The Eternal God; The God Who has Spoken
God has spoken and He has done so clearly. One of the things that people will say when it comes to the Bible is that the Bible is unclear and this is the reason that there are so many different interpretations and denominations. These people would say that the Bible, while maybe a good book, is very mysterious and murky. Because the Bible itself is foggy, it then allows for many different interpretations and viewpoints, none of which can be accurately said to be absolutely right.
There is a word for the clarity of Scripture and it is called the Perspicuity of Scripture; which means that the Word of God is clear. This doctrine is under great assault in our day. In fact, it is the confusion over the clarity of Scripture that is wreaking havoc in the church world. It is much more convenient to believe that God’s Word is not clear and is really like play dough to be shaped into anything that is to our liking. It is much harder to accept a book that is unchanging and clear.
Yet, one will immediately object and say, “How can we know it is clear when there have been so many copies of the Bible and no one really knows what the real Bible even says?” This kind of argument implies that the Bible has been handed down to us through the centuries like a giant game of telephone. Maybe you played telephone as a child. Children will form a line and one child will come up with a message that she passes on to the next person who then passes it on to the next. By the time the message gets to the end of the line, it has been changed ten times and only has bits and pieces of the original message. Perhaps there was even a child along the way who purposefully changed the entire meaning or content of the message. And so it is to be said about the Bible. The Bible we have is the result of a giant game of telephone. Who knows if we even have very much of the original?
Yet, this is not the way the Bible has been handed down to us. Imagine for a moment that you had written a letter that was destroyed soon after you died. Surely it would be very hard to know exactly what was in the letter if all those who had read it were simply relying on their memory of it. Yet, even so we could reconstruct a good portion of it or at the very least get the basic content idea that was in the letter, but we still probably would not get a perfect copy.
However, let’s change the scenario. Let’s say that you wrote a letter that got lost and destroyed, but before it did, one hundred people had read the letter and made copies of it. Soon those copies were destroyed, but before they were, ten different copies were made of each of the one hundred copies. Now we have one thousand copies, made by various people in various places. Now, after you died, even though we did not have the original letter we would be able to accurately know what was in the letter. How? We would simply be able to read through the copies and discern what agreed and toss out the minor differences that we found. Surely there would be some differences in the copies as those who made them perhaps had gotten distracted or sleepy while making their copies; accidentally making minor changes.
This last story is similar to the way we have received the Bible. Even though we do not have the autographs (original manuscripts) that the Bible authors penned, there were many, many people who read them and made copies in the first centuries after the New Testament was originally written. It was as the numerous copies were spread throughout the Roman Empire that other people made copies in the first few centuries A.D. and beyond.
It is from these manuscripts that scholars today look to make translations of the Bible in our language. They are not simply making a copy from the last translation that was made. Rather they go back as far as they can to that group of manuscripts that span from first few centuries to the middle ages. From these centuries we have almost 6000 manuscripts that are written in the same language the New Testament was written in, Greek. Some of these manuscripts contain whole books or more of the New Testament, while others only include a few verses or parts of verses. No other work of acncient literature is even closely attested to like the New Testament is!
Because we have so many manuscripts in the original language, we can accurately and confidently know that what we have in the pages of our Bible is what the original authors wrote. We can say that even though there have been minor errors that have been found here and there, the Bibles we hold are statistically ninety nine percent accurate. The errors that have been found are minor in nature and in no way alter the message of the text.
God has spoken and He has preserved His Word through the centuries so that we might know what He wants us to. Everything that the Bible addresses is absolutely true. There are no mistakes, no contradictions, and no falsehoods.
So the text itself is clear, yet we are not. While may be tempted to blame the Scripture for its lack of clarity, the real problem is much closer than we might think; in fact it is in us. We, as believers, still battle the flesh not only with problems like greed, envy, anger, and lust, but also the sins of hardness of heart, unbelief, and laziness when it comes to studying, really studying, God’s Word. Jesus said is Luke 24:25 “And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” Jesus diagnosed the problem of these two travelers when it came to their understanding of the Scripture, their slowness of heart.”
It is this slowness of heart that should be a matter of prayer. We should be coming to the Lord asking Him to remove the slowness of our heart and give our minds clear insight into His Word! Sadly, many Christians have given up when it comes to the various differences that exist within the Bible believing church. Many have given various and even sophisticated reasons as to why these exist, but they really exist because of our slowness of heart.
I am continually amazed and awed at how through prayer, God will suddenly bring illumination to my mind regarding the Scripture. He wants us to pray and pray some more, saying "God, take the slowness of heart away and reveal to me what is in your Word!" And He will.
We thank God that the church has always been united in its core beliefs and is advancing, regardless of secondary differences and what the critics might say. However, there will be no theological differences in heaven. There will be no Arminians, for they will have come to the light. O.K., a slight insertion of humor, but nevertheless the point needs to be made. The differences that exist in this world are because of our slowness and hardness of heart.
There is more than one reason why we struggle with slowness of heart; prayerlessness has already been mentioned. Another reason that we do not understand the Scripture is because our passion to understand it has waned and we have become lazy. Many Christians have just decided to say, “There will always be things we don’t understand, and there will always be differences among Christians.” Is this attitude really reflective of the heart of Christ?
Sure, there will always be many things we do not understand, even in eternity, but there are many things we could understand, but we don’t because we don’t study the Scriptures in their context looking to wring out the beautiful meaning. Yes, there will always be differences among Christians on this side of eternity, but does that mean that we have not seen incredible fruit as a result of people who really took the Scripture seriously? What if God never gave us Martin Luther, for example, or countless other great men and women of God who did not find some “new” truth, but were used by God to overcome slowness of heart and see the truth of Scripture and bless the church? This laziness is a lack of passion for the truth. May God grant our hearts to be opened and understand and love the truth!
We also often struggle because we already come to the Bible looking to validate or defend a certain theological system that we have been taught. Now this is not a call to simply abandon any theological system or even to demean them as such. Rather the call here is to read the Bible with the willingness to abandon any concept in a system that we are not convinced of from Scripture. This may cost pastors and theologians their jobs, cause some church members to move to a different church, and create passionate discussions.
Has the church become far too afraid to get into passionate discussions of disagreement because of modern definitions of phony kindness, fake unity, and even a lack of manliness? Unity on theological issues does not come when we do what the world wants us to do and lay down our convictions, but rather when we in love and truth willingly engage each other.
Is it possible that we would be more unified, even in secondary issues, if we desired to engage each other, rather than simply acquiescing to the idea of just seeing things differently? How about committing to truly owning the things we say we believe because we have studied passionately, prayed fervently, and diligently engaged other Christians with openness to the truth, willingly going where it took us? Uncomfortable though it may be, who said sanctification (The Holy Spirit making us like Jesus) was always comfortable?
Recently, I listened to a Godly and esteemed theologian relate a story of how he had worked with a group of Christians from various denominational backgrounds as they poured over the Scriptures together to produce Biblical materials. He was amazed at the consensus the group reached again and again as they puposefully decided to yield to the Scriptures, relying on the Holy Spirit.
The truth is that if we did these things not only would there become more agreement among Christians, but we would become more convinced for ourselves that the Scripture is not near as confusing as the unbelieving skeptics and critics of the world would have us believe. While we know that there will be things hard to understand and that as long as we live in the flesh and see spiritual things as through a cloudy glass, still we press on in this war against slowness of heart. Differences will always yet remain on this side of eternity, but how about pursuing the goal of truth while we wait for the Lord’s return?
The Word of God is clear.
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