Not The Verse We Think It Is


Like most people, I have a few pet peeves. One is people taking verses of Scripture out of context and making them say something they don’t actually say. For instance, in the atheist Facebook group to which I belong, an atheist says that according to good Hebrew rabbis, Jesus saying He fulfilled the Law means that we too are to obey the Law.

Well, actually it doesn’t mean that at all as the rest of the New Testament makes clear. Take Paul’s letter to the Romans, for instance. I could quote any number of verses, but these should suffice:

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4; emphasis mine)

Sadly, atheists are not the only people who take Bible verses out of context and make them say something they don’t actually say. Christians do that too. Well-meaning, God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians. I can postulate why that happens, starting with the fact that we are fallible, and moving on to the fact that not enough of us know the Bible, so we’re ignorant of the context of many of our favorite verses.

It’s one of these favorites that I want to address.

The verse is Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” In truth, the verse fits well with our doctrine of God. Christians believe that God is omnipotent, that He can do the impossible. Consequently, it seems quite logical that God’s strength can also enable His followers to do the impossible, or as this verse says, “all things.”

But what are the “all things” that Paul was referring to here?

I mean, if we think about the verse logically we know that “all things” can’t possibly mean anything we can imagine or wish to do. I can’t fly, for example, or shed 20 years off my age. I can’t become an Olympic star simply because I believe I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Rather, I think Olympic stars need to be considerably younger than I am, that they need to dedicate their lives to their craft, and work hard.

This reminds me of a story my pastor told us. He was with a group of Christian school kids on a science camp kind of trip. At one point he was in a boat, but ended up in the water. With lots of kids watching, he tried and tried to get back in that boat. As he struggled, some of those kids began calling out, You can do it, Pastor. You can do all things through Christ. Except, he never was able to get back in that boat.

So, is the Bible not true when it says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”?

Actually the Bible is always true. We can be sure of that. When something in Scripture doesn’t fit with our perception, we can know that our perception is off—our perception of God or the world or the Bible itself.

In this instance, by taking this verse out of context, our perception of the Bible is actually the thing that is off. Our perception of God is fine. He can do the impossible. Our perception of the world is fine. There are hard things that we can’t do without help. But what about our perception of the Bible, of this verse?

That brings us right back to the meaning of “all things.”

Paul had just finished thanking the church in Philippi for their financial gifts, but he qualifies his statement by saying, he’s not bringing up the issue because he’s hinting that they give him more–not because he’s needy. Rather, he says, he’d learned to get along no matter what economic conditions he encountered. Sometimes he had lots. Sometimes he had little. No matter, because he could do all through Him who strengthened him.

In other words, the verse kind of means the opposite from the meaning many Christians give it.

Paul’s point: even when I don’t have a lot, God gives me the strength to endure not having.

Sadly, contemporary Christians generally quote the verse meaning, if we don’t have something we want, God will give us the strength to get it.

I think the latter presumes upon God. We want something, so we tell God He needs to give us the strength to get what we want. Of course, we will sing His praises if we succeed, but all too often, like my pastor, we’re left in the water when we wanted to get back into the boat. In those cases, it’s easy to see a bit of doubt creep in. Does God really give us strength? Is the Bible really true?

In short, we do no one any favor by taking a verse like this out of context and “claiming” it, as if we’ve got God lassoed now, and He has to do what we want. That’s the definition of presumption—as if I know what God should do for me, better than what He could know.

On the other hand, it really is sweet to realize that no matter what circumstances I find myself, God will strengthen me to endure. I’m sure that’s what got Paul through all those beatings and ship-wrecks and imprisonments.

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Published in: on July 19, 2018 at 5:52 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Old Testament Foreshadowing The New


It really makes me laugh, when I’m not groaning, when an atheist says that the Bible is made up, that the gospels were written hundreds of years after the fact, that some churchian guys just got together and fabricated the whole “Jesus myth.”

There are so, so many problems with that concept, some of which I’ve addressed before (the impossibility of all the New Testament copies, written in various languages, and yet all saying the same thing, being conspiratorially made up at the same time, with no evidence of such a hoax, being perhaps the greatest issue and the one I’ve mentioned most). But one thing that is impossible to miss is that the Old Testament foreshadows the New Testamet.

