A biblical fundamentalist reads Scripture as a lawyer does a legal code. Rather than read like the Bereans, who were open-minded and therefore receptive to the message the Apostle Paul preached (Acts 17:11), many people read with an agenda to prove their current beliefs.
Religious fundamentalist scholars are often able to find what they go looking for, and at the expense of what is true. Their diligent search, rather than being a quest for Truth, is an effort to find proof-texts for their own theological presuppositions (often inherited positions), and is not guided by the Holy Spirit.
Some are very knowledgeable and respected people in their respective circles. They parse words looking for specific permissions and prohibitions, or only to justify their existing doctrinal stances.
They are scholars of conservative or liberal persuasion and dogmatists for any denomination.
They all have their loyal followers.
They all believe they are right.
But they are also no different from those whom Jesus confronted when he said:
…the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:37-40)
Those who were addressed by Jesus in the passage above had Scripture (graphé) and studied it “diligently” according to Jesus. But they were missing something. Jesus told them they lacked the word (logos) of God dwelling in them, thus they would not come to him for life. They were impoverished when it came to true faith and the indwelling word of God.
There are many who have only Scripture and not the Spirit to teach them.
We are told there will be tares sown in the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). This means that there will be those who appear righteous on the outside, but they reject the most foundational concepts of faith. Despite their many good works, they are spiritually dead and lost.
I recall discussions with a man unable to conceptualize the idea of a triune God. Time and time again he would come back to his own flawed understanding and insist that I was polytheistic for believing in one God… three persons. He also could not accept that the sonship of Jesus made him divine like his Father in heaven.
Sadly there are many who reject Jesus in a much more subtle way and by this I mean they have not placed their faith in the Spirit he promised:
Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:23-26)
They claim to have faith, but are agnostics when it comes to the idea of the Spirit teaching “all things” as promised. And, despite their Biblical religion, they have the same “worldly” perspective that Jesus describes:
The world cannot accept [the Spirit of truth], because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:17)
They are as Paul describes:
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)
Many who profess to believe have recast the Spirit’s work as mere emotionalism and cling to circular reasoning and poor understanding of the text. They have a form of godliness; but, despite their diligent study and careful religious devotion, they are spiritually impotent because they lack the “mind of Christ” or the indwelling word of God.
Jesus addresses those “blind guides” who love the letter of the law while rejecting the Spirit:
Woe to you, blind guides! You say, “If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.” You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, “If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.” You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it. (Matthew 23:16-22)
Jesus started by ridiculing a legalistic controversy about what made an oath legitimate. He dismissed the dispute as silly by taking a third position that supercedes the others and then continues:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. (Matthew 23:13-24)
These religious scholars missed the forest for the trees.
They were so focused in on legalistic details of application that they “neglected the more important matters—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” Jesus insults these religious authorities, he calls them “blind guides” and knocks them off their proverbial pedestal.
Paul expounds on the blindness of those who only have Scripture and the need for the Spirit as guide:
Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:12-18)
Biblical fundamentalists get things in reverse, they say we need the Scripture to understand the Spirit. The truth is opposite, we need the Spirit in order to understand Scripture or we will be no better than the “blind guides” who diligently studied Scripture and yet never embraced Jesus (and the promise of the Spirit) who brings life.
Are you a minister of the new covenant powered by the Spirit?
The new covenant is different from the old. In the new covenant, God’s dwelling moved from a temple of stone and gold to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12), which is to say the individual bodies or collective mass of those who follow after Jesus and constitute the church. The new covenant is a law written on hearts rather than on tablets of stone (Hebrews 8:7-13, 10:15,16) and that is the work of the Spirit:
Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)
The silly controversies that divide the church are not caused by the word of God or the Spirit. They are caused by those who have their own interpretation of Scripture, who believe their own opinion of the language is infallible, and yet do not have the indwelling word of God or life of the Spirit.
Without the Holy Spirit to guide our study, we will “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” and be no different from those whom Jesus condemned: blind guides with veiled hearts and puffed up with biblical knowledge, yet unable to correctly understand…too focused in on the technical details to see the bigger concepts of faith.
A couple Sundays ago I was riding along with a some church friends on our way to a hymn sing (something us conservative Mennonites do) and we came upon a hitchhiker.
The hitchhiker, a young man, was strumming some sort of ukulele. He had a sign asking for a ride west. We were going west. We conferred quickly, decided to make use of our extra seat and soon were on our way with one more passenger.
The young man, a friendly nineteen year old from Raleigh, North Carolina, has spent nearly two years on the road and told us of his nomadic lifestyle. He relies on the hospitality of others, often sleeps under the stars, and is on his way to California.
Being that we are religious and on our way to a church service, the conversation turned to religion. He explained that he is uncomfortable with the “Christian” label. He described himself as “a follower of Jesus” and later that evening mentioned the influence of Taoism.
We invited him to church. He accepted the invitation and soon he was amongst us Mennonites as we sang acapella music. To my ears we sounded pretty good. He stayed until the end of the service and soon enough was being introduced by me to others in attendance.
One of those introduced, after some friendly chat (the usual Mennonite game banter and assessment of pedigree) ended by quoting John 14:6 at the young man, “Jesus is the way and the truth and the life” and emphatically stating this is the only way…
As we paused with this sort of nonsequitar concluding statement, presented in such a religiously cliché way, I almost asked this ordained Mennonite man if he knew what it meant. But, fearing he would try to answer if I asked, I restrained the impulse and smiled.
