I recently had a troubling Facebook conversation with two brothers who I have come to respect. The conversation basically centered around the idea of using the commentaries of other people to lead Bible study. The basic issue seemed to be split between the notion of plagiarism and the notion that, if a person is wrong on any single point in their understanding, then everything they understand should be held suspect and — therefore — ignored. There was also something about rejecting the ‘opinion’ of those who have any formal schooling in Scripture studies in favor of the ‘conclusions’ drawn by those who rely on the Holy Spirit to tell them what the Scriptures mean. I know these two brothers mean well, and their heart is in the correct place, but there was so much wrong in this conversation that troubled me. It still does…
In the coarse of the exchange, several people commented that they rely on sources such as concordances to help them with their study of the Scriptures. One of the brothers in question (the one who started the Facebook post) agreed with this, but rejected any commentaries from other people because of the risk they might be wrong about one point and, therefore, wrong on all points. According to this brother, it is best to just study Scripture on our own and trust the Holy Spirit to explain it to us. OK, I understand the thinking, but here is why I am unsettled with this assertion:
Even if all we use is a concordance, it is the work of Man, not Scripture. If the claim is that we cannot trust the work of Men for fear that one mistake will undermine the whole of their teaching, then we cannot trust any concordance. In fact, we cannot trust Scripture, itself. After all, Scripture is the work of Man. When I pointed this out, the brother who started the Facebook thread replied by telling me that the men who wrote the Bible were ‘Spirit filled,’ and — therefore — the Bible is the only thing we can trust. Once again, this left me unsettled.
According to this way of viewing the work of the Holy Spirit, the only Scripture we can trust is that first copy that was written by the hand of the prophet, himself. Every copy after that would be — technically — a work of Man and — according to this brother’s claim — not to be trusted. This means believers cannot trust anything, as there are no surviving copies of the original Scriptures as written by the hands of the original prophets. Luckily, I do not believe this is how the Spirit works. I think the Father works in our lives from birth and, for those who He chooses to use to write His Words, the Father shapes them and their understanding of His Ways in such a manner that, when the time comes, the Spirit and the prophet work together to record YHWH’s Word. Put another way, the Spirit does not take over the prophets mind and body and write the Scriptures for the prophet; the Holy Spirit works with and through the prophet and together they write the Scriptures. If this were not the case, then every book of the Bible would read as though it were written by the exact same person, using the same word choices, literary technique, sayings, phrases, etc.. But this is not what we find in Scripture. Instead, we find a variance in all these things, sometimes within a single book, itself. All this indicates that there were different authors and even scribes who later edited what the original authors wrote (and yes, Scripture has been edited over time). Yet, in each case, the Scripture remains on point and error free. This is because the original Author is YHWH, and His Holy Spirit worked with and through the prophets and scribes to faithfully record what the Father wanted written. This produced one coherent message with many different flavors in how it was written.
In truth, this is the only way we could possibly have any faith that the Scriptures have been faithfully preserved: the Holy Spirit worked through the scribes to edit and update the Word, and then through others to assemble and preserve the books YHWH wanted preserved and discarding those He did not. Any other view of how the Spirit works in relation to the writing and preserving of Scripture not only places limits on how the Holy Spirit can work (limits created and placed by us!), but it also creates serious trouble for the reliability of Scripture. This is a position I simply cannot and will not accept.
This then leads to another problem with my friend’s assertion. If the only ‘Spirit-filled’ people who can be trusted were the original prophets who wrote the original copies of Scripture, then what does this imply for anyone else who has claimed to have been filled by the Holy Spirit since? If we think about it, my friend is saying no one has been filled by the Holy Spirit since the last Apostle died. The problems with this implication are two-fold and very serious. First, the Scriptures clearly tell us that others have been filled by the holy Spirit; and by ‘others,’ we mean believers who were not prophets, scribes or Apostles. If we accept what my friend asserts, we could not trust their word about Scripture because they were not ‘Spirit-filled’ in the way my friend has said is the only reliable way to be ‘Spirit-filled.’ Not only does this contradict the clear teaching of Scripture, but it come perilously close to claiming the seat of YHWH!
The next problem this way of thinking would create is that, if we are no longer ‘Spirit-filled’ in a way that can be trusted, then how — exactly — can we trust the ‘Spirit’ to teach us the proper understanding of the Scriptures? The answer is, either we cannot, or my friend is wrong about his assertions. Do you see the trap my brother laid for himself? By rejecting anything others have to say about the Scriptures unless it came directly from one of the original prophets or Apostles because he cannot trust it because only the original authors were properly filled by the Holy Spirit, my brother has removes any hope that the Spirit can be trusted to guide his individual study of the Scriptures. In other words, my friend has argued himself into a corner where he cannot trust anything to help him understand YHWH’s Word — not even the holy Spirit!
