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Friday, December 29, 2017

Let God be true and every man a liar!

The following is an excerpt from something I wrote many years ago:

The Bible is probably the most controversial book of all times. The book has been claimed by literally billions of people around the world as "A" or "The" source for their religious beliefs.
Nevertheless, the diversity of opinions evident among these people on what the book teaches on various subjects is a source of consternation to both friends and foes of the Bible. In fact, we can observe groups within the Christian community that are at polar opposites in terms of what they believe the Bible teaches about various subjects. Some of them believe that Jesus is God, while others believe he is an angel, a prophet or that he was just a very special man. Likewise, we observe groups that believe people go to heaven or hell when they die, others add a third possibility called purgatory, while still others believe that people "sleep" or exist in an unconscious state until a future resurrection. The diversity of beliefs on any given subject is astounding!
Even so, all of the people who hold these various beliefs claim to derive them from the pages of the Bible. Hence, it is no wonder that anyone observing such a spectacle would be bewildered.
How can people reading the same book have such widely divergent views about what it teaches? I believe that these contradictory beliefs arise from three principal sources: the authors of the individual books that make up the Bible, the perspectives of their readers, and Satan's influence on both groups. Humans are subject to forces which cloud our judgment and skew the way that we look at things. Mankind is susceptible to prejudice, vanity, incomplete knowledge, fatigue, depression, peer pressure, greed, and a host of other forces and motivations that can cloud our judgment. And it is not unreasonable to assume that some of these distractions have influenced the human authors of scripture, and the people who have interpreted their work down through the centuries.
Although most Christians believe that Satan has been actively seeking to distort and confuse God's message to humankind (Revelation 12:9, I Peter 5:8), many of them seem to limit this activity to the distortion of a few Biblical teachings or doctrines. It seems to be incomprehensible to many Christians that Satan might have deceived folks by distorting the way they perceive or look at things in a more general way (notice the story of how he manipulated Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Genesis 3:1-7).
Many of the people reading this will acknowledge what they have just read, and then they will go on to qualify that acknowledgement with an assertion that this cannot apply to the human authors of scripture. They will claim that the authors of scripture were writing under Divine inspiration, and that this fact exempts those individuals from the influences and distractions that would otherwise have impacted their work.
This, however, represents the exact same logic and reasoning that led to the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility, which most of the people on the Protestant side of Christianity would find objectionable. Even so, while Catholics have asserted infallibility for one individual (the Pope), Protestants have applied the principle to all of the human authors of the Old and New Testament.
Even so, such an assertion does not mesh with what those same scriptures reveal about how inspiration works! The Bible informs us that God's inspiration is perfect, but that humans are not perfect (and will not be perfect until God's plan for mankind is finished - I Corinthians 15:42-54). In other words, Divine inspiration does not remove our human propensity for screwing things up - even in matters of faith. Moreover, there is ample evidence of this fact down through the centuries of recorded human history.
Nevertheless, for our purposes, we will ignore all the potential examples of this phenomenon from secular and church history and confine ourselves to examples from the Bible. In the book of Job, we read: "But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding. Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment." (Job 32:8-9) Notice that God's inspiration of the human brain with the ability to reason does not guarantee that such inspiration is always followed by mankind. Even so, this scripture is dealing with God's inspiration of the ability to reason, and it could be argued that this has nothing to do with spiritual inspiration of the human brain. Hence, we will examine several instances in scripture where God's Holy Spirit was added to the "spirit in man" and observe the recorded effect of this kind of inspiration on human behavior.
Although the addition of God's Holy Spirit redirects the human reasoning process toward righteousness and reveals spiritual truth to our brains, God does not compel us to follow the Spirit's lead (Romans 8:1-10, I Corinthians 2:10-11). In fact, there are many scriptural examples of people sinning who we were supposedly inspired and led by God's Holy Spirit: Noah was drunk after the flood (Genesis 9:21), Moses disobeyed God at the waters of Meribah (Deuteronomy 32:51), King David committed adultery and subsequently murdered the woman's husband (II Samuel 11:1-27), Paul and Barnabas had such a bitter dispute over who would accompany them on one of their missionary trips that they parted company (Acts 15:36-40). There are many other instances of this nature recorded in scripture.
