While the Israelite's were in the desert, a man was discovered gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who caught him at it brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly. But they kept him in custody, for there was no clear decision as to what should be done with him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “This man shall be put to death; let the whole community stone him outside the camp.” So the whole community led him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
Numbers Chapter 15, verses 32-36.
Some say that Jesus came to supplement the teachings of the Old Testament. Some say that Jesus came to modify some of these older teachings (through the creation of a new covenant for example). Still, others say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and therefore it is timeless and unchanging (or unchangeable). The truth is that the Bible represents the opinions and viewpoints of the men who wrote it, colored by the age in which they lived. It contains many great truths, but also includes many falsehoods.
Many modern non-believers will point to Biblical passages such as the one
above as proof of the fallibility of the Bible’s teachings. For some, just proving one item false is sufficient to dismiss everything in it. This of course, puts the
Bible worshiper in the impossible position of declaring every word to be
true. Both positions are wrong, but it is the Bible worshiper that suffers the most from these grievous mistakes. Certainly the non-believer can dismiss the Bible without much thought. But the book worshiper must somehow reconcile the irreconcilable.
As the Bible worshiper makes the futile effort to pound a round peg into
a square hole, the Biblical truths he prizes above all become more and more
difficult to sort out. The misguided attempt to rationalize every word becomes his primary obsession. He glosses over the greatest truths to be found therein, but cannot understand what he has found. The beautiful gems are blended with the more primitive doctrines and the best that can be hoped for is rudimentary understanding.
Our loving Father in heaven has never written anything. Jesus came to reveal the Father to mankind. Through Him, we can know of God’s love and compassion for us. But Jesus left us no written accounts penned by his hand.
If it was truly God’s will that we find Him through written works, then surely his Son would have written such things. But, Jesus was careful to leave no
written works behind. Why?
There are several reasons for this, but one important reason was
that Jesus knew of man’s inclination to worship writings such as the
scriptures. Even without Jesus writing himself, humans have worshiped various scripture ever since man was able to write. Certainly Jesus knew
that this human inclination would have created a problem many times worse. By allowing humans to write such histories, He has wisely made it possible for future generations to evaluate them as such. If they are from God, then they must be perfect. If they are from man, then we must work to understand the who, what, why and how of man's writings--a most scary proposition for those who are comfortable in their crystallized dogmas.
How can we get the most out of the Bible? The first step is to put on our
“objectivity” hats. Remember that the Old Testament features stories about events that occurred many thousands of years before there could be any written record. They represent the oral histories of the Bible. As such, they represent the least reliable material to be found in the Bible. In sharp contrast, the New Testament offers us first hand accounts, much of it penned by men who knew Jesus or knew of Him. Human beings lived and worked with Jesus and their writings tell us how they viewed the Master. We can accept that these writings represent the elements of Jesus’ teachings as they were best understood by key followers of his teaching mission here on earth.
To sort out truths to be found in the Bible, we must first study Jesus’ teachings, and then apply what we have learned to assess the writings the Old Testament. Not only has our Lord selected an evolutionary plan for our world, but mankind’s understanding of God has also evolved. Primitive people often attributed things they could not understand to God’s work--and there were many, many things they did not understand. It is not difficult to see why they saw God as an angry, brutal tyrant. The Hebrew priests dutifully recorded the oral histories as they knew them, and created a timeline for historical figures of the past and events surrounding them. Isaiah brought us a revelation of a compassionate God--a God that cared about the poor and the suffering. Then, Jesus gave us His revelation of a truly loving Father in heaven. It is an inspiring and beautiful story, but we must recognize that it is man’s story--not
Always has God been a loving Father in heaven. God has not changed. It is our human viewpoints of Him that have changed. Our Father would never have ordered the murder of a man because he collected wood on the
Sabbath. If we are first willing to accept Jesus’ revelation of God, we can then sort through a number of events recorded in the Old Testament. Our loving Father in heaven would never have slaughtered every man, woman and child
in a great flood, nor would He have taken sides in a battle of conquest. How many times do the scriptures record God striking someone down? Now, ask yourself, how many times did Jesus strike down individuals who opposed
him? A recent generation asked, “What would Jesus do?” A future generation must be willing to shake off the burden of book worship and apply the same principle to the important and worthwhile study of the scriptures.
But make no mistake! God cannot be found in a book written by men. The Bible is a tool. It contains the earnest accounts and beliefs of our ancestors and as such, much may be gained through its careful study. As a whole, it presents a wonderful account of man’s evolving understanding of God. As one sifts through its passages, wondrous kernels of truth are revealed to the discerning scholar.
Consider the great advantages we hold over our ancestors. God could forgive those who would stone a man over the Sabbath because of the age in which they lived. In contrast, we live in an age of information and dramatic scientific
discovery. We have been given much, and much more is expected of us.
How does our Lord view those sincere, but misguided persons who are
snared in the worship of their Bibles? I am inclined to believe that the hosts
in heaven hold great pity for such individuals. Sincerity alone may be enough for such souls to one day reach the Father, but slow will their progress be! Our short time in the flesh on earth should be looked upon as opportunity.
