“Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matt 22:29).Why does it matter what we believe about the Bible? It matters because the scriptures are how God communicates his nature and his will to us, so wrong attitudes toward the Bible affect how we live. Here are some of the common errors and the results they tend to have.
Some people almost make the Bible a deity. Besides the offense to God this represents, these people also tend to read the Bible hyper-literally, not believing that there is symbolism in the Bible that is not supposed to be taken at face-value. They tend to accomplish this feat via amazing leaps of illogic that cannot be sustained by any but the most committed. This creates a “faith” that cannot survive the real world, creating a lot of “ex-Christians”.
Naturalism/Just the words of men
These people don’t believe in the inspiration of scripture. There are people who would call themselves Christians who do not believe divine inspiration is possible. Still more would say, even if it’s possible, it didn’t happen. To them the Bible is just a book written by men, some wiser than others. When inerrancy and inspiration are lost, people pick and choose what parts of the scriptures they will believe. This part seems mean, so we’re not going to believe that. This part is hard, so it’s out. You very quickly get a religion that is Christianity in name only. The deity and physical resurrection of Christ have historically been early casualties of these processes. Sin gets watered down until basically anything goes so long as you’re “nice”, so you don’t need an atoning death of Christ, which is good because that was mean anyway. No sin means no hell so no evangelism, so the lost do not hear the gospel.
Gnosticism (New Age)
These people don’t believe in the sufficiency of scripture. Ancient Gnostics were looking for secret knowledge from or about God. Modern Gnostics, though they don’t go by the same name, are basically doing the same thing. Christianity’s nice, but the Bible doesn’t have everything we need to know about God; we have to search out the secrets the other religions have discovered. Besides the fact that the other religions (especially the Far Eastern ones) have vastly different conceptions of God than we do, opening yourself to other religions leads to an “all roads lead to Rome” approach. Moral relativism soon follows. Things are added to their faith that run completely contrary to the revealed truth of God.
These people don’t believe in the clarity of scripture. Bible code hunters, like Gnostics, are looking for secret knowledge, but they’re looking for it in the Bible. They think there are secret messages that can be found by reading every eighth character of the text or some such. The truth is that you can find these “codes” in just about any text of sufficient length. It’s just random chance. But their error leads them to believe that they have truths that Christians in the past were not privy to. And they tend to believe some pretty weird things, almost invariably about the end times.
These people also effectively deny the inspiration of scripture, but in a different way than those above. They want to create a “canon within the canon” where the words of Jesus carry more weight than the words of the apostles. “Wait, what’s wrong with that?” It’s two-fold. First, the same Spirit by which Jesus spoke inspired the prophets and the apostles. If there appears to be conflict between them, the fault lies in our flawed interpretation.
Second, we do not have anything written by Jesus. We have the things the apostles transmitted to us as they tried to teach the lessons their intended audiences needed to learn. We must not think that we have some kind of direct link to him. One of the fundamental concepts of Bible interpretation is that the more didactic portions should interpret the narratives. In this case, the epistles explain the gospels. We cannot understand what the gospels writers meant to say independent of the epistles.
These folks often mean well. They generally are trying to push the Church to be more outward focused, more charitable. But experience has taught us that this is usually accompanied by being less gospel focused. We quickly lose sight of the mission of the Church. Sometimes, though, these people are trying to excuse moral issues that are not directly addressed in the gospels but that are addressed in the epistles.
If we’re going to live in a way that pleases God, we have to keep the word of God in its proper place, neither elevating it to godhood nor picking and choosing the parts we want to follow. We have what the Lord wants us to have in order to know him and to please him.
Image credit: "Bible code" by Cmglee, used under Creative Commons
Part of Christianity 101