Let's be reasonable with one another, shall we?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Bible has authority, but what is a believer to do when the Bible seems to contradict itself?

Have you ever thought you were seeing a mixed message in the Bible? I gave an example in a previous post of how the O.T. theologians may have had that feeling when looking at the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah. “It says here He is to be born in Bethlehem … no … he is a Nazarene … no … he comes from Egypt…” Obviously, there was a scenario that accounted for the truth of all three of those Biblical passages. I believe, in the same way, everything in the Bible fits together and is part of the whole “bigger” picture. No scripture is wrong. They all must be true, and therefore, they must all shape our thinking and our theology. We must interpret all scripture in a method that is honoring to the entire Bible.

It is so important to let the rest of the Bible help interpret a particular passage. Every word in the Bible is true. So, if it seems that one verse contradicts another, we must discover the interpretation that accounts for all the verses on a particular subject. This is especially important to remember when there are many clearly understood verses dealing with a doctrine and one or two verses or passages that just throw our whole understanding of those clear passages out of whack! Usually, this is an indication that this "problematic text" needs some extra study, in its context, to see if our first impression is just a faulty interpretation. Only when an understanding of a doctrine allows for all the passages on its subject to be true, is that understanding the correct one.

We can also pray the way David the great king did in Psalm 119: 18: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” God alone is the omniscient Author of the Bible and He is pleased to lead us through it. God can take every “problematic” thread of His Word and weave it together with the whole of Sacred Scripture into a beautiful tapestry of truth! We need to ask and depend on Him for this enlightenment or we could wind up dishonoring the King whom we wish to serve.

Really, the Bible does not contradict itself. Rather, in many instances, our ideas about what certain passages mean may contradict our ideas about what other passages mean. (You see, the problems always lie with us, never with God's Word).

And if [salvation] by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. (Romans 11:6)

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? (James 2:14)

Is there an explanation that validates both of these scriptures? How can we figure out what it is? (We're not going to do that here, but we are going to attempt to spell out how.)

When we do an exercise like this, we have to remember not to lift a verse out of context. We must look at the overall line of reasoning that the whole chapter is taking. Simply put, taking a group of words out of its context can cause the true meaning of any thought, in any book, to become clouded over. We have to get a feel for the larger message that the author is trying to convey to his particular audience with their particular needs … shortcomings … misunderstandings. This is helpful when looking at the following two verses:

For he that is not against us is on our part. (Mark 9:40)

And Jesus said unto him, “Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” (Luke 9:50)

The use of literary tools is a very important aspect to consider, as well. I saw on one website (where a guy had listed all the verses that contradict each other in an attempt to discredit the Bible) two verses in Proverbs that were right next to each other. (Proverbs 26:4 & 5) He had them listed as a contradiction. Aha! No … the author was obviously using that as a literary tool to convey a larger truth. (duh)

We also have to recognize that the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek. When dealing with a very troublesome group of verses, maybe it is the English language that is at fault. An easy example is the word “love”. One word for English = four or five in Greek. Get a Greek lexicon or find one online and look up the original meaning of the words. Figure out what the author originally wrote.

Now, switching gears…

Before Abraham was, I am. (John 8:58)

… I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. (John 14:28)

The above is example of two verses that may seem to contain a paradox. How can Jesus be the great “I am” and also say that the Father is greater than Him? If we believe the whole Bible is true, we must accept both of these verses as true. These passages, along with many others are what have brought about the doctrine of the Trinity. Do I fully grasp the Trinity? No, but it is the only explanation of the person of Christ that affirms all the scriptures about Him. We always must also be willing to accept the fact that our understanding is somewhat limited. Cultists get into trouble when they resist this principle. Jehovah’s witnesses don’t like the doctrine of the trinity, so they do violence to the Word of God. Years ago, I heard about their translation of John chapter 1. A Jehovah’s Witness came to my mom’s door when I lived there. I talked to her for a little while and I asked her if I could see her Bible. Sure enough, the Watchtower had changed the Bible. Theirs reads, “In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was with God … and the Word was a god.” Sad as that is, isn’t it, in effect, what we do, when we aren’t honest in our attempts at understanding passages that contradict our presuppositions? Doing violence to passages that don't fit into our theology (by not looking at them honestly) is just a step behind altering the Word of God and it has a cult-like flavor. We have to be willing to accept that God is high above us. He is eternal, we are finite and therefore sometimes our understanding is limited. This does not give us an excuse for discarding the parts of His Word that don't fit into our understanding. We must adjust our theology … not our willingness to accept the Bible in its plain, normal, meaning. The other alternative can cause unrest and confusion. However, “...God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” (1 Cor. 14:33).