I tried to gently show my brother the error he was making, but, apparently, I failed. My friend still clings tightly to his position, and he does so with absolute certainty that he is correct. In his mind, he is not only correct, but all other positions are wrong. The sad part — at least as I see it — is that Scripture seems to testify against his position:
Proverbs 11:14 New American Standard Bible
14 Where there is no guidance the people fall,
But in an abundance of counselors there is victory.Hosea 4:6 New American Standard Bible
6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.
Since you have rejected knowledge,
I also will reject you from being My priest.
Since you have forgotten the Law of your God,
I also will forget your children.
These two passages certainly seem to teach that the opinions of others can and often are valuable to us. And, lest anyone think that the Lord intends for us to find knowledge and be counciled through individual study alone, there is this passage:
Acts 8:26-40 New American Standard Bible
26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Get ready and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) 27 So he got ready and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” 30 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this:
“He was led like a sheep to slaughter;
And like a lamb that is silent before its shearer,
So He does not open His mouth.
33 In humiliation His justice was taken away;
Who will describe His generation?
For His life is taken away from the earth.”
34 The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself, or of someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.
I suppose the brother who started this Facebook thread might tell me that, as an Apostle, Philip was authorized to teach because he was properly filled by the Holy Spirit. But none of us today are so filled, so our words cannot be trusted. The only problem with that is — aside from the fact that teaching is one of the gifts of the Spirit — when the last prophet died, so did the Word of YHWH! So, again, I simply cannot agree with the assertions of the brother who started the Facebook thread.
Then another brother joined the discussion in support of the one who started the thread. This new brother argued that we should not accept anything that comes from people who make their living as preachers, or who have had formal seminary schooling. According to the new brother, these people consider themselves to be ‘experts,’ and the ‘opinion’ of experts has greatly harmed the Church. Therefore, according to this new brother’s thinking, we should only trust the considered ‘conclusions’ that come as a result of self-study, and even then, only after these ‘conclusions’ have been reached by considering all available information. Confusingly, this includes the ‘conclusions’ of people such as myself, but apparently, not the ‘opinions’ of people such as Billy Graham. Now, I have known this new brother for some time, and I count this new brother a good friend and dear brother in Yeshua. That said, I cannot agree with him, either.
First, 1 Cor 12:7 reads to me as saying ‘The Spirit is given to each individual according to the Father’s Will, and for the benefit of the body as a whole.’ To put this another way, ‘To each is given a little.’ Well, the only way to get the whole is to gather together and share our pieces. The brother who started the thread would say we cannot do this for fear that some will not have all the pieces perfectly correct. The new brother entering the conversation would say that we can consider the pieces offered by those who study on their own, but we should not consider any pieces offered by ‘professionals’ or ‘experts.’ To each of them, I would respond:
It is lucky the Apostles understood so perfectly that Yeshua never had to rebuke them for their misunderstanding; and that we can now dismiss anything and everything the likes of Billy Graham, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, Polycarp, or any other revered theologian ever had to say. Hopefully, I do not have to point out the obvious break with sound Scriptural understanding these last two statements represent. Scripture teaches that we are a Body, and that each of us has a part to play in the greater good of that Body. Dismissing anything because it comes from a person, or a person we look down at because we think they think they are ‘experts’ is in contradiction with this clear Scriptural teaching. What’s more, it is presuming that we know better than the Holy Spirit what others should and should not be sharing with the rest of the Body. Personally, others may feel justified to do so, but this is ground I will not tread. Rather, I will follow Scripture and listen to anyone and everyone, then I will take what they are teaching and test it against Scripture. If and when I think it will help, I will ask others to help me in testing these teachings, as there is good council in the opinion of many — especially when the ‘many’ are sincere believers. In this way, we can sort the wheat from the chaff without limiting the work of the holy Spirit.
There is one more reason I cannot stand with either of my two friends: it is because, in making their claims, they are both acting like hypocrites (which is the yeast of the Pharisees). If he truly believed what he argues, the friend who started the thread would have never posted it in the first place. He would not have posted it because he would have known nothing he says can be trusted, so he would not risk leading others astray by offering his untrustworthy opinion. And the new friend who entered the discussion to support the one who started the thread would not argue that we should not trust the opinions of ‘experts’ because he would realize that, by deciding who is and is not an ‘expert,’ he is acting as a ‘expert,’ himself. Therefore, the new friend would know that his ‘opinions’ should not be trusted anymore than any other expert’s ‘opinion,’ and he would never have joined the discussion for fear of leading others astray. But neither brother saw this, and I could not make them understand that — in both cases — they were actually arguing that their opinion and their opinion alone is the correct one. Put simply, they were asking others to do the very thing they were insisting we should not do: trust the teaching of others over the Word of Scripture.
Does 2 Thessalonians 2 start coming to anyone else’s mind here? It does mine, and it scares me — both for my brothers (who I dearly love and value) as well as for myself (lest I am unknowingly doing the same thing by writing this).