In my last post I did a brief overview of the importance of the idea of scriptural inerrancy. Here we will look at some challenging passages and the importance of context and the type of expression or literature. While the bible is presented as a single book made up of 39 Old and 27 New Testament (NT) letters or books we have a whole range of literature in these 66 books. We have history, prophecy, poetry, and pithy teachings such as Proverbs and the parables of Jesus in the NT.
In examining the broad view, we start with a key distinction, the scriptures were written for us, not to us. While many are very applicable to our lives, they were all written to a specific audience in a specific time and place. A great example is the book of scripture that is arguably the most confusing, Revelation. It is actually referred to in the first four words as “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” It is both revelation from Jesus and in the end revelation about Jesus. Yet it was addressed to seven specific churches in then Asia Minor, modern Turkey.
Now, we will take a look at some of the difficult statements in scripture.
27 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. Matthew 5:27–30 (NKJV)
8 “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire. Matthew 18:8–9 (NKJV)
20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” 28 So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. Matthew 19:20–29 (NKJV)
In the passages above, the context is first lust in Matthew 5, then causing the immature to stumble in Matthew 18. In both cases Jesus refers to cutting off our hand or plucking out our eye. These are great examples of hyperbole, using exaggeration to make a point. Jesus is in essence saying that we need to aggressively deal with sin when it rises up in our lives. If looking is leading to lust, don’t look, in essence, ‘pluck out your eye.’ If your behaviour is leading to sin, ‘cut off your hand or foot.’ Don’t allow your actions to lead to sin. Jesus primary point – deal with the issue!
In the Matthew 19 passage we have what is referred to as the story of the ‘rich young ruler.’ The man comes to Jesus already seeking to live by the standards of the law but sensing a lack in his life. Jesus puts his finger on the man’s issue, his trust and confidence in his money, things, rather than Jesus. Jesus cuts to the heart of the issue and tells him to sell the things he trusts in and to instead trust and follow Jesus. The disciples are astonished about Jesus subsequent comments regarding the difficulty of trusting riches and how doing that is in conflict with trusting Jesus.
In the eye and hand comments we have statements that are applicable to all of us in how we deal with temptation. In the issue of trusting riches, we have a principle that applies to all of us, trust Jesus not other things, but a command that was directed to an individual. Jesus was not telling all people for all time that the only way to salvation was to sell all they owned and give it to the poor. After all, if we look at who has funded mission work over the years it is generally people who have money.
Now let us turn to the great commission in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus’ command to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:18–20 (NKJV)
This command was spoken to a specific group, the remaining eleven apostles after the defection of Judas. Yet, clearly the eleven of them were not going to be able to go into the entire world with the gospel. Thus, it was spoken to them but written for us, and given the broad nature of Jesus command, applies to us as while. Matthew wrote it so we would know the task appointed to all followers of Jesus.
In looking at scripture, as a general practice we should look at who it was written to and whether it is straightforward prose, a parable, poetry or history. We then need to look at how it applies to our lives in our time and culture. The prohibitions against sin apply to all of us always, some commands however, like dietary laws apply to Israel not everyone. Specific commands have a context but the Holy Spirit may quicken to our hearts a passage like the story of the rich young ruler and direct us to sell our earthly possessions. Here we need to know how to discern His voice. In the next post we will look at individual and corporate discernment in relation to Faith and Action.