In the Old Testament, Israel was promised a Savior, a Messiah. In the New Testament, Jesus is proclaimed the Christ (which means Messiah), the Savior. In the Old Testament a substitutionary system of sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins is presented, which the Jews were to follow. In the New Testament, Jesus is identified as the Perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

There are smaller instances, or types, in which an Old Testament person or his action foreshadows some aspect of Christ’s work, revealed in the New Testament. There’s Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, along with the provision of a ram that substituted for the son, pointing ahead to God’s willingness to sacrifice His Son who IS the substitution for each of us.

Then there’s David, the rejected boy, who became king, just as Jesus was the rejected of the religious Jews, yet He came to be their spiritual king. There’s Moses who led Israel out of captivity, just as Jesus leads those who believe in Him out of the slavery to sin and death and the Law.

There are literally dozens, maybe hundreds of these kinds of Old Testament foreshadowings. I just learned of another one today.

My church is reading Exodus together, then someone will write a meditation on it. Today we read about how the tabernacle was put together after the Israelites all gave the needed materials and the craftsmen constructed the parts.

In this particular passage, one of the pieces detailed is the ark. That’s essentially a box that contained, at the time, only the stone tablets of the Law. On top, covering the ark, was what the Old Testament calls, the mercy seat. Image. Mercy covering the Law.

Well isn’t that precisely what the New Testament teaches? Jesus dying in our place freed us from the Law; God’s mercy overcomes the Law.

James says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” and of course, judgment is a result of law.

The author of Hebrews says, “Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.”

Paul says, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” Or mercy. Because the Law was always under the mercy seat.

Published in: on July 13, 2018 at 6:05 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Early Church And Problems


I’m amazed at some of the crazy ideas that atheists have regarding God’s word. Of course the standard idea that they repeat over and over—as if saying it a lot will make it true—is that the Bible is just a bunch of made up myths.

That concept is so full of holes, it could be a good colander.

One of the holes I have noticed lately is the fact that whoever the critiques are claiming “made up” the Bible, would have to be fairly dumb to include the stuff they did.

I mean, more than once Christians have pointed out that women, who were not accepted as witnesses in a Jewish court, were the first witnesses to report that Jesus had risen. Even further back, shepherds, we were considered the lowest in the social strata of the day, were the witnesses of the angelic announcement of Messiah’s birth.

Who does that? I mean, who makes up such a story with witnesses who had no standing in society?

But I’ve been thinking of late about the early Church and the idea that the Biblical account of its inception was fabricated.

I suppose the events recorded in Acts would sound exciting—I mean, conflict that led to near riots, arrests and beatings, miraculous earthquakes, and a prison break led by an angel. Some might think that, yes, a myth maker was behind such exciting and improbably stories.

But after Acts?

The following letters are filled with reproof and warning and censure. Take 1 Corinthians, for example. Paul wrote that letter to a church in Greece as a way of addressing problems that he’d heard about. There were divisions and immorality and church workers who weren’t being paid and the question about eating food that had come from an idol temple.

Add on a serious lack of love and some concern about pride resulting from the exercise of spiritual gifts. The scene was not pretty. This church had deep problems.

Would someone inventing a mythological letter about a mythological Savior have really created such a flawed, needy group?

The other letters aren’t much different. The New Testament writers warned about false teachers and “evil workers.” They warned against a “different gospel,” and against those who would come into the Church as wolves in sheep’s clothing.

The book of Hebrews has as its central theme the reasons someone who turned to Christ should not desert Him after empty years of waiting for His return and of increased persecution. James and Peter specifically address the suffering that the new churches were experiencing.

But would someone inventing a religion and writing mythical letters to pretend churches, ever come up with such negative content? Wouldn’t they be more apt to write about how joyful and loving and prosperous the new churches had become, how they were growing daily?

Why would they deal with the conflict between Jews and Gentiles and not simply paint over the fact that some Jewish Christians tried to force circumcision and dietary laws on the non-Jewish believers? Or that some were saying God’s grace meant Christians could “sin all the more.”

Really, if the New Testament is myth, the guys who made it up were pretty foolish. They made up the things that made Christianity look dangerous and risky. Nothing about those letters would win someone to Christ—unless they actually were written by God’s Holy Spirit, not for the sake of growing a church, but for the edification of it. The building up, not the building out.

But the way God works, as Christians matured and learned from the examples of Paul and Barnabas and Timothy and Peter and James and all the other first or second generation leaders, the Church also gained in numbers. Seemingly it didn’t matter how many Christians lost their lives in the Colosseum, more converts joined the persecuted Way.