I leave you with this great quote:

Since the Bible does not contradict itself, the verses that can be interpreted in more than one way must be understood in the light of those that cannot. (Norman Geisler)

This post is just a simple Christian's methods of attempting to know what God wants me to know. I do not claim to be a theologian. Feel free to help me if I am missing something.

Some posts coming in the near future … let’s evaluate TULIP with these things in mind.

21 Comments:

  • Sound stuff, Rose~

    By Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist, at 11/12/2005 10:43 AM  

  • Agreed.

    I have struggled with this as well. Here's the basic plan I have in reading the scriptures as many times I'm very confused.

    1) Read the book in the content and in my yearly bible reading that is the best bet for me. Let the words mean what they say.

    2) For those things that don't fit with you current theological beliefs recognize that my understanding of the scriptures could be wrong.

    3) For those that I'm not certain of I study the topic in as many scriptures as I can in the context and then focus on the context of the "problem passage". The writers might answer my question in context in the next few pages, et.

    4) Remember that you are in a community of faith and that we aren't lone rangers. So goto the family of faith as well as those who have gone before us. (I think sometimes people do this at #1 first and not always what I would consider the first thing. Let the word of Christ dwell in you.) I think americans can be too individualistic in their study of scripture or have a tendency in that, but supposively other cultures only go by what the pastor says. But also realize the community of faith is so critical to our understanding.

    For example, I never looked at the old testament the correct way. Jesus says that Moses spoke about him. When you consider the old testament continually speaks about Christ and a picture or shadow of Christ it is quite exciting. For example consider Joseph in relationship to proclaiming Christ and Moses to proclaiming Christ, etc. it is very exciting to consider these things.

    Another example in Hebrews I just wanted the words to speak for themselves first and then when confused or something recognized it was time to read before and after that verse and talk about it with the believer.

    I hope this wasn't too long

    By Blogger Shawn L, at 11/12/2005 10:55 AM  

  • Dyspraxic, thanks.

    Shawn, No it's not too long!! It is good to see you again! I only wonder about #4. Is it really best to base doctrine on others' opinions about scripture? I think they can help us think through it, but ultimately, we should never base our doctrine on what so-and-so church father said, but on the Word of God. (Maybe that is what you meant). Thank you for your contribution and come back again!

    By Blogger Rose~, at 11/12/2005 12:27 PM  

  • Rose,

    Yes I agree with sola scriptura.

    What I meant was we look to the body in general for guidance in this work of searching the scriptures together. I think there is so much scripture on the importance of the body of Christ in this work as well. WE are all to be berean's but at the same time the scripture talks alot about submission in the body of Christ. I think where we are confused we search the scriptures together as a body.

    How that plays out during this time where we exalt the word of God above all things at the same time.

    By Blogger Shawn L, at 11/12/2005 12:33 PM  

  • Rose,

    By the way I didn't realize you were talking about Tulip until the last paragraph which I must have missed. I hope I didn't mean to imply that Tulip is true because someone believed it in the past. I wasn't referring to tulip in my thoughts when writing I was referring to my being stumped on Hebrews awhile ago.... and searching the scriptures and commentaries.

    By Blogger Shawn L, at 11/12/2005 12:38 PM  

  • "We must interpret all scripture in a method that is honoring to the entire Bible"

    That is the sum total of what I try so hard (and only occasionally successfully) to teach.

    The Bible is God's revelation of His love for His creation and His plan for its redemption.

