuse.

    Will we understand everything? No way. For one thing, God is so transcendent, we can’t grasp all of who He is or why He acts as He does. His ways are higher than our ways, as Scripture tells us.

    But the cool thing is, as God conforms us to the image of His Son, we understand more and more. The only way we won’t is if we stop reading His Word.

    Becky

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  7. I’m not sure what you mean when you say our english versions of the Bible don’t agree. When a Bible is translated, it can be done in several ways: word for word (The New American Standard Version is one example), sentence for sentence (New International version) or paraphrased (New Living Translation).

    If you go back to the original Hebrew and Greek, the scribes through the ages who copied these were careful to write out each exact word. If there was even one error, the whole scroll was thrown away. No words were lost or misspelled or rewritten. There have been pieces and scrolls found (Dead Sea Scrolls the most famous) that are still word for word to what we read today.

    1 Timothy 3:16 states that “All Scripture is inspired by God” (or God breathed). God used men with their different ways of writing to tell us about himself. Even though each man had a different writing voice, when each book was done, it was exactly how God planned it. Each word was inspired using unique men.

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