ACST 12. The Gift

The apostle Peter said that “God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT). One of those gifts is the Bible itself. Unfortunately our need for God’s word is so significant that we often ignore it, and take it for granted. Like the air that we breathe, we take God’s gift of his word for granted, assuming its existence, but never contemplating its importance.

Since God is the source of the truth we find in the Bible, loyalty to God demands loyalty to that truth. Since God’s word comes from him, it is the standard by which we judge all truth claims, and the tool with which the Holy Spirit transforms our lives. It is the ultimate authority because it expresses God’s will as nothing else can. It sheds light on today’s path as well as yesterday’s. God has given us sure knowledge of himself through his word, and that knowledge is sufficient for our present needs. Although we do not yet understand everything about our present standing and future hope, what we do understand is enough to motivate our trust in him, and to guide us in obeying him.

There are obstacles to that kind of trust, and those obstacles should be avoided. Identifying how Satan tries to undermine that trust can help believers to fully appreciate the gift we have from God in his word, and avoid taking it for granted.

Science and the Bible

God created science, because he created the natural world and created within humanity the desire to understand its mysteries. The word of God accurately interpreted can never oppose reality. Likewise, true science (which is intended to reflect that reality) can never be in opposition to what God has revealed in his word.

However, much of what passes as scientific knowledge today is neither scientific nor knowledge. It is a conspiracy which starts from the unproven presupposition that all that is can be explained without God, and then devises unprovable theories of origin, and defends them without the slightest glance toward all the evidence for intelligent design. It persecutes free thinkers who dare to challenge those basic assumptions which drive it, forbidding them access to jobs in the field of scientific research or education.

Much of the blame for this state of intellectual blindness is put on Charles Darwin, and his theory of evolution. Darwin posited that all species originated from the same source, and came to that conclusion from the similarities he observed among the species. In his day, Darwin was effectively refuted by the scientific community, which answered his presupposition by pointing out that similarities among the species is to be expected if all of the species had the same Creator, who used the same processes and building blocks to create them.

The real cause for the conspiracy against intelligent design is not a proven scientific theory, but an unprovable religious philosophy: secularism. It was the secularists who attached themselves to Darwin’s theory, and applied it in a number of different areas of scientific pursuit.1 Secularism has taken the scientific and education fields hostage for its own purpose. That purpose is to produce a social atmosphere void of religious norms.

One of the religious norms that secularism has fought strenuously is that of biblical authority. By removing the biblical concept of creation as an acceptable concept of origins, the secularists have effectively removed the idea of God from its connection with true knowledge itself. Theistic theories are branded as taboo, and those who espouse them are ostracized.

Many individual scientists and educators, however, have come to Christ, because they realize that God’s word is true, and have put their faith in what that word says about Jesus’ death, and God’s promises. This has led to a somewhat dualistic existence, since the rules of their religious life are at odds with the rules imposed upon them by their “secular” lives.

This situation is truly intolerable, and it cannot last forever. The scientific and education communities must eventually own up to their being held hostage by an unproven religious philosophy. Until that happens, at least the religious community must hold fast to fiat creationism. The so-called theistic evolution perspective is a compromise that does no good for the Church, and only encourages secularists, whose goal is not the truth, but a social structure free from religion.

The Bible is a gift given to humanity in order that we accomplish God’s will for us. Attempts (like those made by the secularists) to lessen the importance of the Bible should be fought militantly. Unfortunately, the evangelical church in the 21st century has failed to engage in this battle. One of the results of this failure is that our view of the Bible has suffered. Although we call the Bible God’s word, and insist that it is reliable, what the world hears is “the Bible is true except for when it is not.”

Supernatural Experience and the Bible

Another major attack on the believer’s view of the Bible has been an elevation of the role of supernatural experience. Since God, angels and demons exist, there will always be supernatural experiences, some of them orchestrated from heaven, others from a different place. Historically, these supernatural experiences have increased our appreciation of the Bible, because they affirm that the same God who spoke through such experiences in the past (as recorded in the Bible) is still working today. Unfortunately, Satan loves to abuse a good thing. He has encouraged believers to put too much trust in their own experiences, rather than to rely on God’s truth. This is not new. The Israelite society that conquered the promised land under Joshua faced a similar situation. After successfully possessing the land under the power of God, they soon fell under the influence of those nations that they had defeated. Part of the reason for that is that they intermingled with those very cultures that God had sent them to displace. They became enamored with those people, and listened to their stories of religious encounters at the Asherah poles and oak trees. Soon they began experimenting with the rituals themselves, and had similar experiences. It was not long before the law of Moses was a dim memory, and the real religious life of the Israelites was of pagan origin. The result, as the book of Judges demonstrates, is that the Israelites were soon controlled by the very cultures which God had commanded them to displace.

Whenever a society places more emphasis on supernatural experience than God’s revelation in his word, it opens itself up to demonic deception. Satan and his demons look for ways to distract people from the truth of the Bible. They use dreams and visions, and pretend to be lost loved ones with messages from “the other side.” The demons can be very convincing in this role, since they would have witnessed these loved ones while they were still alive. Satan does not have the power to awaken anyone from the dead, but he does have the ability to deceive those who believe it is possible.

A biblical story which shows this strategy the devil uses is that of Saul and the medium at En-dor. This story is found in 1 Samuel 28:7-20 (ESV).

7 Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.” 8 So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.” 9 The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?” 10 But Saul swore to her by the LORD, “As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” 11 Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.” 13 The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” 14 He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage. 15 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” 16 And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has turned from you and become your enemy? 17 The LORD has done to you as he spoke by me, for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. 18 Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day. 19 Moreover, the LORD will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The LORD will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.” 20 Then Saul fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night.

