Spiritual Instruction for Those Called to Restore Israel
For you have been born again... through the living and abiding Word of G-d. (I Peter 1:23)
There are countless people in the Christian world who have focused on the Scriptures as though they were the source of their life. In this respect, they are no different from the unbelieving Jews, to whom Yeshua said:
You do not have His [G-d's] Word abiding in you... You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life. (John 5:38-39)
Eternal life does not come from searching the Scriptures; it comes from knowing the only true G-d, and the Messiah Yeshua whom He sent (Jn.17:3). The Scriptures point us to the Lord; they are not a substitute for Him.
Those who know the truth do not know it by memorizing Scripture verses — they know it because they have their spiritual eyes opened, they know and recognize the Author's voice, and they are following Him. Many may prove their doctrines (i.e., their teachings on certain issues) by quoting Scripture verses, but the Word of G-d will be proven by the lives of those who listen to Him in the Spirit.
The Difference Between the Word and THE Word
We hold in our hands an image of the Word of G-d, a snapshot of His activity at certain moments as recorded by the prophets and apostles. The Word of G-d Himself is an infinitely active Person:
The Word of G-d is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword... And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Heb. 4:12-13)
The writer of Hebrews calls the Word "Him"; yet most believers in referring to this passage instinctively say (and think) "It". Having been taught to define the Word of G-d as nothing more than the words written in the Bible, many have concluded that it (not He) is the true and complete revelation of G-d.
Satisfied that they do not have to look beyond the pages for the knowledge of Him, they often go on to limit G-d's Word to the translated text which they are using. They become like the scribes in Yeshua's day, who were more interested in their own scholarship as teachers of the Scriptures than in true repentance and knowing G-d.
The less they know the living and active Word of G-d, the more they must rely on text, and on an intellectual application of that text to their lives. Like some Orthodox worshipers in the synagogue who kiss the Torah scrolls with great reverence and ceremony while ignoring its message, many believers are giving more honor to the image than to the One whose image is contained there. Will not both cases be counted as idolatry in the eyes of the Lord?
Do you know the Word of G-d — not It, but Him? If you do, you may completely rely on Him as your Leader, Redeemer, Teacher and Lord. If you do not, using verses of Scripture properly will not help you; in fact, it can hurt you.
The Dangers of Knowing Only Words
Intellectual preparation based on a study of the text of the Scriptures does not produce the life of G-d, but it can produce a false sense of security. A Bible school certificate is no indicator of whether the bearer walks with G-d, but it is widely used as evidence of his competence to teach others the things of G-d.
On the other hand, Yeshua, with no formal training, used the Scriptures so powerfully and accurately that He confounded those who were thought to be qualified by years of study to expound on them authoritatively — and they hated Him for it (Jn. 7:15-16; 15:24-25). Why? Because He knew the Father, while they did not (Jn. 8:55). Yet their mental grasp of the Scriptures made them confident that it was the other way around (Jn. 7:47-49).
G-d has determined in His wisdom that it is not through our wisdom that we come to know Him (I Cor. 1:18-25). It is not in using the Name of Yeshua effectively that we come to be IN His Name (Matt. 7:22-23). In the same way, it is not by our powerful use of the Word that we come to have the Word dwelling in us. Therefore, we have to be very careful, in our zeal for the Scriptures, that we do not eclipse the life and power of a true walk into the Word of G-d.
Prevailing Doctrines about G-d's Word
It is the living Word of G-d who is without sin or error; it is He who is infinitely able to supply us with all wisdom and power; it is to Him that we owe unwavering and unqualified obedience. Why are believers so concerned about exalting and defending the Scriptural texts?
Those who focus most on text also lay down the strictest rules about what you should believe about the text to be doctrinally "safe". Instead of looking for the fruit of the Spirit, they check the doctrinal accuracy of the preacher's words against their rule book. In this well-meaning zeal for the Lord's truth, they forget that it was those who knew the rules best who failed to see that Yeshua was Messiah.
