Sunday, April 3, 2011

When 2 + 2 in God's Word Doesn't Add Up to 4

I remember the first time I knew that I didn't know anything.

It was the fall semester of my second year of college, and I was becoming fast friends with a young man named Hunter whose depth of thought intrigued me. In hour after hour of lofty conversation between classes, I learned to think beyond the parameters of what was considered normal and, instead, to contemplate philosophies and critical theory that, frankly, made my head hurt.

At first, I listened without interruption. Then, I slowly grew more comfortable with sharing slippery ideas I wasn't sure could be pinned down. Yet, when he started questioning me seriously about my faith in God, all I could give was an "it is what it is" line of answering that didn't convince anyone, least of all me.

I just didn't have the answers to all his less-than-superficial questions. At that moment, I began to spend an hour each morning in my car, Bible and dry highlighters in hand as I sought to put flesh on my bones of belief, to find answers both for Hunter and for myself.

One tenant he proposed was that Scripture was not inerrant. By God speaking through flawed men with their own personal agenda, speaking words that were then sometimes transcribed incorrectly on the thousands of manuscripts that didn't match up perfectly...that continued to be altered via various translations from the original--well, when you took all that into account, the words I read and believed were laced with flaws and unworthy of reverence.

I only knew one verse in rebuttal: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16). Since God's character is perfect, His Word must be perfect. End of subject--right?

Wrong. If I were honest, in my heart, I also knew I had seen many places where I felt Scripture contradicted itself. And what's more, I didn't know what to do with those discrepancies...nor did I even feel that I could whisper such heresy aloud.

The Psalmist, himself, felt compelled to pen words confirming the perfection of Scripture--maybe he was a closet heretic, too, at some point in his journey to faith.

In one passage, he writes, "The words of the LORD are pure words; As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times" (Ps. 12:6). With the number seven symbolizing perfection, the Psalmist implies that Scripture is the most refined, the most perfect--to the 7th degree. There is not even a half of a half of a half of a half of a thousandth percent impurity within.

This same concept it picked up later when he says, "Your word is very pure, Therefore Your servant loves it " (Ps. 119:140).

In both passages, the word "pure" means "to refine, try, smelt, test." As Strong's Concordance says, "The believer can take comfort in the Word of God which alone on earth is tried and purified and by which we can be purified" (242).

Thus, as silver is literally purified by fire, we, too, can be spiritually purified by the purest Word of God.

BUT what about those times when we read a passage and it definitely contradicts something we've read elsewhere in Scripture. Then what?

1. Sometimes, it's all about seeing the whole and not just the part.
Scripture is much like a puzzle, with each piece perfectly fitting into another until the entire work is complete. Sometimes, though, we try to look at all four sides of a single piece without seeing where and how it fits in with the rest of the pieces.

This point was driven home about a month ago when I was studying the demise of Israel's last king--Zedekiah. One passage concerning his doom reads, " I will bring him [Zedekiah] to Babylon in the land of the Chaldeans; yet he will not see it, though he will die there" (Ez. 12:13).

Definitely sounds contradictory...until you read the entirety of Scripture and learn that when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem after the siege, they poked out Zedekiah's eyes, blinding him. Knowing this bit of history, the passage is quite accurate--he "saw," but didn't "see" Babylon.

2. Sometimes, it's all about going back to the original Hebrew or Greek.
The easiest example of this is the oldie (but goodie), "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."

I've always had a hard time rectifying how many of my peers' could espouse "belief" in God when that fact contradicted their I-don't-really-believe-in-what-God-says lifestyle. Which was true? Their words or their actions?

Then, I discovered that "believes" is not mere intellectual assent. A quick jump to my Strong's Greek Dictionary of the New Testament revealed "believe" meant something different from my Americanized definition: "Pisteuo means not just to believe, but also to be persuaded of; and hence, to place confidence in, to trust, and signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence hence it is translated 'commit unto'..." (202).

The verse made so much more sense when I replaced "believe" with this new definition, "that whoever commits unto and relies upon Him shall not perish..."

3. And sometimes, it's all about faith.
My friend Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus has what she calls a "mystery" file filled with those passages she just doesn't understand but believes anyway by faith.

For one to say he knows everything about everything in the Word is laughable. If anything, the only thing I can say is that I know more than I did yesterday and less than I will tomorrow--in other words, I know nothing about nothing.

Over time, God may reveal how those seemingly-contradictory mysteries actually interlock perfectly with the rest of His Word. Yet, others will remain shrouded from our understanding until eternity. In these times, it comes down to faith--pure and simple.

So...when you run across a verse in Scripture that seems to contradict another verse in another part of Scripture--don't just stick your head in the sand and ignore it. Don't sigh in defeat, either. Ask yourself if you're misinterpreting the part outside of the whole, if you have gone back to the original Hebrew or Greek for a definition-check, or if this is just one of those times you'll need to believe on faith.

We Christians need not be afraid our Bibles will crumble under scrutiny. The more we test it, the purer it will reveal itself to be.

Photo: Brazilian aluminum smelting in Amazon.


  1. What a lovely post, Jennifer - I've grown so much in my faith since I started applying those principles to Scripture.
    Blindly accepting someone else's interpretation of the Word, or reading it at face value and proof-texting to make it fit what we think it should, are not very effective ways of seeking Truth ;-)
    I think, too, that it's important to realize cultural implications in the text. While I believe that God's word is perfect, and applicable for all time, there are parts of it that obviously speak to cultures other than our own. Extrapolating from that what is meant for our times is, I think, important as well.
    (For example, the command is given in the OT to have a fence around one's rooftop. This had to do with keeping people safe on their version of our outdoor decks. Today, it would be more appropriate to realize that my home and grounds need to be welcoming and safe - rather than me building a fence around my pointed two-story roof where no one ever sets foot!)

  2. I love the mystery file! I like to "shelve" those times when I don't fully grasp Scripture. Trusting fully that He will bring it to life in due time, I do my best not to dwell on it. Easier said than done sometimes. But line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, He is faithful to bring it together. And YES, though I may know more than I did yesteryear, I feel much like you--I know nothing about nothing. Christ and Him crucified. This I will fall back on when Scripture seems to confound me.
    Thank you for these posts! Thought provoking!