This passage is not intended to justify what Saul did. It was obvious that Saul was acting outside the boundaries of God’s law, since he himself had commanded that all such mediums be destroyed (9). But God appears to have used his desperate attempt to rescue himself as another means of communicating with him, to announce his judgment for disobedience, and confirm that the kingdom belonged to David. Neither is this story intended to legitimize the function of the medium. Actually, the medium herself expressed surprise when she discovered that she could see Samuel (12). She expected a demon pretending to be Samuel. Whether this was actually Samuel resurrected (awakened) by God for this occasion, or whether it was merely a vision that God gave, this whole story reaffirms the principle that God’s people are to look to Him and his word for guidance, not to supernatural experiences.

Ecclesiastical Authority and the Bible

If Satan cannot dilute our trust in God’s words with science or the supernatural, he will attempt to replace those words with our traditional understanding of them. Because the Church has theologized in the past, she has developed theological traditions. These are not wrong in themselves – in fact, they prove quite helpful. The problem is when “tradition in effect becomes a lens through which the written word is interpreted. Tradition therefore stands as the highest of all authorities, because it renders the only authoritative interpretation of the sacred writings.”2 When these theological traditions are defended by ecclesiastical authorities, then the authorities themselves wind up replacing God’s word.

Jesus encountered this problem with the Pharisees and scribes. He accused them of leaving God’s word and holding to the traditions of men (Mark 7:8). When God gave his word to the Israelites through Moses, he specifically commanded them not to add to it or take away from it (Deut. 12:32). Success and prosperity depended upon them knowing and obeying God’s written revelation, and not turning from it to the right hand or the left (Joshua 1:7-8).

However, it is so easy for those who are part of an ecclesiastical tradition to place undue authority on that tradition. Like Paul, who commended his churches for maintaining the traditions that he had set up for them (1 Cor. 11:12; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6), we are right to resist change unless it is clearly called for by scripture. But our commitment to sola scriptura requires that we constantly compare our traditional understandings with God’s word, and it must be the standard by which we judge them.

Being Christian About the Bible

To possess and maintain a proper view of the Bible, believers should look to Jesus himself for an example. Our bibliology (view of God’s revelation through scripture) must be “…bound up with our loyalty to Jesus Christ. If He is our Teacher and our Lord, we have no liberty to disagree with him. Our view of Scripture must be His.”3 The following texts demonstrate that Jesus viewed the Bible as a divinely inspired text which could be relied upon because it was free from error and falsehood:

Matthew 22:29 NET “Jesus answered them, “You are deceived, because you don’t know the scriptures or the power of God.”

Luke 22:37 NET “For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me is being fulfilled.”

Matthew 4:4 NET “But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

John 10:35 NET “…and the scripture cannot be broken”

Nor did Jesus limit his view of the reliability of the Bible. In fact, it was the Old Testament scripture to which he was referring when he made his statements defending the Bible’s veracity.

Those who look to the Bible itself (like Jesus did) for their view of the Bible will find that “every word of God proves true” (Prov. 30:5). They will find that the biblical authors unashamedly proclaimed that what they were saying and writing were God’s words and as reliable as He is. The phrase “Thus says the LORD,” for example, appears in the Old Testament 416 times. The phrase “…declares the LORD” appears 361 times. Therefore “…any attempt to find in the Bible some encouragement to restrict the areas in which Scripture is reliable and truthful will surely fail, for the implication of literally hundreds of verses is that God’s word is reliable in every way.”4

It is to this word from God, this Scripture, this Bible, that we turn to discover the answers to the questions we have today about God, humanity, sin, Christ, salvation, the Church, and the future. We will not ignore the voices of science, supernatural experience, or ecclesiastical tradition. But in the final analysis it will be in God’s message itself that we place our trust. It is that message that we will proclaim to this and the next generation.

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1 Once the theory of evolution suggested that long periods of time were all that was necessary to explain the biological universe, similar presuppositions were brought to bear on geological and astronomical questions. These three fields of scientific endeavor have ever since served as the major evidence for evolution. For some arguments against secularist presuppositions, see http://www.creationtips.com/evoluwrong.html;
http://www.straight-talk.net/evolution/arguments.shtml; http://www.frankcaw.com/science.html

2 John MacArthur, “The Sufficiency of the Written Word.” in Don Kistler, ed., Sola Scriptura. (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995), 152.

3 John R. W. Stott, You Can Trust The Bible. (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1982), 38.

4 Wayne A. Grudem, “Scripture’s Self-Attestation.” in D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, Scripture and Truth. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 58.

ACST 11. The Light

The psalmist calls God’s word “a lamp to (his) feet and a light to (his) path” (Psalm 119:105), affirming that what God says helps him walk as God desires. Today’s culture tends to treat the Bible as a dark and confusing path, rather than a light. But God’s word is intended to be understood in the contexts and times in which it was originally given, and with a minimum of effort, and we can understand and apply it to our modern contexts as well.

Traditionally, this doctrine is known as the clarity or perspecuity of scripture. It affirms that “Scripture can be and is read with profit,with appreciation and with transformative results.”1 Some might argue that since the Bible is God’s word, one requires divine help to read it. But the evangelical doctrine of clarity assumes that the divine help is built into the inspired text itself.

In fact, one reason that people often have problems understanding scripture is that in addition to being God’s word, it is also written with human words.2 Hermeneutics, the science of biblical interpretation, exists to help human beings understand the meaning intended by the original human authors of scripture. God did not bypass the minds of those human authors. His word is written in their words. The more we understand them, the more we will understand him.

When biblical texts are treated in accordance with the rules of literature established for the genres they reflect, their meaning is obvious. Willful ignorance of the teachings of God’s word cannot be excused by claiming that the Bible is too confusing.

The Genealogies

Many stumble over the lists they find in the Bible, and fail to see how such lists – e.g. the genealogies – can be theologically appropriate, or devotionally uplifting. But the existence of these numerous lists is the very thing that made these texts come alive to the original recipients, since they realized that what God did effected the lives of people like them, and – in many cases – their own families.

