Tag Archives: scripture

Handling Silence

This morning a friend posted a meme on Facebook that got my attention. Now, before I continue, understand that I consider this brother a friend and respect his views and opinions greatly. So nothing I say here should be taken as a rebuke of the brother. Everything here is meant to address the meme itself and the underlying view. Whether my friend actually holds this view or not is unknown to me. Even if he does, that doesn’t matter because I intend to show some problems with the view and not with those who hold it. One thing we need to learn as Christians is to separate the person from the views they espouse. I actually sent him this for review before posting.

The Meme is posted here:

bible doesnt say

It shows the sons of Aaron—Nadab and Abihu—offering incense. It is of course based on the story of these two who were punished for offering ‘strange fire’ upon the altar.

If you look at the meme you see Abihu asking Nadab if he is sure this act is acceptable, to which Nadab responds “Yeah bro! The Bible doesn’t say we can’t.” The reason this meme inspired such thought in me is that it commits a serious error. I’ll list those here, but must first lay out the underlying concept this meme is meant to ridicule.

There is a train of thought which says, “If the Bible doesn’t say it is forbidden, then it is permissible.” It is a way of interpreting the Scriptures that would take all moral considerations and ask: “Does the Bible make a positive command concerning it?”

It’s common to look at the decision making process this way:

I am considering action A.

Does the Bible command me to take action A?

If not then I am not required to take action A.

Does the Bible forbid action A?

If not then I am free to perform action A.

However, it is based on a mistaken idea. It assumes the Bible contains instructions (positive to prescribe or negative to proscribe) for all possible moral considerations. There is a way to handle this question, which is acceptable (I’ll address it in a moment), but the problem is when people do, as the meme implies, and make anything not negatively proscribed into positive permission. They assume that because the Bible doesn’t forbid something they should therefore consider it proper and moral, as if Scripture was giving them direct permission through its silence.

Now, before going further, allow me to point out that the meme itself, even ignoring the underlying assumptions, is actually fallacious. It is pulling this story out of context and applying it in a way the Scriptures never intended. Actually, Nadab and Abihu knew their action was abominable. The meme insinuates that they had no command against doing this so they assumed it was acceptable. However, even the passage which records this (Leviticus 10:1f) says their actions were “contrary to his command (NIV)” or were actions “which he had not commanded them (LEB).” Leviticus 9 tells of them helping their father perform the proper sacrifice, so they knew what was proper. They were not acting in the absence of a direct command. They were acting in opposition to a direct command: Scripture said how to sacrifice and make offerings and forbade doing them any other way. If the Bible says “Do this and this alone” any person deciding “I’ll do that instead” is disobedient. Because of this, the meme’s subject matter doesn’t even apply to the argument about whether all actions not negatively forbidden are permissible—it’s a misapplication.

Getting back to the issue this meme poorly addressed, I spoke earlier of those who say “Anything not forbidden in the Bible is acceptable.” I would argue both sides of this question. First off there is the question of whether silence in Scripture should be taken as permission, but one must also consider the implications of silence in Scripture.

To take silence in Scripture as permission is fallacious: “God did not address it, so he must approve of it.” Actually God not addressing it in Scriptures just means it was not an issue he chose to address—for whatever reason. It may still be unacceptable, but God, in his sovereignty, chose not to speak to the issue. Perhaps it wasn’t an issue in the age when Scripture was being revealed. Perhaps it wasn’t a major consideration among the people to whom he was speaking. We must use our divinely given wisdom and the prompting of the Holy Spirit to know whether we should take an action or not take it when Scripture is silent. But never make the mistake of assuming Biblical silence equates to Biblical sanction.

But now, there is another dimension to this discussion—the implications of scriptural silence. What about those addressing an issue upon which Scripture is silent, who decide that even in the face of silence action A is not permissible (not something God would want them to do)? This is fine. This is an act of conscience. The problem comes when that person takes this decision and tries to make it a command for all to follow: “I believe this is forbidden even though Scripture is silent on it. Therefore, I insist it is forbidden to all Christians.” There is a problem with this—and not just a small one. Such Christians need to rethink their view of Scripture. Most protestant Christians would say, “Scripture is our only rule for faith and practice.” If so, then if you cannot find a command on it in scripture, or at least a concept that reasonably allows an inference of a command, you cannot declare it binding upon all. It remains a matter of personal conviction—it may still be unacceptable, but it is up to the Holy Spirit to guide the heart of the other person to that conclusion (which you are of course free to encourage through teaching and counsel). Some examples of this are eating certain foods, drinking alcohol or smoking. There are many areas of our lives which fall under this category.