 And the Apostle Paul apparently felt that it was possible to "quench" and "neglect" the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit as he warned against them (I Thessalonians 5:19, I Timothy 4:14). Hence, it is worth repeating: The inspiration of God's Holy Spirit may be perfect, but how we react to or accept that inspiration is NOT always what it should be according to the Bible.
Still, there are those who will insist that the authors of scripture were not subject to these kinds of mistakes when acting in matters of faith (i.e. teaching doctrine or writing scripture). This argument reminds us again of the doctrine of papal infallibility, that the pope does not make mistakes when he is speaking "ex cathedra" (from the chair).
The Bible, however, contradicts such an understanding of inspired infallibility - even where an apostle and author of scripture is concerned. Paul informed the Galatians that he was forced to confront Peter for misleading Jewish Christians and confusing the Gentile ones (Galatians 2:11-14). Can anyone seriously argue that justification and grace are not matters of faith, and that Peter appears to have been on the wrong side of the issue in this case (Galatians 2:15-21)? And just for the record, Peter was both an apostle and author of scripture.
Even so, having established that humans acting under the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit are still subject to error, there will be those who will argue that the human authors of scripture were acting strictly in the capacity of scribes. In other words, these human authors were merely taking dictation from God, and God is the real and actual author of each one of the books which make up the canon of the Bible.
 This, however, is not in harmony with what the Bible itself teaches about how the scriptures were written! Paul told Timothy that "all scripture is given by inspiration of God" (II Timothy 3:16). Peter said that prophecy was not the result of human reasoning, "but holy men of God spake as they mere moved (or led) by the Holy Ghost" (II Peter 1:20-21).
According to the Bible, God has always worked through individual humans. That is HIS "modus operandi." In fact, there are only a few instances recorded in Scripture where God personally wrote anything (i.e. the Ten Commandments on stone tablets). Moreover, it is apparent that the authors of the various books which constitute the Christian Bible cite a host of other written sources throughout their works.
Hence, in beginning to understand the biblical perspective on what inspiration is (or isn’t), it would be instructive to look at the Greek and Hebrew words that were translated into English as "inspiration." The New Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (1984) identifies the Greek word as "theopneustos" and informs us that it is derived from the words "theos" (God) and "pneo" (to breathe hard or to blow). Thus, the word literally means "God-breathed" or "God-inspired."
The association of spirit with breath or wind is a concept that is familiar to the entire Bible, Old and New Testaments. Strong's identifies the Hebrew word for "inspiration" as "neshamah." This word also denotes a "puff of wind or breath" and is used to indicate Divine inspiration (as in Job 32:8).
So, the use of these words points to God as the invisible force influencing what is done. Christ once said, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). With this background, it becomes clear to us that Spirit is regarded as a force and agent of God's will that is invisible to the human eye.
Scripture informs us that the Holy Spirit (Ghost) is the agent of God's inspiration, the force behind the phenomenon. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so THE THINGS OF GOD KNOWETH NO MAN, BUT (by) THE SPIRIT OF GOD" (I Corinthians 2:11). He continued, "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (I Corinthians 2:14).
He wrote also to the saints at Rome that "the carnal (natural) mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirt of God dwell in you" (Romans 8:7-9).
Furthermore, we have already referred to Peter's statement "that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake AS THEY WERE MOVED BY THE HOLY GHOST" (II Peter 1:20-21). Thus, according to the Bible, God reveals his will to mankind by sharing with them “His” Holy Spirit, and understanding how that Spirit works is the key to understanding inspiration.