The Archaisms

Some object that the scriptures are outdated, and thus obsolete. Every writing is a product of its own time, and the scriptures are no exception. But the really good writings are so good that they are worth the time and effort it takes to overcome the time barrier. Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies, for example, are still performed today, and many versions of his works are available. People still study his writings, and some do it exclusively. Often a Shakespeare book will be published with professional annotations. The reason is that without those explanatory notes, many of the sayings, although written in English, would be incomprehensible. Time has so changed how things are communicated in English that such extra study is necessary if we are to understand what Shakespeare meant. But no one blames Shakespeare for that. It is not that he wrote without clarity. Time has made his clear words unclear. It only takes a little effort and study to appreciate the genius of Shakespeare. The same is true of God’s word.

In fact, it takes less time and effort to understand the Bible than it does Shakespeare for several reasons:

1) Scholars continue to research the background of Bible texts, revealing insights that help the average Christian understand what the original authors of scripture intended to say. This is actually one of the purposes for commentaries and Bible textbooks.

2) New translations of the Bible help to clarify texts, words and phrases that were difficult to understand in the past. This is why Christians should not get hung up defending just one translation of the scriptures, as if God has only endorsed one. That is just not true. The King James Bible may have been the best translation available to explain God’s word to English speakers in 1611, but a lot has changed in the last 400 years. Biblical scholarship has changed, and not all of it has been modernist. The English language has changed drastically. In fact, if you ever see one of those King James Bibles written exactly as they were written in 1611, you will notice how hard it is to read it.

I recommend that every serious student of the word of God possess two English language Bibles: one should be more word-for-word literal, and the other should seek dynamic equivalence. Just in the short time that I have been preaching and teaching the Bible, the actual versions that I recommend have changed several times. Currently I recommend the ESV (English Standard Version) for its literal rendering of the original words, and the NLT (New Living Translation) as an example of dynamic equivalence.3

3) Theologians continue to posit theories and doctrines that are aimed at showing the meaning of the Bible as a whole, or the particular emphasis of a biblical author. As more work is done in this area, the average Christian is more able to explain what scripture means. As long as we continue to draw a distinction between those doctrinal systems and the Bible itself, this process can only magnify the clarity of scripture.

4) Unlike Shakespeare, the Bible is best understood when its message is applied. “Application focuses the truth of God’s Word to specific, life-related situations. It helps people understand what to do or to use what they have learned.” 4 Those who commit themselves to living the Bible find its message less complex. As believers find themselves walking in the footsteps of the biblical characters, they understand why God blessed them when he blessed them, and why he withheld blessing or brought judgment when they rebelled or sinned.

5) The truly born-again Christian has the help of a resident Bible expert: The Holy Spirit, who inspired the Bible, and thus can explain its message best. The Holy Spirit accompanies the word, and brings about understanding and conviction (1 Cor. 2:11; 1 Thess. 1:5; 1 John 2:27). He encourages listeners not to harden their hearts when they hear God’s voice (Heb. 3:7-8). He also appears to particularly accompany the preaching of the word, so that it has special power (1 Peter 1:12).

The Genres

One of the characteristics of scripture that leads many to label it as confusing is that it is a collection of many different types of writing, not just one. A genre is a type of writing. Poetry is one genre, and history is another. One would never approach a book of poetry expecting to get the kind of information she can get from a history book. But the untrained reader often approaches an obscure text of scripture expecting to be “blessed” the same way she was blessed when reading John 3. It doesn’t work that way.

The Tanach

The Hebrew compilers of scripture recognized this fact, and grouped together books of similar genres. This simple grouping consisted of the Torah, the Neviim, and the Chtuvim. The whole Hebrew Bible is thus often called the Tanach, from the first letters of those three genres.

The Tanach
Torah = “Law” (Instruction from Moses about who the Israelites are, and what God has planned for them.) Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

Neviim = “Prophets” (A look at the Israelites from God’s viewpoint.)Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, The Twelve Minor Prophets.

Chtuvim = “Writings” (A look at the Israelites from their own viewpoint.)
Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 & 2 Chronicles.

The Torah

Both the Neviim and the Chtuvim were (in a sense) commentaries on the Torah, since the Torah served as the basis for the Israelite identity, as it carved out the pattern for the nation in relationship with its LORD. The Torah established the parameters of the Mosaic covenant. The Mosaic ceremonial regulations were important because they accentuated this covenant relationship, and tied together the Israelites as a separate people, intended to be uniquely God’s.

The Neviim

The Neviim held the Israelites accountable for living up to the demands of that covenant. That was why the prophets often condemned their own people. God was speaking through them, calling them to task for their failure to be who he wanted them to be, encouraging them to live up to who they were. Reading the prophets requires keeping that in mind, and continually tracing the prophetic pronouncements back to the original covenant stipulations they reflect. While prophetic texts contain many predictive elements, they are best read not as merely history written beforehand, but as historical reflections on Gods plan as revealed in the Torah. This explains why the Hebrews considered some historical books (e.g. Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings) as prophets.

Chtuvim

The writings category is somewhat surprising as well. It contains poetry and wisdom literature, but also some historical books. The biggest surprise is that the Hebrews categorized the book of Daniel as a writing instead of a prophet. The best way to see this category is as sort-of the opposite of the prophets. While the prophets showcase God’s people from God’s viewpoint, the writings view life from the perspective of God’s people themselves. Perhaps Daniel is included in this category as an example of how godly wisdom works its way out in the life of a leader in exile. Of course there are prophecies in Daniel, just as there are examples of poetry and wisdom in the Torah and Neviim.

The New Testament

The Gospels: Instruction from Jesus about who Christians are, and what God has planned for them.Matthew, Mark, Luke, John

Revelation: A look at Christians from God’s viewpoint.Revelation

Acts & The Epistles:A look at Christians from their own viewpoint.
Acts, The Pauline Epistles, The General Epistles

The New Testament contained books which followed a very similar pattern. The new covenant was explained by Jesus to his disciples. Revelation is a means of encouragement from God as Christians seek to live their lives in obedience to that covenant while encountering opposition from the Dragon (Satan), the Beast (political powers), and the False Prophet (religious deception). Acts and the Epistles swing back in the other direction as the new Church seeks to define and defend itself as the new covenant people of God.