There are three common doctrines about Scripture which are often used in a way which distorts the truth about the Word of G-d. These are the doctrines of the inerrancy, sufficiency and authority of the Scriptures. We will now look at these one at a time, and try to understand the destruction in the Body of the Lord which their misuse has produced.
1. The 'Inerrancy' of the Written Word
Although most Bible teachers have abandoned the position that the textus receptus handed us by the Catholic Church is the inerrant Word of G-d, it has been replaced by a doctrine which, being more subtle, can be even more destructive in a person's walk with the Lord.
What are the "Original Autographs"?
The doctrine of inerrancy most frequently taught in Protestant seminaries and churches today is that the Scriptures "in their original autographs" were without error. This doctrinal formulation has resulted in a great deal of research into the textual variations between different manuscripts of the Scriptures, in order to arrive as closely as possible to the original text that was written by the prophets or apostles.
The Greek text usually used is the current edition from the Nestle-Aland Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Germany. A parallel process occurred among the Jewish Masoretes of the ninth and tenth centuries to arrive at an agreed Hebrew text. This Hebrew text of the Law and the Prophets is known as the Masoretic Text, and is usually the basis for translations of the books belonging to the "Old Testament" portion of the Christian Bible.
How Do We Reach the "Inerrant" Level?
Of course, even the manuscripts which we do have are not understandable to most believers today, and must be translated by scholars of varying backgrounds before they are useful. There are therefore two layers of interpretation already included in the "Scriptures" read by you and me: that of the textual critics, who had to decide which manuscripts most faithfully preserved the original text written by the prophet or apostle; and the interpretation of the translator(s), who provided us with the version which we are using. Anyone familiar with the technical problems encountered in both textual criticism and in translation knows that these processes have not themselves been inspired by G-d's Spirit in such a way as to reproduce "the original autograph" for us.
A partial solution is to become proficient enough in the original languages so that we can study directly from the text being used by the translators. But since both Hebrew and Greek have changed since the Scriptures were written, even this has its difficulties: words used infrequently or in unusual ways are hard to translate and impossible to distinguish from textual errors, and idioms or euphemisms are not readily understood without in-depth knowledge of the culture of that period.
A counterclaim is that since differences between the translations are minor, learning the original language is not really necessary. We therefore study the Scriptures in English (or our own mother tongue), and though we know there are minor problems, we consider that we are close enough to the inerrant original that we can be confident of what we are learning.
While this may seem like a safe approach to most Bible students, it does not allow us to determine what in fact was written by the original author. We are never quite sure that the text we have is what was originally intended by the Holy Spirit, or by the inspired author. Since there are no original texts around today, we will never know if they were "perfect" texts; and even if they were, it does not help us now, since we no longer have them.
How Do We Prove Inerrancy?
Jewish tradition has placed even more emphasis than Christian tradition on the inerrancy of the original Hebrew Bible. Some Jewish scholars have sought to prove that these Scriptures were supernaturally arranged letter-by-letter, applying various mathematical formulas to the Masoretic text (a form of gematria, or assigning numerical values to each Hebrew letter, to discover "hidden meanings" in their sums). They try to show that there are numerical patterns in the word order which could not occur by chance. A few examples of surprising results are given, with the claim that this occurs so frequently in the text that skeptics can be convinced by the sheer statistical impossibility of its having been humanly authored.
Well-meaning Christians and Messianic Jews have welcomed this "Torah code" theory as ammunition in their struggle to prove the perfection of the Scriptures, and some have even conducted similar experiments on the Greek New Testament texts hoping for the same results. However, extensive computer analysis on both the Hebrew and the Greek have not yielded convincing results from a statistical standpoint, either in comparing different variant texts, or in comparing the numerical patterns of Scripture with those of non-biblical Hebrew or Greek texts (the texts closest to the original autographs should show statistically stronger patterns than the other possible texts, and the inspired texts should be stronger than non-biblical texts from the same language).