That’s counter-intuitive, too. Why would anyone invent the stories and letters of the Bible, and not use the opportunity to declare how successful they were as they withstood Rome?

But of course the Bible doesn’t read like the mythology invented by humans for human ends, because it is actually God breathed and the historic events really happened, the letters were really circulated to real churches dealing with real problems.

Consequently, the Bible contains the unexpected, the “underbelly” of the early Church, the parts that most people would not include in their Christmas letter, let alone a letter that was accepted by others as Scripture.

And yes, Peter referred to Paul’s letters as Scripture, so from the beginning the leaders of the early Church knew the documents we now have collect as the Bible, to be inspired by God, profitable for teaching, correction, reproof, training.

Even though they contained a lot of dirty laundry.

Published in: on July 5, 2018 at 5:22 pm  Comments (1)  
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Paul Was A Creationist—A Reprise


Some time ago, during my personal time in the Bible, it dawned on me that the Apostle Paul must have been a creationist.

Clearly he viewed Genesis as a historical record. He drew parallels in numerous places between Christ and Adam (Romans 5; I Corinthians 15). None of those analogies would carry any weight if Adam was a mythical character, not an actual historical person.

Come to think of it, the writer of the book of Hebrews (some think that was Paul, too, but some think it might have been Barnabas or even Peter) also believed in the historicity of Genesis. The fundamental comparison in Hebrews is between Christ and a little-known priest/king named Melchizedek. Genesis 14 mentions him briefly, almost in passing, but clearly the New Testament believers understood him to be a historical figure and highly significant in helping people (especially Jews) understand Jesus’s role as High Priest and King.

I suppose, more important than all is that Jesus Himself understood Genesis to be history. After His resurrection, He is the one who spent time with His disciples explaining how He figured into the Law and Prophets—how the Old Testament Scriptures pointed to Jesus.

Before His crucifixion, He made numerous references to David, Moses, and Abraham. In fact, in connection to Abraham, He taught about life after death. If He had used a mythical character for these lessons He would have destroyed the very point He was making. Instead, He referenced historical figures, and mentioned their motives, their choice of a verb tense, their use of words. If Jesus knew these Old Testament people to be figments of someone’s imagination, He would have been partaking in a great fraud.

No, He, along with the writer to the Hebrews, along with the Apostle Paul, viewed the Law and the Prophets as grounded in historical fact.

So how do I get from that point to Paul was a creationist? If Paul believed Adam was a historical figure and that sin came into the world because of what Adam did, which is precisely what he says in Romans 5:12 (“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned —”), he must have believed that Genesis 3 was historical. That’s the passage in the Old Testament that relates how sin entered into the world because of one man.

Do we have reason to believe Paul thought Genesis 3 was factual but Genesis 2 or Genesis 1 was mythical?

Actually there’s no evidence that Paul thought any of the Old Testament was mythical. He’d spent his life as a Pharisee, and he’d been a student of one of the most learned men of the time. Clearly he took the Law and the Prophets to be the word of God, and he was zealous to do what he believed God would have him do.

But God stopped him. And changed him. From the time of his conversion, Paul did a 180°. Instead of persecuting Christians, he spent his time reasoning with non-Christians so that they too might believe. Despite this change, he still based his instruction on the Word of God. In every city, he began his church planting by reading and discussing Scripture.

Sure, today some may dismiss Paul as scientifically ignorant. But one thing we can accurately know—he was not spiritually ignorant.

So the question is, does rational thought negate the power of God? If after all our scientific discoveries, we say, God couldn’t have created the world the way Genesis says, isn’t that actually a reflection of our own beliefs, rather than what really happened?

I mean, what we’re really saying is, I don’t see how these scientific facts and the Genesis account can both be true, so I choose known science (even though unknown science might someday prove me wrong). Science is ever-changing, shaky ground. God’s word is authoritative, infallible, accurate, and true. To choose the fallible over the infallible is not a wise decision.

What’s more, God Himself is all powerful, so to conclude that God couldn’t create the world (because it’s billions of years old, we know, and evolution does away with the need to believe in creation) is a bit silly. God could create a grown man, so certainly He could create a fully developed universe. Scripture never said He was creating the beginning of stars. No, He created stars. Fully formed stars. And they undoubtedly looked a whole lot older than one minute. Just like Adam undoubtedly was not an infant and had never been an infant.