New Translations and Versions

When it became necessary to translate the original Hebrew and Aramaic texts of the Hebrew Bible, and add the new inspired writings of the New Testament, new versions came about which did not follow the Jewish tripartite categories. Eventually a new standard classification system developed which divided the OT into law, history, poetry and prophecy, and the NT into Gospels, history (Acts), epistles, and prophecy (Revelation). No classification system is inspired, and this new one had its flaws, but it was an honest attempt at classifying texts according to their genre. The problem was that each biblical book may contain examples of several genres.

Genre Classification Today

The approach today is to treat smaller segments of text within the biblical books, and seek to understand their meaning based on the type of writing they reflect. Thus any text might be classified as apocalypse, epistle, genealogy, gospel, law, narrative, poetry, prophecy, proverb, psalm, or wisdom and with each classification comes a different set of rules for interpreting the text.5

The Problem with Lights

Like every other electrical device, a flashlight has to be turned on to work. The Bible is a light to illumine dark paths, but it will do no one any good if it stays on the shelf. Just claiming that you have a flashlight is not going to be very helpful. You have to pull it out and turn it on. Millions have found encouragement and solace in the Bible, but each has had to put their trust in it. Those of us who have had the privilege to study the Bible for many years can testify that it never fails to light the path for those who dare to use it.

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1 James Callahan, The Clarity of Scripture. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 9. See also Gregg Allison, The Protestant Doctrine of the Perspicuity of Scripture. (Deerfield, IL: Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1995), 516-517. Allison provides and defends the following definition: “Perspicuity is a property of Scripture as a whole and of each portion of Scripture whereby it is comprehensible to all believers who possess the normal acquired ability to understand oral communication and/or written discourse, regardless of their gender, age, education, language, or cultural background. However, the level of people’s comprehension of perspicuous Scripture is appropriate to and usually varies proportionately with various factors, including, but not limited to, spiritual maturity. In addition, the doctrine of perspicuity is always affirmed in the context of a believing community, a context which assumes the assistance of others in attaining a more precise understanding of Scripture, and perspicuity requires a dependence on the Holy Spirit for Scripture to be grasped, and calls for a responsive obedience to what is understood. Moreover, perspicuity includes the comprehensibility of the way of salvation to unbelievers who are aided by the Holy Spirit, and it does not exclude some type of cognition of Scripture in general by unbelievers.”

2. Moises Silva, “Who Needs Hermeneutics Anyway.” in Walter C. Kaiser and Moises Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 16.

3. Serious Bible students can now have access to dozens of versions, and the more, the better. Bible software programs have made this possible for many, as well as Bible study websites on the Internet.

4. D. Veerman, How to Apply the Bible, 2nd ed. (Wheaton: Tyndale,1993), 15.

5. See https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/k-lee7/www/iccf/docs/blitgenres.htm

ACST 10. The Law

Synopsis:

God’s word and his being are inextricably connected, so that there is no way to seek God without concentrating on what he has revealed, and no relationship with God can be formed which is not informed by that revelation.

In this chapter, I expose the myth of the personal relationship with God through some means other than the Bible.

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The Way To God

Psalm 119 is a challenge to most modern readers because its author insists on having a relationship with the LORD by seeking him – not through some ecstatic trance -but in his word. “Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart,…With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! Psalm 119:2,10 ESV” Although we might want to find God through some mystical experience or theophany, the place to find him is in the pages of the Bible. The fact is, God’s word and his being are inextricably connected, so that there is no way to seek God without concentrating on what he has revealed, and no relationship with God can be formed which is not informed by that revelation.

Misuse of the Law

In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had misunderstood that purpose of the Law, and so had turned the Bible into an idol – a means of accessing God’s favor apart from a relationship with him. They had essentially chosen to turn the Law of God into an anthropocentric device. Instead of being a love letter from God revealing who he is, it was used as a means of accessing God’s power for human purposes. Utilized that way, the Bible was no different from the idols, ceremonies and sacrifices of the pagans.

There is a great deal of evidence in the New Testament that Pharisees had developed an animistic philosophy which mirrored that of the pagan nations. They did not resort to idol worship, but their attitude about the Law reflected the animistic concept of power words. They viewed personal wealth as an indication of God’s favor. Their acts of devotion were pretense, but inwardly they were malicious, and became violent when their way of life was challenged.
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The Pharisees and Animism
(All Quotes are ESV)

The Pharisees were not saved.

Matthew 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Matthew 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 15:12-13 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.

Matthew 16:6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

Matthew 16:12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Matthew 23:13,15 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

Luke 7:30 but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)

The Pharisees only appeared to revere the Law but instead were lawbreakers:

Matthew 23:3-7 so practice and observe whatever they tell you – but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.
5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.

The Pharisees recognized that God exists, and also acknowledged the existence and influence of other spirit beings.

Matthew 9:34 But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”

Matthew 12:24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”

Acts 23:8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.

The Pharisees looked for signs from Jesus because they wanted access to spiritual power without a personal relationship.

Matthew 12:38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”

Matthew 16:1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.

The Pharisees fasted and performed eating rituals because they believed they would bring blessing, or give them extra spiritual power.

Matthew 9:14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”

Matthew 15:1-2 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”

The Pharisees avoided work on the Sabbath Day not to improve their relationship with God, but as an animistic taboo which they thought would make them more prosperous.

Matthew 12:2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”

The pharisees avoided defilement because they believed it would bring a curse, or a loss of spiritual power.

Matthew 9:11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Matthew 23:25-26 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

The Pharisees demonstrated that their goal was not a relationship with God by how they treated his Son – Jesus Christ

Matthew 12:14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Matthew 12:24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”

Matthew 19:3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”

Matthew 21:45-46 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

Matthew 22:15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his talk.

Luke 5:21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Luke 6:7 And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him.

Luke 16:14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.

John 18:3 3 So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.

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No Pharisee would have admitted to having the same world-view as his idol-worshiping pagan neighbor. The sect developed during the exilic period when Israel was surrounded by pagan cultures which were profoundly animistic. The Pharisees lacked idols, and prided themselves on avoiding contamination by staying away from Gentiles altogether whenever possible.

