Friday, November 2, 2012


My Sunday school class has been studying the book of Ecclesiastes.  As we work our way through the book, every now and then some astute (and bold) class member will note that the things said in the book often appear contradictory – not only with other Scripture, but also within the book itself.  When such a comment was made this past Sunday, I replied that not everything in the Bible is true.  This caused many eyes to open wide and a few looks of despair to appear.

Though my attempts at explanation seemed to satisfy some, I suspect that a number were left confused.  And, of course, more questions were raised.  Now I usually don’t mind leaving people with a few unanswered questions, but I feel their questions demand answers.   So please let me explain.
·        “All Scripture is,” as Paul says, “God-breathed …” (2 Timothy 3:16).  I was not attempting to deny this truth.  The doctrine of the inspiration and authority of the Scripture is foundational to all we believe.

·        The Bible, as an inspired book, records truthfully, even when it records untrue statements.  For instance, the third chapter of Genesis records the Serpent’s claims to the woman, “You will not certainly die, because God knows that in the day you eat from it (the forbidden  tree) your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4, 5).  Though recorded accurately, this is a bald-faced lie!
·        The Bible also truthfully by inspiration records uninspired dialogs and conversations.  The greater part of the book of Job is filled with philosophical arguments and meanderings of five fallen men as they argue and contradict one another.  Though there is much truth spoken, it takes discernment to sort it out.  It is not till we reach the final chapters that we are given, “Thus saith the LORD.”
·        Even the clear commands and promises given are often given to particular people at particular periods of history and should not be taken as having universal application.  (See:  THE PROMISE.)
·        Many of the prophecies – promises and threats recorded are in some ways conditional, and at times the conditions are not recorded, though they may be inferred.  For instance, Jonah’s proclamation, “Forty days hence Nineveh will be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4), did not come to pass, apparently because the people of Nineveh repented.  (This really ticked Jonah off – 4:1ff.)
·        The Bible is not one book.  It is a library consisting of sixty-six volumes of various genres:  history/biography, poetry, prophecy, philosophy, didactic/instructional.  And many of these genres overlap.  The truths presented in these genres differ.  The book of Proverbs, for instance, presents general truths which are not necessarily true in every instance.  The “train up a child” proverb (22:6) has caused much grief for parents for whom it has not come true, even when it seems that conditions have been met.
·        There are places even in authorative instructional materials where the author gives his opinion, which while inspired is not necessarily authorative.  Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 distinguishes three different sources for his instructions.
(1)   The Lord’s (Jesus’) authoritative command, “… I give instruction – not I but the Lord” (verse 10).
(2)   His own authoritative command, “Now to the rest I say, not the Lord …” (verse 12).
(3)   Opinion or advice, “… I don’t have a commandment from the Lord, but I give advice …” (verse 25); “Now I say this as a concession, not as a commandment” (verse 6).

Usually when it is mere opinion, the author makes that clear.

All of the above is not given to cause confusion or cast doubt on the inspiration, truthfulness or authority of Scripture.  It is given to clarify by showing us that we must interpret Scripture correctly.

I believe that there are two dangers to be avoided.  (I’ve seen both of these extremes used many times on college term papers.)
·        We must be careful not to use the Bible as a book of verses, to be pulled out of context in order to make a point.
·        We must also be careful of the opposite extreme, of regarding a passage as of dubious authority because of its context.  (“Oh that passage wasn’t meant for me!”)


Sherry said...

I totally understand what you’re saying about some things being truthful recordings of inaccurate statements made by fallen men.

There are also poetry & hyperbole & metaphors that are not literally true. (Afterall, Solomon's bride did not really have a mouth full of sheep!!)

Then there are the parables - we don't know if the stories are true or if they were existing urban legends or what. But we know that Jesus was relaying a truthful message thru the illustration.
And I think all of the above are clear in the context.

This also goes along with your earlier post about not every promise being for every reader or even every Christian.

DennyI said...

As you both have said, the Bible is composed of stories, documentaries, poetry, and essays. One must read with an understanding of those genres. It is not meant to be pulled apart into phrases that prove a particular point or justify a particular action. An excellent book on the subject is "How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth" by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart.