Number 36. The Word of G-d
Arye Powlison


"The Word of G-d is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. " (Heb 4:12)

There is a host of people in the Christian world who have focused on the Scriptures as though they were the source of their life. "In them you think you have eternal life." (John 5:39). Eternal life does not come from searching the Scriptures; it comes from knowing the only true G-d, and the Messiah Yeshua whom He sent (John 17:3).


The Scriptures point us to the Lord; they are not a substitute for Him. Those who know the truth do not know it by memorizing Scripture verses - they know it because they have their spiritual eyes opened, and they know and recognize the Author's voice, and they are following Him. Prove your doctrines by quoting Scripture verses, but I will prove mine by the lives of those who listen to me in the Spirit.

By failing to recognize the Word of G-d as living and active, many have come to focus on the word written on paper as though these were the true and complete revelation from G-d for us. Satisfied that they do not have to look anywhere else for the truth, they then limit G-d's Word to the translated text which they are using. They become like the scribes, who in Yeshua's day were more interested in their own influence as propagators of the Scriptures, than in true repentance and knowing G-d.

These are hard words, but they are true. The less they know the living and active Word of G-d, the more they must rely on text, and on an intellectual integration of the text into their lives. They hold in their hands an image of the Word of G-d, a snapshot of His activity as recorded by the prophets and apostles, and are giving more honour to the image than to the One whose image is contained there.

Why are they so concerned about the inerrancy of Scripture? It is the living Word of G-d who is without sin, without error. Do you know Him? If you do, you may rely on Him as your leader, Teacher, Rabbi and Lord. If you do not, using verses of Scripture properly will not help you.

In fact, Yeshua used the Scriptures more powerfully and accurately than those who thought themselves qualified by years of study to pronounce authoritatively on what they meant. Intellectual preparation based on a study of the text of the Scriptures does not produce the life of G-d. A Bible school certificate is no indicator of whether the bearer walks with G-d.

The Inerrancy, Sufficiency and Authority of G-dís Word

Those who focus much on text also lay down the strictest rules about what you should believe about the text to be doctrinally "safe". Instead of looking for the fruit of the Spirit, they check the doctrinal accuracy of the preacher's words. They forget, in this well-meaning zeal for the Lord's truth, that it was those who knew the rules best who failed to see that Yeshua was Messiah. G-d has determined in His wisdom that it is not through wisdom that one comes to know Him (1 Cor. 1:18-25).

Therefore, we have to be very careful in our zeal for the Scriptures that we do allow them to eclipse the life and power of a true walk into the Word of G-d. There are three common doctrines about Scripture which are often used in a way which distorts the truth about the Word of G-d. These are the doctrines of the inerrancy, sufficiency and authority of the Scriptures. We will now look at these one at a time, and try to understand the destruction in the Body of the Lord which their misuse has produced.

Inerrancy

Although most Bible teachers have abandoned the idea that the "textus receptus" handed us by the Catholic Church is the inerrant Word of G-d, it has been replaced by a doctrine which, since it is more subtle, can be even more destructive of a person's walk with the Lord. The doctrine of inerrancy most frequently taught in Protestant seminaries and churches today is that the Scriptures "in their original autographs" were without error.

This doctrinal formulation has resulted in a great deal of research into the textual variations between different manuscripts of the Scriptures in order to arrive as close as possible to the original Greek text that was written by the apostles. A parallel process occurred among the Jewish Masorites of the ninth and tenth centuries to arrive at an agreed Hebrew text.

This Hebrew text of the Law and the Prophets is known as the Masoretic Text, and is usually the basis for translation of the books belonging to the "Old Testament". The Greek usually used is the current edition of the Nestle-Aland Institute for the New Testament Textual Research in Germany. Of course, these texts are not understandable to most believers today, and must be translated by scholars of varying backgrounds before they are usable.

There are therefore two layers of interpretation already included in the "Scriptures" read by you and me: that of the textual critics who had to decide which manuscripts most faithfully preserved the original text written by the prophet or apostle; and the interpretation of the translator or translation team who provided us with the version which we are using. Anyone familiar with the technical problems en-countered in both textual criticism and in translation knows that these processes have not themselves been inspired by G-d's Spirit in such a way as to reproduce "the original autograph" for us.

Inerrancy is therefore a doctrine which cannot be tested; it must be accepted or rejected as a theory, based on a person's perception of the process of inspiration which produced the writing of the Scriptures. Unless some person were to claim to have written Scripture, there is no testimony available about this process except for what is recorded in the Scriptures themselves.

Therefore if a person claims to have found an error in Scripture, inerrancy as it is usually taught allows us to blame either the scribes who copied the manuscripts, or the text editors, or the translators, but not the author who was originally inspired. While this may seem like a safe approach to most Bible scholars, it does not allow us to determine what in fact was written by the inspired author. We are never quite sure that the understanding we have is what was originally intended by the Holy Spirit, or by the inspired author.