However, to the Pharisee, the Law itself had become an idol – a device that could be used to manipulate the spirit world to bring about personal gain. Their avoidance of certain people (Gentiles, tax collectors and “sinners”) and meticulous regulations against any work on the Sabbath was a manifestation of the animistic concept of taboo. The rituals and ceremonies (e.g. concerning hand-washing) were similar to the animistic rituals designed to avoid bad luck, and prevent unwanted spiritual influence.

To the average Jew living in first century Palestine, the Pharisees were superstar believers. They were the elite, whose religious devotion was legendary and whose status was only to be admired and longed for. Jesus, however, recognized that their superstar status was unwarranted. To him they were a plant not planted by his heavenly Father. He agreed with John the Baptist, who called them a brood of vipers. He warned his disciples not to take in their teachings, because they would be contaminated by them. Many of Jesus’ parables were directly aimed at the Pharisees, exposing their hypocrisy and duplicity.

Proper Use of the Law

If the Pharisees’ emphasis on the Law as an anthropocentric devise was a mistake, then how does the Law fit within God’s plan for humanity? The best places to find answers to that question are Moses, the prophets of the Old Testament, and the Apostle Paul. Progressively throughout the Bible God revealed more and more of the purpose for which he gave us his Law.
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Moses Mediates The Law of the LORD

Moses Recognized that the Law came from the LORD, not him

Exodus 16:4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.

Moses Encouraged the Israelites use the Law as a means of testifying to God’s hand on their lives

Exodus 13:8-9 You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 9 And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 6:6-9 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

God intended Law-keeping to express a love relationship between Himself and his people

Exodus 20:5-6 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Deuteronomy 6:5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Deuteronomy 11:13 “And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul,

God intended Law-keeping to glorify His name and remind the Israelites of His love for them

Leviticus 22:31-33 “So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the LORD. 32 And you shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel. I am the LORD who sanctifies you, 33 who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the LORD.”

Moses promised blessing for those who keep God’s covenant, including the blessing of fellowship with the LORD

Leviticus 26:9-12 I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you. 10 You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. 11 I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. 12 And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.

Moses warned of dire consequences of failing to keep God’s covenant, including loss of fellowship with the LORD

Leviticus 26:15-18 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. 17 I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. 18 And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins,

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The purpose of the Law, then, was far from an anthropocentric device for achieving human goals, and fixing human problems. It was God’s Law, and it was meant to glorify Him, and maintain the fellowship which He established by His grace with his own particular people. That is why “Moses … constantly reminds the Jews of the covenant of grace concluded with their fathers whose heirs they were, just as if his special mission were to renew that covenant.”1

The law was not a means to obtaining salvation under either covenant. It could only be properly utilized by believing Jews who wanted to maintain a right relation-ship with the God who chose them. It showed them “the goal toward which (their lives) must be directed.”2 But God knew that these believers would battle with temptations to sin, and distractions from the life He intended for them.

The Law was His instruction manual on living the life of the covenant with Him. In fact, that is the root meaning behind the word torah. It is instruction. Even in modern Hebrew the noun moreh, derived from torah, does not mean lawyer – it means teacher. The law was not the means to the relationship, but the loving gift by God to help maintain it. It “was not laid down four hundred years after the death of Abraham in order to lead the chosen people away from Christ.”3 It was intended to keep them faithful to the LORD and expectant of all his promises, especially the advent of Christ.

The trouble with instruction manuals is that they are written by people who understand the appliance (or software, construction kit, etc.) but read by people who usually do not have a clue. Consequently most instruction manuals are discarded as useless, and for the most part, that is what the Israelites did with God’s law. They made a show at obeying it, but failed to manifest the inward conversion needed for the Law to work for them. This led to disaster for Israel as a nation.

The prophets came along at this time as God’s representatives, speaking for him, mostly to the Israelites themselves, although occasionally they spoke to neighbor nations. The task of the prophets was to defend God’s Law and vindicate his actions.
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The Prophets Defend the LORD and Vindicate His actions

They Testify that the LORD’s people have turned away from his covenant

Isaiah 1:2-4 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. 3 The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” 4 Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.

Isaiah 1:21-23 How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. 22 Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water. 23 Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them.

They Reveal that the Relationship and Fellowship are Missing

Isaiah 1:15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

They Point out that Hypocritical Shows of Obedience are Worthless

Isaiah 1:11-14 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. 12 “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? 13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations – I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. 14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.

They Warn of The Consequences of Continued Rebellion

Isaiah 1:20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Isaiah 1:25 I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy.

They Plead for Israel to Manifest a True Conversion, and Offer Hope that God will Forgive

Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason1 together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

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The prophets spoke for God when the kings and priests could no longer do so, having been alienated by corruption and rebellion. This is why the prophets predicted the future. They foresaw a time of blessing for a remnant of Israel who would recognize the Light when he came (Isa. 9:2, John 1:4-9). They also foresaw judgment and destruction for the rebellious nation who refused to repent.

The Apostle Paul was in a particularly useful position to explain the proper use for the Law, since he had been a Pharisee who came to faith in Christ. His position provides a healthy balance between two extremes: that of the Judaizers who sought to retain the Pharisaical interpretation of the Law’s use, and that of the Libertarians who sought to jettison the Law as obsolete. To Paul, both of these views represented abandonment of God’s gift of the Law, which is holy and righteous and good.
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Paul Explains The Law’s Purpose

Since The Law Reflects God’s Character, Gentiles Can Obey it without knowing it, And Jews Can Disobey it while claiming to be under it.

Romans 2:12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.

Romans 2:13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Romans 2:14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.

Romans 2:15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them

Romans 2:17-20 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth –

Romans 2:23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.

Romans 2:25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.

Romans 2:26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?

Romans 2:27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.

The Law Was Never A Means of Salvation, but a Means of Revealing Our Need of a Savior

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

Romans 3:20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it –

Romans 3:28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Romans 3:31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

The Law was Intended to Lead the Israelites back to the Promises of God and His Grace.