I have no idea what my guest was thinking, he was courteous and didn’t seem too uncomfortable in our midst. And so the evening went, some polite conversation and some awkwardly presented evangelical dogma, me holding my tongue with slightly annoyed amusement and answering his questions.
Incidentally, nobody offered this young man shelter for the night (one of those asked apparently making excuse for himself because of his wife) and so we took him a few miles further west to ‘civilization’ where he would have more options. We prayed with him, gave him some cash and bid him farewell before returning east again.
What is truth?
The incident above, especially the quotation of Scripture, seemed like a good basis for a blog and reason to consider the meaning of truth. Truth, in this case, the idea of truth (alétheia) found in the passage, the truth of Jesus, that was partially quoted at my young hitchhiker friend.
The words “I am the way and the truth and the life” are cherry-picked from the Gospel of John. It is a part of a discussion Jesus was having with his disciples about imminent events. The disciples, as usual, were bewildered and asking questions:
“Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’
Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.'” (John 14:6-7)
Philip was still confused. He goes on to ask Jesus to reveal the Father to them.
Jesus responds to explain in further detail, stating that he is one with the Father, that his words are spoken by the authority of the Father and telling them that the Father will be revealed to them through obedience to his teaching and by the Holy Spirit.
The truth of Jesus is more than book knowledge.
It is interesting to note that Jesus did not tell his followers to diligently study Scripture.
Instead Jesus told them to obey what they knew and that more would be revealed by the Spirit after their obedience. It might seem backwards, but faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26) and salvation is a gift from God:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
That is not to say that the Scripture is unprofitable, it most certainly is profitable to a believer. It is “through faith in Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 2:3-15) that Scripture is able to make us “wise for salvation” and only through this truth of faith can we ever understand.
Book knowledge is not the same as correct understanding and those who opposed Jesus most vehemently had a great knowledge of Scripture. In fact, it was because of their own understanding of Scripture (and dogmatic literalism) that they rejected Jesus.
The truth of Jesus is something more than mere book knowledge, it is more than religious devotion to the study a text or a theological proposition. The truth of Jesus is something more profound and powerful than words on a page. It is a spiritual reality that goes far deeper than fallible human knowledge or our finite ability to understand.
The truth of Jesus is something beyond description in words.
Truth is a word, but truth itself is not a word.
We use words to paint pictures in the minds of our audience. Words are symbols used to describe ideas, they are things we use to describe other things and yet words are not themselves the thing being described. Words are not truth of themselves anymore than a portrait in acrylic color on canvas is the actual person being portrayed.
Words depend on the ability of our audience to understand them. One could tell their cat to “take out the garbage” and the poor critter would stare at them blankly. Language, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and depends on the interpreter to understand the word usage correctly. Communication is an interactive affair requiring both parties to be on the same metaphorical page.
Furthermore, talk is cheap, words can also be used to construct a false image of reality and deceive. Jesus warns of false teachers, people who profess with their mouths to be faithful, who present themselves as sheep and yet are inwardly wolves—We are told we can know people by their good or bad fruit. (Matthew 7:15-23)
So truth is more than words. Truth is an abstraction, it is something greater than the sum total of words and language used to describe it. Truth is something bigger than us and beyond our own concept of reality. Truth is trancendent and still it is something that can be fleshed out and represented.
The truth of Jesus is God’s word and a living testimony about a greater reality.
Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate, a Roman civil authority, to be judged. The Gospels give slightly different versions of the events. In summary, the religious leaders accuse Jesus, they say he claims to be their king (a crime amounting to sedition against the established state) and insist that he is evil.
Here’s one account of the beleaguered governor questioning Jesus and trying to get the bottom of the issue:
“Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’
‘Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about me?’
‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’
Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’
‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.
Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’
‘What is truth?’ retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, ‘I find no basis for a charge against him.'” (John 18:33-38)
This conversation is interesting and especially when Jesus claims to have come to “testify to the truth” and says those on the side of truth listen to him. It is reminiscent of when he told the religious dogmatists that his sheep hear his voice and makes an incredible claim:
“The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’
Jesus answered, ‘I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.'” (John 10:24-30)
For this Jesus is accused of blasphemy. But to that charge he replies by quoting their Scripture to them. He quotes from Psalms 82:6, where it says “I have said you are ‘gods’,” and uses that to argue against their idea that his claim of divine sonship was blasphemy.
Pilate seems agnostic about truth and exasperated by Jesus. He is dealing with a contradiction, he sees an innocent man not worthy of punishment and the religious crowd sees a man guilty of blasphemy against God who deserves death.
Pilate ultimately bends to political pressure and, while washing his own hands, complies with the demands of the crowd. However, both Pilate and Herod (who’s part is described in Luke 23:8-12) seem to see Jesus as a curiosity rather than as a direct threat to the state.
The truth of Jesus is found in our following his example and being a self-sacrificial testimony of God’s grace.
The truth of Jesus is not a reasonable or rational proposition by worldly human standards. It is only understood through spiritual means, through having the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2) and a process that starts in the heart (2 Corinthians 3) rather than through outward means.
It is transformative, as Paul explains:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)
The Orthodox Christian tradition would call this theosis or divination. Unfortunately my own Anabaptist tradition has picked to focus on the other negative end (the “be not conformed” part) and the result is an idea of “non-conformity” that usually amounts to a reactionary worldly effort to control outward appearance.