A partial solution is to become proficient enough in the original languages so that we can study directly from the text being used by the translators. Since both Hebrew and Greek have changed since the Scriptures were written, even this has its difficulties. The usual claim is that since differences between the translations are minor, this is not really necessary. We therefore study the Scriptures in English (or our. own mother tongue), and though we know there are minor problems, we consider that we are close enough to the inerrant original that we can be confident of what we are learning.

This whole approach begins to founder when we compare it with what the Word of G-d says of itself. Yeshua, for example, taught that every stroke of a letter of the Law of Moses was stronger than creation (Luke 16:17), and that His own words were as well (Luke 21:33). How can we understand this? If we try to apply it to the text, we know that changes have indeed been made in the text, even though the creation itself is still intact. Both the Masoretic Hebrew text and Nestle's Greek text bear witness to the changes which have occurred, not just in letters, but in words and even in sentences.

Inerrancy as taught by Yeshua is even stronger than what is taught today, because it makes the Word of G-d more lasting and powerful than creation. But we plainly see that in regard to the written text, this has not been true. We cannot claim that these words of His were not in the original gospel without making the Scriptures unusable. We must therefore conclude that Yeshua was not speaking of the written text. If He were, the original autographs would still have to exist intact.

But if He was not referring to the written text, then to what? And what is the damage that has been caused by claims that He referred to the original autographs? Yeshua was referring, as He often did, not to physical realities, which are weak and temporary, but to spiritual realities, which are eternal. The Law which Moses passed along to us as a faithful witness (Heb 3:5-6) did not originate with Moses; it was transmitted to him by angels from the same spiritual world in which the heavenly tabernacle exists (Acts 7:53; Heb 9:23-24).

Likewise, the words which Yeshua spoke were not originating in Him; they came from His Father in heaven (John 14:10,24). The spiritual world from which the Scriptures came is more real than the copies and images of it which make up this creation, including the copies we have of the Scriptures.

Inerrancy is true of the Eternal Word of G-d. Men who sin transmit pieces of that Eternal Word which contain errors. The unprovable thesis that the prophets and apostles themselves wrote it down error-free, moves our focus from the unchangeable spiritual reality to this world of corruption and error. It makes the Word of G-d into something which, in its original purity, has been removed by history from our reach.

Since we admit that the prophets and apostles were not without sin, there is no real need to claim that they wrote without error. Even if we claim that they did, this does not produce for us error-free Scriptures. On the other hand, if we understand that they were copying from the living and powerful Word of G-d, to which we also have access in the Spirit, we have not lost the error-free Word of G-d.

We have access to the Word which is more faithful than if we had to depend on a text which has already been interpreted for us by others who misunderstand and misinterpret. Moreover, our walk with G-d is not a relationship to a Book, but to a Person. The degree of error I have in myself is dependent on my closeness to Him, not on my closeness to the original autograph. My union with Him will purify me much more surely than my intellectual capacity to digest and integrate the written text.

Sufficiency

The teacher who would limit my access to the Word of G-d by limiting my experience of Him to the words of the Scriptures, is like a person who would limit my relationship with my wife to viewing the photograph of her which I have in my wallet. As true as the photograph is, it shows what at certain time was the fleshly envelope of the person who is my wife. If I am separated from her, it can help me remember her, but I remember a living being, not an immobile image.

The Scriptures are not sufficient for a relationship with the living G-d. Neither can any finite collection of words contain all the truth about an infinite Person. For me to say otherwise is like saying that the photograph is all that I can really know about my wife. No-one who only ever looked at the picture of another person can claim to know that person. So also no-one who only ever read what Scripture has to say about G-d can claim to know Him. On the other hand, anyone who knows a person will recognize a picture of him as either real or a fake. Just so, a person who knows G-d will recognize Him as the G-d who speaks in the Scriptures.

Therefore any claim of "sufficiency" for the Scriptures which makes it the complete truth of G-d can only be made by people who do not know Him in a living, active way. They have made a false god out of the Bible by limiting G-d to a few of His actions partly described, and to the truths about Him which have been written there. They have put Him in a finite box, and worship Him there. This is surely a form of idolatry.

Authority

A third problematic teaching regarding the inspiration of Scripture has to do with its authority. What is normally meant by this is that Scripture as G-d's word to us carries G-d's own authority, and justly requires our obedience, just as if He were speaking to us directly. "Surely", you might say, "there can be no problem with requiring obedience!" But there can be, and it currently takes two forms. One is to say that visible obedience is a condition for understanding the truth of G-d (derived from John 8:31-32). Another is to say that disobedience in one area is sufficient reason to discredit doctrine in another area. Let's take a look at both of these, and at the results of how they are currently being taught in the churches who misuse them.