Back to the Apostle Paul. This learned man who had a direct revelation of Jesus Christ, wasn’t encumbered with the restrictions of modern philosophy or with the uncertainties of postmodern ideas or with the chaos of post-truth thought. Undoubtedly his vast study, his reliance on and belief in the authority of Scripture, led him to be a creationist.

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here July, 2009.

God And Revelation


I know this thought is not particularly profound, but I am struck by the necessity of, the utter dependence on, the helplessness which we have without the revelation of God—His character, His purpose, and His plan.

There really is no way we can reason ourselves to God. We might have a sense of intuition that opens us up to God’s existence, but that inner tug would not actually bring us any closer to God. In truth, God has to be the initiator if we are to have a relationship with Him. The lesser can’t move toward the greater.

Think about it this way: does a puppy pick out an owner or does a human pick the puppy he wants for a pet? Does the child choose his parent, even in cases of adoption? Does an individual choose his ethnicity? None of those happens because the lesser is not in charge, even to the point of knowing what life will be like in relationship to a particular owner or parent or ethnic group.

Rather, the greater chooses the lesser, or defines him.

When it comes to God, He is so transcendent, it’s hard to imagine that a human would ever come up with the idea of God—perfect, all powerful, present everywhere, unchangeable, infinite, knowing everything, and more. I mean, the human experience is sort of the opposite: fallible, temporal, moral, limited, without power, fickle, and more.

Sure, there are some qualities of God that we humans also have, in a limited capacity—things like love and forgiveness and kindness and wisdom—so it’s foreseeable that someone who wanted to invent a god would give him those traits. But who would conceive of something we humans don’t have? And not just humans, but which no creature in existence has.

Yes, it’s possible for imagination to take us to that which we have never experienced, such as unicorns (though we know what creatures with horns look like) or vampires (though we know what fangs are, what blood is) or hobbits (though hairy feet are not so different from hairy faces). But making something up and understanding that it is imaginary is something completely different from making something up and saying that is real.

Beyond God’s obvious qualities, there are the mystifying aspects of His nature such the trinity. God is one, and yet He is three. Who would make up such a difficult concept? Jesus is a man and Jesus is God. How would we ever conjure up such an impossibility?

Where would we get the idea that God breathed His life into humans and that sets us apart from all other created things? Where would we get the idea that God’s Spirit breathed inspiration into the written word, so that it is the work of individual people but also the exact word of God? How would anyone come up with the idea that justice and mercy are compatible qualities God exhibits?

Furthermore, who would invent sin? Why would anyone purposefully doom the entire human race? And then conceive of a rescue plan that cost only God?

I could go on. The point is, what the Bible tells us about God—His person, His working in the world, His long range objectives—is a bit outlandish and beyond the realm of human thinking. Except for revelation. God needed to tell us what He’s like. And He has.

Published in: on May 29, 2018 at 5:15 pm  Comments (14)  
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Deductive Reasoning


One thing that surfaces in almost all discussions I have with atheists is that they contrast faith and reason. Christians don’t, and logically the two should not be pitted against one another. Rather, the opposite of faith is unbelief.

Jesus identified “witnesses” to His identity as Messiah. In John 5 He named the following as witnesses: John the Baptist, the works that He did (such as feeding 5000 with a few loaves and fish, healing lepers, casting out demons, stopping a storm with a word, raising a dead man, and others), the Scriptures (specifically Moses’s writing), and the Father Himself.

The author of the book of Acts starts out by saying this about the resurrection of Christ: “To these [the apostles] He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.”

I could go on, but the point should be clear: God never intended people to check their brains at the door and enter into some kind of “against all reason” state in order to believe. Quite the opposite. In fact, the first five books of the Bible are history. They include genealogies and place names and natural events and historical figures that would anchor the circumstances in time for the people who lived then.

And for those of us who were not alive at the time? How are we to know that these things really happened? There are a number of tools we can use: science (much to the dismay of those who embrace scientism, or a belief in only natural phenomenon—I’ll go into this in more depth in another post), archaeology, prophecy, the unity of Scripture.

The point is this: all history has been pieced together, and the events of the Bible are no different. Some things have not been verified by some extra-Biblical source, but some things, like the resurrection, which could have easily been demonstrated to be false, has no record of such—only accounts of witnesses.

The real problem is that some approach the Bible with a bias against the supernatural. That’s scientism, not science. Science would come to the issue with an open mind, not with an assumption that the supernatural does not exist.

And yet, time and again, “experts” who oppose the Bible admit that they simply do not entertain the possibility that what they cannot see does in fact exist.