The truth of Jesus is about more than our ability to conform to a man-made list of requirements. It is a truth that transcends all worldly means and is expressed in our unrelenting, unapologetic and uncompromising pursuit of the divine. The truth is a positive vision. The truth is God’s grace made manifest in us.
The truth of Jesus is a path we walk that leads us to greater life and the perfection of divine love.
The words “the way” (hodos) refer to a journey. It is a path to walk and live out. The trail was blazed by Jesus who died for our sins, but it is lived also by those who truly believe and wish to be disciples. As Jesus said:
“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.'” (Like 9:23-24)
Jesus is using the cross as a metaphor. A cross, in human terms, represented suffering and shame. However, in following after Jesus, for a believer this is not useless suffering, it is not pain for the sake of pain or self-flagellation, it is suffering for the good of others or making a path to something greater.
Jesus promises a more abundant life (John 10:10) to those who follow him. In this he is not promising material or worldly wealth. But he does say that we should use our worldly wealth to gain friends and gain true riches (Luke 16) which is to prioritize God through our loving people:
“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:20-21)
Jesus said we can know the truth of a person’s profession of faith by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-23) and that the fruit of the Spirit is described by Paul “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) Our truth must be more than words.
So what does ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’ mean?
To understand this we need to understand the context. The context is the last supper, it is during the Passover feast, the night Jesus is betrayed and an intimate moment. In these passages of Scripture (John 13 and 14) the implications are clear.
Jesus explains that his disciples will be known by their love for each other, he says he must go so they may know the truth more intimately (promising the Spirit to those who obey his instructions and example) and then goes on to demonstrate a truth of love worth dying for.
The truth of Jesus is not a theological proposition, not a religious profession or book knowledge. His truth is not a product of human reasoning and founded on scientific research or evidence. The truth of Jesus is something found in our walking in the Spirit, it is demonstrated in our love for others and bringing the dead to life.
Truth is living a reality greater than our reality, something that transcends worldly knowledge and human understanding. Truth is both known and still yet to be known, it is reality that goes beyond the currently available evidence and is something that can only be experienced through a true walk of faith.
The truth of Jesus transcends religion and is a walk of faith.
In some respects it seems my hitchhiking friend may have a better grasp of faith than his religiously indoctrinated counterparts. He is more literally taking no thought for tomorrow (Matthew 6:34) and depending on God to provide. By contrast we too often rely on our own understanding, planning and abilities.
I wish my traveling friend well on his journey and pray that the truth of God’s word (Jesus) is made manifest in him. May God’s truth of self-sacrificial love and spiritual life be found in us who claim to know Jesus.
Sometimes the most religiously educated minds are the most spirituality ignorant.
Jesus confounded the religious teachers and authorities of His day. Like the time Jesus asked a perplexed Nicodemus (John 3:3-21) why he “Israel’s teacher” could not understand the basics of spiritual birth.
Nicodemus was a religious expert. He had no doubt studied Scripture his entire life. Yet his mind was dull to spiritual things, his existing knowledge clouded him, and he clearly was not understanding what Jesus was trying to explain.
What was Jesus trying to explain to Nicodemus?
Nicodemus is not the only religious authority totally ignorant of spiritual matters. Many professing Christians have the same dullness of mind of Nicodemus because they have yet to be born of the Spirit and to realize the fullness of truth.
The religiously minded tend to think they gave birth to themselves. They believe they were saved by their own study and understanding of a book. No, they will never say this in so many words, but it is evident in what they claim as the foundation of their faith and attitudes towards those who try to give credit to God alone.
The thoroughly indoctrinated church borns, those who are the cream of the crop in their own minds, are the most difficult to convince.
How do I know?
I was one of them. I was raised in a bastion of Biblical fundamentalism and religious pride. I was born in a conservative Mennonite home. (We are the best of the best and know it—Don’t let our initial humble appearance fool you!) I went into public high school arrogant enough to think I knew more about biology than the college educated teacher of the class.
This is not unusual, Biblical fundamentalist children are often ‘big fish in a little pond’ and the smartest person they know. To make matters worse, they are often isolated from outside influences (home schooled or raised with like-minded people) and too sheltered to realize how sheltered they are.
The result is that many things are just presumed to be true and never questioned. Yes, we are fed a steady diet of information to make us feel knowledgeable about everything from science to theology and philosophy. But most of it is a strawman of the other side and an attempt to vaccinate us from further questions.
But I had the misfortune of being born with a question “why” on my lips. I delved deep into apologetics, slipped on a personal tragedy, and found I could not (despite my dedicated effort and mental strain) prove the existence of God. I thrashed, gasped for that last saving breath, then disappeared into doubt and despair.
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)
A mother’s wail ripped a hole in my heart. All of my pretense of knowledge couldn’t save her children or keep me from my plunge into spiritual darkness. I stared at the lifeless body that had come to represent my hope for my close friend. There was no resurrection of the dead that day. My little hope died.
I had reached an end. All of the religious cliché and trite assurances were swallowed up in a tsunami of fear and hopelessness. Over the same period of time I had a falling out with the religious community that was a big part of my identity and security. I gave up. My attempts to find faith through my diligent religious effort had totally failed me.
Passing from death to life by the Spirit’s power.
Many who profess faith in Jesus believe they were saved through their religious knowledge and reading the Bible. But Scripture does not support their delusional claims. There is no evidence that we can be born of Spirit or come to faith through our own religious knowledge and effort.
Just as a child doesn’t give birth to themselves, the spiritually dead cannot bring themselves to life and this is what Scripture describes was our reality before God saved us:
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins… But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. […] For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 1-10)
There’s no such thing as half dead.
