How do you decide questions that you have about God, about how to live your life, and about how to bring others to Jesus? The answer should be "the Bible." Do you know enough about the Bible to make informed decisions? This week a controversy over one of the stars of a television reality program taught me that those in the media are ignorant about the Bible. The media showed a video clip of this star standing in church and preaching about homosexuality. The whole clip consisted only of a quotation from the book of Romans. Instead of criticizing the star, a proper discussion should have been about the Bible and what this Bible text meant. Let's dive into our Bible study and learn more about this topic!
Disciples and Scripture
Commentary for the January 4, 2014 Sabbath School Lesson
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV
The Bible as a library of sixty-six sacred texts is unique to Christianity. It is why Muslims refer to Christians as the “people of the book.” To be sure, many of those books are also held as sacred by the Jewish faith. We usually call that portion of the Bible, the Old Testament. It is the Scriptures referred to by Jesus and the Apostles. This is because the New Testament had not been compiled in their day. Sometimes, because of our reverence for this sacred text, we may feel that it has always been around. We may be tempted to think that God walked around with a copy of the Bible, or at least the Old Testament, under His arm even before the creation of the Earth. But this would not be true.
If we use the Bible’s own internal time line as a reference, we would discover that for a significant portion of Earth’s history, there was no Bible. While some may favor a later date, even if we go with a conservative evangelical perspective, we would still discover that the first books of what we call the Old Testament were probably not written until mid to late second millennium, BC. This is the approximate time of the Exodus from Egypt recounted in the book of Exodus. Conservative Christians believe that much of this book was written by Moses, the leader of the Exodus, which would mean that it and the other books attributed to Moses, called the Pentateuch, could not have been written earlier.
Even under Archbishop Ussher’s relatively short chronology for the age of the Earth,[i] this would mean that perhaps a few thousand years passed with no Bible. At least no one has recovered a text representing what Christians might recognize as biblical in nature. There are many texts that are earlier and parallel some elements of the early Bible stories. Some feel that these represent an earlier written tradition that the Bible relied on for its stories of Creation and worldwide flooding. While sequence does not prove causality, it is understandable why these speculations take place.
The Bible tells us that no human being witnessed Creation week. Yet, several ante biblical accounts, as well as the book of Genesis in the Bible, allude to creative events that brought about our world and the existence of mankind. This would seem to admit of only two possibilities. Either the creation accounts were made up as an attempt to bring ordered understanding to the cosmos, or someone who actually witnessed the event passed on the information to mankind. Of course, most Christians favor the latter explanation. This also appears to be the position of the Bible writers as they make reference many times to oral communication between certain individuals capable of direct communion with the divine.[ii]
However, we might ask, “If the information was passed directly from God to man, how come there are so many different accounts?” There may be several reasons for this. For instance, God may have only been able to communicate to men and women in terms they could relate to based on their experience and culture. Since these things are not fixed but variable, what was understood by different people in different circumstances might be expected to differ and perhaps conflict in various details.[iii] An example of this might be found in the introduction of horses to North America by the Spanish. Native Americans, who had no other frame of reference, referred to the animals as big dogs or god dogs.[iv] Those cultures which understood that dogs and horses are distinct creatures might not properly understand the reference to such dogs as meaning horses. Yet, in the context of Native culture it made perfect sense.
When we add to this the understanding that within our cultures, we are also each unique in our individual perspectives, we begin to see yet another reason for diversity in the various accounts of early narratives regarding creation and flooding. These unique individual perspectives are why we have four gospels presenting different aspects of the life of Christ. Even in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke there are smaller narratives within the overall accounts that are different due to omissions or to alternate wording. This is understandable and entirely human as we all continually make judgments about what is going on around us as to what details are relevant and what are not. This does not mean that what we relegate to irrelevancy is not important to someone, only that it is not important to us at that time and place.
When several people witness an automobile accident, statements given to the police tend to differ for the same reason of what the witness considered relevant. They all saw the same thing, but they interpreted what was important and what was not. Filtering out what each considered was unimportant, either consciously or subconsciously, resulted in different accounts. This is not necessarily a bad thing as in the multiplicity of witnesses a more complete picture can be discovered. Perhaps the real problem comes when there is a dearth of witnesses and the picture becomes less balanced.
