When Gifts Lose Their Luster

When Gifts Lose Their Luster

By Tim Challies

Silver TarnishThere are times I grow weary of good things. Things I love. Things I would not want to live without. Things that have the ability to make my heart beat a little bit faster and keep my mind racing when I ought to be asleep. They are good things, but somehow, through time or familiarity or neglect or something else, they begin to feel not so good. I wish it wasn’t this way, but it seems to be yet another cost of being a sinful person in a sinful world. Even the best things feel like bad things at times.

The Bible is one of God’s great gifts. Without it I would be hopelessly and utterly lost. I would not know who I am, who God is, or what he desires from me. That Bible is living and active, it is the very words of God recorded and preserved for me. Reading the Bible saved my soul and transformed my life. It gave me meaning and purpose and direction. And yet even it can seem so humdrum at times. Drab. Uninteresting. A chore. A duty. Even it can seem like a not-so-good thing.

There is no one on this earth I love more than my wife. She is one of God’s greatest gifts to me. I am deeply dependent upon her—I’ve been married to her for almost my entire adulthood—and really wouldn’t know how to go about life without her. I love her dearly. Yet at times, too many times, I can find myself growing frustrated with her. Short-tempered. Surly. Just plain angry. In those moments, or in those extended times, it’s like I’ve grown weary of the gift. For a time that good thing becomes a not-so-good thing.

Children. Vocation. Location. Everything I love, every good gift, can fade in time.

I have come to realize something about those times when I grow weary of good gifts: This weariness makes a statement about me, not the gift. The weariness is so often a direct result of my neglect. I have neglected to cherish the gift and honor the giver.

Kevin DeYoung says “The most effective means for bolstering our confidence in the Bible is to spend time in the Bible.” And in the same way, the most effective means for increasing our love for the Bible is to spend time in the Bible. To know it is to love it. When I don’t love it, it’s inevitably because I haven’t been spending time in it. There is no gift of God that returns commitment with apathy. No, the commitment returns confidence, love, respect, enjoyment, gratitude.

The most effective means for sustaining and increasing my love for my wife is to spend time with her. If and when I find myself growing weary of such a good gift, the problem is me, not her. The problem is inevitably my neglect. I have stopped spending time with her, pursuing her, enjoying her. I have stopped seeing her as God’s good and perfectly-chosen gift.

In a world like this, and in a sinner like me, even the best gifts lose their luster. Or they seem to. The gifts lose their luster when I neglect to honor the giver and to cherish the gift.

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Why You Can’t Pit Jesus Against His Bible

Have you ever encountered a situation where someone tries to use Jesus’ commands about love against other portions of the Bible that have commands about holiness?  Or, how about the reverse, where someone uses Jesus’ words about radical discipleship against other Bible portions that talk about restoring someone with gentleness?  

In essence, have you encountered someone trying to pit the “red letters” against the “black letters” of the Bible, as though only the “red letters” are truly the Word of God?  If so, you have run into a situation where someone is trying to pit Jesus against His Bible.

If you have ever run into this situation, you may appreciate the short three points that Derek Rishmawy makes as to “Why you can’t pit Jesus against His Bible.”  

Why You Can’t Pit Jesus Against His Bible

By Derek Rishmawy

Every so often, the champions and foes of “Red Letter” Christianity break out their arguments, sharpen them up, and take to the internet. Champions say we’ve ignored the words of Jesus—highlighted in some modern Bibles with red lettering—for far too long…

redletters

Of course, there is a good sense in which we ought to give heightened priority to the words and deeds of Jesus. Unfortunately, some…self-described “Red Letter” Christians do more than give them priority. Instead, they contrast and even set in opposition the words of Jesus from the writings of Paul, or some other similarly ill-tempered and unprogressive disciple. While problematic, that approach is even less concerning than the tendency to pit Jesus against the Bible he grew up with: the Old Testament. Jesus’ words and character are contrasted with the Old Testament law, or the various commands of God scattered throughout the narrative sections of the Torah. So where Jesus and the Old Testament seem to conflict on violence, neighbor-love, sexuality, or some other hot topic, go with Jesus, they say. If you have to pick between red or black letters, go with red.

At the risk of kicking off another round of ‘robust dialogue’, here are three reasons why that approach doesn’t really work.