Romans 4:13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

Romans 4:14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.

Romans 4:16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring – not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,

Christ’s Death Released Believers from being Under The Law, And Made it Possible For Us To Live Godly Lives By the Holy Spirit.

Romans 5:20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,

Romans 6:14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 6:15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!

Romans 7:4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

Romans 7:6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

The Law is Holy, but Without the Holy Spirit, only Produces More Sin in those why try to Obey it.

Romans 7:7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

Romans 7:8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead.

Romans 7:9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.

Romans 7:12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

Romans 7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.

Christ Fulfills The Law’s Purpose.

Romans 8:3-4 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.

Romans 9:31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.

Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

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Paul taught that the covenant came before the Law. The Law “is not simply a collection of commands about how to live well, but is included in the covenant of grace which God founded.”4 The Law was a means of preserving the integrity of the covenant among a rebellious people until Christ would come to fulfill its demands.

Paul taught that Christ fulfilled the law’s purpose by 1) living a life in full obedience to it (Romans 5:19, Phil. 2:8), 2) dying a sinless death to atone for the sins of believers (Col. 1:20, 2:14), 3) providing the Holy Spirit who makes it possible for us to live out the law’s intent (1 Cor. 3:16,6:19, 2 Cor. 1:22, Gal. 3:3, 5:16).

Still The Way To God

The sentiment expressed in Psalm 119:2,10 is still valid today. God reveals himself through his word, and those of us who seek him (empowered to do so by the Holy Spirit) will still find him there. All 66 books of the Holy Bible are love letters from a God who wants to have a lasting intimate relationship with us, and has provided real, substantial content for that relationship. As we draw closer to him by reading these love letters, we cannot help but be impressed by his holiness and power.

As we remain faithful in exposing ourselves to divine revelation, some of that divine character will pass on to us. We must be careful, however, to recognize that self-improvement is only a side-effect of exposure to God’s word. The primary effect we are looking for when we break open the pages of the Bible is getting to know God better. He is the one who saved us by his grace.

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1 William Niesel, Harold Knight., The Theology of Calvin. (Cambridge, England: James Clark & Co., 2002), 94.

2 Niesel, 97.

3 Niesel, 105-106.

4 Niesel, 92.

ACST 9. The Tool

The absolute confidence Advent Christians have historically held concerning the Bible has always been two-fold: a confidence in what the Bible is (the word of God), and also in what the Bible does. Advent Christians realize that the Bible was never intended merely to inform them of God’s existence and standards, but it was designed to do more. It was designed as a tool to transform them into the people God wanted them to be. Many Advent Christians came out of other movements which stressed the role of the Holy Spirit in personal sanctification.

Human nature is not what it should be. The entrance of sin into the mix has corrupted our DNA and our minds and hearts as well. The human race in general – and every person in particular – is off kilter. We may not be as bad as we could be, but nobody is as good as we were supposed to be. We need help.

God has a wonderful plan for your life, but you do not qualify for it, and neither do I. Something is wrong inside – and that something has disqualified us all for the destiny God has in store. Christ’s death on the cross applied by faith removed the penalty of sin which restores our relationship with God, but it did not immediately transform us into the kind of people who are fit for eternity. God has provided his word to begin that process.

We need to apply the words and message of the Bible to our lives. This allows God’s word to transform us into who we were intended to be. The apostle Paul explained the mechanics of this process when encouraging Timothy to stay true to the faith and not follow the deceptions of apostates (2 Tim. 3). He explained that the apostates who would come would soon be shown to be fools (vs. 9), but that Timothy would be vindicated because…

“…from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:15-17).

Paul called the difference that protected Timothy from apostasy wisdom. The source of that wisdom was the sacred writings, a term that Paul used to refer to the Hebrew scriptures. Now that the New Testament has been written, the term all scripture includes those writings as well.
Notice the elements of the process that Paul describes. Each element is crucial for transformation, and in each element the Holy Spirit actively uses the word of God to affect change.

Element #1: The light of “wisdom that leads to salvation.”

This is the foundational element. No one can be sanctified if they have not come to the cross and accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. One of the reasons for this prerequisite is that this event (conversion) is when the Holy Spirit comes inside the believer. He comes to us when we are saved, and he comes in order to sanctify. Skeptics often wonder why Christians make so much of the Bible when it does not appear to have much effect. But the transformation which Christians enjoy only comes after they have professed faith in Christ, not before.

The Bible does contain a great deal of wisdom which anyone can profit from. For this reason, a great many unbelievers who have obeyed scripture because it has been incorporated into the human laws of their state have profited from that obedience – gaining peace and perhaps even a measure of prosperity they otherwise would not have enjoyed. Much of the Old Testament Wisdom Literature (e.g. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job) offer that kind of wisdom.

But Paul says the Bible also offers a different kind of wisdom. It is “the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” It is the ability to see beyond the mundane problems of the day and to recognize an ultimate problem: sin, and its resulting estrangement from God. The wisdom of which Paul speaks addresses that ultimate, eternal issue. It is an answer to a problem which is more important than those the secular world can address.

One of my wife’s relatives is a very talented artist. He painted a scene in which a young family is sitting at the table in their home, and are obviously in distress. The child has tipped over his glass of milk, and both parents are in tears. Yet, also in the painting is a window, and through the window observers of the painting can see what that young family does not. A giant funnel cloud from a tornado has formed, and is heading straight for the home. The family is so preoccupied with the spilled milk that they are oblivious to the real danger which is imminent.

That painting is a parable which describes the plight of so many people in this world. It is so easy to get carried away in search of answers to problems which appear to be important, but that pale in comparison to the issue of one’s eternal destiny. The only way to explain such ignorance is to admit that deception has occurred. The world has been deceived into believing that there is no eternal destiny. Therefore its population runs screaming from one spilled milk crisis to another.
Paul explains that Timothy is different because he has allowed the sacred scriptures to give him a different kind of wisdom – rather than a worldly wisdom he has been given a next-worldly wisdom.

