This is part two of “Dealing withÂ Bible Errors the Right Way”
All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for good works. (2 Tim. 3:16,17)
The authority of the inspired scriptures resides, not in an intrusive control of the writing process, nor in an error-free presentation, but in a reliable expression of the faith in the unique period of its earliest gestation. (James Tunstead Burtchaell CSC, in Alan Richardson and John Bowden, A New Dictionary of Christian Theology)
Yesterday weâ€”well, Iâ€”discussed whether the existence of errors, real or imagined, left us with no more inspiration than â€œa reliable expression of the faith in the unique period of its earliest gestation.â€ I am not satisfied with that, and I am reasonably certain that the apostle Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, meant far more than that.
Today, there as an awful heresy that none of us recognize as such. It is a denial of the inspiration of the Bible that the apostles and early Christians knew. It is the false and damaging teaching that â€œa text without a context is a pretext.â€ What that means is that if a sentence or passage of Scripture is quoted out of context, then it is being misused. If this were trueâ€”which, thank God, it is notâ€”then it would disqualify most quotations of the Old Testament that are found in the New.
Letâ€™s begin with the virgin birth. If you believed the heresy that all Scripture use must be â€œin context,â€ then you would have to reject the New Testament use of Isaiah 7:14 (Matt. 1:23). In context, Isaiah 7:14 is a prophecy to King Ahaz of Judah that a maiden, in his day, would give birth to a child named Emmanuel. Before Emmanuel became old enough to tell good from evil, King Pekah of Israel and King Rezin of Syria, who were troubling Ahaz, would be removed from their thrones. Thatâ€™s the context, and Matthew completely ignored both context and translation in using Isaiah 7:14 as a prophecy of the virgin birth of Christ.
Itâ€™s only the LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, that refers to the mother of Emmanuel as a virgin. The â€œoriginalâ€ Hebrew calls her a maiden, which can refer to a virgin, but is not necessarily one. Good thing, too, since we donâ€™t believe in two virgin births. We believe that the mother of the first Emmanuel, the one born in Ahazâ€™ time, was not a virgin. Only the mother of Jesus, the true Emmanuel, was a virgin.
Because we donâ€™t understand inspiration, and because weâ€™ve believed the heresy that â€œa text without a context is a pretext,â€ skeptics like to point out that Matthew pulled Isaiah 7:14 out of contextâ€”way out of context. Shoot, they might as well start wandering through all the prophecies quoted in the New Testament, because most of them are out of context.
Take Hebrews 1:5, for example. While the first portion of that verse, taken from Psalm 2, works quite well in its original context, the last half doesnâ€™t work at all. It is taken, not very well, from 1 Chr. 28:6, where God tells David, â€œSolomon thy son shall build my house and my court, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be to him a fatherâ€ (LXX, the version seemingly used by the writer of Hebrews).
Letâ€™s look at another. In Romans 10:13, Paul quotes Joel 2:32, which says, â€œIt shall come to pass that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be savedâ€ (LXX). However, in the original Hebrew thatâ€™s not just any Lord. In the original Hebrew, it says whoever calls on the name of Yahweh shall be saved. Then it gives a â€œbecause,â€ which means it explains why â€œwhoever calls on the name of Yahweh shall be saved.â€ That â€œbecauseâ€ goes like this: â€œFor in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as Yahweh hath said, and in the remnant whom Yahweh shall callâ€ (Joel 2:32, KJV with LORD changed to the original Yahweh).
So why does Paul feel free to apply this to Jesus? Clearly, itâ€™s addressing Yahweh, the God of the Jews, and it says that weâ€™ll be saved by calling on Yahweh specifically because salvation shall be in Mt. Zion and in Jerusalem. In other words, it will be in Israelâ€™s holy city. To have people calling on Jesus, even if you use the more accurate Yeshua or Yahshua, in any old city, outside of Judaism, as Paul is suggesting, is hardly in context!
Worse, Paul presses on and in v. 18, he quotes from Psalm 19. He says, â€œHave they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the worldâ€ (Rom. 10:18, KJV). For the last few verses, he has been talking about calling on the name of Jesus and preaching Jesus in all the earth. In v. 17 specifically, he has said that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Then he suddenly says that people have already heard because â€œtheirâ€ sound went into all the earth.
Whose sound? In context, in Romans 10, youâ€™d have to assume he meant the preachers heâ€™s been talking about for four verses. â€œHow shall they hear without a preacher?â€ he asks in v. 14. However, he canâ€™t be talking about preachers, because Psalm 19, from which he is quoting, makes it quite clear that â€œtheir soundâ€ is the revelation of the glory of God given by the skies. The skies declare the glory of God; they certainly do not reveal the name of Jesus, which is â€œthe only name given under heaven by which man must be saved,â€ according to Peter (Acts 4:12).
We could go on and on. I found those by flipping around in the New Testament for just a couple minutes. It seems ironic to me that we Americans speak of Godâ€™s inspiration of the Scriptures, a highly spiritual and mystical process, and then look for it to be manifested intellectually with Scripture carefully used in context and scientific accuracy, completely irrelevant to the message, being divinely bestowed on primitive people. Scripture was never meant to be used in this method, and our defense of â€œverbal, plenary inspiration of the Scripturesâ€ has little, if anything at all, to do with real inspiration, and it cripples us and makes us, in the Bibleâ€™s words, foolish.