    By "painting" every passage with a thick coating of John 3:16 one can always end up with the correct interpretation.

    By Blogger Joe, at 11/12/2005 1:16 PM  

  • Shawn,
    I understood what you said. :~)
    sola scriptura ... I think I've heard of that before. ;~)
    I wasn't talking about tulip...not yet!

    Joe, that is a neat figure of speach you have employed ... a literary tool ... the paintbrush. Thanks for coming over. Can I have a sip of that tea?

    By Blogger Rose~, at 11/12/2005 2:07 PM  

  • Luke 14:25-27
    25And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them,
    26If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
    27And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

    Exodus 20:12 (King James Version)
    12Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

    These are two verses that if you looked at them you would say they contradict each other. This is why we have to be students of the word. When we see this it should throw a flag up just by knowing our Father, He never contradicts.

    Nice Piece

    By Blogger forgiven, at 11/12/2005 3:04 PM  

  • Even though I know the shoe is about to drop, I will say, non the less, nice post.
    From,
    Your soon to be stepped on Calvinist Friend,
    Mark

    By Blogger bluecollar, at 11/12/2005 7:09 PM  

  • Rose,
    I like your post, but I'm aprehensive, (perhaps anxious is a better word), where you're going to end up with it.

    I like your thinking about melding all the verses into the cohesive whole of the Bible.

    My opinion about your readership and those who comment here is that there is wisdom in the multitude of couselors ... they all offer a great deal to your posts. This is one reason I like blogging too.

    By Blogger J. Wendell, at 11/12/2005 9:15 PM  

  • It is also important to note that Jesus himself brought this paradigm to the surface when contending with the Pharisees and Saducees. He knew what he was doing and that is the crux of the matter with His word. He only needs HIS testimony. The father alone testified of Jesus.Rev 19:12-13

    He asked them how can I the son of David be spoken about when David said "The YHVH said to my Adonai..."

    How could this be. He listed this when questioned about endless questions of doubt. You see the witness is there on purpose. Jewish Scholars were taught that when they came across this seeming paradox, they were to believe both accounts even though it wasn't in their power to explain it scientifically. That is why there is a dangerous side to the whole Creation movement and even Dr Henry Morris sees this. You cannot truly have faith until you fully and wholly believe the revelation of Yeshua. Creation research is good in that it builds on our faith that is already there, but faith comes only by the Logos and that alone there can be no other way. The Logos brings the Graphe to life and it is there that the quickening power exists.

    Dad told me years ago, "Son, the word of God confirms the unbeliever and the believer!"

    Here is a quote by Oswald Chambers:
    "If we preach the effects of Redemption in human life instead of the revalation regarding Jesus, the result in those who listen is not new birth, but refined spiritual culture, and the Spirit of God cannot witness to it because such preaching is another domain."

    By Blogger Bhedr, at 11/12/2005 9:23 PM  

  • Bluecollar,
    "non" the less?

    There is no shoe to drop. Please offer your comments. I don't want to get into a big cat fight or anything. I just want to learn a few things:

    1. What do others believe the points to mean?
    2. Do they believe them and if so, how do they fit it all together with the whole Bible thing I have discussed? What is the reasoning? If they don't believe them, how do they interpret the proof texts used by the Calvinists?
    3. Could I possibly be convinced that this is a true doctrine?

    Does that sound like I want to squash anyone? I just want to discuss it nicely. I have discussed it with one blogger already, but I want to get some more input ... and get some of my thinking on record ... especially because when it comes up, people ask me how do I not believe it (like the blogger on your post the other day). Now I can talk about that without taking up a bunch of space on someone else's blog.

    I am glad I have Calvinist blogger friends like you and ... well, any that are my friends.

    John,
    Don't worry, be happy!

    Bhedr,
    Good to see you again! (see?) I think you have some good thoughts and I hope you will clearly contribute to the discussion. Thanks :~)

    By Blogger Rose~, at 11/12/2005 9:34 PM  

  • forgiven,
    Thank you as well for your comment. Do you mean "throw a read flag up" as in God wants to get our attention to study a little deeper? Or did it have something to do with KJV (or not) red flag.