Red Letters Tell Us About the Black Ones

The first and most obvious problem is that the red letters tell us that the black ones are good. Jesus clearly affirms the authority of the Old Testament law in a number of places. For example, Jesus quotes three times from the law in Deuteronomy to silence the Devil’s accusations (Matt 4:1-11). Disputing with the Pharisees, Jesus frequently asks, “Have you not read?” In each case he assumes these are binding texts (Matt. 12:35 19:422:31Mark 12:1026).

Some might point to Jesus’ overturning of Old Testament principles in the Sermon on the Mount as evidence he sat lightly towards them. Aside from the fact that this argument ignores the clear statement in Matthew 5:17 (“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”), a contrasting reading guts the force of Jesus’ statements. These antitheses are so radical because Jesus takes what might be called “authorial liberties” with the Old Testament law.

Matthew’s presentation of Jesus as the new and better Moses, who hands down the law from the mountain (Matt. 5-7), only has force if you assume Moses’ revelation was true. It is only powerful to say Jesus brings a new divine message that supersedes the Old Testament if the Old Testament had power in the first place. It would be an exceedingly odd way of honoring the “red letters” of Jesus, then, to repudiate what he says about the black ones.

Scripture Says = God Says

Without denying the human element in the inspiration of the Scriptures, B. B. Warfield argued that in apostolic usage, phrases like “it is written” or “Scripture says” (Gal. 3:8Rom. 9:17Heb. 1:63:7; etc.), make sense only when equated with “God has written” or “God, as recorded in Scripture, says.” Pressing further into Jesus’ view of the Old Testament, we can see that the apostles haven’t diverged from their Lord. In one key encounter Jesus clearly equates “the law” and the “Scripture” with the “Word of God.” Jesus answered them:

Is it not written in your Law, “I said, you are gods”? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God”? (John 10:34-36)

Not only does Jesus equate the Old Testament Scripture with the Word of God, he re-emphasizes their inviolability and authority by adding that they can’t be “broken.” The Greek word is luo, which can be translated “to destroy, to tear down, the break to pieces.” Essentially, the Old Testament can’t be ignored, released, explained away, or rendered null and void. Similarly, in a dispute with the Pharisees over the Sabbath, Jesus quotes the law (Exod. 20:4) and identifies it with God’s very Word: “So for the sake of your traditions you have made void the very word of God” (Matt. 15:6).

Jesus Quotes . . . Himself?

The Book of the Covenant given to us in Exodus 20:18-23:33 opens with the words, “The LORD said to Moses” (v. 22). The rest of the commands are addressed to the people as the voice of the LORD, spoken to Moses, who presents them to the people. Most of the law in the rest of the Torah is delivered in the same divine voice (cf. Leviticus 1:2Numbers 5:1-2;). So the law has authority because its author is “the LORD,” the great “I AM” who revealed himself to Moses (Exod. 3:14) and brought Israel out of Egypt (Exod. 20:2).

Paying attention to the Christological and trinitarian logic of the Scriptures, we see that Jesus identifies himself with the God of Israel through the Johannine “I AM” statements, (John 6:358:125810:91111:2514:615:1; esp. 8:58). So we must conclude that, as the eternal Word of the Father, Jesus himself is responsible for the Old Testament he quotes. We can emphasize the Spirit’s role in authorship and inspiration as the Westminster Confession does (“Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture,” WCF 1.10). Or we can credit the Father for this speech. But the outward works of the Trinity are undivided, even while the order of the persons is distinguished. So we must not think any kind of divine authorship excludes the Son.

In other words, unless we deny Jesus’ self-identification with the God of Israel, the Torah and law give us Jesus’ first Sermon on the Mount. These commands number among the “red letters” of the Old Testament.

The Old Testament Still Isn’t Easy

It’s okay to recognize the troubling nature of some passages in the Old Testament, especially some of the harsher commands of the law. Christians can say that in the Old Testament Jesus gave laws that were appropriate for the time and the place in redemptive history, and they no longer apply in the same way today. “The law came through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

Still, we err when we reject the words of our Lord in the Old Testament because we cannot reconcile them to the New Testament. Instead, as disciples we must strive to humble ourselves beneath the Word, not settling for cheap, easy answers, but wrestling with the text in faith. Trust that the Lord will eventually bless us through the truth, even in his most difficult words.

