A Call to Hope: the Bible, part 2
The Bible is the great beacon of light dispelling darkness and despair around us.
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).
We can hope in the Bible as the very source of our hope, because it has been found true by the gospel of Jesus Christ - the foundation of our hope. Every event in Scripture before Christ’s death and resurrection pointed to the coming Messiah. Every event after Christ’s death and resurrection points to His return.
God has never faltered in the past and will not falter in the present or future, according to His Word.
But if you don’t believe in the Bible as the absolute source of truth, not one of many truths or a partial truth, your growth as a Christian will be stunted. You will remain an “infant, tossed back and forth by the waves, blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14).
How you view the Bible will affect the trajectory of your life.
Every opinion. Every decision. Every stance will be informed by how you view these holy words. Just as Jesus was clear about His deity, the Bible is clear about its absolute authority. Just as God breathed the breath of life into Adam to make him a living being, God breathed out the words of Scripture to make them alive and active (Genesis 2:7).
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
All Scripture – that is the sticking point. Not some Scripture or only the feel-good, “Instagram-able” verses, but all of it.
That means when Job is sifted by Satan and loses everything including his children, or when Samson’s eyes are gouged out by the Philistines, or Stephen the first Christian deacon is stoned to death, God's sovereign hand is at work. We can profit from these passages in wisdom, perspective and courage. We profit from the “great cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us, no matter how grim or ghastly their lives or deaths (Hebrews 12:1).
The Bible, the God-breathed Word, is breathtakingly brilliant, eternal and unfading.
Every last word of the Old and New Testament – no matter how shocking or scandalous - is inspired by God and profitable for making us complete in Christ and equipped for His purpose.
Misunderstood sections of Scripture
But how can that be, critics of Scripture would counter? How can text that promotes slavery of foreigners (Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, I Peter 2:18), shuns people with disabilities (Leviticus 21:16-21), considers a woman on her menstrual cycle unclean (Leviticus 15:19-33), prohibits wearing clothing of mixed fibers (Deuteronomy 22:11), declares eating shellfish a defilement (Leviticus 11:10), and forbids women to speak in public (1 Corinthians 14:34) be inspired by a just, loving, inclusive and orderly God?
The list of offensive verses to cherry pick from Scripture is plenty. So how could any rational, enlightened person possibly hope in these “antiquated” words?
Without considering and understanding the redemptive metanarrative of the Bible - what the entire story of God is about - which includes the Law that was fulfilled by the precious blood of Christ, it would be tempting to dismiss the whole counsel of Scripture. When verses are plucked out of context as they so often are, all sorts of negative impressions and false conclusions can be drawn. Likewise, all sorts of positive impressions can be drawn that are not accurate. See also, the prosperity gospel.
This erroneous process is no different than picking up any book, reading a single sentence and forming an opinion on the literature in its entirety. It will yield your interpretation inaccurate. How much more so with the intricate Word of God.
But God will never contradict Himself.
This is why God admonishes us to “make every effort to present yourself approved to God, an unashamed workman who accurately handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
These God-breathed, infinite words aren’t meant to be inhaled in one breath by finite human beings. These hallowed words should be humbly mined, studied, and savored in their entirety.
The mystery of Scripture points to the majesty and complexity of God.
Accessibility of Scripture
The Bible is not something to be conquered but explored and discovered. God has revealed as much of Himself as He believes we need and can handle at this time. As such, we will likely not understand it all, but we can understand all we need, when we need it, through the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
We need not be a scholar to dive into this divine book. The very fact that God used many "uneducated and untrained men" to proclaim and pen His words is proof of its accessibility (Acts 4:13).
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).
Isn't this shockingly true? Have you ever experienced passages jumping off those golden-edged pages or recalled Scripture that your forgetful mind could never remember on its own?
We who are indwelled by the Holy Spirit have the mind of Christ working in us to explain His words to us. Jesus is clear that the Old Testament, yes even books like Leviticus and Lamentations, are part of the divinely inspired words and plan of God.
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).
Before you reject parts of Scripture, ask yourself why they are included in the first place. How do certain passages fit within the overarching themes of the Bible? From Creation to the Fall to Redemption, from Genesis to Revelation, God relentlessly pursues our reconciliation and restoration through Jesus.
Continuity of Scripture
The miraculous acts of Christ in the New Testament stand in stark contrast to many passages in the Old Testament, and that is precisely the point. This holy God created us in His image to be set apart from sin and shame and sickness. But the Fall changed everything. Sin entered into humanity and consequences abound.
The litany of law in the Old Testament underscores the moral gulf between God and man because of our disobedience. God is holy; we are not. The Ten Commandments alone are a base standard that children can understand but not a single person can keep (Exodus 20:1-17, Romans 3:23). This is precisely why we need Jesus!
The Old Testament agrees with the New Testament, in that a sufficient sacrifice was needed for man and woman to be made right with God.