There’s no way for a fully dead person to bring themselves to life.
Those who claim to be saved through their Bible study have somehow missed the obvious. They may have read, but they clearly do not understand that dead is dead and the dead to not rise by their own accord. No, if you are spiritually alive today “it is by grace you have been saved” and “not by works” or Paul is a liar.
What I had failed to comprehend in my diligent study and dedicated pursuit of faith is the simplest spiritual truth of them all. Because of my religious education I had no grasp of my own hopelessness. I had always assumed faith was a product or result of my own knowledge of Scripture and religious devotion.
I was blinded by my pretense of knowledge. I had reasoned that I could be saved because of what I had learned about Jesus in church and in reading the Bible. I thought this was faith in God, but it was really only ever a trust of my own human rationality and circular reasoning at best. I really only had faith in my own ability to understand and believe the content of a book.
But my attempt to bootstrap my way into heaven this way failed me. It was a false hope built on presumption and self-righteous delusion. By assuming that my Bible reading was my salvation I had actually rejected Jesus and real spiritual life. Despite my sincerity and ability to argue Bible-based dogma, I was nothing but a 2D cardboard cutout of a 3D faith.
It was only after my faith in my own abilities had died that there was a realization out of the blue. The epiphany was the sudden understanding that it wasn’t my faith that saved me. No, it was God’s faith expressed through Jesus that saved me while I was yet a sinner. I was miraculously raised from the dead with Him.
“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ.” (Colossians 2:9-13)
My Biblical ‘Christian’ indoctrination did not save me. No, it had blinded me. I was too full of religious pride, intellectual assumptions and the pretense of spiritual knowledge to know the truth. However, despite this pretense of faith that had taken root, I had believed in Jesus as a child and was baptized in sincerity of faith.
And now that spiritual seed of my Baptismal faith was ready to emerge from the water. Suddenly the words of the Jesus and the Apostles came alive in a new way as I read them. I was astonished, what had once confused and confounded me was now clear as day. I could finally understand the book that had caused me (and others like this guy) to fall into agnosticism.
Are we saved by our book knowledge or saved by Jesus?
I can hear the howls of protest from both the book worshipping religious people and other unbelievers: “How could I know about Jesus and come to faith without reading the Bible?!?”
But these religious cynics and skeptics lack understanding of their own spiritual ignorance:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.” (John 6:44-45)
This is the mystery those who reject the Bible and those who think their own knowledge saves them refuse to understand. They have both (tacitly or openly) rejected the resurrection of the dead and, in their self-reliance, dismiss the promise of Jesus and cling to what is reasonable to their spiritually dead mind.
But Jesus never promised we would be saved or taught by a book. That idea is a misunderstanding of Biblical terminology and causality at best. It is spiritual idolatry or rejection of the person of Jesus and blasphemy again the Spirit of God at worse. This is what Jesus did promise:
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
Now, lest any of you protest and attempt to credit your own understanding of the Bible for saving you. Go back and read the passages I’ve quoted previously, dead people do not come to understanding and life by their own reading comprehension. We are told the real teacher is the Spirit and that it is only through the spiritual anointing promised by Jesus that we avoid deception:
“I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.” (1 John 2:26-27)
At first glance it might seem paradoxical to write to warn someone about deception if they don’t need to be told. However, faith is not individualistic effort or personal project and God uses many means to encourage us through the collective body of believers. Only those with the Spirit know that the words of a writer originate from the Spirit.
But, wait, isn’t that circular reasoning, how do you know?
I’ve mentioned that predisposing the Bible to be true because it says so is circular reasoning or an argument based in two unproven premises that rely on each other to be true. So, isn’t saying that I know the Spirit because I have the Spirit the same thing?
Of course, the only way it is the same thing is if we believe a book is equal in ability and power to the Spirit of God. Many Christians do this when they describe the Bible as “word of God” and claim it saved them. But the Scripture is indeed different from the word of God and we can know this as fact.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.“ (Isaiah 55:9-11)
That word translated as “word” in the passage above is the Hebrew דָּבָר (dabar) and in the New Testament Greek comes out as λόγος (logos) or ῥῆμα (rhema) and does not refer to Scripture. If it did refer to Scripture, and Isaiah is true, then it would be impossible for those who knew the Scripture to reject the word of God:
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. […] And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:25-40)
These people Jesus says studied the Scripture diligently. Yet, despite their religious dedication to a book, according to Jesus, they did not have God’s “word” in them and therefore would not come to Him for life. If Scripture is the word of God and they knew the Scripture, then how could they not know the truth standing literally in front of them?
The answer is that they knew Scripture and not the word. The two are not one and the same. One is divinely inspired writing useful to a true believer (2 Timothy 3:16) and the other is divinity embodied and a promise that cannot fail. One is infallible while the other can be twisted and misused as Peter warns:
“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.“ (2 Peter 3:15-16)
Scripture can be distorted the “ignorant and unstable” but God’s word is always true. Satan can quote Scripture, but we also know he always lies, has “no truth in him” (John 8:44) and this is a problem if you presume that “word” is synonymous with Scripture.
Fortunately we need not make such a presumption. Scripture and the word of God are related to each other. God’s word is what inspired Scripture. I will even venture to say that Scripture can become as God’s word to the believer. However, we must get first things first or we are deceived and Jesus always comes first.
Salvation is through faith and Jesus, not in our religious devotion to a book.