    By Blogger Rose~, at 11/12/2005 9:37 PM  

  • Hi Rose,

    Late to the discussion again, sigh. Actually, I've been working on a new module for the Doctrine of the Trinity, which is especially geared toward answering JW's and Mormons, but I will resist the temptation to jump in there . . .

    In my experience, an apparent contradiction means one of two things. Either part of our understanding is based on an error at a simpler level, so that it has taken the untrue form of a contradiction at a more complex level, or else we need to dig deeper for an understanding that will reconcile our 'contradiction'. In effect, we would then see both truths as two sides of the same coin.

    If there is an error at a simpler level, it may be based on some of the things you've mentioned. But if not, I'll bet you my last dollar it is based on a basic understanding that is not focused on Jesus Christ. Because, according to Eph 4:13, there are no more winds of doctrine when we look for Jesus in our understanding.

    I'm looking forward to your explanations of TULIP soon!

    By Blogger loren, at 11/12/2005 11:40 PM  

  • Here is how I think about it.

    One must construct an analogy of faith by Bible reading and study. You do this by determining doctrines using the simple and clear passages. Once you have an analogy of faith, based upon the easily understood milk of the Word, you can put it to practice.

    How? In an attempt to understand the more ambiguous and confusing passages of Scripture. When we start with the presuppositions that the Bible is internally consistent and does not contradict (these we draw from the simple teachings that God does not lie, that He is truth, God, as to His essential nature is immutable, and God is not a god of confusion; these and other considerations) we can use our analogy of faith to consider tougher passages.

    When we look at the more ambiguous passage, there is one thing we can say confidently: whatever this passage is stating, it cannot contradict our analogy of faith.

    Many times people break down at this point. They see an apparant contradiction and immediatly set forth to rationalize how they can be both true about the same thing. This usually ends up in absurdity, in my opinion.

    Many times apparant "tensions" or "paradoxes" are due to passages that do not even speak as to the same things.

    Once we have a good analogy of faith, we can answer any Bible question!

    How? We can always say "I do not know what this is trying to teach, but I KNOW it can't be saying this or that (because it would contradict the simply understood passages that have constructed your analogy of faith)"

    I am under the belief that anything that would resemble contradiction in the Bible does not reside with God or His character, but in our ignorance of the texts.

    What some Scriptures are seeming to say on the surface, upon greater examination, may not be what the authors intended to convey.

    When we have narrowed down the ambiguous passage, understanding that it cannot contradict our analogy of faith, we must then employ the tools of the exegete to draw out its meaning.

    The 21st century Bible reader is between 2000-3600 years removed in time, culture, language, idiom, figure of speech, and customs.

    One must study contexts first. Many times a good apprehension of the context into which a passage lies will clear up the confusion!

    The study of the corresponding Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin words often helps! (interlinears in conjunction with Greek concordances help tremendously in word studies!)

    Study of the syntax and grammar in the passages helps trmendously as well. Diagramming (even in English!) can be quite beneficial. You can determine subjects, objects, co-ordinate and sub-ordinate clauses, nuances in tenses and moods of the verbs, of gender in the nouns, conditional indicators, (gee whiz, with the grammar, you can go on and on and on!)

    IMHO, I believe that a class that teaches you how to have some skills in Greek is beneficial. Another key is to know your own language. I remember that before I took Koine Greek that I took some college English classes. They helped me tremendously when it came time to study Greek.

    If there is one point that I would like to make, it would be this:

    The Bible does not contradict. Any explanations as to its content that contradict themself are patently (and should be manifestly) false. One that comes to mind is the one popularized by JMac, "Salvation is free but it will cost you everything". This is utter nonsense.

    I could go on, but I have been up since 3 am and it is now roughly 10:30 pm here now.

    Goodnight!