In any event, the Bible is the compilation of the accounts of many individuals about the character of deity and man’s relationship to such. We do find the differences we might expect from such a compilation. For instance, the reason for the Fourth Commandment is different between Exodus[v] and Deuteronomy.[vi] Does this mean one is wrong and the other right? Possibly, but maybe both are right and simply written from different perspectives. However, if a reader believes that God dictated word-for-word what is in the text then such texts becomes problematic due to their inconsistency. Perhaps such reasoning, far from venerating Scripture, does violence to its intent.
When we realize the nature of the Bible, we can begin to understand that cherry-picking proof texts to create dogmatic expressions of faith without regard to cultural and individual perspectives can create a very shaky “house of cards” susceptible to collapse when those perspectives eventually become known. Of course, one can always “bury their head in the sand” and ignore those perspectives that conflict with one’s own preferred perspective. This seems to be a popular activity in some Christian circles.
Some Christians prefer certain translations of Scripture because those versions have proof texts worded in such a way that they “hammer home” certain doctrines that tend to soften or even disappear under other the wording from other translations. They may even assert that the preferred translation is “godly” and other translations are not. This reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the Bible in general and inspiration in particular. While this may create a comfortable buffer zone between the believer and the world, it may not allow for the growth necessary for Christian maturity. The Christian who is never wrong, has no reason to mature. While the Christian who makes mistakes discovers the path to wisdom is often achieved by those errors.
The role of Scripture may be simply to provide a context, a safe frame, where we can make those errors and grow. Jesus never taught that we should hide ourselves in our churches, avoiding all the evil influences of the world around us. He even sent his own disciples out as sheep among wolves.[vii] He apparently understood that it would not be good to keep the sheep perpetually penned up in the fold. Eventually, they needed to go to the meadow and the brook for grazing and drinking if they were to be healthy, thriving sheep. In the same way, perhaps we need to be out in the world and less insular because it will make us healthier spiritually. It could be that a central purpose of the Bible is to encourage us to do just that.
Many of us have heard the aphorism that the Dead Sea is dead because it only takes in water but does not release any.[viii] The intent of this saying is to remind us that if we stay holed up in our churches, we too will become dead spiritually. By attempting to preserve the purity of our experience, we may actually be sounding its death knell. Perhaps the Holy Spirit of the Bible is more likely to be found in a soup kitchen than in a self-focused church afraid to venture forth in service.
Maybe discipleship is less about being concerned with guarding the sanctity of one’s church or one’s experience and more about getting “down and dirty” with the wounded person who disagrees with our theology but who is spread out in the dirt beside the road.[ix] Jesus was not bothered by the alternative theology of the Samaritans. From His example, contained in the Bible, He demonstrated that while a person may have a different perspective than ours, we are all children of the same God. If we are His disciples, perhaps we will see the need to follow that example.
[i] “Ussher chronology,” www.wikipedia.org
[ii] i.e. Genesis 3; Genesis 22; Exodus 3
[iii] Cf. “The Great Controversy,” Introduction, Ellen G White
[iv] “American Indian Horse History,” www.indianhorse.com
[v] Exodus 20:11
[vi] Deuteronomy 5:15
[vii] Matthew 10:16
[viii] “Why is the Dead Sea dead?” www.pitara.com
[ix] Luke 10:25-37
Questions to think about this week:
◦What does a “true disciple” mean to you?
◦Isn’t it true that once I am baptized I am now a disciple of Christ?
◦Why do you answer yes or no?
◦Isn’t it true that as long as I believe Jesus died for me I really don’t need to “study” the Bible?
◦Why do you answer yes or no?
◦Isn’t it true that since God knows my heart and can speak to me directly, I don’t have to read the Bible to know His will for my life?
◦Why do you answer yes or no?
◦Isn’t it true that the more of the Bible I memorize and become familiar with, the more spiritual I will become?
◦Why do you answer yes or no?
In reply to this post by Noel
"Disciples and Scripture"
January 4, 2014
Texts: Luke 4:1-12; Matthew 12:3-8; Matthew 5:17-39; Luke 24:13-32; Acts 1:16-20
Were you one of the recipients of a request to look over the titles of the 100 most popular books in history and indicate to friends how many of the 100 you have read during your lifetime? There is not one such list available on the Internet. Perusing lists which compile best-selling book titles is a very revealing experience.
