This article has been inspired by the conflict that exists within Christianity mainly due to the interpretation of the bible (the genuine cases). First of all it is important for us to understand the place of the bible in Christianity before we can properly apply it to Christian spirituality. This article seeks to use the dealings of God with his people Israel, the dealings of Jesus and the apostles with the early Christians, the bible itself and common sense to try to establish the place of the bible in Christianity. I hope this article will help you strengthen your Christian roots.
Key areas to be discussed:
- The Bible versus the Word of God
- Where and how did we get the Bible?
- How has God instructed his people from the beginning as recorded in the Bible?
- Who is the final authority in the Church?
- The protestant reformation (“revolution”)
The Bible versus the Word of God
Are the “Bible” and the “Word of God” the same? No. The bible is the word of God but the word of God is not the Bible. John 1:1-4 says, “In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came into being, not one thing came into being except through him. What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men.” This means that before the Bible came into existence, the word of God already existed. Matthew 24:35 says, “Sky and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” This is means that the word of God exists for all eternity.
So how can anyone try to squeeze the word of God into the Bible, into a time period between when the writing of the Old Testament started and when the writing of the New Testament ended? Christians don’t just live by the Bible but by every Word of God, whether it is WRITTEN in the Bible or not.
Let me emphasize that the Bible is the word of God; every word in the Bible is the living word of God filled with power for those who live by it. Yet the Bible is not all of the word of God.
Is all the Word of God in the Bible?
Twice John has stated that there are many things Jesus did [and certainly many things Jesus said, and by extension many things the apostles said and did. Every honest person should know that this is true] that are not recorded – John 20:30 and John 21:25. They did not write everything down not because what was not written down was not important but because they could not have written them all down. Moreover, they did not intend to write a reference book with an answer to every question that will ever rise in the history of mankind, as some Christians are using the Bible today, but they wrote so that it might help people to believe that Jesus is the messiah. - John 20:31. They wrote only what was necessary for this purpose and transmitted the rest of their teachings orally.
Paul confirms the above statements by John in 2 Thessalonians 2:15: “Stand firm, then, brothers, and keep the traditions that we taught you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” Paul says they passed on some truths by letter and others by preaching, and he says they should consider both equally important.
Paul says that the Thessalonians should not only accept what was written but also what was not written because what was written was not the authority but the people who wrote. The people who wrote were the very people who taught orally.
So to say “point to me if what you’re saying is in the Bible” actually contradicts the Bible. It is actually what the “authority”, which is not the bible, says that is to be accepted. The bible is under that “authority” which also gets its authority from God.
How has God instructed his people?
God, as I know him in the scriptures (Old and New Testaments), has never given the authority of guidance of his people to any book. God has always governed his people by using other human beings. He appoints leaders and empowers them to lead his people. All of God’s people were expected to listen to and take instructions and directions from these chosen leaders. These leaders include prophets, kings, judges, etc. It is through these leaders that all that is written in the scriptures came to us. What was needed to believe, accept and follow these leaders was to accept that they were duly appointed by God into their various offices.
How God instructed people in the Old Testament (OT)
One may argue that the Israelites followed the scriptures (Old Testament). Yes indeed, they did, but how did they get the scriptures? God did not drop it from heaven. He appointed people and spoke through them. What they taught was later written down. It is important to note that most of these were actually written later, even after the people through whom God had spoken had died. At least the earliest instructions in the Old Testament were not written at the time they were given. Initially the word was being passed on verbally. In fact, the Old Testament is the tradition of the Israelites which had been passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth. It was only committed to writing when people learned to write.
Therefore, this is how God guided His people in the OT: He appointed leaders; spoke His word to them; the leaders in turn taught His word to His people; the people lived the word and later (in most cases) the word was written down. This is how God worked among the Israelites, not write a book and ask them to distribute it so that everybody would read. The examples below show that God’s law/Word existed in a verbal form long before even the OT was WRITTEN.
Adam – Genesis 2:15-17 – Then the LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and guard it. He told him, "You may eat the fruit of any tree in the garden, except the tree that gives knowledge of what is good and what is bad. You must not eat the fruit of that tree; if you do, you will die the same day."
Note: At the time, this instruction was not written but Adam was to teach it to Eve and to their descendants. They would not reject it as the word of God just because it wasn’t written in a book.
2 Peter 2:5 - God did not spare the ancient world, but brought the flood on the world of godless people; the only ones he saved were Noah, who preached righteousness, and seven other people.
The story of Noah – Genesis 6:5-8:22
Note: At the time the OT didn’t exist. Noah preached but the people did not heed. Did they have the right to refuse Noah’s words because they were not written in a book? If they thought so, God showed them that they were wrong. Almost all the instructions (Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers) that the Israelites lived by were given during the time of Moses. Before then there were no explicit instructions on how people should conduct themselves. On what basis, then, did God judge the people of Noah’s time as living sinful lives? It means that those people were living by UNWRITTEN instructions.
Genesis 13:12-13 – Abram stayed in the land of Canaan, and Lot settled among the cities in the valley and camped near Sodom, whose people were wicked and sinned against the LORD. Again, we find God declaring some people as wicked and sinful, when there wasn’t any written law to judge them by. They were living by UNWRITTEN instructions.
God’s covenant with Abraham – Genesis 17:9-14: God said to Abraham, "You also must agree to keep the covenant with me, both you and your descendants in future generations. You and your descendants must all agree to circumcise every male among you. From now on you must circumcise every baby boy when he is eight days old, including slaves born in your homes and slaves bought from foreigners. This will show that there is a covenant between you and me. Each one must be circumcised, and this will be a physical sign to show that my covenant with you is everlasting. Any male who has not been circumcised will no longer be considered one of my people, because he has not kept the covenant with me." Another law that existed long before the OT came into existence. These laws were passed down through oral tradition. This particular covenant became a problem in the New Testament (we’ll get there).