The apologist Cornelius Van Til compared the scriptures to “the sun in the light of which all things are seen and without the light of which nothing is seen for what it is.”1 It sheds light on that ultimate reality, enabling believers to understand why Jesus had to die on the cross as a sacrifice for the world’s sin. But that light is not just a spotlight, focusing myopically on the crucifixion itself. The light is like a sun, which illuminates the whole world. So, for the believer, accepting Christ is the essential starting point of a new life, now ordered by the new realities revealed in God’s word.

Element #2: “Teaching:” The Light that Reveals True Doctrine.

After the Holy Spirit changes the heart through conversion – He gets to work immediately on informing the mind through teaching. He does not have to invent a new teaching for each new convert. Instead, he utilizes “whatever was written in former days,2” (i.e. The Bible) because the old truths revealed there remain true, and they are just as powerful as they always have been.
The difference between texts of scripture (which always carry God’s authority because they are God’s word) and human doctrines (which are our human attempts at answering our own questions)3 must be maintained. However, it is those texts of scripture which lead us to those doctrines, and that is God’s intention. He wants us to understand the world we live in, and the way we are supposed to live in it. He wants us to be aware of where our problems will probably come from, and what resources are available for us to deal with those problems.

Within the body of Christ (the Church), The Holy Spirit provides certain ministries who exist to help the believer grow in maturity.4 One of the roles of these equipping ministries is to help the believer to tell the difference between a teaching which has been cleverly devised to distract him, and a teaching which was intended by God to mature him. Each of these equipping ministries had a teaching component.5 Each of them drew heavily upon the word of God as the basis for their authority and ministry.

Legitimate Bible teaching ministries encourage people to follow Christ – not themselves. They submit to the ministries of other Christians rather that dominate through the pulpit or lectern. They can also tell the difference between essential truths (where Christians tend to be unified) and distinctive doctrines (where Christians tend to manifest diversity). Their emphasis is on the essentials, while not neglecting the issues that form the distinctives.

Element #3: “Reproof:” The Light that Exposes False Doctrine.

The same light that reveals true doctrine also exposes false doctrine. This appears to be the idea behind the word reproof.6 Part of the maturing process is submitting to the word of God, and allowing it to expose areas in ones understanding that have been tainted by deception or ignorance. Conversion to Christ involves a changing of one’s mind, but does not guarantee that false understandings and perceptions will be immediately eliminated.

The true disciple loves God with all her mind (Mark 12:30), and seeks to have her life transformed by the renewing of her mind (Romans 12:2). She will “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). She will “not despise prophecies, but (will) test everything; (and) hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:20-21). She will allow the the light of the word of God to reprove her for false doctrines she has held in the past.

Element #4: “Correction:” The Light that Exposes Improper Behavior.

God teaches us how to live by giving us commands in the Bible. He has also provided the Bible as a kind of mirror, by which we can evaluate our behavior to see if it measures up to God’s intention. This is what James implies:

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless (James 1:23-26).

The mirror simile is a reminder that believers need to change their deeds as well as their doctrines. The Bible provides a means for both.

An Old Testament story illustrates this mirror role of the Bible: the story of king Josiah in 2 Chron. 34:1-21. While refurbishing the temple, one of the king’s officials found a copy of the Book of the Law of the House of the LORD, and brought it to Josiah. When Josiah realized that the priests and people had been disobeying God’s law, he tore his clothes as a sign of remorse. He realized that Israel had incurred God’s wrath for being disobedient. Josiah showed discernment in stark contrast to most of the Israelites of his day. A children’s book author has compared C. S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian to king Josiah because he “was considered a boy- king who rejected the wickedness of his ancestors and worked to restore his nation.”7 He realized that ignorance of the word of God had led to sin, and God was bound by his own nature to punish that sin.

Element #5: “Training in Righteousness:” The Light that Produces Proper Behavior.

The psalmist alluded to this role of God’s word in the longest psalm, 119:
“Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules” (Psalm 119:104-106). The Bible serves as a training manual, giving believers understanding that keeps them on the right path. The believer determines to keep God’s righteous rules. Just carrying around a copy of the Bible will do nothing.

In this New Testament passage (2 Tim. 3) Paul identifies the Bible as a means by which Christ trains believers in righteousness. In a previous letter he had encouraged Timothy to “train (himself) for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8). He defined godliness in his letter to Titus, as “to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12).

The Bible trains believers in righteousness in a number of ways: 1) by condemning improper behavior, 2) by defining and promoting proper behavior, 3) by illustrating each with biographical examples in both testaments, 4) by encouraging us to draw on the power available through the Holy Spirit for godly living, 5) by steering believers to congregate and have fellowship, which fosters spiritual growth toward Christ-likeness.

There is a sixth, more subtle effect on the believer as well. As she spends quality time every day in God’s word, thinking God’s thoughts, reliving God’s reactions, she cannot help but pick up more of God’s character. The exposure itself changes her, somewhat like a missionary is changed by living in another culture. The proverb GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) works the other way as well. Sustained exposure to the words and principles of the Bible is bound to affect the words that the believer says, and her thoughts and actions.

The Bible, then, is a tool that the Holy Spirit can use to change us. Like any tool, its usefulness increases the more it is used, because the user becomes more adept at its operation. This generation has a multitude of Bibles and Bible versions available. Only time will tell if they have been utilized properly.

ACST 8. The Standard

As the first century was coming to an end, the Christian message was beginning to be challenged by various cults and false teachers. Responding to this reality, the Apostle John wrote “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6). He implied that there is a test to determine whether someone is walking in truth or not: are they listening to (and heeding) the message of the apostles.