“But God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The seemingly random and arbitrary laws that are no longer needed today - what the Israelite people ate, wore, and who was allowed to make sacrifices - pointed to the purity of Christ and the purity believers can have once hidden in Him.
"For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3).
So instead of God seeing our sin, He sees the righteousness of Christ if we have been saved by Him.
Isn't it a relief that we no longer have to sacrifice animals as an offering for every one of our sins as under the Old Covenant? We no longer have to spill volumes of blood, because Jesus - the "Lamb of God" who came to take away the sins of the world - spilled His for us (John 1:29).
“For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God” (Romans 10:4).
God isn't advocating for animal cruelty in the Old Testament anymore than He's advocating for slavery, bigotry or misogyny.
At the outset of Adam and Eve's rebellion, God "clothed them" with animal skins, a sacrifice to cover their sin (Genesis 3:21). He was providing a temporary way for humanity to be in relationship with Him, before the "fullness of time" when Jesus came and ushered in the New Covenant through His sinless life, death and resurrection (Galatians 4:4, Luke 22:20).
At the right time, God sent Jesus to be the sacrifice for our sins so that we could throw off our burlap of sorrow to be clothed “with the garments of salvation” and covered “with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). Jesus didn’t condemn people for what they ate and wore, because those things could not defile them; He rebuked them for what came from inside their hearts (Matthew 15:11).
Rebuttals to rejecting difficult parts of Scripture
Jesus - and therefore God and the entire Bible - didn’t support slavery.
He came to set the captives and oppressed free for eternity (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18). Because this freedom is still being fully realized within a sinful world, we are living between the now and not yet of what will be in Paradise when all things are made perfect. But that doesn't mean Christians should have ever ignored the quest for equality bought by the blood of Christ or should cease working to bring God's will to earth as it is in heaven.
The entire book of Philemon in the New Testament, for example, is Paul writing a letter to a slave owner about his runaway slave. Paul instructs Philemon to receive Onesimus as "no longer as a slave . . . but as a dear brother" - and he appeals to Philemon to “receive him as you would receive me” (Philemon 1:17). In other words, Paul dissolves the slave/master relationship, and erects in its place a brother/brother relationship, in which the former slave is treated with all the dignity with which the apostle himself would be treated. Thus, even before the actual institution of slavery is abolished, the work of the gospel abolishes the assumptions and prejudices that make slavery possible. You can read more about this here and here.
Just because the Old Testament permitted and regulated slavery does not mean the Bible promoted it. Just as polygamy is a perversion of God's intent for marriage, slavery is a perversion of God's intent for mankind's relationships with one another. Read more on what God says about racism in the Bible here.
Jesus - and therefore God and the entire Bible - didn’t shun the sick.
He healed “every disease and sickness among the people” (Matthew 4:23). He healed the lame, blind, deaf, diseased, demon possessed and dead (Matthew 8:13, 9:6, 22, 30; Mark 1:30, 40; Luke 7:15; John 4:50, 5:9). His physical healing was not short sighted, however, and always accompanied a spiritual healing to ensure inclusion in heaven. The healings of Jesus (and His apostles) point to the way things will one day be when our salvation is made complete: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” (Revelation 21:4). You can read more about this here.
Jesus - and therefore God and the entire Bible - didn’t subjugate women.
He elevated these image bearers beyond any imaginable status in 1st century Israel. His advancement of women included the healing of a woman who had bled for 12 years – a direct nod at the law in Leviticus that considered a woman on her menstrual cycle unclean (Luke 8:44). The incarnation came through the womb of a woman (Matthew 1:18). Jesus revealed Himself as the Messiah first to the Samaritan woman at the well, a statement on His inclusion of both gender and ethnicity. Some of His best friends on earth were sisters Martha and Mary of Bethany (John 11:5). Lastly, the first person He encountered after the resurrection was Mary Magdalene, a social outcast from whom He had cast out seven demons (Mark 16:9). Jesus shared some of the most pivotal moments in biblical history with women.
Jesus fulfilled, not canceled the law
Jesus faced the Roman Empire and the Jewish religious leaders with an outright spirit of egalitarianism. He declared by His words and actions, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Jesus didn’t cancel the law but fulfilled it for us. So every word of God rings true.
“Every word of God proves true. He is a shield to all who come to him for protection” (Proverbs 30:5).
So we must be careful to not reject biblical text we don’t understand, agree with or like.
“The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (John 12:48).
“The biblical documents have withstood the most scrutinizing analysis ever imposed upon any manuscript and have emerged with compelling authenticity and authority. No other ancient literature demonstrates such a high degree of accuracy. Yes, repeatedly the Bible rises up to outlive its pallbearers,” stated Ravi Zacharias, world renowned Christian apologist.
The Bible isn’t filled with contradictions but fulfillments only Jesus could bring to fruition. The incarnation literally breathed life into the word of God. It is living and active, unfailing and true.
We can hope it that.