Our distant ancestors had little time on their hands--they were very much
preoccupied with day to day survival. But we DO have time--time and also the precious revelation of the Father through Jesus. As the Spirit of the Son draws us to Him, we resist His pull as we cling to our religious writings and doctrines with lawyer-like tenacity. The human race has many excuses for slow spiritual progress. But are they good excuses? It is high time that the modern faithful take a hard look at their core beliefs and evaluate what it means to call oneself,“Christian”.
The mother of Zebedee’s sons came up to him accompanied by her sons, to do him homage and ask of him a favor. “What is it you want?” he said. She answered “Promise me that these sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and the other at your left, in your kingdom.” In reply Jesus said, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink of the cup I am to drink of?”
“We can,” they said. “From the cup I drink of, you shall drink. But sitting at my right hand or my left is not mine to give. That is for those to whom it has been reserved by my Father.” The other ten, on hearing this, became indignant at the two brothers.
Matthew, Chapter 20, verses 20-24.
Time and time again, Jesus sought to correct the prejudices and erroneous
beliefs of his closest followers. The New Testament is packed with instances where Jesus rebuked or admonished His closest followers as He worked tirelessly and lovingly to instruct them. The lack of perfection found in the Bible’s depictions of Jesus’ human followers is not a weakness of this recounting, but instead they collectively reflect a wonderful revelation for later generations as they study and ponder the meanings of this written record. The truth is that the human acquaintances of Jesus were very much “human”-- and were filled with the same human failings as the rest of our species. They had prejudices. They judged. They feared. They experienced jealousy. And, at times they were prone to demonstrations of selfish pride as shown in the passage above. The fact that Jesus worked closely with average people instead of selecting the highest and most advanced scholars/minds of that age supports the great truth that all humans hold equal importance. How wonderful to know that Jesus saw such potential and value in persons just like us!
In the light of these human flaws, is it wise to elevate the sayings and writings of these humans to the literal “word of God?” Even more questionable, should their sayings be equated with the teachings of Jesus? A good example of this folly is the embracing of questionable written passages that validate or advocate prejudicial conduct by religious institutions. The worship of the Apostle Paul’s letters has had unfortunate prejudicial consequences thousands of years after his death. Paul was certainly one of the most important--if not the most important of all of the apostles, and he faithfully preached Jesus’ gospel throughout his days to the best of his ability. Sometimes, however, he would be asked a question quite beyond the scope of the Master’s teachings and at such times, he would answer these questions with his own, honest opinion. Understanding the widespread prejudices that prevailed in his day, the following quotes should not be too surprising:
As in all the churches of the holy ones, women should keep silent in the churches, for they are not allowed to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. But if they want to learn anything, they should ask their husbands at home. For it is improper for a woman to speak in the
1 Corinthians, Chapter 14 verses 34-35
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.
Ephesians, Chapter 5 verses 21-24
There is no foundation whatever for these quotations in the teachings of Jesus. Paul offered his opinions as these kinds of questions arose during his ministry. He can hardly be faulted for his beliefs, especially when taking into
account the very low status of women that prevailed in his day. Certainly Paul knew that Jesus did not include these tenants in His teachings. It’s equally certain that at the time he wrote these passages, he did not believe these words were in conflict with Jesus’ teachings either. Paul was human. Despite the best of intentions, Paul’s honest attempt to fill in some of the blanks has
helped lend church-support for the social persecution of women for thousands of years.
It must be emphasized here that it is not reasonable to think that Paul
could possibly have known that humans more than 2000 years later would be
worshiping his letters. People who lived in the earliest of civilizations have sought to justify all sorts of prejudices and selfish behaviors. In Jesus' day, they found nothing to support their selfish goals in the teachings of Christ, so they looked to the words of others to find exactly what they needed to sanction their agendas. (Normally, the agenda precedes the justification) The powerful have found that religion may represent a convenient tool to manipulate the masses--a weapon of choice. But absent this weapon, these interests would have surely found other means to get what they wanted.
God loves all of His children equally, regardless of race, religion, national origin, sex or sexual orientation. He wholly desires and expects us to let go of all of our prejudices. When we look at major social achievements over the past few hundred years including the end of slavery, women’s right to vote, and the American Civil Rights Act, it is a great tragedy that so many churches failed to spearhead such important growth—indeed some even sought to work against these achievements. The biblical foundation for the modern crusade against prejudice lies in the golden rule—to love thy neighbor as thyself. This powerful teaching of Jesus alone should be more than enough to overcome resistance with the issues of prejudice in our modern day. Two prominent issues face Americans in our modern time: 1. Equal rights
for homosexuals. 2. Equal pay for equal work (for women). Where are our church leaders today? Jesus did not tolerate the prejudices of his followers and worked hard to teach the greater meanings found in the golden rule. Yet today, some seek to use His name in their fight against equality! We can see that some religious faiths are on the right side of these issues and many are not.
Those that choose to place Jesus’ teachings first have less difficulty in selecting the correct path. But the others, unable to find justification for their prejudices in Christ’s teachings, look instead to passages written by others to support their cause(s). The willingness to raise the viewpoints of others in the bible to the level of “word of God” can help to validate almost any opinion one chooses to endorse. The practice amounts to “Apostle worship”. It needs to be recognized and abandoned before churches can collectively lead a hungry population in the trying times ahead.