To say that our understanding of truth is limited by our disobedience is fair enough. G-d indeed hardens and blinds those who have made up their minds to disobey. But to teach that the kind of obedience which can be put on through self-discipline in the flesh, will produce in us a better understanding of G-d's truth, is to teach that by works' righteousness we can draw near to G-d. This is Pharisaism, pure and simple. Someone who appears to be obeying is therefore credited with being close to G-d, and someone who is obviously disobedient is far from G-d. Remember Yeshua's example of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:10).

This is not to say that it is wrong to fault the disobedient. But when lack of visible disobedience becomes a proof of correct doctrine, we have produced a framework in which deceivers can and will operate, especially to prevent the reform of corrupt leadership. In such systems, spiritual discernment is ignored in favour of "objective criteria of obedience". Those who have discerned hidden problems in their leaders can be accused of rebellion and insubordination, which becomes sufficient proof of their lack of spiritual discernment. This was one of the ways in which the scribes and Pharisees tried to discredit Yeshua.

Apparent conformity to a moral framework cannot replace spiritual discernment as a measure of spiritual fitness. Those who have no true spiritual discernment, for whatever reason, will always require moral conformity simply because they have no other tools to measure with. Because they are blind, they are therefore open to being led by others who are blind, or even imposters. The new birth, and the spiritual vision which comes with it, are to enable us to discern where the true kingdom of G-d is operating (John 3:3).

Unfortunately, excessive reliance on the text of Scripture is often a sign of the lack of true spiritual sight. Since the person is very weak in the authority which comes from knowing the Lord, he must rely on a mental knowledge of the Scriptures instead. Someone who is used to walking with the Lord will spot this kind of shallowness very quickly. It is characterised by a great emphasis on the authority of Scripture, and a corresponding neglect of the authority and power of the Spirit.

Guilt by Association

Another abuse which can cause eyen more damage in the Lord's Body is to use a provable fault in one area to disprove doctrine in another. This is a simple variation on the age-old debating method of guilt by association. It goes like this: if there is a doctrine you dislike, but you cannot disprove it directly from Scripture, find a sect or a false religion that teaches it, and then tie its falsehoods to the doctrine in question. Your audience will then readily agree with you that such a doctrine is unthinkable.

"Wait," you might say, "this is nothing to do with the authority of Scripture." Oh, but it has, on the negative side. You see, the person or teacher who uses this method is using a known fault, backed up by Scripture, in an obviously heretical group, and is pairing it with a teaching which may not be heretical at all. In so doing he is using a known falsehood to render undesirable a teaching which he is unable or unwilling to address on its own merits.

He implies, without saying so directly, that the authority of Scripture which so obviously is at variance with that group's heresy, must naturally be opposed to everything else that they teach as well, including the doctrine in question. By presenting himself in a powerful way as a defender of Scriptural truth, he then leads his hearers to trust his judgment without reasoned explanation. To object would make it appear that one was defending the heretics. This is a kind of spiritual demagoguery in which a displayed zeal for truth of Scripture is used to mask ignorance, laziness, or false and self-serving doctrines.

Since it is much easier to convince people to maintain the status quo than to change, this method can work very well to defend an entrenched power elite or an existing doctrinal framework when they are challenged by different ideas or methods. The believer in the pew is convinced that he is properly submitting to known Scriptural truths.

In order to maintain the usefulness of the method, the teacher or minister must constantly emphasize his wholehearted defense of the Scriptures against various kinds of heretical incursions. His congregation gradually comes to believe that the preservation of Scriptural truth is more important than going deeper into G-d. They come to focus on attacking heresy more than on preaching the truth. Ultimately, almost everyone not in their closest circle of supporters will be suspected of heresies of various kinds.

The body has then ceased to be built up, and begins to destroy itself. Anyone not conforming to the desires of the leadership is branded with some form of heresy or sin. The focus of the congregation ceases to be mutual edification, and becomes mutual suspicion. The proof of faithfulness to G-d becomes faithfulness to the leadership. Love is replaced by submission. Joy in the Lord vanishes, and is replaced by loyal support of the congregation and its leaders against its detractors. As spiritual fruit disappears, it is replaced by faithfulness to "Scriptural truth".

True Authority in the Word of God

The point is this: when the "authority of Scripture" becomes a tool to keep the congregation in line, the body ceases to be shepherded, and starts being herded. True authority in the Lord is not wielded through correct doctrines, but rather is founded upon love and self sacrifice of the shepherd who lays down his life for the sake of his sheep.

If you are in the position of wondering how true or dependable Scripture is, it is because you do not know your Lord as well as you should. If you did, you would be spending your time exploring the wonders of Himself, to which the Scriptures are only an introduction. If you have read the Book, maybe it is time for you to "see the movie"; or rather, to go there yourself. He is waiting for you.

(Republished from Tishrei Vol 2 No 3, Spring 1994, The Nature of Scripture)