"Inerrancy in the original autographs" is therefore a doctrine which cannot be tested; it must be accepted or rejected as a theory, based on a person's idea of what it means to be "inspired" while writing down the Scriptures.
What Does "Inspired" Mean?
The Scriptures were indeed inspired directly by G-d, as they themselves testify (Luke 24:25-27, 44; Rom. 15:4; II Tim. 3:16; II Pet. 1:20-21; Rev. 22:18-20). But unless some person alive today were to claim to have written Scripture, there is no testimony available about the inspiration process, except for what is recorded in the Scriptures themselves. These accounts make no claim that the original authors produced error-free text; but on the other hand, they also don't say that they could not have. Therefore, if a person claims to have found an error in Scripture, inerrancy as it is usually taught allows us to blame either the scribes who copied the manuscripts, or the text editors, or the translators, but not the author who was originally inspired.
This whole approach begins to falter when we compare this brand of "inerrancy" with what the Scripture says of itself. Yeshua taught that every stroke of a letter of the Law of Moses was as enduring as creation (Luke 16:17), and that His own words were at least as enduring as that (Luke 21:33).
How can we understand this? If we try to apply it to the text, we know that changes have indeed been made in the text, even though the creation itself is still intact. Both the Masoretic Hebrew text and Nestle's Greek text bear witness to the changes which have occurred, not just in letters, but in words and even in sentences. Even within today's accepted version of each Testament, we find numerous problems.
Examples of Problems in the Masoretic Text
1) Genesis 35:22 and Numbers 25:19 are incomplete verses; they are each marked by a piskah, the Hebrew letter peh (or in some versions, by omitting punctuation at the end of the phrase). The Septuagint contains a complete verse for the first, while the second is complete in the Samaritan Bible. There are 25 other unfinished passages in the Masoretic text.
2) Numerous words in the written Masoretic text are changed in the margin for public reading, either with different vowel pointing or with a different word altogether. The text is called the ketiv and the corrected pronunciation is the keri. Besides this, Jewish tradition records instances of early scribes changing words or sentences in the original Masoretic texts in order to avoid what they saw as disrespect to G-d, including Genesis 18:22 (where originally G-d had stood before Abraham), I Kings 12:16 (which had read, "to your gods, O Israel") and several names in II Samuel which had incorporated the name of Baal.
3) Paradoxes exist within the written Law. The number of Levites in Numbers 3:22, 28 and 34 is 22,300 rather than 22,000 as in verse 39. Deuteronomy 31:24 says that Moses wrote down the Law until it was complete, but we have no written laws for even basic procedures, such as how to conduct a marriage or which transgressions are to be punished by flogging. Deuteronomy 5:6-21 is supposed to be a repetition of the Ten Commandments given in Exodus 20:2-17; yet G-d changes the reason for observing the Sabbath (Deut. 5:15; Exod. 20:11).
4) There is confusion over the name(s) of Moses' father-in-law. Judges 4:11 calls him Hobab, Exodus 2:18 calls him Reuel, and Exodus 3: 1 and 18:1, 2, 5, 6 call him Jethro. Numbers 10:29 calls him "Hobab son of Reuel Moses' father-in-law," which can mean that Hobab is either Moses' father-in-law or his brother-in-law.
5) Some 15 different books that are referred to or quoted in the Hebrew Bible, as though they were Scripture, no longer exist; for example, the "Book of the Wars of the Lord" (Num. 21:14).
Examples of Problems in the New Testament
1) Yeshua says the people killed "Zechariah son of Berechiah" in the court of the temple (Matt. 23:35). A Zechariah son of Berechiah prophesied during the exile (Zech 1:1), and while the temple was being rebuilt, but his prophecies seem to have been well received (Ezra 6:14 - except here he is called "son of Iddo"). On the other hand, II Chronicles 24:20-22 reports that the people killed a Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada.
2) A prophecy attributed to Jeremiah (Matt. 27:9-10) is actually found in Zechariah 11:12-13.