We must be careful not to take silence of Scripture as permission. We equally must be careful about making Scripture say what the author of Scripture never chose to say. Both practices abuse the Scripture and do not show proper respect for the revelation of God to man.

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Disagreement is Essential to Teaching

preacher-silouette
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Snap2Art

Yesterday, I had a wonderful conversation with a nice couple who had some questions about our church, our beliefs and what I teach on various subjects. It was a pleasure to visit with them, to get to know them and to see how much we were in agreement. However, no matter how much we agreed, I warned them “Eventually, I am going to teach something that you will disagree with. It is inevitable and will happen. It is important how we handle that.”

Every church and every pastor faces such disagreements at one time or another. Of course, with many individual believers this problem never occurs because many Christians view church mostly from the aesthetic. The average Christian knows what they like and pick a church based on that. For some it’s a charismatic pastor, an exciting mixture of programs, or an energetic worship band.

Then there are Christians who find the teaching most important. These folks want to know what a church teaches, what a pastor believes. These are often the folks with the most to offer a church because they take the Word of God seriously enough to take time to study it. Conversations with such believers are usually the most constructive and, for me, the most enjoyable.

My thoughts this morning turned to my statement quoted above. It is true and inevitable that there will someday be disagreement between the one preaching/teaching the Word and the one hearing. This is actually a central tenet of teaching. If we both (teacher and student) agree on everything, then no actual teaching happens—at most you have reinforcement. Biblical teaching implies that the teacher holds a biblical view which he seeks to impart to another. This assumes disagreement—assuming the student lacks that view. The teacher must demonstrate why the listener should agree.

It’s less important in this setting that we start out agreeing on every point. It is most important that we start out agreeing to tolerate the difference and allow the person teaching to prove their point. Of course, it is then upon the teacher to do so. But the student should be able to look beyond the disagreement and fairly assess the teaching. If you hear your pastor say something you disagree with, and you shut down refusing to hear why he believes that, then you are not being a good disciple, but are being obstinate. If the pastor says, ‘This is what I believe and you must concur regardless of how weak my argument” then the pastor is a tyrant with more interest in indoctrination than teaching.

Does your pastor live a godly life? Does your pastor demonstrate the truth of the gospel and work hard to teach the Word honestly and correctly? Then give him the benefit of the doubt, listen to his teaching and then examine it in the light of the Word. The solution to differences is not division, but an examination of the Scriptures to find the truth.

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Read It

Psalm 119:11 “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

Exercise: some of us like it, many do not, but most of us know we ought to get more than we do. Something as simple a daily walk is recommended over no activity at all for a modicum of health benefit. In a similar way, we should be concerned about our spiritual health. Christians know they ought to be in God’s word, but sometimes finding the time seems as daunting as getting down to the gym. But just as we become unfit physically for lack of exercise, we become spiritually flabby for lack of spiritual exercise. The first and perhaps most important step is to establish a time, something that becomes routine. For some, that may be first thing in the morning; others, just before bedtime; or during a commute, during a meal, perhaps even during a walk or run with earphones and an audio Bible. Make a commitment that you will be in God’s word on a regular basis. And stick with it. Then you can say with the Psalmist, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

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Sailing into Deeper Truth

shipHebrews 6:1 (LEB) says:

“Therefore, leaving behind the elementary message about Christ, let us move on to maturity…”

The second part of this “let us move on to maturity” draws a mental picture. The word used for “let us move on” is the Greek word φερώμεθα. Unfortunately, in the English translations we lose a great deal from this word.