Just as Godâ€™s message goes into Scripture by inspiration, so it comes out by revelation. The Scriptures never subject themselves to manâ€™s intellect. â€œI will destroy the wisdom of the wise and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudentâ€ (1 Cor. 1:19). So much for the reliability of everything you learned in Bible school. Paul had a different method for preaching the Gospel. â€œNot with wisdom of words,â€ he said, â€œlest the cross of Christ should be made of no effectâ€ (1 Cor. 1:17).
Can we really use a prophecy pulled out of context from Isaiah, then use a Greek translation that doesnâ€™t exactly match the Hebrew? Of course we can. The prophecy does not prove the event. The event proves the prophecy. So God used an unusual route to let us know he knew in advance of the virgin birth. However, Isaiah 7:14 does not prove there was a virgin birth. The virgin birth proves that the LXX translation of Isaiah 7:14 was a prophecy.
Todd Burke, a missionary to Cambodia and author of a book whose title I donâ€™t remember, told a story about arriving in a poor area of Cambodia. He was sleeping on a 1/16th of an inch thick mat, like all the Cambodians, but his birthday had arrived. He had the money to go down to the store and buy a mattress; not as nice as an American mattress, but a mattress nonetheless. He and his wife got up that morning and prayed about whether it was okay to purchase that mattress.
After they prayed, they opened their little daily devotional called My Daily Bread. The Scripture for that day? â€œEndure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.â€ They laughed and laughed, but they took it as a word from the Lord, and they did not purchase the mattress.
This isnâ€™t silly. The God of inspiration is the God of revelation. Rather than reveal his whole plan to Isaiah, who surely could not have handled the entire picture of the Messiah, he gave Isaiah prophecies containing bits and pieces of the whole picture. In Isaiahâ€™s prophecy to Ahaz, he breathed in a subtle clue that when God came to earth (Emmanuel, God with us) he would come through a virgin. In other places, he breathed in not-so-subtle testimonies of a suffering Messiah.
We at Rose Creek Village have had our own experience of the subtle inspiration of God: a testimony that God was thinking of us thousands of years in advance. In 1995, several families from the church in Geneva, Florida came to Bethel Springs, Tennessee to proclaim the Life of God. Wanting some time to discuss these things, one of the sisters in Bethel Springs suggested retreating for a week to a national park some five hours away called Standing Stone. Why Standing Stone? To this day we do not know, except that God had things to say to us. There were many parks closer and just as beautiful.
It was a difficult weak, and there was much opposition from the enemy. The brothers and sisters from Geneva cried out to God. On the very last night, they were ready to end the day when one of the sisters came out to say, â€œWe need to sing one more song. Letâ€™s sing â€˜Awake.â€™â€
Everyone gathered. They began to sing, and the Holy Spirit suddenly began to move. Faces changed, hearts lifted, and many who had wondered opened their hearts to the message of God. In one moment the church in Bethel Springs was born.
It was months later when we ran across the passage in Genesis that describes Jacobâ€™s vision of a ladder stretching from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending upon it. Then the Scripture says:
And Jacob awaked out of his sleep … and Jacob rose up early in the morning, took the stone that he had used as a pillow, and stood it up like a pillar and poured oil on top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel.
Now perhaps you think it pure chance that God used the song awake to pour the oil of the Holy Spirit upon us at a place called Standing Stone in order to begin the church at Bethel Springs, but we cannot. We know that for the God of the Scriptures to be thinking of us 3,000 years ago or more is not strange. It is simply the way God works. It is a normal experience for those that live by revelation.
Inspiration has nothing whatsoever to do with scientific accuracy or a memory jogged by God to remember insignificant details like whether bystanders saw a light or heard words (Acts 9:7; 22:9). Nor does inspiration have anything to do with whether the days of Genesis are literal 24-hour periods or eras consisting of thousands, millions, or billions of years. Inspiration has to do with the fact that it was Godâ€™s influence that made Moses use â€œgreater lightâ€ and â€œlesser lightâ€ rather than â€œsunâ€ and â€œmoonâ€ in Genesis one. The greater and lesser light, more importantly than representing the sun and moon, represent Christ, the light of the world, and the Church that, with no light of its own, reflects the glory of the Son.
Those who understand inspiration are ever learning, always being taught by the revelation of God. Who told Paul that Abrahamâ€™s two sons are really two covenants, one bringing freedom and one bringing slavery? We can debate until we pass into eternity whether there was a literal Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in a literal garden being eaten by a literal man. It will do us no good. It is far more important that we receive the revelation that we, like Adam, will be barred from the rest of God found in his garden if we live by the knowledge of good and evil. The flaming sword turns every way to bar the life of man from the garden of God. Even so, only those who will lose their life may enter eternal life by eating the Tree of Life found in the garden where live all those who find their rest in God alone.