3) Stephen, probably quoting from the Septuagint, counted 75 persons of Jacob's household who went down to Egypt (Acts 7:14-16). But Genesis 46:26-27 counts 70 (while only naming 69). According to Stephen's testimony, Abraham's and Jacob's tomb were in Shechem, purchased from the sons of Hamor (v. 16) rather than in Hebron, purchased from the sons of Heth or the Hittites (Gen. 23:19-20; 50:13); moreover, "Abraham" bought no plot in Shechem, although Jacob did (Gen. 33:19), and it was Joseph, rather than "Jacob", who was buried there (Josh. 24:32).
We cannot escape the fact that G-d allowed those who copied the texts to make mistakes. Therefore, we have little reason to assume that He should have prevented the original authors from making mistakes. He also allowed translators over the centuries to misunderstand some of the original language, or to distort their translations with their own biases. If an error-free record were important from His viewpoint, He obviously could have arranged for us to have one.
But we still haven't come to terms with the claims that Yeshua made for the Scriptures.
Inerrancy of the Word - What Did Messiah Mean?
Inerrancy as taught by Yeshua is even stronger than what is taught today, because it makes every single word of G-d more lasting and powerful than creation. But we plainly see that, in regard to the written text which we have, this has not been true.
Was the text that Yeshua possessed inerrant? There is no evidence that either He or His disciples guarded a special copy. Was He ignorant of the problems of transmitting the original autographs over the previous thousands of years which resulted in conflicting texts? Assuming that He was not, which copied text was He referring to as more powerful letter-for-letter than the universe? None of them, for they have all passed away.
Was He forgetting that we would eventually end up with a version somewhat corrupted from the original? We cannot deny Yeshua's teaching without denying Him; and we cannot claim that these words of His were not in the original gospel without making the Scriptures unusable. We see now the damage that has been caused by claims that He referred to the original autographs.
But if He was not referring to the written text, then to what? As He often did, Yeshua was not referring to physical realities, which are weak and temporary, but to spiritual realities, which are eternal. The Law which Moses passed along to us as a faithful witness (Heb. 3:5-6) did not originate with Moses; it was transmitted to him from the same spiritual world in which the heavenly Tabernacle exists (Acts 7:53; Heb. 9:23-24). Likewise, the words which Yeshua spoke were not originating in Him; they came from His Father in heaven (Jn. 14:10, 24). The spiritual world from which the Scriptures came is more real than the copies and images of it which make up this creation, including the copies we have of the Scriptures.
Inerrancy of the Eternal Word
Men who sin have transmitted, and continue to transmit, pieces of that Eternal Word which contain errors. The unprovable thesis that the prophets and apostles themselves wrote it down error-free moves our focus from the unchanging spiritual reality, to this world of corruption and error. It also makes the pure Word of G-d into something which has been removed by history from our reach.
Since we admit that the prophets and apostles were not without sin, there is no real need to claim that they wrote without error. Even if we claim that they did, this does not produce error-free Scriptures for us today.
Why does this possibility cause anxiety among some believers? Many would say that if the Scriptures are no longer error-free, how can we know the truth anymore? For them, admitting that the Bible contains errors would be to throw away their only anchor to the truth and to drift into the fog of subjectivity and deception.
But that is true only if we limit the Word of G-d to the written text.
On the other hand, if we understand that the authors of Scripture were copying from the living and lifegiving Word of G-d, to which we also have access in the Spirit, we have not lost the error-free Word of G-d. We have access to the Word who is more faithful than a text which has already been altered for us by others who misunderstand and misinterpret.
Moreover, our walk with G-d is not a relationship to a Book, but to a Person. The degree of error I have in myself is dependent on my closeness to Him, not on my closeness to "the original autograph". My union with Him will purify me much more surely than my intellectual capacity to digest and integrate the written text.
If we ask why G-d handed down to us imperfect documents, we should also ask why He anointed imperfect prophets and leaders for His people. The reason for both is so that we would learn not to put our trust in anything or anyone outside of Himself.