This was the attitude of the prophets of Old Testament times as well. Samuel, for example, said to Saul, “Tell the servant to pass on before us, and when he has passed on, stop here yourself for a while, that I may make known to you the word of God” (1 Sam. 9:27). When Moses spoke to Pharaoh, he did not speak on his own authority, but prefaced his words with “thus says the LORD” (Exodus 4:22; 5:1; 10:3; 11:4). Other prophets followed the same pattern (Josh. 24:2; Judges 6:8; 2 Sam. 12:7; 1 Kings 11:31; 17:14; 2 Kings 19:20). They had the audacity to assume that their messages were God’s word, and carried God’s authority – and they were right.

The writings of the prophets carried the same authority. This is evidenced by the recurrence of the phrase “the word of the LORD came” (Isaiah 38:4; Jer. 1:2, 4, 11; Ezek. 1:3; 3:16; Hosea 1:1; Joel 1:1; Jonah 1:1; 3:1). It was clear that it was not the prophets themselves – through their own ingenuity or wisdom – who came up with these words. The words were a supernatural gift from God himself. It was truly revelation. It was not “inspiration” in the modern sense of the word – which implies some kind of boosting of an artistic genius that already exists. Instead, God was revealing himself and his thoughts and words to those who wrote the original manuscripts of the Bible.

God continues to reveal himself personally to those who seek him, but he no longer needs to communicate to us the same way that he has in the Bible. Those sixty-six books remain the standard by which we can judge whether we are listening to God’s voice or someone else’s. The Bible is the standard in two senses of the word. It serves as a basis of comparison for all the words and ideas that bombard us. It also serves as the rallying flag (or standard) where all those truly seeking and speaking God’s truth will congregate.

Willingness to accept the teachings of the Bible is evidence that one has had a real experience with God. It is a choice that everyone who encounters the Bible must make, and it has consequences. Since God’s word is his standard, those who reject it, or belittle it, or only choose to heed it partly, will find themselves caught up in a spirit of error. They might be partly aware of the realities of which the Bible speaks, but will fail to understand their implications. For example, many unbelievers know about, and even celebrate Christmas and Easter. But the deeper implications of the events celebrated (like the incarnation and the resurrection) find no place in their world-view. Those deeply deceived might even understand some of these theological ideas, but will not feel the necessity of applying them to their own lives by a true conversion. By refusing to put their faith in Christ (as revealed in the Bible), they have aligned themselves with Satan by default.

The Manuscripts

The Bible did not come to humanity as one complete document. The messages of Moses, the Prophets, and the other Old Testament sages were revered by Jews in their separate forms for centuries. But the tendency was to combine them into groups even then. The earliest grouping was the five books of Moses, which the Jews call the Torah, or Law. By the time of Christ, all Jews accepted the Torah as God’s inspired word, while some Jews (like the Saducees) did not view any other books in that category. For most Jews, however, it was hard to resist the appeal of the Writings (which contain some historical books and some poetic works) and the Prophets. The Hebrew Bible was already complete by that time, and consisted of all the documents that we now call the 39 books of the Old Testament. While there were many other books known by Jews at that time (in several languages) only these books were regarded as canonical, that is, inspired scripture.

The Gospels had the same appeal for Christians as the Torah did for Jews, since they recorded the events associated with Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and were conveyed by either apostles themselves (like Matthew and John) or people who were closely associated with them (like Mark and Luke). Thus the Gospels became the standard for measuring God’s will as revealed by Jesus for new covenant believers just as the Torah had been the standard as revealed by Moses for old covenant believers.

The writings of the apostles continued in letters to the churches founded in the first century. These letters were called epistles, and reflected the new reality of the Christian church, and concentrated on defining and protecting it. The writings of John (including Revelation) completed this group of documents. Like the Old Testament books, these books began as individual manuscripts, and were later copiously copied and compiled into groups. Recognition of the inspired nature of these books was practically immediate, but it was not until a heresy developed that questioned the canonicity of the Old Testament (Marcionism), that the Church felt the need to officially set the Canon.

The Versions

As the Church sought to convey the message of the whole Bible to the predominately Greek speaking world of the first century, they were helped by the Greek New Testament, and a version of the Old Testament which had been translated from its original Hebrew and Aramaic, into Greek. This Greek Old Testament, called the Septuagint, was the first in a long line of what we call versions of the Bible. The versions seek to bridge the cultural, linguistic, and temporal distance between the original manuscripts and modern audiences.

No one version of the Bible will ever be perfect, because 1) the needs of modern audiences are always changing, 2) our understanding of the texts of the original manuscripts is constantly being tweaked, and 3) our understanding of the culture of biblical audiences and writers is being updated through historical, archaeological, and philological research. It is OK to have a preference for a particular version (as long as one does not get too dogmatic about it), but it is better to use several versions, comparing the renderings on certain texts – for the sake of clarity, and to avoid the biases of individual scholarly teams.

Is Diversity a Liability?

The existence of multiple versions and manuscripts may lead some to question whether God’s authority can be asserted. But the same kind of diversity exists in creation itself. While the skies declare the glory of God, they don’t always do it in the same way. They are sometimes cloudy skies, sometimes clear. They are sometimes rainy, sometimes dry. They are sometimes stormy, sometimes calm. The diversity in creation testifies to the brilliant creativity of our Creator, and leaves us not knowing what he’s going to come up with next.

Since God expects us to come to him by faith, he seems to have eliminated the certainty factor from the Bible in order to encourage people to put their faith in him, rather than to trust in their own understanding of his revelation. On the other hand, one might argue that the multiplicity of manuscripts and versions can help humans gain even more clarity, in the same way that several witnesses to a crime insure that the whole truth about it comes out at the trial.

Today’s Problem

Bultema asserts that “in the ancient church (canonicity) happened to be the greatest problem. While they all believed in the infallible inspiration of the Scriptures, they were not settled as to the question of which books should be included into or excluded from the sacred volume.”1 The modern church seems to have settled the issue of canonicity, but now struggles more and more with the fundamental question of authority, and the extent to which they can trust the Bible as God’s exclusive voice. Advent Christians have historically asserted absolute confidence in the Bible. The next few chapters will show that the confidence is not misplaced.

1 Harry Bultema, Miracle of Inspiration. (Grand Rapids: Grace Publications, 1990), 9.