The double irony is that those same people claim that the universe came from . . . they know not where or how. But definitely not from God.

This is where deductive reasoning comes in. When someone is piecing together evidence in order to determine the truth of a matter, all the facts are considered and the most reasonable explanation is the one left standing. In other words, by eliminating the things that are not possible or reasonable, the actually can be determined.

One article that addressed the issue of the reasonableness of the universe coming into being on its own includes this statement:

A system requiring such a high degree of order could never happen by chance. This follows from the fact that probability theory only applies to systems with a finite possibility of occurring at least once in the universe, and it would be inconceivable that 10(158) different trials could ever be made in our entire space-time universe.

Astro-physicists estimate that there are no more than 10(80) infinitesimal “particles” in the universe, and that the age of the universe in its present form is no greater than 1018 seconds (30 billion years). Assuming each particle can participate in a thousand billion (10 [12]) different events every second (this is impossibly high, of course), then the greatest number of events that could ever happen (or trials that could ever be made) in all the universe throughout its entire history is only 10(80) x 10(18) x 10(12), or 10(110) (most authorities would make this figure much lower, about 10[50]). Any event with a probability of less than one chance in 10(110), therefore, cannot occur. Its probability becomes zero, at least in our known universe. (“Probability and Order versus Evolution”)

The thing about numbers, they can be massaged and manipulated to say pretty much anything. But deductive reasoning is not so easily fooled. Does life come from non-life? I have never heard of that occurring. Do matter and energy come from nothing? That postulation doesn’t seem reasonable. Does intelligence come from non-thinking? That hardly seems possible—how could something lacking intelligence even conceive of intelligence, much less come up with a way to develop it. To think that the intelligence was a mere quirk, a mutation, is perhaps as great an improbability.

In short, without going into much depth, deductive reasoning says there has to be something or Someone who brought about the universe. It simply is not credible to believe it manufactured itself.

Published in: on May 15, 2018 at 6:42 pm  Comments (18)  
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Daniel’s Prophecies—Evidence That The Bible Is True


Prophecy in general provides evidence that the Bible is true, and that God exists, for that matter. Perhaps this fact is more clearly evident in the book of Daniel.

For one thing, the book is anchored in known history. Evidence for the rule of specific Babylonian kings, kings of the Media-Persian empire, even Jewish kings, exists outside the Bible. No one can say Daniel is dealing with pretend individuals in a pretend place.

In addition, Daniel gave much of his prophecy to pagan kings—Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius, Cyrus—who started out worshiping their own gods. Because Daniel’s prophecies came true, he gained their favor and was promoted as a key figure in the various governments.

History records the outcome of some of his prophecies, the Bible records others, but in each case they happened as Daniel said they would.

Take one of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, for example. What he saw was prophetic, but he needed Daniel to interpret it. In short, the dream prophesied that the Babylonian empire would give way to the empire of the Medes and the Persians. That empire would give way to the Greek rule, and the Romans would take over from them, though that empire would fracture into four not-so-powerful regions. No surprise that these things took place, except that Daniel’s prophecy foretold them accurately.

On a personal note, Daniel interpreted another of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams:

‘My lord, if only the dream applied to those who hate you and its interpretation to your adversaries! The tree that you saw, which became large and grew strong, whose height reached to the sky and was visible to all the earth and whose foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt and in whose branches the birds of the sky lodged—–it is you, O king; for you have become great and grown strong, and your majesty has become great and reached to the sky and your dominion to the end of the earth. In that the king saw an angelic watcher, a holy one, descending from heaven and saying, “Chop down the tree and destroy it; yet leave the stump with its roots in the ground, but with a band of iron and bronze around it in the new grass of the field, and let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him share with the beasts of the field until seven periods of time pass over him,” this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king’ (from Daniel 4)

A year later, just as Daniel prophesied, Nebuchadnezzar had a psychotic break that left him behaving like an animal. But he recovered, and he reported himself that God brought him from the brink of madness:

“At that time my reason returned to me. And my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom, and my counselors and my nobles began seeking me out; so I was reestablished in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.” (Ibid.)

Another personal prophecy Daniel delivered was to King Belshazzar. In this instance he interpreted a supernatural writing on the wall which declared the end of this particular king’s rule. The result?

That same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain. So Darius the Mede received the kingdom at about the age of sixty-two. (see Daniel 5)

More evidence of the truth of these prophecies, on top of their fulfillment, is the fact that the different kings listened to Daniel, believed him, promoted him, and rewarded him. If what he said was not verified, these kings would no more have kept Daniel around than American Presidents keep their cabinet members around.