2. Sufficiency of the Written Word
There are many other things which Yeshua did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books which were written. (John 21:25)
If John could say this about Yeshua's relatively short stay on earth, what might we conclude about the sufficiency of the Bible to convey all that G-d has done and is doing, to say nothing of all that He is? Yet many Bible teachers say that my access to the Word of G-d must begin and end with the words of the Scriptures.
This is like someone who would limit my relationship with my wife to viewing the photograph of her which I have in my wallet. As true as that photograph is, it shows what at a certain time was the fleshly envelope of the person who is my wife - its accuracy limited by her angle to the camera, the available lighting, focus, etc. If I am separated from her, it can help me remember her, but I remember a living being, not a frozen image on a square of paper.
Not Sufficient for a Relationship With the Living G-d
No finite collection of words can contain all there is to know about an infinite Person. For me to say otherwise is like saying that the photograph is all that I can really know about my wife. No one who merely studied the picture of another person can claim to know that person; the most they can claim is that they are better equipped to recognize the person when they meet him (provided he hasn't changed his appearance too much from that in the photo). So also, no one who only studies what Scripture has to say about G-d can claim to know Him.
On the other hand, anyone who has an ongoing relationship with a person will recognize a picture of him. Just so, a person who knows G-d will recognize Him as the G-d who speaks in the Scriptures, and will honor the written Word as a faithful witness of Him.
Any claim of "sufficiency" for the Scriptures which makes it the complete truth of G-d can only be made by people who do not know Him in a living, active way. They have made a false god out of the Bible by limiting G-d to a few of His actions partially described, and to the truths about Him which have been written there. They have put Him in a finite box, and worship Him there, in the same way that the Israelites took the bronze serpent Moses had made, a relic from one of G-d's many acts among His people, and burned incense to it (II Kings 18:4).
Like the bronze serpent, the Bible was ordained and preserved by G-d to remind us of His mighty deeds. Neither one is to be blamed for the idolatrous role which His people assigned to them. It only shows that human nature is continually trying to bring the infinite G-d down to a "manageable" size, one to which our flesh can relate without being hopelessly outclassed. But just as Hezekiah recognized such a limited focus of worship as idolatry, so must we.
3. The Authority of the Written Word
A third problematic teaching regarding the inspiration of Scripture has to do with its authority. What is normally meant by this is that Scripture, as G-d's Word to us, carries G-d's own authority and justly requires our obedience, as if He were speaking to us directly.
"Surely," you might say, "there can be no problem with requiring obedience to the Scriptures!" But there can be, and it currently takes two forms. Let us take a look at both of these, and at the results of their current misuse in the Lord's Body.
1. Authority Abused: The Importance of Outward Obedience (or Disobedience)
There are several errors when we use only the written Word to judge obedience. One problem is when we say that visible obedience to Scripture results in understanding the truth of G-d. This is often derived from passages like John 8:31-32:
Yeshua therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine."
To say that our understanding of truth is limited by our disobedience is fair enough. G-d indeed hardens and blinds those who have made up their minds to disobey. But to teach that outward obedience, the kind which can be put on through fleshly self-discipline, will produce in us a better understanding of G-d's truth, is to teach that by works we can acquire righteousness and draw near to G-d. This is Pharisaism, pure and simple, and is no different from what is taught in Orthodox Jewish circles (who often make use of this teaching to dismiss the need for Yeshua).
Someone who appears to be obeying Scripture is therefore credited with being close to G-d, and someone who is obviously disobedient is far from G-d. Remember, however, Yeshua's example of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:10).
The result is that people in the Body who have a fair degree of fleshly self-control will set themselves up as authorities of the Word of G-d, based on a limited interpretation of that Word in which they themselves can appear to be righteous (like the Pharisees). They will encourage their followers to achieve righteousness in a similar way, by imitating their own definition of righteous behavior. Closeness to G-d becomes something which is defined as the degree of conformity to this norm.
