Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Revelation in the Text

God's revelation to us is the text of Scripture. While the events described in Scripture may have constituted God's revelation to the people who experienced them, those events are not Scripture. We need to be careful to draw our theology and lessons for godly living from the words of the Bible, not from our attempts to reconstruct the events the Bible talks about.

Example: In the garden of Eden God told Adam and Eve (and the serpent) that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent's head. This was a revelation to them about God's character and plan. It was not a revelation to Cain and Abel (or to us), because they (and we) weren't there to hear it. Adam and Eve may have recounted the story of what God said to their children and grandchildren. That story may have been retold many times through the generations--with greater or lesser accuracy. None of those tellings can be considered "The Word of God." They would be, at best, a version of the story of the event which was a revelation to Adam and Eve.

However, when the Spirit of God inspired Moses in the writing of Genesis, the written text of Moses became God's official, inerrant version of the event and the official Torah (instruction) from God to all readers. It was from that moment on "The Word of God." God revealed to us all that He thought important for us to know about the event and all that we need to know to understand God and to live godly lives (when combined with all other inspired Scripture, of course). Later, Isaiah, Paul, and John wrote additional Scriptures about the event in the garden. As these were written, they increased the amount of revelation from God about believers' appropriate faith and practice.

Archaeological findings, noninspired texts from the ancient near east, and lucky guesses about these events might confirm the accuracy of the Biblical account. They also might help us to reconstruct details about the events that are omitted from the Bible. But, neither these extraBiblical sources nor the reconstructed stories they lead to are God's revelation to us. It is dangerous to build our understanding of God (or our ideas of how God wants us to live) on details the Spirit-guided authors of Scripture did not give us. Also, we should not base our theology or practice on interpretations of details they did not give us.

Occasionally it is legitimate to supply some “Bible Background” material, due to losses in translation. We lose some understanding of the text by going from one language to another, such as nuances of definition and sentence structure. We also lose something by going from one era to another (Iron Age to Space Age, for example), such as the historical and geographical realities that would have been immediately known by the original readers. We also lose something by going from one culture to another (agrarian to urban, for example), such as understanding how food was prepared or how families operated.

The supply of this missing information may be necessary, but it is risky, because it is an opportunity to distort the text's meaning by adding details that the author chose to omit. How sure can we be that the background information we give helps to clarify, rather than changes the meaning or emphasis?

Because God speaks to us through the words and sentences of the Bible, it is important to read with our eyes open.

Sunday, May 29, 2005


Who Made Fun of Noah?

An important part of most sermons and Sunday School lessons about Noah and the flood is the account of how Noah's neighbors ridiculed him for building a boat in the middle of dry land. Or, they made fun of him for preaching that God would send a flood of water to drown everyone. Everyone knew, the story goes, that it had never rained so much as a drop. The idea was preposterous and people let Noah know it. But, according to the sermonic point, Noah believed God and continued building the ark, to the salvation of his family and all the animals.

Only one problem: the Bible nowhere mentions that people made fun of Noah. If we read Genesis 6-9 with our eyes open, we will notice that there is no hint of ridicule or mocking of Noah's plan. True, there is no indication that others accepted the fact of their danger and sought to be saved along with Noah's family. But, in their fatal unbelief they did not persecute him with laughter or name-calling. Several other Scripture writers mention Noah and the flood, but none of them talks about mockery or making fun of Noah, either.

Someone replies, "Well, maybe not, but isn't it just human nature to ridicule what we do not believe? Even if the Bible doesn't say they did it, can't we assume that they did?"

My answer: "Let's put what the Bible teaches in one category and our speculations about events in another." What Moses wrote down in Genesis may not be all the details that actually happened, but it is all the details God thought were important for the teaching He was giving through the Scripture. God guided the Biblical authors in the selection of details to include as well as in the instruction built into the stories.

When we add from our own imagination any details God did not include, we are not reading with our eyes open. Especially when the teaching point we draw from the story comes from the details we have added, our teaching is something other than what God is saying.

The Apostle Peter refers to the flood in 2 Peter 3:5-6 as a reminder that God has judged the world suddenly in the past by breaking the normal rules of nature. And, his point is, God will do it again. This reference is in the context of predicting that a later generation of unbelievers will scoff at the notion of Christ's return. It would have been helpful to Peter's argument here, if he could have mentioned that people in Noah's day also scoffed and ridiculed. The argument from silence here is strong, meaning that the Bible is not only silent on the suggested ridicule but also favors the conclusion that people did not ridicule Noah's faith.

Let's read with our eyes open.

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