First of all, the word is actually passive. This means we do not move on to maturity; we are carried on to maturity. The action is done to us. Someone else moves us to maturity. Stanley Porter translates it as “let us be brought to maturity” (Idioms of the Greek New Testament: 2nd Ed.). This is an important distinction to understand. I cannot mature myself. Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit must mature me—must bring me to maturity. However, I do have a part in this. I must leave off the elementary teachings. We don’t become more mature without going deeper into the Word, seeking deeper knowledge. Rather than studying the same things over and over we must move into other questions, issues and problems seeking answers in the Scripture. This doesn’t mean rejecting the earlier elementary teachings. This means seeing them as the foundation upon which greater knowledge is built. Nothing gets built if the foundation gets laid again and again. Eventually we have to leave the foundation as is and start building upwards. In the same way, there comes a time when we no longer spend a great deal of time in the elementary teachings of the Word and begin digging deeper for more knowledge; for greater understanding. John Chrysostom complained in Homily IX, that those who should be teachers are handicapped in their learning because they keep hearing the same messages and teachings over and over:

“[…] but ever hearing the same things, and on the same subjects, you are in the same condition as if you heard no one. And if any man should question you, no one will be able to answer, except a very few who may soon be counted” (Schaff, Early Church Fathers).

We must learn the basics and lay a good foundation. But once the foundation is laid we must go deeper into the Word, and rely on the Holy Spirit to move us to maturity, which brings up the second part of this passage and a beautiful word picture.

The Greek word φερώμεθα gives the image of something moved along by natural (or even spiritual) causes. Among other things, this is the movement of a ship being pushed by the wind against its sails. As you move away from the more elementary teachings of the faith, going deeper into the Word think of the Word as your sails. The Holy Spirit uses what you find in the Word to move you to maturity. You move out into deeper and deeper waters, learning more and more. The Holy Spirit acting through the Word carries you forward.

I love that the author, who here brought in imagery of a sail beinganchor pushed by the wind, later (in 6:19) describes the hope we have as an anchor for our lives keeping us firm and secure. As we go deeper into the Word and become more and more mature, we are used by God in different locations and settings. Some of these will be stormy and dangerous. Some experiences will be deceptive. However, we are always kept safe and secure by the anchor of our hope in Christ.

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Interpretation or Application

2 Peter 1:20 can be confusing at times. In the NIV, it says, “[…] no prophecy of scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.” The LEB says, “[…] that every prophecy of scripture does not come about from one’s own interpretation.”

What does this mean? It ties closely back to what Peter says earlier about not following clever myths but being eyewitnesses (2 Peter 1:16). The revelation he spoke about was their experience of God speaking on the mountain. In verse 19 he goes on to say “we have the word of the prophets made more sure.” This experience verified the words of the prophets and their experience was itself a revelation from God.

It is from here that he makes his statement about prophecy. Peter is saying the experience of the apostles verified and supported the words of the prophets. They did not just make up stories. Neither did they twist and abuse the Old Testament prophecy to make it say what they wanted it to say. Many people twist the words of scripture to say what they want it to say. This is not proper behavior because the words of scripture were not given to say whatever you want. Peter goes on in verse 21 to say prophecy originated in the will of God, rather than the will of man. The important consideration is not what I want the scripture to say, but what God meant for it to say. It is not my meaning or interpretation that matters, but God’s intent. Prophecy is how God chooses to speak, and our responsibility is to handle it properly and seek understanding of what God actually says. We are to look for God’s meaning behind the words, not use them to hide our own intentions in a scriptural smoke screen and present the resulting illusion as revelation from God.

This thought continues into the next chapter of Second Peter. Keep in mind, the chapter and verse divisions were added centuries after the actual words were written. Don’t see them with any authority. Chapter 2 verse 1 gives us the counter to those who properly handle the words of prophecy. Peter says that he and the other witnesses to Christ were properly handling the prophecies. But; just as in the past there were false prophets who, rather than speaking for God, spoke their own words for their own intentions; false teachers would rise up in the church misusing the words of the Old Testament and the early Christian writers to introduce and support heresies. He even gives an example of one such heresy: “even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them.”

In a conversation years ago about something from scripture, a woman said, “There are many interpretations of scripture. It can be made to say anything you want it to say.” Actually, she was quite wrong, but still managed to strike upon the biggest problem we have in the church. There is only one interpretation—the right one, intended by the divine author. Proper exegesis involves seeking that single true interpretation. From this single interpretation, there may be applications. In each of our lives, the words of scripture will apply in any number of ways. A passage applied a certain way in my life may need to be applied in a very different way to your life. So long as these applications are based upon a proper interpretation they are acceptable. Unfortunately, we too often mistake the application for the interpretation. We try to make the way it applies in my life normative for all Christians. This too often leads to legalism. Seek the meaning of the author of scripture. Then look for how to apply that to your own situation and life.

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