A person who is actually walking in the Living Word of G-d will bring out the deficiencies of this understanding of the truth.
The differences between this person's walk and the authoritative norm are then used as the basis for accusing the spiritual person of sin, as was done with Yeshua. And the apparent righteousness (conformity) of the authorities in the same area is used as proof of their correct interpretation of the Scriptures in question. Their visible obedience has not only become the standard which defines righteousness, but also the validation of their authority to set that standard without being challenged.
Another way this error creeps in is when we say that apparent disobedience to Scripture is sufficient reason to discredit doctrine - and the opposite - apparent obedience is sufficient reason to approve doctrine. This is derived from verses like Matthew 7:18:
A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.
This is not to say that it is wrong to expect righteous conduct and purity, and to rebuke disobedience. Nor is it improper to critically inspect what we receive from a believer whose life is not in order.
But when "good trees" are defined as those who are visibly obedient to the Scriptures, lack of outward disobedience can become automatic proof of correct doctrine (since such a tree can only produce good fruit). From there it logically follows that someone who appears to be disobeying some portion of Scripture is a "bad tree" from which no good thing is to be expected. This was one of the ways in which the scribes and the Pharisees tried to discredit Yeshua (Jn. 9:16).
Such a superficial view of Scriptural authority and spiritual goodness produces a framework in which deceivers can and will operate, both to give credibility to their false teachings and to prevent the reform of their corrupt leadership.
In such systems, spiritual discernment is ignored in favor of "objective criteria" of obedience. Leaders who manage to keep up a good performance of all the commandments considered important by that fellowship can teach their own interpretations of Scripture and be supported without further inquiries. On the other hand, those who by the Spirit have discerned hidden problems in their leaders can be accused of rebelling against ordained authority and causing division, which identifies them as a "bad tree", which in turn becomes sufficient proof to discredit their spiritual discernment.
Sadly, we have no shortage of examples of this abuse in the Body of Messiah today.
Does this mean that obedience to G-d's commands and moral uprightness are not reliable evidences of spirituality? Of course they are; the Scriptures speak endlessly of the centrality of godliness in word and deed, and the Holy Spirit who gave the Scriptures works tirelessly to convict us of areas where we fall short of G-d's holiness. James flatly stated that deeds demonstrating our faith are evidence of our salvation, and that if they are absent we ought to doubt someone's claim to have a saving faith at all (James 2:14-26).
It means that checking someone against a moral code cannot replace spiritual discernment as a measure of spiritual fitness, for three important reasons:
First, behavior can be acceptable when the motives of the heart are not; only the Spirit of G-d can expose the fatal sins of pride, envy, hypocrisy and others which are too subtle to be detected by rules of behavior. If Peter had been using only Scripture in evaluating the gift of Ananias and Sapphira, he would have noticed nothing wrong (Acts 5).
Second, behavior can be unacceptable when the person is actually being directed by the Holy Spirit; a few examples are Abraham attempting human sacrifice (Gen. 22), Isaiah going naked for three years (Isa. 20:2-4), Hosea marrying an unrepentant harlot (Hos. 1:2), or Jeremiah counseling treason in time of war (Jer. 38:1-5).
Third, even when both behavior and motives are sinful, the person in question may nevertheless be speaking by the Holy Spirit; Balaam and the high priest Caiaphas are cases in point (Num. 22-24; Jn. 11:49-52). If only Scriptural texts were used judging these men, or others like them, we would be at a loss to prove who was speaking for G-d.
The Limits of Scripture's Authority to Define Obedience to G-d
Notice that we have just used Scripture as our authority for proving the limited authority of Scripture. At first glance, this might make the Bible seem contradictory, somewhat like a policeman who applauds a citizen breaking a law that he is called to enforce.
When we look closer, however, we see that the written Word is being faithful in its portrayal of the Living Word, to the point where it testifies to its own limits in judging spiritual matters, and points to an Authority higher than itself, even at the risk of appearing to present contradictory messages.