Although most Christians would accept the points just made, many of them share a misconception of the way the Holy Spirit works. They think of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as the OPPOSITE of demon possession. In other words, they view the Spirit as something that controls, orders and dictates to the person to whom it has been given.
This, however, is not the way that the Spirit works - at least not according to the very same scriptures most Christians believe to be inspired. Instead, the Spirit leads, influences, gives, sends, designates, empowers, teaches, witnesses, moves, reveals, warns and sometimes even hinders (Mark 13:11; Luke 2:26, 4:1, 12:12; Acts 1:8, 2:4, 13:4, 16:6, 20:23, 28; I Corinthians 2:13; Hebrews 10:15). Hence, the Spirit DOES NOT CONTROL, it works through humans to produce results.
This important understanding is best illustrated by the concept of the GIFTS of the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all (the Spirit does not eradicate or suppress the personality of the individual). But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will" (I Corinthians 12:4-11).
Thus, Paul portrays the Holy Spirit as giving different gifts or talents to various individuals within the church. This stands in sharp contrast to an understanding that would turn someone acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit into a mindless automaton or robot.
Notice also in this passage that Paul referenced the "word of wisdom." Strong's identifies the original Greek word translated as "wisdom" as "sophia," and it implies a wide ranging, general kind of wisdom. Paul also referenced the "word of knowledge" in his letter. Likewise, Strong's identifies the Greek word used here as "gnosis," and its use throughout the New Testament implies spiritual or moral knowledge. Hence, the ability to communicate effectively about things spiritual is also a function or gift of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ made this aspect of the Spirit's work clear to his disciples when he told them that God would supply them with the Holy Spirit to help them after he (Christ) had returned to the Father. He said, "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (John 14:26).
Remember, it was approximately twenty to thirty years later that some of these disciples decided to write their gospel accounts of Christ's life, and it was the Holy Spirit which helped them to recall those events and words. Jesus told his disciples, "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me" (John 15:26). In other words, the Spirit would serve in the capacity of a witness who would testify on Christ's behalf.
From these scriptures, it is reasonable to conclude that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit guided, helped and supplied the various human authors of the Bible with the material they included in their writings. Nevertheless, the question remains: Does the inspiration of the Holy Spirit make its human host infallible?
An objective evaluation of the scriptural evidence dealing with this question would invariably lead to the conclusion that the answer to that question is NO. In fact, the scriptures are literally full of instances when individuals with God's Holy Spirit failed to live up to God's perfection.
In addition to the examples already cited, we have many instances in the New Testament of Christians who fell short of perfection in spite of the presence of God's Spirit: Ananias and Sapphira lied to and tempted the Spirit (Acts 5:1-11), There was contention among the saints over the conversion of the Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18), They disagreed over whether those Gentile Christians should keep the Law (Acts 15:1-29), Paul and Barnabas had a serious argument (Acts 15:36-40), Aquila and Priscilla had to correct Apollos' imperfect understanding of Christianity (Acts 18:24-26), There were divisions among the Christians at Corinth (I Corinthians 1:10-17), Many of the people from that group had also accepted the practice of fornication (I Corinthians 5:1-8), Some of them were also engaged in lawsuits against each other (I Corinthians 6:1-7), There were widespread problems among the early church members concerning their belief system (Romans 14:1-23; I Corinthians 8:1-13, 11:17-29, 15:12: Galatians 1:6-9, 3:1); and sometime later Peter had to warn Christians about the presence of false teachers among them (II Peter 2:1-3).
For these individuals, the presence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit did not prevent them from making serious mistakes. Their human imperfections still manifested themselves in some dramatic failures, and they all (even those in leadership positions) fell far short of the infallibility and perfection of Almighty God.
In the Old Testament book of Exodus, we read that God inspired the craftsmen who constructed and furnished the Tabernacle of the Congregation (Exodus 31:1-11, 35:30-35). Are we to understand that the workmanship resulting from this inspiration was completely flawless and perfect? Are human hands even capable of that kind of perfection?