In addition, Daniel incurred the wrath of other key people in King Darius’s administration, so much so that they manipulated the king into creating a law directed at Daniel. They wanted to accuse him of wrong doing, but they couldn’t find any corruption in anything he’d done. They resorted to the only thing they knew they could catch him doing: praying.

God, after all, was Daniel’s source of knowledge, as he repeatedly said. He couldn’t interpret dreams or prophecy. But God could reveal what He willed through Daniel.

The only argument against this evidence of fulfilled prophecy that I’m aware of is the alteration of the date of writing for the book.

Internal evidence clearly marks all these prophecies as occurring during the 70 years of Jewish exile, before any of the political events took place. But those who do not believe that prophecy can and does exist, immediately give a late date to the book of Daniel, reasoning that the events must have happened before some writer inscribed them.

It’s an old trick: dismiss evidence because of the supernatural elements, then claim no evidence for the supernatural exists.

The truth is, the prophecies of Daniel bear witness to the fact that God who is sovereign over the affairs of men, has revealed Himself, His work, His plan, His purpose within the pages of the Bible.

Published in: on April 18, 2018 at 6:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Believing the Bible Instead of Using It — A Reprise


What do I mean by “using the Bible”? I definitely believe God gave us His written word to be used, not as decoration for the coffee table or a place to record the family genealogy. But, I’m thinking here of using the Bible much the way I think of the phrase using people.

By saying I don’t think anyone should use people, I am not saying to avoid contact with people. It really goes to the issue of motive. If I use people, I am thinking of what they can do for me.

In the same way, if I approach the Bible to use it, I’m thinking of what it can do for me in the here and now. That’s the problem I have.

I believe the Bible is God’s special revelation in which He discloses Himself—His words, His work, His plan, His Person. It is not to be used like a magic wand, or like a vending machine: do this, get that.

Yes, the Bible has many, many promises, but when taken as part of a whole, it is clear that the promises point to spiritual and eternal benefits. Somehow so much of what matters most has been swallowed up in what is here and now—to our detriment.

Seemingly, we are more eager to have the Bible tell us if we should join the gym or wear our hair long or listen to a certain kind of music than we are to have it tell us of God’s majesty or His heart for the lost or His preparation for my eternal home.

Of course that’s a generalization. But it seems to me, the Bible—and prayer, for that matter—is too often looked at as a means to get what I want in the here and now.

It’s much like the treatment Jesus received from the people in the first century—a host of His contemporaries expected Him to set up a political kingdom, and when He didn’t, when He made it clear His kingdom was MORE, they couldn’t tolerate Him. They wanted freedom from the Romans, bread aplenty, instant healing, unlimited water. He said, I’ve come to give you Life—eternal, abundant, new.

Believing the Bible, I think, means understanding that the Life He offers is better than freedom from the Romans, bread aplenty, instant healing, or unlimited water. Does He impart those things to people in His family? At times. But what He gives consistently, no matter what the physical circumstances, are things like the joy of our salvation, peace that passes understanding, hope for our eternal future. Those are the kinds of things the Bible makes clear are ours—things that believing the Bible give us.

This article is an edited edition of one that appeared here in April, 2007.

Published in: on April 9, 2018 at 4:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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Misunderstanding Scripture


Interpreting God’s word incorrectly is not a new thing. In fact it’s a very old thing and the number one method Satan uses to confound people so that we do not follow God. Remember his question to Eve in the Garden—Has God really said . . . ?

From then on, people have been in conflict about God’s word.

The same was true in the last years of Judah’s existence as a nation. Babylon had already defeated them and carried away the wealthiest, most influential people into exile, while installing a puppet-king in place of the boy-king they dethroned.

While Jeremiah continued to prophesy to the people in his homeland, Ezekiel proclaimed God’s word to the first-wave exiles in Babylon. Not surprisingly, their messages were the same: Judah will fall to the Babylonians.

The people in Jerusalem didn’t believe Jeremiah, and the people in Babylon didn’t believe Ezekiel. At one point when he proclaimed God’s word, the people said, He’s speaking in parables. But he wasn’t. He was delivering the message God gave him, but at one point he stopped God and said, ‘Then I said, “Ah Lord GOD! They are saying of me, ‘Is he not just speaking parables?’” ‘

That incident reminds me of the disciples’ confusion when Jesus told them he was going to Jerusalem where He’d be put to death, but that He would rise again on the third day. His men simply thought He was speaking metaphorically. They didn’t understand He meant He would literally die and literally rise again.