The Guinness World Records website states that "there is little doubt that the Bible is the world's best-selling and most widely distributed book". Of the 2123 known languages, at least one book of the Bible is available in each language.1
Scrolling through titles on the website "100 Inspirational Books Everyone Should Read" one finds the Bible paired with the Qu'ran with both coming in at 91st place on the list. Spirituality was the last category of book type among those books considered inspiring.2
The December 28, 2013 Huff Post Books, U.S. Edition, lists the 15 biggest bestsellers ever after the Bible. According to their website the Bible is the biggest best seller in history followed by Chairman Mao's "Little Red Book" which comes in second and the Qu'ran third. The compilers then state this: "While religion dominates the first half of the list, the rest is mostly fantasy. Does this list tell us anything about ourselves as human beings?"3
We begin this week with new studies on the topic "Discipleship." We won't be dealing with fantasy! Jesus had followers-lots of them. During this 13-week study we will look at Christ's example to learn just how Jesus was able to appeal to such diverse groups of people.
In this week's introductory lesson we begin by exploring the various ways Jesus used Scripture as one of the key tools that transformed the life of Jesus' followers. In a move from membership to discipleship we are to take our Bibles and help others experience a personal relationship with a living God and loving Saviour. Using Jesus example the most important tool we will need is the Bible.
During His visit to the synagogue, Jesus quotes Scripture that points to Himself as the One who will give freedom to the oppressed. When Jesus debates with the religious leaders of the day He relies upon and quotes from Scripture. When Jesus preaches at public gatherings, the sermons are filled with quotations and references to Scripture. The credibility of Jesus' personal ministry revolves around the Bible.
Today technology has made it so easy for us to carry our Bibles wherever we go. Websites and Bible apps and our own denomination's resources are available for smart phones and tablets. This makes it possible for us to keep Scripture handy at all times.4
If Jesus Christ relied upon the Bible for the credibility of personal ministry, it makes sense for us to do the same. May our Bible studies during 2014 impact how we live and relate to others every day.
01. Jesus and the Bible. Notice the caution built into the memory text. "Search the Scriptures;" it says, "for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of Me." (John 5:39). Read verse 40 of John 5 as well. Does the Bible bring us eternal life? If not, what is our only source of eternal life? Does the Bible play a critical role in our obtaining eternal life? What is that role?
03. The Authority of Scripture. Without the testimony of Scriptures in His ministry on earth, could Jesus have been able to help us fully understand salvation? What about the time before Jesus life on earth? What did God provide as teaching tools before the complete Scriptures as we know them today were available? Why do so many people consider the flood, creation, and the resurrection of Christ to be nothing but myths? What would you do if you couldn't obtain access to the Bible?
04. Public Proclamation. How was Jesus' view of Scripture different from that of the Israelites attending the synagogues when He came to earth? What problems surface when we spend too much time looking in the Bible for rules and standards for behavior? Or is that the primary purpose of the Bible? How can God know our inner feelings, our thoughts, our sinful inclinations and still come to us "with tender compassion"? How is God's attitude towards us sinners radically different from our attitude towards the sinners around us?
05. Personal Ministry. Does your church or congregation have a "personal ministries" department? As a member or regular visitor of your local Adventist church, do you have your own personal ministry in addition to supporting the organized work of the local church? Should you? Your lesson guide states that Jesus opened His ministry with teachings from the Old Testament. Why? Can we do more than we are doing to share the Bible with others? Should we start with passages of Scripture that are more familiar to all in our hearing? Or should we delve in deeply to reveal the mysteries of the Word?
06. The Next Generation. Following the example of Jesus, what should our attitude be towards the Scriptures? The lesson guide states, "Scripture touched every facet of the life of the early church." Does it today? What about our own ideas and experiences? Aren't they just as important in giving the church a sense of direction? How can you and I experience the thrill of reading and praying for understanding of the Word of God? Do we open the pages of your Bible with a sense of anticipation? Or do we rush through the passages we read without helping ourselves to the fruit of God waiting for us there?
07. In the New Year. What plans do you have for the Bible and you in 2014?
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