I am saved because Jesus saved me. If I were to make any other boast I would only out of ignorance of both Scripture and the word of God which inspired it. My faith and eventual salvation is entirely a gift of grace (Ephesians 2:8) and rest in the mystery of God’s power.
It was knowledge apart from God that drove Adam away from the tree of life—I believe (after the fact) that it is God’s word or Spirit who “quickened” me to salvation.
There is no faith without obedience and there is no obedience outside of hearing God’s word. This is the paradox of the promised Spirit. We hear because we are made alive in the grace of Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:5) and must be faithful in the very little we know before we can expect to get very much.
I believe salvation is totally the work of God. God makes the initial payment through grace and we continue to grow in faith through obedience to to what we know. My faith is not a presupposition based in something I read in a book or a product of religious indoctrination. My faith is personal relationship and something experienced in the heart of those who believe.
I believe the word comes to us through revelation of the Spirit. It is not our mere knowledge of Scripture that saves us, but also always an act of God and work of the Spirit. It was only after Jesus revealed himself to the disciples on the road to Emmaus that they were finally able to understand:
“[Jesus] said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:44-45)
If the very men who spent all that time with Jesus teaching them needed His help to understand the Scripture, how can we expect to do better?
But the most compelling case for direct revelation is how Paul’s explanation of how we (as believers) understand the Scripture when others with the same written texts did not:
“We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’—the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:6-16)
Scripture is only useful for those of the Spirit and those who do not accept the Spirit “considers it foolishness” because they have yet to experience the indwelling of the word. They are spiritual blind and often the most religiously arrogant hard-headed people. If they profess Jesus Christ and seek to obey Him, I do believe they will be saved. However, because of their refusal to fully acknowledge or accept the gift of God’s Spirit they may be as those who have built a foundation somewhat on the works of men rather than completely on Christ—who will see their work burn but still be saved (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) because God is gracious to the ignorant.
For those who think the Bible is the best way of sharing the Gospel I will again point to the explanation of Paul who writes (2 Corinthians 3) we ourselves are a letter from God and it is the Spirit that makes us competent. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is always best learned through application. Bible study has it’s place for certain, in fact that is probably one of the first places the Spirit will take us. However, reading without loving as Christ loved to our best ability will limit our deeper understanding of the book.
What am I… a Calvinist?
I make no such allegiance. I have not studied John Calvin enough to know where I stand in relation to his teachings.
I believe in free will and still acknowledge the clear pattern of causality and determinism in the universe. I also do not ignore the language of predestination and election in Scripture.
I do believe in paradox.
There are many cases where dualities of both/and (as opposed to either/or dichotomies) offer the better explanation. Dualities are found in both the uppermost, lowermost and outermost limits that define the universe as we currently know it.
The singularity of a black hole, on the scale of the very big, is an object both infinity small and massive, a place where time itself ceases, defies normal reasoning. Quantum mechanics, the world of the extremely small smallest parts of the universe, brings us to an irrational bizarreness where particles behave as waves until observed and time ceases to matter.
Advanced physics is now making the long held assumptions of materialists obsolete, we can now look beyond these constraints and to possibilities once unimaginable.
Our rationality is time based.
God’s is not.
Time is an illusion.
This has huge implications.
This might explain the language of ‘is and is yet to come’ in Scripture. Jesus explained “my kingdom is not of this world” and pointed to a higher spiritual dimensionality that is beyond the reach of normal human reasoning or natural science.
Perhaps the question of free will and predestination is answered by a paradoxical both. If we are adopted by God, sons and daughters according to His word, then we will eventually become one with the Father, our Father who exists in timeless reality, and therefore we participate in our own coming to salvation through the Spirit.
Who knows? Only Jesus.
I don’t pretend to know the answers to those questions. I don’t need to know the answers to those questions. All I know I need to know is Jesus. Even if I were not a Christian I am convinced Jesus, his way of self-sacrificial love and leadership by example, is the answer.
“And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
That is the testimony I have. Only by the love of Jesus and the Spirit’s power am I saved.
Jesus is the answer that found me.
Two different religious traditions use the same Scripture. One tradition says the text points to a man named Jesus who preached in Roman occupied Judea a little over two millennia ago and was God’s only begotten son came to save people from themselves. The other tradition rejected these claims and still waits on Elijah to return as a prelude to the arrival of the Messiah.
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (Malachi 4:5-6)
Note the choices in the passage above. There’s option a) repentance and changed hearts, or option b) face total destruction. And, depending on perspective, there might be an option c) both.
We know that Judaism was split in two because of Jesus (some believing him, others rejecting him) and also that Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 70CE. The glorious temple, the very center of Jewish worship, was completely dismantled as Jesus had foretold and has never been rebuilt.
Temple #1: Symbolic, representation of truth, built out of stone and sweat of men, located in Jerusalem:
“As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’ ‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.'” (Mark 13:1-2)
Clearly Jesus is referring to the destruction of buildings that the disciples were admiring and that destruction literally happened.
But, there’s more…
Temple #2: Figurative, fleshed out truth, the life work and example of Jesus, located in history:
“The Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:18-22)
Jesus also used the temple as a metaphor for himself, predicts his own death and promises to resurrect his body.
Then at the trial of Jesus…
“Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: ‘We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.'” (Mark 14:56-58)
Note, in the third passage, we are told that the witnesses at the trial of Jesus spoke falsely. However, we see in the prior two Gospel accounts quoted above that the words they spoke were half-true—It is indeed true that Jesus spoke about the destruction of the temple and probably said something about a new temple not built with hands—The false part is where they claim he would do it by his own hand.