Dear Pastor, Bring Your Bible to Church

A week ago, I wrote an article challenging people to be “Bible app free” for at least a week when in church, small groups, and while doing personal devotions.  This week, the Gospel Coalition posted an article (reprinted in full below) challenging pastors, in particular, to bring their “old school” printed Bible to church and up to the pulpit with them when they preach.  The writer, makes it clear that he is not anti-technology, anti-Bible apps, or against tablets in the pulpit (“for, say, sermon notes”).  Rather, the writer writes about five distinct dangers about replacing the physical Bible with a digital tablet.

Of the five reasons to keep a physical Bible as the text from which one preaches, instead of reading the Scriptures from one’s tablet, items one, two, and five speak the loudest to me as I can tell stories of my own about seeing individuals slide unconsciously into the realities of those dangers.  So, instead of quickly dismissing or arguing away the author’s concerns as being “old fashioned” or “technologically out of date,” take time to examine your own life and those in your small group and church to see if the dangers are becoming a reality in your life and world.

Dear Pastor, Bring Your Bible to Church

I enjoy using an iPad. It is, in my opinion, one of the most impressive devices yet invented. In one light-weight, travel-sized tablet the user has everything at his fingertips. That includes not only the typical social media apps that every user has on his smartphone, but also countless tools that have characterized the laptop or even the home television.

And yet I am finding that cutting-edge, 21st-century technology is subtly but quickly changing important, even indispensable aspects of Christianity. Consider just one example: the ever-growing tendency to substitute a physical, visible Bible (remember . . . the ones where you lick your finger and turn the pages) with a tablet in the pulpit.

To clarify, I am not against pastors using a tablet in the pulpit for, say, sermon notes. Rather, I’m concerned about replacing the physical Bible with a tablet in the pulpit. As the pastor enters the pulpit to bring the Word of God to the people of God, no hard copy of the Bible is to be found in his hand, gracing the top of the podium, visible to the entire congregation as the book at the center of attention. Instead, the congregation sees a tablet. While this may seem harmless enough, I believe there are several potential dangers this subtle shift generates.

Different Message

First, the tablet as a replacement for a hardcopy of the Bible sends an entirely different message to the congregation. Yes, this tablet contains the digital text of the Bible, but visually that tablet represents so much more. It is an icon of social media and a buffet of endless entertainment. Ask my children. The sight of an iPad screams instant access toSesame Street on Netflix. For the adult, the tablet is an immediate window into his or her social life. As advertised, the iPad is ESPN Magazine, a Visa card statement, decorating ideas on Pinterest, hotel reservations in Hawaii, the latest college football scores, Adele on iTunes, directions to the nearest Starbucks, instant tracking of the stock market, and, oh yes, the Bible, alongside thousands of your favorite e-books.

In contrast, how simple, and yet profound, is a hardcopy of the Bible, perhaps leather-bound and worn from constant use. Carried by Pastor Steve into the pulpit, this large, even cumbersome book, reveals he is ready to bring to the people a message from God himself. In short, a print copy of the Scriptures in the pulpit represents something far more focused and narrow: a visible symbol of God speaking to his people, the master Shepherd feeding his flock.

Biblical Illiteracy in the Pew

Second, the tablet may, oddly enough, unintentionally and indirectly encourage biblical illiteracy in the pew. This no doubt sounds shocking. After all, how could a tablet that provides us with gobs of biblical research tools, a digital manuscript of the Scriptures, and countless other resources create a culture of biblical illiteracy? One of the severe limitations of a digital text, as you sit there with your iPhone or smartphone, is the unnecessary task of passing by books of the Bible as you find the sermon text. When the preacher says, “Turn in your Bibles to . . . ,” the layperson simply clicks on a link or enters the text into a search box. As a result, I am increasingly discovering as a professor at a Christian university that students do not know where books in the Bible are located, let alone how the storyline of redemptive history develops. Many laypeople do not possess the ability to see the text in its context. Consequently, these old-fashioned, basic, Bible-learning skills are being lost.

Even secular scholars, such as Nicholas Carr (The Shallows) and Mark Bauerlein (The Dumbest Generation), get this when it comes to reading a book digitally. As John Bombaro explains, these authors, and many others, conclude that we have adopted a “truncated approach to texts, with no peripheral vision of what the next page holds or orientation to the linear progression of the entire text,” which only “trains the mind’s learning plasticity to think in pragmatic, detached, fragmented ways.” Therefore, when it comes to Scripture, we have lost by abandoning the printed text a “linear progression to the total story,” since “digital texts militate against a big-picture perspective and comprehension of the whole story of the Bible.”