Too often that same confusion reigns today. People say the Bible doesn’t actually mean what it says. They say some passages don’t apply to our culture or that people have been misinterpreting them for centuries or that these five verses nullify the hundred or so that seem contradictory.

What is God actually telling us?

Of course Satan is still active in this process. He wants us to be uncertain about Scripture, and particularly how Scripture applies to us. I mean, he actually used Scripture against Jesus, trying to trap Him and trick Him by God’s words in Scripture.

I find it interesting that Jesus simply dismissed Satan’s bait. He didn’t explain what the verses actually meant or when the statements would be fulfilled. But He took the opposite approach with His disciples after His resurrection. Then He carefully explained the Law and the Prophets to them so that they could see how He was, in fact, the promised Messiah.

The fact that Jesus unfolded Scripture for them is encouraging, I think. It means that the truth is within the pages of the Bible, waiting for us to understand. And the cool thing is that God sent the Holy Spirit to us when Jesus left.

One of the “functions” of the Holy Spirit is to guide us in all truth, to bring to our remembrance what God has said. He doesn’t invent new truth. He doesn’t send golden tablets written in King James English. Rather, He clarifies the Bible. He brings the various points of history together. He shows how Scripture interprets Scripture.

The Bible, of course, is under attack by those who don’t believe in God. It’s full of errors, they say, and contradictions.

Well, it’s not. What it is, is the God-breathed writings of men of God. They wrote using their own style, to a contemporary audience, for a specific purpose. So of course the Bible doesn’t read like a textbook or a story book or a history book. It’s really like no other book every put together.

The main point is that the Bible as a unit is about God—His plan, His purpose, His person, and His work. Of course, Jesus stands at the center, along with the Father, and it was this truth that Jesus explained to His disciples.

Since Jesus rose from the grave, we’ve had over 2000 years of scholastic investigation of the Scriptures, analyzing, comparing, contrasting. Unless someone adds to the Bible (as the Mormons do by introducing a supposed later revelation known as the Book of Mormon) or subtracts from the Bible (as the higher critics do by nullifying the parts that contain miracles or other supernatural elements), it’s hard to miss what God has done and is doing in human history. The Old Testament foreshadows and promises and prophecies that God would send a Savior; the gospels recount the life, death, and resurrection of that Savior; the remainder of the Bible relates how the Savior affects our life, now and in the future.

There’s no longer any mystery. What God is doing has been fully disclosed. He’s even disclosed Himself by showing up in the likeness of us humans. We can see what God is like by seeing what Jesus was like.

Of course, doubters don’t want to listen to the accounts of Christ’s life. How can we possible know those are true?

Anyone interested in evidence might want to take a look at some of the work done by J. Warner Wallace. He is a cold-case detective who has used the skill set acquired on the job to look at Christianity. His latest book is called Forensic Faith.

Here’s one five-and-a-half minute video in which he addresses what some consider the contradictions of the gospel writers.

This is just one man adding his knowledge to the mountains of evidence that already exist for the truth of the Bible.

The Bible doesn’t really need to be defended, of course, because reading it brings verification of its veracity, but other fields of study agreeing, only makes the case stronger.

If the evidence is so strong, why don’t people believe it?

For the same reason the Jewish people in Babylon and in Jerusalem didn’t believe Ezekiel and Jeremiah: other voices spoke contradictory messages. People claiming to be prophets were telling those first wave exiles that they’d be back in Jerusalem in a few short years, that the exile would not last for any length of time. They were making stuff up. They were not speaking God’s word.

So too people today can listen to the wrong source and get the wrong worldview that will lead them to error, not truth. It’s all a matter of who you trust.

The Great Divide—A Reprise


As divided as the United States is politically between red states (conservative) and blue states (liberal), the great divide has nothing to do with politics. Nor is it about racial issues or gender. The thing that divides all humankind, not just Americans, is whether God is righteous or Man is righteous.

The people in the latter camp outnumber the former by a wide margin and fall into one of a number of categories. First there are the atheists who simply do not believe God exists. Consequently, by default, Man is the righteous one.

