Do you recall Paul exhorting Timothy to handle the word of truth accurately (ref. 2 Tm. 2:15)? I’m talking about Paul, the Apostle in the Bible, and Timothy his mentee. I am troubled about the mishandling of Scripture and want to discuss my concern with you. Then, as this week of thoughts progresses, offer a few guidelines.
More and more questions are coming my way that have their origin in poor biblical practice. Mishandling Scripture ultimately leaves us vulnerable and the Scripture compromised.
We are finite and fallible folks with limited perspective and skewed perception. Additionally, we are engaged in a dangerous and stressful battle.
In other words, we are ill-equipped to accurately determine what is true and then find proof-texts of our belief in the Scripture for documentation. To do so is what theologians call, eisogesis, or bringing meaning into Scripture.
We are in desperate need of outside counsel from someone who understands our situation. Jesus—the living Word—is one well-equipped for this task (ref. Heb. 4:15-16). Our Heavenly Father has a broad view of history, so broad that nothing catches Him by surprise. He sees and knows it all. Scripture is His view, His value system, and by letting His “word of truth” speak to us we mine His perspective. Through the counsel of His Spirit we line our perspective up with His. This is called, exegesis, or bringing meaning out of Scripture.
Have you ever been the victim of a sound bite, a short phrase lifted out of a broader conversation? Sure you have, and when it happened you moaned in frustration, “That’s not what I said!”
How would you feel if you were God, had penned an incredible manuscript of thousands of words, and then someone grabbed a bite of it and ran off in their own direction claiming you authorized it?
We owe it to our Father, and to ourselves, to listen closely when someone speaks for God. If the context is lacking, God may be saying, “That’s not what I said!”
Isolated verses, obscure passages, hidden meanings, new revelations. These are flags you should not let fly in your heart until you have examined them against their context, the clear word of truth, the simple message of Scripture, and the age-old story of God’s redeeming love. The Bible is cohesive, start to finish, and carries the scarlet thread of redemption throughout. Anything short of this is heretical.
While the Bible is inspired and infallible, it is also ancient. It is not fair to impose modern requirements upon it and judge it against those standards. To expect the writers of the Scripture to adhere to modern scientific or historical standards and thought is narrow and presumptuous. Yet, this occurs all the time in media, classrooms, and critiques where the Bible is referenced.
A small fraction of what ancient history has to reveal has been discovered—perhaps 10%-15%. Of the artifacts uncovered archaeologically, only a small fraction of these has been fully evaluated.
Bluntly, there is a lot of ancient history awaiting discovery. Before you adopt a perspective that disparages Scripture based upon some piece of evidence, ask yourself if there might be additional information available yet.
Centuries of critics have sought to discount the record of Scripture. Centuries of critics, many brilliant, articulate, and highly educated, who professed themselves wise are dead. Scripture stands.
Another wave of aspiring skeptics are charging the Bible’s ramparts as you read these lines. Having witnessed the futility of their predecessor’s charges, like the charge of the Light Brigade, or like Pickett’s Charge, they trudge forward upon their fallen predecessors. They fail to consider that Scripture is proven to hold the high ground and have the advantage. Its statement of resolution has been challenged, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever” (Is. 40:8), but remains undaunted.
Be shrewd and discerning. The next time you hear an authoritative voice claim trumpery over divine writ, or claim an intellectual/scientific/archaeological/literary insight just realized that casts aspersion on Scripture, you might think twice before putting your money on the newcomer.
Pay close attention to who you pay close attention to. I am not the fountainhead of all truth, neither is your pastor, and neither is the person on the TV. Know the Book and know the person who is speaking to you about the Book. You are looking for consistency and reliability.
Neither Scripture nor the character of God contradict themselves or each other in the final analysis (ref. Jm. 1:17). Again, the best teacher is one who does not bring meaning into Scripture but gets meaning from the Scripture.
Finally, if the interpretation of the Scripture you are considering will not apply to all people throughout the world, you have missed the message. Jesus did not come to save America. He came to make an offer of salvation to those lost and in need, and that is every one of us regardless of our address on the planet.
Don’t forget that Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus while tempting Him. While Satan is a liar, he is also a deceiver. That means many of his lies are half-truths that contain an element of truth in them. Even when someone references the Bible, make certain the take-away points align with the balance of Scripture’s message.
The larger the tree felled by the critic’s axe, the more powerful the critic feels. I think sometimes the biblical critics fancy themselves gods because they disparage God’s Word.
When you encounter a biblical critic, ask yourself what is at stake. More often than not, it is the critic’s standing with those who are within reach of his voice. The critique isn’t about Scripture, per se, but about the critic’s perceived reputation. After all, God is not threatened. After centuries and decades of attack, He has yet to defend Himself, edit His Word, or adjust His message.
Those who are well-meaning, yet mishandle the Word of God, rarely do so deliberately. They simply make inadvertent errors, or ignorant judgments, like the ones we have been discussing. You don’t know what you don’t know. Thus Paul’s counsel to Timothy to study diligently (ref. 2 Tim. 2:15).
But whether deliberate misrepresentation or not, the consequences are the same, and I’m seeing the consequences of poor scholarship appear more frequently. This is why I am writing to you about this subject. Your view of Scripture, and Scripture’s veracity, hinges on “into” or “out of” when you consider God’s lines.
It should go without saying—but I won’t let it!—you must diligently call upon the Spirit of God to enlighten your examination of the Book. Many intellectuals have stumbled over the Scriptures while child-like faith is an invitation God cannot—will not—resist.
In a nutshell, all Scripture is inspired by God—who is without compromise—and it illuminates Jesus Christ who is unchanging (2 Tm. 3:16; Jm. 1:17; Heb. 13:8).
Before you conclude your reading of my blog, consider three words in the previous paragraph: “all,” “without compromise,” and “unchanging.” Remember that when you contemplate the biblical message, you are looking for consistency and reliability. There is a lot of these in “all,” “without compromise,” and “unchanging.”