    Antonio

    By Blogger Antonio, at 11/13/2005 1:22 AM  

  • None,None, None,....There,how's that teacher? Do I have to stay after school too? :~)

    Many Calvinists today are beginning to shy away from the accrostic TULIP because of the "L". They prefer instead of "LIMITED ATONEMENT" to use the phrase "PARTICULAR REDEMPTION". I believe even Spurgeon leaned in this direction during his ministry.
    By the way, I saw your comments on another blog as you stated the calvinist position.Wow,
    I couldn't have done it better. Are you sure you ain't one of us? :~)

    By Blogger bluecollar, at 11/13/2005 12:32 PM  

  • Bluecollar, I am no teacher, but I have a weakness for proofreading and corrrrrecting.

    Loren,
    Once again, you have stated things well. I am glad you hang out here from time to time.

    Welcome Antonio! Did you copy and paste that from elsewhere? It's a very detailed explanation. Thanks for your contribution :~)

    By Blogger Rose~, at 11/13/2005 3:48 PM  

  • Rose,

    Thank you for allowing that comment. often I will speak from an indirect angle in hopes one will think and apply it to the subject but then that does not always meet its goal. Thank you just the same and remember that the seeming reality of Heaven and Earth cannot be measured against the tree of life that was shut out when Adam and Eve left the Garden. In essence we are still trying to figure out what Eve seized and God cursed. What He possesses only belongs to Him. We do not live in reality. The word of God alone is real. I hope you allow this comment to stay. I think Loren will understand this. It is all a question of Possession and that is what the Prodigal son had to learn. Nothing will make sense until we discover that. He thought He could find happiness in His Fathers possessions but He was not happy until he became his fathers possesion. Academia and intelligentsia must repent of this as well. In one sense science seeks to posses what belongs to God in the same way Eve did. It too is a fruit. Once again, i hope you allow this comment. Selah.

    By Blogger Bhedr, at 11/13/2005 6:42 PM  

  • Rose, your post is most articulate. I appreciate that. Straightforward and clear. Forgive me if I hurry up and get to my burning question, but this is it: who, do you believe, chooses who will be redeemed, and who will not?
    Do I choose my salvation, or does God choose to save me? As I sift the plethora of Calvinist/Armenian questions like flour with a lump in it, the "lump" in the discussion always ends up, "Who is in control of my eternal destiny?"

    Oh, BTW, I am now nervous. I put myself through college as a copy editor, and have taught English at the high school level. Nothing makes me upset like hitting the "send" button and then finding typos. Here's my latest: I meant to say "we played in a gym-like facility," but I wrote "gyn-like facility."

    So, fire away with the red ink and theology. Love 'em both!

    By Blogger Zoanna, at 11/14/2005 1:10 AM  

  • Brian,
    I am not sure I understand what you are trying to say ... but of course I will let it stand. Welcome!

    Zoanna,
    That is a big lump, is it not? Well, that may be covered as I post on this subject ... but I don't mean to be mysterious with you. I struggle with the whole issue greatly. The God of the Bible is Holy, Merciful, Just and Loving. How does He deal with humanity and why will some go to hell (as I believe many will because the Bible says they will)? This is the big lump for me.

    I hope you will return and offer your comments as I go through these issues. My mind is not, by any means closed to the Scriptures. I am always skeptical when man makes jumps to conclusions that are not clear in the Bible ... but I will elaborate more in future posts.

    Come back! Thanks for reading and commenting. (I am not a great proofreader, I just grew up with a mother that always corrected).

    By Blogger Rose~, at 11/14/2005 6:41 AM  

  • Yes, it is a huge lump. I would not want the job of God (although, shamefully, have tried on numerous occasions). I do think the Bible is clear on the matter, but at the risk of being dogmatic, I'll save my two cents for later. Thanks for the invitation back. I love a well-reasoned debate. All I know is, God is God and He gets to choose. Why He chooses some and not others, I think, will not explained. In fact, that brings me to another question: when we get to heaven and some of our loved ones aren't there, will we know it? Or would that be too painful to bear? Since pain won't exist in heaven, will God even tell us anything that we might sorrow over? There will be no more sorrow.

    By Blogger Zoanna, at 11/14/2005 1:58 PM  

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