Flesh and Blood

Third, the tablet may undermine the spatio-temporal nature of church. When a member stands before the congregation, reading the sermon text from a tablet, there is something missing, something lifeless at play. Again, John Bombaro observes, “Digital texts are ephemeral; they are ontologically diminished.” There’s no “there” there, Bombaro laments.

Surely this should rub us wrong, as physical beings who gather together as an assembly in a tangible place. We see with our own eyes a standing, breathing minister preach about a God who is, yes, invisible, but is really with us as Lord of space and time. This God has made himself known by sending his own Son in flesh and blood.

Visual Reminder

Fourth, when the spatio-temporal nature of Scripture is replaced with a digital, even ephemeral, cyberspace text, there is an awkward inconsistency at play given the physicality of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In the lineage of the Reformation, evangelicals have long affirmed at least three marks of the church and means of grace: the proclamation of God’s Word, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Why not perform a baptism in private or take the Lord’s Supper alone? There is an essential corporate dimension to these somatic means of grace, as the church witnesses the gospel in the waters of baptism and together partakes of the flesh and blood of Christ represented in the elements. The materiality of these means visually remind us that we are accountable to this gospel and to one another.

Likewise with God’s Word. The Scriptures, preached and read, teach us, reprove us, and train us in righteousness so that we are equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). If baptism and the Lord’s table become lifeless when we disintegrate their materiality, do we not risk a similar danger when we remove the spatio-temporal presence of the Word of God for the people of God? And should an unbeliever walk in for the first time, would he know that we are a people of the book?

Nonverbal Communication

Fifth, when the smartphone or iPad (or name your mobile device) replaces a hardcopy of Scripture, something is missing in our nonverbal communication to unbelieving onlookers. When you walk to church, sit down on a bus, or discipline one another at a coffee shop, a hard copy of the Bible sends a loud and bold message to the nearest passersby about your identity as a Christ follower. It says, “Yes, I am a Christian and I believe this book is the Word of God telling us who we are and how we should live.”

If you don’t believe me, take a physical copy of the Bible with you on your next plane flight, and when you sit down next to your neighbors place the Bible on your lap for all to see. Notice the reactions; you might as well have shared your social security number with the whole plane. Typically, for the person on your left just the sight of the text makes them uncomfortable, defensive, and reclusive. But for the person on your right, it may instantaneously create a conversation that leads to the gospel. My point is simple: if we, as Christians, abandon the physical text in our own assembly, what is lost when this text does not warm our hands in front of a lost and dying world?

No doubt, my warning touches an uncomfortable and irritable nerve. To insult our use of technology is one of the seven deadly sins in the 21st century. Technology infiltrates and saturates everything we do, and therefore defines everything we are, for better or worse. But is this subtle shift changing the way we read the Scriptures? Is it ever-so-quietly removing the visual centerpiece of the local assembly? I think so. And while I never imagined I would have to say this, I close with the following admonition: Dear pastor, bring your Bible to church.

Matthew Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is assistant professor of Christian studies at California Baptist University (OPS), as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. He is the author of Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration (forthcoming, P&R) and co-editor of Four Views on the Historical Adam (forthcoming, Zondervan). He also editedWhomever He Wills: A Surprising Display of Sovereign Mercy.

8 Misconceptions About the Bible

8 MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE

Mark Driscoll 

“How can you trust the Bible when it’s been translated so many times?” “Isn’t the Bible full of mistakes and contradictions?” Pastor Mark Driscoll debunks 8 common misconceptions about the Bible in this fourth installment of his blog series, which provides a guided tour of topics such as what is the Biblewhere the Bible came from, and how to interpret the Bible.

Over the years I’ve come across many misconceptions about the Bible. Some of these are due to rampant biblical illiteracy, and others to simple misunderstandings about how the Bible was copied and transmitted over the years. Many misconceptions about the Bible can be cleared up simply by learning how to interpret the Bible, but some require a more detailed response. In this post I’ll briefly look at some common misconceptions.