Even though there really is no choice from an atheist’s perspective, I don’t think many who hold to this position are unhappy with the idea that humans are righteous—or we might say, good. In fact, I suspect most agree with the atheists who argue that any “not good” or unrighteous behavior we observe in children, or in adults, for that matter, can be easily remedied by proper education and eventual acculturation. Good will prevail, according to this view, if given a chance.

Another sub-group in this Man-is-righteous camp consists of people who shape god into the image they want him in. These people say things like, My god wouldn’t do such a thing. They determine what they want from a god and dismiss any revelation to the contrary. Consequently they ignore large passages of the Bible which do not conform to the image they created for their god. Some dismiss the Bible altogether and simply decide without the benefit of any “restrictive” book, what they think god is like. Others mythologize the Bible and take from it principles they want their god to stand behind.

At first blush, this group may not appear to believe that Man is righteous, not God, but because Man is shaping god, any righteousness god may have is actually the righteousness of the one shaping him.

A third group most likely would claim to have little in common with the first two. These folk believe in the literal meaning and authoritative place of the Bible—so much so that they say God is required by His very words to act in a certain way. He must bless those who follow Him and curse those who turn from Him.

This is the position of Job’s friends. Here’s a sample of their conversation with the man who had lost his flocks and herds, his children, and his health:

“Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves,
So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
“For He inflicts pain, and gives relief;
He wounds, and His hands also heal.
“From six troubles He will deliver you,
Even in seven evil will not touch you.
“In famine He will redeem you from death,
And in war from the power of the sword.
“You will be hidden from the scourge of the tongue,
And you will not be afraid of violence when it comes.
“You will laugh at violence and famine,
And you will not be afraid of wild beasts.
“For you will be in league with the stones of the field,
And the beasts of the field will be at peace with you.
“You will know that your tent is secure,
For you will visit your abode and fear no loss.
“You will know also that your descendants will be many,
And your offspring as the grass of the earth. (Job 5:17-25)

This passage says the person who “does not despise the discipline of the Almighty” will find an end to suffering and hardship and trouble. Man simply has to do the right thing, and God will respond with unwavering provision and protection.

Another of Job’s friends, Bildad, spelled out this position clearly:

“If you would seek God
And implore the compassion of the Almighty,
If you are pure and upright,
Surely now He would rouse Himself for you
And restore your righteous estate. (Job 8:5-6)

In this view (though it’s unlikely any who believe this way would word it so) Man is pulling the strings, and God is simply reacting to Man’s actions. Man is really in control, then. God is the puppet, not the sovereign, and if the puppet, not the righteous one but rather, the manipulated one. Which leaves Man as righteous, though some fall short.

In contrast to the camp that views Man as righteous and god as either nonexistent, made in the image of the ones who admit he exists, or manipulated by those who believe in Him, those on the other side of the divide accept the fact that God is righteous.

Because God is righteous, He does not lie. Consequently His self-revelation is reliable, as is what He says about the rest of creation, including humans.

In a nutshell, what He says about humans is this:
* we are made in God’s image
* we are fearfully and wonderfully made
* we are made lower than Elohim—lower than God
BUT
* we have all sinned and all fall short of the glory of God
* we are deceived in our thoughts
* we are not righteous, no not one

Here’s one passage in Scripture that declares the last of these facts:

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God,”
They are corrupt, and have committed abominable injustice;
There is no one who does good.
God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men
To see if there is anyone who understands,
Who seeks after God.
Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
There is no one who does good, not even one. (Ps. 53:1-3)

“No one does good” does not mean there aren’t kind atheists or Hindus who work against slave trafficking or Muslims who stand against abortion. Rather, the “no one does good” aspect refers to the condition of our hearts, not the individual acts we perform. It refers to seeking God rather than turning aside.

The truth is, our hearts are bent toward self-interest, not the interest of others. We are proud, not humble; greedy, not generous; hateful, not loving; rebellious, not obedient. Those are our natural tendencies—which we may work to change, but which remain the state of our heart.

Not only do we have the numerous passages of Scripture that show us what we are, we have a world filled with evidence about mankind. Shall we consider crime or terrorism? Wars? Sex trafficking or perhaps child pornography? Prostitution? Corporate greed or government corruption? What areas of society are immune to the unrighteousness of the human heart? Are marriages free of self-interest? Are schools? The government? Churches?

Despite the evidence, the world will continue to be divided along the line of righteousness: Is Man righteous or is God? We can’t have it both ways because God has said Man is not righteous. So if God lies, He’s not righteous. It’s one or the other, Man or God. And that is the great divide.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here December, 2014.