This should be a great comfort to believers who are disturbed by moral dilemmas in Scripture, such as G-d telling Abraham to make a burnt sacrifice of his son, while elsewhere condemning the practice in the strongest terms (Deut. 12:31; Jer. 19:5).
Moreover, we will only be able to understand how people like Abraham, Moses and Jeremiah knew that G-d had spoken in the cases mentioned above, when we recognize that they were walking with Him rather than following written instructions. As we follow their example and walk with Him too, we ourselves will be able to recognize His voice in circumstances for which the Bible offers little or no guidance.
Those who have no true spiritual discernment, for whatever reason, will always be seeking moral conformity — and will often look no farther when they find it — simply because they have no other tools with which to measure spirituality.
For such people, Scriptural puzzles like the sacrifice of Isaac are considered oddities best left unexplained, because any moral conclusion they accept will unravel some other part of their doctrinal framework built on the absolute authority of the Bible. Their excessive reliance on the text of Scripture is often a sign of the lack of true spiritual sight. Because they are blind, they are therefore open to being led by others who are blind, or even by imposters.
The new birth, and the spiritual vision which comes with it, are to enable us to discern where the true Kingdom of G-d is operating (Jn. 3:3). When someone is very weak in the authority which comes from knowing the Lord, he must rely on a mental knowledge of the Scriptures in its place. Someone else who is used to walking with the living Word will spot this kind of shallowness very quickly. It is characterized by a great emphasis on the authority of Scripture, and a corresponding neglect of the authority and power of the Spirit.
2. Authority Abused: Blaming Disliked Doctrine on Scriptural Violations
The second abuse of Scriptural authority, which can cause even more damage in the Lord's Body, is a variation on the age-old debating method of "guilt by association." It goes like this:
If there is a group espousing a doctrine I dislike, but I cannot refute it directly from Scripture, I find a sect or a false religion that teaches it, and then make a "package deal" by linking the sect's heresy (disobedience to the Scriptures) with the doctrine which the two groups have in common. My audience will then agree with me that such a doctrine is unthinkable, since it is associated with heresy.
Alternatively, if I notice a minor transgression of Scripture in the group practicing the unpalatable doctrine, I can associate that violation with the doctrine to discredit it, whether there is a real connection between the two or not (a form of the "good tree/bad tree" abuse examined earlier).
"Wait," you might say, "guilt by association has nothing to do with the authority of Scripture." It does, coming in as it were by the back door.
The person or teacher who uses this method of attack is using a known violation of Scripture in the group under scrutiny, or a group condemned by Scripture which in one or two points resembles the group under scrutiny, and is tying one or both to a teaching which does not necessarily cause that violation and which may not be heretical at all.
In either case he is using the authority of an unrelated Scriptural command to render undesirable a teaching which he is unable or unwilling to address on its own merits.
He implies, without saying so directly, that the authority of Scripture is so obviously opposed to that group's shortcoming, or to the heretical group they resemble, it must naturally be opposed to everything else that they teach as well, including the doctrine in question. By presenting himself in a powerful way as a defender of Scriptural truth, he then leads his hearers to trust his judgment on the offending doctrine without a direct evaluation. To object would make it appear that one was defending the heretics or condoning the transgression.
The Guardians of Scriptural Authority are 'Always Right'
This is a kind of spiritually dishonest rhetoric, in which an outward zeal for the authority of Scripture is used to mask ignorance, laziness, or false and self-serving doctrines. On a more "innocent" level (if pride can be so termed), the leader may be truly convinced that he has already discovered all the truth G-d wants him to have through his personal mastery of Scripture, and that he is required only to guard what he has. (His pride is revealed by the fact that a truly humble student of Scripture would assume that he had not yet exhausted the truth contained there — even if Scripture were the only place to find it.)
On the more manipulative level, posing as a guardian of Scriptural truth can can work very well to defend an entrenched power elite or an existing doctrinal framework when challenged by different ideas or practices. But in order to maintain its effectiveness in a congregation, leaders must have the cooperation of their followers.