1. “YOU CAN’T TRUST THE BIBLE BECAUSE IT’S BEEN TRANSLATED SO MANY TIMES”

This misconception assumes that we don’t have an abundance of manuscript evidence in languages such as Greek and Hebrew supporting the Bible. As a result, it makes the added assumption that the Bible may have started out in some original ancient languages a long time ago, but has since been translated and re-translated over and over again into so many different languages that we can’t trust it anymore. This is simply not true. We have access to literally thousands of manuscripts and fragments that are used in translating the Bible, not a long chain of degraded translations.

2. “THE BIBLE IS FULL OF MISTAKES AND CONTRADICTIONS”

This misconception is usually just thrown out without any supporting evidence. Always ask for a specific example when you encounter this misconception. But be prepared, because some people may have specifics or even several examples, and you’ll want to know how to respond. In reality, though, to say the Bible is full of mistakes and contradictions usually stems from a lack of understanding of principles of biblical interpretation. Many capable scholars have addressed questions about Bible difficulties.

3. “YOU CAN MAKE THE BIBLE SAY WHATEVER YOU WANT IT TO SAY”

This only applies if one takes a relaxed view of Scripture, such as a relativistic attitude that rejects that the author had real intent and meaning. Also, if we treat the Bible fairly in our interpretation, following the basic principles of hermeneutics, then we can’t make it say what we want it to say. I once heard a seminary professor say that the Golden Rule of interpretation is, “Seek to interpret a text just as you would like others to interpret your words, whether written or spoken.”

4. “THE BIBLE SAYS…”

This misconception claims the Bible says something specific, when it really doesn’t. As an example, some will state that the Bible says, “God helps those who helps themselves.” Sorry, that was Ben Franklin, not the Bible. Some will claim the Bible supports the abuse of women, that it encourages slavery, or some other major allegation. There’s a long list of things people say the Bible supports when in reality it doesn’t.

5. “POWER-HUNGRY CHURCH COUNCILS DECIDED WHAT TO INCLUDE IN THE BIBLE”

The idea is that at some point, usually much later than the time of the New Testament, church councils met and included whatever books and ideas in the Bible would best help consolidate their own power. This is simply false.

Church councils formalized and officially recognized writings that God’s people had already accepted and used as inspired Scripture for hundreds of years, in the case of the New Testament, and thousands of years in the case of the Old Testament. Some of these councils include the Council of Laodicea (A.D. 363); the Council of Hippo (A.D. 393); and the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397). Church councils simply acknowledged the Scriptures that were already known and trusted by Christians everywhere.

6. “THE NEW TESTAMENT WAS WRITTEN HUNDREDS OF YEARS AFTER THE TIME OF JESUS”

The implication of this misconception is that so much time passed between the writing of the Bible and the actual events it records that there’s no way it could be accurate. Supposedly, the gap between the reality and the writing allowed ample time for corruption, legends, and even myths to develop. In actuality, the time between the New Testament events and when they were recorded is very short, especially when compared with other ancient documents. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, for instance, within about 25 years of Jesus’ life. That’s not enough time for myth or legend to develop, because eyewitnesses were still living and would have objected to what Paul wrote and the church taught if it was historically inaccurate.

The earliest surviving manuscript fragment of the New Testament, from the Gospel of John, dates to about A.D. 130. That’s very close to when John actually wrote his Gospel, between A.D. 70–100. And although it’s still being verified, New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace reports that a fragment from Mark may very well be dated to the first century, making it an even earlier fragment than the one from John.

7. “THE BIBLE IS AN OLD, OUTDATED LIST OF RULES THAT NO LONGER APPLY”

While the Bible is old, it is definitely not outdated. Not only is it filled with practical wisdom, but it lays out God’s plan of redemption for humanity. Its insights are timeless, relevant, and useful in everyday life. A quick reading of Proverbs, for example, will yield much wisdom and timeless advice.

8. “THE BIBLE EXCLUDED OTHER MORE ACCURATE MANUSCRIPTS”

Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code popularized the idea that there were originally numerous competing “gospels,” and church leaders chose their favorites. Supposedly, the four Gospels in the New Testament are biased, and in reality there were dozens or maybe even hundreds of other gospels to choose from. You’ll hear about the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Barnabas, the Gospel of Philip, or even the Gospel of Judas. Occasionally these “other gospels” get a burst of media attention, as though they somehow seal the doom of the New Testament.