Israelites obeyed God’s instructions concerning Passover given through Moses and Aaron - Exodus 12:43-50: The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "These are the Passover regulations: No foreigner shall eat the Passover meal, but any slave that you have bought may eat it if you circumcise him first. No temporary resident or hired worker may eat it. The whole meal must be eaten in the house in which it was prepared; it must not be taken outside. And do not break any of the animal's bones. The whole community of Israel must celebrate this festival, but no uncircumcised man may eat it. If a foreigner has settled among you and wants to celebrate Passover to honour the LORD, you must first circumcise all the males of his household. He is then to be treated like a native-born Israelite and may join in the festival. The same regulations apply to native-born Israelites and to foreigners who settle among you." All the Israelites obeyed and did what the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron, though none of these instructions were written yet.
God always spoke his mind through people and not a book. Even if the people have a book for reference, the book still needs to be interpreted. This is again done by people chosen by God, e.g. Ezra reads the book of the law (Nehemiah 8:1-8). Note in verse 7 that the people had to be taught the law. Also note in verse 3 that all the people who were listening could understand and yet they had to be taught the law. It means that it is not the intention of God or the writers for everyone to simply take the word of God, read it and correctly interpret it. In fact, Peter gave this warning about the writings of Paul, “Think of our Lord's patience as your opportunity to be saved; our brother Paul, who is so dear to us, told you this when he wrote to you with the wisdom that he was given. He makes this point too in his letters as a whole wherever he touches on these things. In all his letters there are of course some passages which are hard to understand, and these are the ones that uneducated and unbalanced people distort, in the same way as they distort the rest of scripture -to their own destruction.” - 2 Peter 3:15-16.
An example here would do a great job. A lady recently left the Catholic Church, and when I sat with her, she said things that made me laugh. One example will suffice. She quoted Isaiah 3:16-26, which reads, “Moreover the LORD saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet: Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the LORD will discover their secret parts. In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon, the chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers, the bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings, the rings, and nose jewels, the changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins, the glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the vails. And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty. Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war. And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground.” – KJV (she quoted from the KJV)
According to her, the above verses show that a Christian woman is not supposed to wear earrings, bracelets, anklets and the like. It’s actually a shame because I know that she wears headbands and uses glasses (mirrors). Dear reader, if you have even a moderate understanding of English grammar, you will see that her interpretation is outright ridiculous, especially when you read the whole chapter. Re-examine yourself; you could just be in her shoe. Let’s heed Peter's warning!
In short, whenever the people of Israel wanted to know what the mind/will of God was, how they should live to please God, they did not rely on a book but on the people God had appointed to guide them on such matters. Even when they had to rely on a book they relied on the leaders God had chosen to interpret the book for them. This is why the Israelites were able to accept seemingly contradictory teachings which were pronounced by their trusted leaders. Let’s take some references.
Compare Exodus 34:1-7 with Jeremiah 31:29-30 and Ezekiel 18:1-4
Exodus 34:1-7 – “Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Cut two tablets of stone like the first ones and come up to me on the mountain, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Be ready at dawn; at dawn come up Mount Sinai and wait for me there at the top of the mountain. No one may come up with you, no one may be seen anywhere on the mountain; the flocks and herds may not even graze in front of this mountain.’ So he cut two tablets of stone like the first and, with the two tablets of stone in his hands, Moses went up Mount Sinai in the early morning as Yahweh had ordered. And Yahweh descended in a cloud and stood with him there and pronounced the name Yahweh. Then Yahweh passed before him and called out, ‘Yahweh, Yahweh, God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in faithful love and constancy, maintaining his faithful love to thousands, forgiving fault, crime and sin, yet letting nothing go unchecked, and punishing the parent's fault in the children and in the grandchildren to the third and fourth generation!’”
Jeremiah 31:29-30 – “In those days people will no longer say: ‘The fathers have eaten unripe grapes; the children's teeth are set on edge.’ But each will die for his own guilt. Everyone who eats unripe grapes will have his own teeth set on edge.”
Ezekiel 18:1-4 – “The word of Yahweh was addressed to me as follows, ‘Why do you keep repeating this proverb in the land of Israel: The parents have eaten unripe grapes; and the children’s teeth are set on edge?’ As I live -- declares the Lord Yahweh -- you will have no further cause to repeat this proverb in Israel. Look, all life belongs to me; the father’s life and the son’s life, both alike belong to me. The one who has sinned is the one to die.”
Specifically, compare Exodus 34:7 with Jeremiah 31:29-30 and Ezekiel 18:2-4
How God instructed people in the New Testament (NT)
We find a similar pattern in the NT to how God guided his people in the OT. Jesus came preaching and extensively quoting the OT, but on many points and occasions, He taught outside of the OT, sometimes even opposing its practices.
Compare Exodus 21:23-25 with Matthew 5:38-42
Exodus 21:23-25 – “If further harm is done, however, you will award life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stroke for stroke.”
Matthew 5:38-42 – “You have heard how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer no resistance to the wicked. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if someone wishes to go to law with you to get your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone requires you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks you, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.”
Specifically, compare Exodus 21:23-25 with Matthew 5:38-39
You accept all these new instructions because you believe in a person, not a book. You believe that Jesus is speaking on behalf of God, and so even if His teachings don’t agree with what was previously written in the Word of God, you gladly accept them. The Jews who could not accept Jesus as a true messenger of God could not accept his teachings.
You might say Jesus was God, which by the way you believe because of the witness of people not a book, because the book cannot witness for itself. What about the apostles who did the same thing. Let’s take some examples.