The teacher or minister constantly emphasizes his wholehearted defense of the Scriptures against various kinds of heretical incursions. For their part, the passive believers in the congregation are satisfied to let their leader sort out for them the thorny issues, and tell them what to embrace as Scriptural truth (after all, that is part of his job). And, at any rate, it is more agreeable to everyone to maintain "peace and unity" than to examine the case for changing a longstanding practice, or to question the foundations of a doctrine.
Such a congregation gradually comes to believe that the preservation of the Scriptural truth, as they understand it, is more important than going deeper into G-d. They come to focus more on attacking heresy than on searching out, testing and preaching the truth. The proof of faithfulness to G-d becomes faithfulness to the leaders and their doctrinal framework. Love is replaced by submission. Joy in the Lord vanishes, and is replaced by loyal support of the congregation and its leaders against detractors. "Peace" comes to mean consensus. As these and other spiritual fruits deteriorate, it becomes evident to outsiders that the glory is departing. But many of those inside will fail to notice the signs, having redefined good fruit as uncompromising faithfulness to their pre-defined "Scriptural truth."
Anyone not conforming to the doctrines of the leadership will be branded with some form of heresy or sin. Ultimately, almost everyone not in their circle of supporters will be suspected of heresies of various kinds. The relationship of such congregations to others ceases to be mutual edification, and becomes either suspicion or abuse. The Body of Messiah has then ceased to be built up, and begins to destroy itself.
True Authority and Sound Doctrine
Is there then no place for the authority of Scripture to be used for commending right teaching and rejecting wrong teaching? There certainly is, and it is needed now more than ever before!
Paul commanded that we are to teach and accept only sound doctrine or teaching (Titus 1:9; 2:1); he also wrote that the written Scriptures, including the Law of Moses, were given for this purpose (I Tim. 1:8-11; II Tim. 3:16). The problem is when the "authority of Scripture" becomes a tool to keep the congregation in line; the flock then ceases to be shepherded and led, and starts being driven and herded.
True authority in the Word is not wielded though correct doctrines, but rather is founded upon the love and self-sacrifice of the shepherd who lays down his life for the sake of his sheep. The leader's own walk with the living Word, his submission to His authority, and his resulting healthy doctrine, will in time be mirrored in those under his care who seek the same close walk with Him (I Cor. 11:1).
Pressing On to Know THE Word
The living, active, piercing Word of G-d is utterly dependable and true, and provides us with everything we will ever need for spiritual life, health and success. The eternal Word stands as the Supreme Authority in heaven and earth, now and forever. But this Word is not just the Bible you hold; He is a Person (Heb. 4:12-13).
If you are worried about falling into spiritual error because you do not have a mental mastery of every verse in the Bible, it is because you have not put your trust in the complete Word. If you had, you would be asking Him to train you to discern who is His and who is not (I Jn. 4:5-6).
If you are in the position of struggling to prove (to others or to yourself) how supernaturally accurate Scripture is, or how all the answers for every situation can be found in its pages, it is because you do not know the Word as well as you should. If you did, you would be spending your time exploring the wonders of Himself, to which the Scriptures are only an introduction.
As for the Scriptures themselves, they do not need us to defend them; anyone seeking after the Word will recognize His likeness and authority in them (Jn.10:4-5; I Jn. 4:6), and anyone refusing Him will remain unmoved by intellectual arguments in their favor ( Jn. 3:19-21; 8:47).
Should we continue to study and memorize the Scriptures, and to apply them to our lives? Of course — and our lifetime will end before we succeed in gleaning from them all that they have to offer.
But if you desire to truly walk in the inerrancy, sufficiency and authority of G-d's Word, you must let the Word Himself take you beyond the mental mastery of what the words on the page mean, and even beyond the spiritual exercise of proving them profitable in your life. As rich and powerful as they are, the realization that they are a mere snapshot of a bigger reality should give us a hint of the awesome magnificence of what -- or rather Who -- awaits us.
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