There are three lines of evidence that argue against the reliability of these other “gospels.” First, the manuscript evidence for them is terrible, especially compared to the manuscript evidence for the New Testament Gospels. Second, all of these other writings were written down much later than the New Testament. Third, the ideas they present are often completely foreign to what the New Testament Gospels are about, sometimes offering up advice that is just plain bizarre.

In the case of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, it’s not even in the style of the New Testament Gospels, instead serving as a sort of collection of sayings. Some of the material is orthodox, while other parts are strange and outlandish. For example, in Saying 114 of the Gospel of Thomas, Peter supposedly says, “women are not worthy of life.” Jesus responds not by clearing up Peter’s mistake, but by saying he, Jesus, will make the woman into a man so she can then enter the kingdom of heaven. That hardly sounds like the gospel we see throughout the rest of Scripture.

When it is rightly understood and wisely interpreted, we can be confident that the Bible is accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. The Bible is uniquely and solely God’s completely trustworthy revelation to us today.

Why I Don’t Hate the Word “Inerrancy”

Why I Don’t Hate the Word ‘Inerrancy’

By Andrew Wilson

I hate a number of things. Some of them are rather silly: soap operas, egg mayonnaise, cats. Some of them are deadly serious: sex slavery, adultery, cancer, human trafficking, abortion, racism. In a handful of cases, I even hate words: “moist,” “ogle,” and “pamphlet” are among the most odious. But I don’t hate the word “inerrancy.” In fact, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

Perhaps that’s because I’m English. My limited experience in transatlantic dialogue suggests that the word “inerrancy” is divisive in America, up there with “Texas” and “Pelosi” in the list of words most likely to prompt expressions of luminescent ecstasy in some and enraged inarticulate spluttering in others. It seems to be a tribal marker, a password that clearly divides the teams into goodies and baddies, the mere mention of which can cause both sides to run scurrying to the barricades, whether they’re faithful conservatives contending with woolly liberals, or reflective centrists contending with mindless fundies. In the UK, however, it’s not such a contentious concept.

Question Rarely Asked

In ten years of teaching, writing, and researching theology, I’ve never once been asked whether or not I believe in inerrancy. As it happens, I do. If someone was to ask me whether, in my view, the Scriptures contain mistakes or not, I would answer in the negative. Partly this is a result of theological conviction about the divine and human components of Scripture: that when God’s words are expressed by humans, neither their human aspects (authorial personality, tone, language, mode of expression) nor their divine aspects (truthfulness, authority, clarity, reliability) are compromised. Partly it’s because I’d find it strange to tell people that the whole Bible represents the word of God, and the word of God is completely truthful, but that parts of the Bible aren’t completely truthful. (I don’t mean to say that nobody can believe all three of these things but that it would be beyond my intellectual faculties to do so.) Mostly, though, it’s because of Jesus. Put simply, based on what I read in the Gospels, I cannot imagine (if we let this rather implausible thought-experiment run for a moment) Jesus being asked whether the Scriptures contained mistakes or not, and saying yes.

Having said that, I cannot imagine him being asked the question in the first place. From what we can tell, the question of inerrancy was not a live debate in first-century Palestine; nobody had bothered to distinguish between inerrancy and infallibility, caveats about the original manuscripts were infrequent, and you didn’t have to affirm inerrancy to belong to the Galilean Theological Society. In fact, most of Jesus’s famous statements about the truthfulness and permanence of the Jewish scriptures—”not one iota will disappear from the Law until all is accomplished,” “the scriptures cannot be broken,” “it is written,” “the scriptures must be fulfilled,” “David, speaking by the Spirit,” and so on—give the impression of having been largely uncontroversial to their original audiences. If there were parts of the Hebrew Bible that Jesus, or anyone else we encounter in the Gospels, regarded as mistaken (which, from what we know of first-century Judaism, would be a highly unusual view), they have left no such indication in the records we have. The idea of there being mistakes in the Torah, for example, would not have occurred to him, or to any of his earliest followers.

Not only that, but many of the biblical passages people today find the most troubling, and the most likely to be “mistaken,” are also affirmed willy-nilly by Jesus and the apostles, with complete disregard for any subsequent historical-critical brouhahas that might emerge. Creation ex nihilo, the origin of death in humans, the murder of Abel by Cain, a cataclysmic flood of judgment, the righteous judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Mosaic origin of the Torah, manna from heaven, driving out the Canaanites, the Isaianic authorship of the servant songs, and so on—it’s almost as if Jesus and his followers went out of their way to affirm and validate all of the most awkward and recalcitrant apologetic curveballs in the Tanakh, just to make life difficult for post-Enlightenment Western interpreters. It is possible, of course, that Jesus and the apostles were also mistaken, and that their affirmation of all these challenging Old Testament texts reflects nothing more than their limited horizons of understanding. (Most Christians are not prepared to go there, of course, and neither am I; those who do, though in my view misguided, are at least consistent.) But it is hard to argue for an errant Bible based on the words and actions of an inerrant Jesus.