To propose that the craftsmanship of those individuals was flawless as a consequence of them having been inspired seems absurd and unnecessary to our minds. Even so, they were working on the most important and sacred objects relative to the religious practices of the Israelites.
Hence, we wonder: Could God have built and furnished the Tabernacle himself? Would not the finished product have been perfect if he had? The answer to both questions is most assuredly YES.
However, according to the Bible, GOD CHOSE to work through human instruments. God could have handed the Israelites everything on a silver platter, but HE CHOSE to involve them in what he was doing. God wanted them to have a stake in what he was doing. God wanted them to share in the responsibility for the finished product!
According to the Bible, inspiration is the Creator's part in a joint venture with the created. God certainly has the capacity to do everything himself, but HE HAS CHOSEN to operate in a different fashion. God has chosen to work through human instruments.
Scripture also makes clear that God is aware that the work of these human instruments is subject to errors and imperfections. After all, HE DESIGNED THEM! Nevertheless, God has designated a role for mankind to play in every instance of his interactions with them - the entire story of the Bible underscores this important point!
We have concentrated on defining inspiration because many Christians have adopted the notion that inspiration is synonymous with infallibility. Prior to the Protestant Reformation, most Christians accepted the church as the final authority in doctrinal matters. They believed that the pope and/or church councils were infallible.
Experience, however, had clearly demonstrated that popes and councils had often made mistakes and issued contradictory decisions. When Luther broke with the Roman Church, he declared: "Unless I am convinced by the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures or evident reason (for I believe in neither the Pope nor councils alone, since it has been established that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures that I have adduced, and my conscience has been taken captive by the Word of God: and I am neither able nor willing to recant, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience."
Protestants, therefore, supposedly rejected the infallibility of the church and substituted the Bible as the sole authority for their faith. Even so, they did not abandon the doctrine of infallibility. Instead, they merely directed the teaching toward the Bible itself; and by extension, the human authors who had written the various books which make up that Bible.
Nevertheless, by transferring this infallibility to the Bible and its authors, they had unwittingly found fault with God's methods for revealing and communicating his will to mankind. Ignoring what those very scriptures revealed about how they were written, Protestants had effectively declared God's methods for revealing his will to be too messy and insufficient to produce the perfection which they expected.
Protestants demanded an authoritative, crystal clear, black and white blueprint for their faith. In fact, the notion that the Bible could be anything less than that scared most of them. Even so, if we could only lay aside this philosophical baggage and explore what those very scriptures reveal about how they were written, we would find that God has kept his own counsel in determining how he has chosen to reveal his will to humankind.
The Bible reveals that God chose a number of different ways to reveal himself and communicate his will to mankind. And it clearly delineates the various means which “He” has used to achieve these things: The Creator has revealed himself through his creation (Psalm 97:6), Romans 1:20); God spoke directly to people, as he did when he spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai and gave him the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-11); God personally wrote those same laws on tables of stone and gave them to Moses (Exodus 24:12); God communicated to mankind through angelic messengers, as he did with Daniel and Mary and Joseph (Daniel 9:21-23, Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-21); God used dreams and visions to reveal his will to humankind, as he did with Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel and with John at the close of the Apostolic Age (Daniel 2:1-45, Revelation 1:9-20); God directly implanted his message into the minds of individuals, as he did with the seventy elders, Jehu and Ezekiel (Numbers 11:25, I Kings 16:1, Ezekiel 15:1, 16:1, 18:1, etc.); God communicated his will to mankind through his Son, Jesus Christ (John 15:15, Hebrews 1:1-2); As we have already mentioned, God led and moved individuals to say and write things directly through the agency of his Holy Spirit (II Peter 1:20-21); and Finally, God has enhanced our understanding of his will and message through the meditation and study of what was previously revealed to others, as in the case of David and Timothy (Psalm 119, II Timothy 3:14-17).

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