Jesus foretold his own death using a metaphor of himself or his body being the temple. But he was also prophesying about the literal building of stone in Jerusalem. His words a double entendre, one meaning of the word “temple” was figurative about his own death and resurrection and a second concrete meaning about the literal destruction of the temple built of stone. However, there is a third use of temple and not the temple of the body of Jesus or the temple in Jerusalem built of stone.
Temple #3: Spiritual, a truth experienced, lived practically and today, located in the heart of believers:
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16)
“Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.'” (John 14:23)
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)
That is a radical message. It takes us from a man-made building of stone and religion. It takes us to the man named Jesus “the stone the builders rejected” (Psalm 118:22, Matthew 21:42, Acts 4:11) and then finishes with us being the place where God dwells and being Jesus. It is the message that got Stephen killed:
“After receiving the tabernacle, our ancestors under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?‘ You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:45-51)
I can imagine why that was insulting. Stephen basically just invalidated the entire religion of his audience using their own Scripture.
The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem marked the end of a religious system. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus was the beginning of something very different: A chance to be a dwelling place for God, and an opportunity to be a true child (adopted, not begotten) of God.
Jesus, talking to a woman who asked about the proper place to worship, said:
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)
Oddly enough, many professing Christians today are waiting on a literal temple of stone and a literal bodily second coming of Jesus. They seem to me like those who wait on a literal Elijah, who did not recognize John the Baptist as the spiritual Elijah, and rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They have a Bible-based religion, they diligently study Scripture, yet they seem to be missing something as far as understanding and faith.
Bible-centered religion and regulation is false security. Jesus never told anyone that Scripture would replace him as teacher. Jesus did, however, promise that the Spirit would “teach you all things” (John 14:26) and will come to all who believe. I believe many have been deceived and believe their ‘Biblical fundamentalism’ will save them. What they actually have is fundamental misunderstanding, they are relying on their own human religious traditions. They have a Biblical religion only and not the true faith described therein.
“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)
It is the Spirit that makes the Bible discernable. Those who place their security in the Bible itself (or their fundamentalist book-based religion) are not fully submitted to the Spirit and cannot fully understand the things of faith that are described in Scripture. They bind themselves up in “false humility,” create “regulations” that have “appearance of wisdom,” (Colossians 2) yet they are false and—like those who “study the Scripture diligently” (John 5:36-40) that Jesus rebuked—they do not have the word of God to discern truth from it.
“Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:15-18)
The truth that brings freedom is of the Spirit. Religions give adherents false security, but true faith that originates from the indwelling Spirit gives freedom and ability to experience God first hand. Bible-based religion leads men to talk about Jesus. Spirit-led faith allows men to *be* Jesus and bring salvation to a lost and hurting world.
Religion relies on rituals, one size fits all prescriptions and manipulation through fear. Faith is dynamic, applies grace as liberally as necessary and motivates by being an example of a love that transcends. Religion hides behind a veil of human inadequacy and attempts to legislate morality into existence without ever changing hearts. Faith overcomes fear and produces fruit out of passion that comes from true unity with God.
The Bible is a book that can only be understood properly by those with the “mind of Christ” and Spirit. Knowing when the language of Scripture is figurative, metaphorical, spiritual, concrete, literal (or some ‘all of the above’ combination) requires the indwelling of the word. Discernment through any other means but a mind renewed in Christ (be it be an old tradition or a new commentary) is incomplete.
“…without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
No amount of religion finagling or diligent study can replace the indwelling word. Jesus made it possible to remove the veil of religion and experience the full presence of God. Seek after Spirit-led faith, not Bible-based religion.
Have you experienced the promise and freedom of faith?
Or, are you still waiting on Elijah to return?
Many Christians refer to the entire Bible as the “word of God” and often base this on a few proof texts in the Bible. Two popular choices of proof of this view are found in two different books of the Bible and both attributed to Paul the Apostle.
Is the Bible the infallible word of God?
“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)
To some the passage above settles the question. There we have it in clear English that the Scripture is “God-breathed” and therefore if God said it then there is little more to say after that, right?
But there is more to be said…
First off the Bible was not written in English and we rely on the work of translators to give us their best interpretation of the books of the Bible. And, as far as translation, the popular King James Version renders the “God-breathed” of the Timothy passage above as “given by inspiration of God,” which is an interpretation that could give a profoundly different impression.
Second, the most literal interpretation is not always the best for conveying intended meaning. For example, the word ‘Kindergarten’ translated from the original German that it is borrowed from literally means “children’s garden,” yet that is certainly not what the term actually means in common usage and not the original intent of the term either. So, when Paul coined “theopneustos” to describe Scripture, we need to understand what he meant by it and not just assume how it renders literally in English is the most correct interpretation.
Third, if we are to be completely literal, we know writing is not accomplished by breathing and therefore “God-breathed” writing would be an absurdity. I presume we all accept that “breathed” part isn’t completely literal; that Scripture was written by men who were in some way inspired (or led to write what God put on their hearts to share) and not literally air from divine lungs.
Forth, Paul did not consider all of what he wrote to be God’s own instruction. Paul himself distinguishes in his own writing that some of what he says originates from “the Lord” while other portions he denotes are “not the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:10-12) and that alone proves at least some of the Bible also contains instructions or ideas of men.