Proper Interpretation

So when asked the street-level question, “Does the Bible contain mistakes?” I always answer, “When interpreted properly, no.” That first clause is important; after all, an awful lot of people in history have thought that the Bible says the earth is at the center of the universe, flat, and built on pillars. There is also a plethora of texts whose literal meaning cannot be their original meaning—ranging from the obviously poetic (“your breasts are clumps of dates”) to the obviously symbolic (“then I saw a beast coming out of the sea”) and the obviously hyperbolic (“cut your eye out and throw it away”)—as well as a group of other texts whose literal meaning may or may not be their original meaning (as anyone who has read Paul Copan on Joshua, Tom Wright on the Olivet Discourse, or Greg Beale on Revelation will know). Consequently, care is needed, particularly in a church context where declaring that “the Bible does not contain mistakes” may be taken as code for “the tribulation will last three-and-a-half calendar years, every single Amalekite was killed by Saul, the moon will literally turn into blood one day, the revelatory gifts have altogether ceased, and evolution is entirely bunk.” When the Bible is interpreted correctly, it is completely true in all that it affirms. When it is interpreted incorrectly, there is no limit to the nonsense we can assume it teaches.

That, I suppose, might be why some people hate the word “inerrancy”—it is damned by association. As a term, it seems to carry all sorts of baggage not associated with the claim that the Bible is all true (which, let’s face it, is a much simpler and much less convoluted word for it): intradenominational division, a Shibboleth culture whereby some people are “in” and some people are “out,” an all-or-nothing deal whereby either everything in the Bible is true or nothing is, and elevation of the Bible above Jesus as the locus of our faith and devotion. In my mind, the associations are different: evangelical conviction, diligent scholarship, confidence in the Scriptures as the Word of God, courageous leadership, and sacrificial mission. But I realize that in some circles, words get tainted (as I discovered when I first came to the United States and let it be known that I was a charismatic). In such cases, it may be the resonances of the word rather than its actual meaning that cause people problems.

But I don’t think the answer is to hate the word. If we were to abandon every word that had been tainted by poor use, we’d have to remove dozens of descriptors from our lexicon, beginning with “Christian”—only to find that the replacements we brought in were also sullied over time by clumsiness, groupthink, insensitivity, and arrogance. For the moment, then, I’ll keep waiting for the day when someone eventually asks me if I believe in inerrancy, at which point I will say yes. And if they disagree, I’ll be sure to be extra nice to them.

Andrew Wilson is a pastor and writer based in Eastbourne, UK. He is the author of If God Then What? Wondering Aloud About Truth, Origins, and Redemption, and you can find him on Twitter @AJWTheology.

Spending 3 Weeks a Year Playing on the Phone

texting
A recent study shows that the typical person spends 90 minutes a day on their phones – “sending texts, making calls, using apps and games, or doing anything else on their phones…That’s 32,850 minutes a year, or 22.8 days. Over the course of the average person’s life, that’s 1,414 days — 3.9 years — spent squinting at a little piece of glass and plastic.”

If you asked the typical American Christian if they had 90 minutes each day to read their Bibles, odds are that they would respond that the time just isn’t their in their schedules.  To back up their claim, odds are that they could show you their schedule and demonstrate the lack of an hour and a half block of time in the day that is free for spending time in the Word.  Yet, based on the above study, we do have the time.  We simply need to adjust our thinking.  Instead of looking for a big block of time, how about we snag those little minutes throughout the day?  I am all for a dedicated longer block of time in the Bible (even if just 10-15 minutes), but how about we capture those little moments to increase the daily impact of the God-breathed Scriptures on our hearts (2 Tim. 3:14-17)?

I am not advocating giving up using one’s phone, playing with apps, and texting (unless you are doing those things while driving).  Rather,  can we at the very least treat our Bibles like we treat our phones?  To have a dedicated time in the Scriptures each day is great.  But how about grabbing some moments throughout the day to read a verse or a chapter during down time instead of playing a level or two of Angry Birds or Temple Run?  How much more time each day would we be letting “the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly” (Col. 3:16) impacting and changing our lives?

Even if we spent 1 minute to read the Bible of every 3 minutes currently spent on frivolous texting and app use on our phones, we would have an extra 30 minutes of Bible reading per day.  That’s 10,950 minutes a year, or 7.6 days, or over a week’s worth of Bible reading a year.  In other words, a person could easily read through the entire Bible 2 or more times a year.  Since there are Bible apps for phones, one could even use your phone to do this reading.

The Most Offensive Verse?

With all of the hot-button issues regarding the Bible and God’s standard of holiness and morality being thrown around the news lately, I was intrigued by one writer’s proposed way of tackling the issues if he were ever interviewed by “Piers or Larry or Tavis or Rosie or Ellen or The View” (or as the author calls them, “TaPierRosEllRy”).

offended

Rather than tackle the particular issue with its certainty of a resulting firestorm of being called intolerant, ignorant, backwards (and any other version of slander and libel tossed around by those seeking to dismiss anyone who dares to publicly present the Word of God for what it says), this author said that he has decided to side-step the conversation and start with the “most offensive” verse in the Bible.

I like the tactic, not because it is sure to pour more fuel on the fire, but because this author’s “most offensive verse” was selected because it goes to the root of the problem, the basic source of all the various controversies that pop up when a person holds a stance based upon the belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and that God actually means what He says.  The tactic is an interesting way of cutting through the smokescreens as well as opening and easy door to present the gospel.

So, what is the author’s “most offensive verse” in the Bible?  Genesis 1:1.

Why Genesis 1:1?  Read the article below and find out for yourself.

The Most Offensive Verse in the Bible

by Dan Phillips

In the Sunday School class at CBC we’re doing a series called Marriage, the Bible and You. In the second lesson of the series, I brought up the subject of secular talk shows and how they like to try to beat up on Christians of any size, shape, and significance about whatever topic they think is most embarrassing and controversial. Of course, at the moment it’s “gay” “marriage,” or the topic of homosexuality at all.

In the course of the lesson, I remarked that I think — from the comfortable quiet safety of my study — that I’d take a different approach.

When Piers or Larry or Tavis or Rosie or Ellen or The View or whoever tried probing me about homosexuality, or wifely submission, or any other area where God has spoken (to the world’s consternation), I think I’d decline the worm altogether. I think instead, I’d say something like,

“You know, TaPierRosEllRy, when you ask me about X, you’re obviously picking a topic that is deeply offensive to non-Christians — but it’s far from the most offensive thing I believe. You’re just nibbling at the edge of one of the relatively minor leaves on the Tree of Offense. Let me do you a favor, and just take you right down to the root. Let me take you to the most offensive thing I believe.

“The most offensive thing I believe is Genesis 1:1, and everything it implies.

bible shock

Therefore, we are not free to create meaning or value. We have only two options. We can discover the true value assigned by the Creator and revealed in His Word, the Bible; or we can rebel against that meaning.That is, I believe in a sovereign Creator who is Lord and Definer of all. Everything in the universe — the planet, the laws of physics, the laws of morality, you, me — everything was created by Another, was designed by Another, was given value and definition by Another. God is Creator and Lord, and so He is ultimate. That means we are created and subjects, and therefore derivative and dependent.
“Any time you bring up questions about any of these issues, you do so from one of two stances. You either do it as someone advocating and enabling rebellion against the Creator’s design, or as someone seeking submissive understanding of that design. You do it as servant or rebel. There is no third option.

“So yeah, insofar as I’m consistent with my core beliefs, everything I think about sexuality, relationships, morals, the whole nine yards, all of it is derived from what the Creator says. If I deviate from that, I’m wrong.

“To anyone involved in the doomed, damned you-shall-be-as-God project, that is the most offensive truth in the world, and it is the most offensive belief I hold.

“But if I can say one more thing, the first noun in that verse —beginning — immediately points us forward. It points to the end. And the end is all about Jesus Christ. That takes us to the topic of God’s world-tilting Gospel, and that’s what we really need to talk about.”

I mean, why quibble about minor offenses, when we know how to take them right to the mother lode of all offense — that God is God, and we are not?