Fifth, one must consider the question of why the Bible contains hundreds of expressions like “thus saith the Lord” and “God said” if it is all the transcribed thoughts of God. If all Scripture were spoken directly from the mouth of God then why would it be necessary to denote what God said and use quotes? At very least there seems to be a difference between what is literally spoken by God in Scripture and Scripture in general.
So, in light of the evidence above, perhaps “theopneustos” should be taken to mean something less than literal. Because, although Peter does refer to some of what Paul wrote as being Scripture (2 Peter 3:16), it is even questionable if Paul considered all of his own writing in Timothy to be Scripture.
I do not believe Paul intended his words to be taken as many do and as an argument for the supremacy of Scripture. If anything it is proof that Scripture was of questionable importance to the Spirit-led church and needed his endorsement. What he says, in more basic terms, is that Scripture is useful to a Godly person and is writing inspired by God. To say more than that could be to assume too much.
Who gave us the Bible or has authority to interpret it?
“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21 NIV)
Note the passage above does not say all Scripture is prophecy. It tells us that did not originate “in the human will” or “by the prophet’s own interpretation” but it doesn’t say all Scripture is prophecy. We know the Scripture includes things spoken as prophecy and attributed to God, we also know Scripture contains the words of ungodly people and Satan. In other words, there is a difference between prophecy of Scripture and other things written Scripture.
The Bible we hold today is actually a collection of books and letters that were decided to be authentic and then compiled into one canonical book. It is perhaps ironic, but many of the same people who say the Bible is the ultimate moral authority reject the institution that decided the books belonged in the Bible and those that did not. They use Peter above to defend their own idea that the Bible is reliable without acknowledging their reliance on the determination of a tradition they reject.
The passage above is simultaneously used also by those who put moral authority in an institution or their own group. The King James Version renders “prophet’s own interpretation of things” as being “private interpretation.” Some use that to say we cannot understand Scripture as individuals and that we need them to tell us what it means. Oddly enough, some of these who claim this means we need them also rejected the institution that canonized Scripture and claims we need them.
I ascribe to the other view that the passage from Peter isn’t intended to put power in the hands of a group. I agree with those who interpret it to be talking about those who wrote the prophecy of Scripture and that their prophecy was given to them by God rather than their own imagination. I do not see this as speaking of our interpretation of Scripture but of inspiration and reliability the prophecy contained therein.
Furthermore, it is being used in the context of their own testimony as believers and those filled with the Holy Spirit. If we look immediately before the passage in quotations in verses 12-19 this is speaking in conjunction with the reliability of their own testimony and basically putting their own testimony on par with Scriptural prophecy. The earlier part of the chapter (verses 3-11) mentions promises and describes attributes which are strikingly similar to what Paul lists elsewhere as fruit of the Spirit.
What were we promised by Jesus would teach us?
“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:2-4 NIV)
Before the book of second Peter mentions prophecy of Scripture and the authenticity their own testimony it alludes to something else. It mentions “divine power” and a “knowledge” of God and Jesus that allow us to “participate in the divine nature.” Those steeped in Biblical fundamentalism could assume these things are references to the Scripture, but I believe from examining Scripture that it is a reference to something bigger than Scripture and the actual source of Scriptural inspiration itself: The Holy Spirit.
Of the promises Jesus made, the one that most fits the description in 2 Peter is not a book knowledge. Jesus promised believers something extraordinary:
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:16-18 NIV)
Followers of Jesus weren’t promised a book of truth or an institution to guide them, but something much better. Jesus promised them he will return, but not in physical form, and will provide help that will last forever: “the Spirit of truth.” It is something that will neither seen nor known by those who do not believe. It is an advocate, and advocate that will teach us all things, as Jesus explains:
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26 NIV)
This promise is further explained in more words, attributed to Jesus, in the Gospel of John:
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:13-15 NIV)
I believe this truth ‘known’ from the “Spirit of truth” is the same knowledge of what 2 Peter speaks about. It is also what 1 John 2 says keeps us from being deceived by antichrists:
“But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.” (1 John 2:20-21 NIV)
It seems to be speaking about the same thing promised by Jesus in the Gospel of John:
“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.” (1 John 26-27 NIV)
We aren’t promised a book or an institution to teach us, we are promised “a Spirit of truth” that will teach, guide and remind us of what we need to know to keep from being deceived. Paul speaks extensively about this in his letters to the Corinthian church, he contrasts “human wisdom” and that which is derived by the Spirit:
“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:13-14 NIV)
Paul continues in that chapter to describe a wisdom of a different origin and having the “mind of Christ” which allows us to transcend mere human judgment. He quotes Scripture “it is written” as evidence and yet says that the was not known except as it was revealed by the Spirit. In his second letter to the Corinthian church he speaks of a different type of book better than the Scripture that gives life rather than condemnation, is a source of competency and confidence:
“Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?” (2 Corinthians 3:4-8 NIV)
Have you been baptized in the Spirit?
Many Christians today seem to be living in the old rather than new covenant and are under the law of death rather than Spirit. Many prioritize their own knowledge or understanding of a book, still wait for a second coming of Christ and live spiritually powerless. It reminds me of those whom Paul encounters in Acts 19 who he acknowledges as disciples, who were baptized in repentance by water and still had not received baptism in Jesus or the Spirit. If you are unsure, consider what Jesus is recorded to have gave as final instruction:
“On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5 NIV)
Maybe you are one of those who are baptized in water and repentance. Perhaps you are sincerely trying to use the Bible as an instruction manual or guide book. It could be you read diligently, you might even speak the name of Jesus and travel the world on a mission to prove yourself before God or others. You can be doing all those things without God’s word alive in you, the Pharisees did those things (Matthew 23) and we are told some who shared the name of Jesus are not known to him (Matthew 7:21-23) despite their works.
Read John 5:16-47. There is no salvation found in diligent study of Scripture. One can have vast knowledge of Scripture and still not have ever known God’s word. That was the case with those who rejected Jesus despite knowing the Scripture and it is the case for those who still believe a book knowledge can save them. It is not the Bible that Christianity should center on, it is something else bigger, better and more unifying than a book:
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6 NIV)
Note that one of the one things not listed above is Scripture. If Scripture were central to our oneness with God and unity together it seems something that should be mentioned. We have mention of Spirit twice, mention of one Lord, one God and Father, one body, one faith, one hope, one baptism, but not a mention of a one book and Scripture. It is Spirit emphasized throughout Scripture.
So what is the “word of God” mentioned in Scripture?
“Truth does not need a bodyguard” (Rhonda Strite)
The news out of Paris today (read here) is a reminder again of the power of ideas. Twelve people are dead and apparently in killed defense of something deemed sacred. Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper that showed less than flattering images of the prophet Muhammad, was the target of assassins today who apparently yelled “we have avenged the prophet” and fled the scene.
I do not believe these murderers speak for all Muslims nor even for the one they claim to have avenged and who should all be left to speak for themselves. However, what the violence does speak for is the power of ideas. It is obvious those responsible have been influenced to believe that prophets of God need to be honored by spilling of blood. It is an idea that ‘truth’ must be defended by violence.
Defending the Image of Our God
This idea of violence in the name of honor isn’t exclusively religious territory either. In fact, it is a quite common theme in personal romances gone sour. I don’t even know where to start a list of popular songs about the angry and jilted person taking out their wrath on the vehicle of the a former lover who insulted their dignity by choosing to be intimately involved with someone else. It is the same sentiment that leads a man to kill his wife and her new boyfriend in a fit of rage. It is a defense of honor. It is an idea that the other person did damage to you or the reputation of what you value and now deserves to be harmed in return. But this kind of behavior does beg a question about character and specifically the character of a person who thinks violence is their right when insulted.
Since I am not an expert on Islamic teachings, I will leave that analysis to those who are and stick to what I do know. What I do know well are teachings of another man who is recognized as a prophet by Muslims and that is the man named Jesus. The one who is called both “word” and “truth” in the Bible:
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)
We, in this age of democracy and freedom of the press, can easily forget history. But there was a time not too long ago when insulting a king could cost a person their head. Throughout human history leaders have demanded, upon penalty of death, that their image be honored and even worshipped. In the time Jesus lived and his followers after it was no exception. There is speculation that the last book of the Bible was written in response to imperial cult in Rome to encourage believers who had to choose between faith and physical life.
A Different Image of God
Jesus was also referred to as a “king” or “lord” in scripture and yet one quite different from others in example. He was was the king who served in the lowliest capacity and in a way that even confounded his most loyal followers. He claimed a different type of leadership, a leadership by example and a radical idea even today in a day of competing individual rights:
“Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)
It is really an impossible standard in human terms. Even self-proclaimed Christians are seemingly not able to live out this standard. I am often caused to wonder about this commitment when I see outrage expressed over a song being played that openly calls religion a lie and overt concern with individual rights among those claiming to be of Christian faith. It would appear the image of Jesus some claim to defend with their anger is more like the prophet Muhammad than the man described as being stripped naked, beaten mercilessly without a word, humiliated and killed like a common criminal.
Killing as a response to blasphemy is not unique to Islamists and was taught as part of the law of Moses in the Bible. This Biblical law was enforced in ‘Christian’ United Kingdom (fully up until 1697 and in part until 1921) before falling out of favor. We could blame religion for this idea of killing to honor or defend a person and idea, but that would be ignorant of the many examples of those who killed only because they themselves felt disrespected. People have killed in the name of ideas ranging from defense of the Constitution of the United States to Imperialism and Marxism.
Does real truth need to be defended by killing those who dishonor it?
I believe an idea that needs us to kill to defend it is a weakling idea. A god established on the blood of those who offend is a puny god indeed. Unfortunately people like little gods and that includes many “people of the book” who confuse Bible for God and their own ideas for truth. They confine God to the understanding of their own mind and the work of their own hands. These are the fundamentalists who take offense on behalf of ‘truth’ and kill to defend it. But I believe in a truth greater than my own mind, one that frees me of need to kill others to defend it and is personified in our following the ultimate example of self-sacrifice:
“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
Many have killed in the name of Jesus. Many feel God is honored in their defense of prophets or books. Many study the scripture diligently without ever finding the word of God despite their best efforts and that is in fact recorded in the Christian scripture in John 5:16-47. But there is another way to live. I believe in a “way” a “truth” and “life” that is bigger than mere human knowledge. I believe in an advocate that is beyond my own efforts to religiously memorize texts or methods. The truth is a spiritual person and teacher, not a book or religion:
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. […] But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:15-17, 26)
A Different Defense and Truth
The bigger view is that God can speak for himself and real truth does not need murder to protect it. Silencing the voices that oppose us is a weak defense. Do not kill the messenger and think you are defending truth. Instead, speak the truth with love, because God is love. There are many ideas that people use as justification to kill, but just one that is worth dying for and that is love.
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (Luke 12:11-12)
The law brings judgement, but the Spirit brings love and life. That should be our source and guide to all truth.