Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Has The Bible Been Tampered With?

Biblegems #295

Question: Jeremiah 8:8 says that the scribes who copied God’s Word sometimes falsified it. If this is true, how can the Bible be trusted at all if it can’t be trusted in part?

Here’s the text:
         Jer. 8:8  How can you say, “We are wise, for we have the law of the Lord,” when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?

To understand this verse, two questions need to be addressed: (1) Who were these “scribes;” and (2) what is meant by the phrase, “the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely”?

The Scribes
The scribes of the Bible were typically chosen from the tribe of Levi.
         2Chr. 34:12b-13  The Levites—all who were skilled in playing musical instruments—had charge of the laborers and supervised all the workers from job to job. Some of the Levites were secretaries, scribes and gatekeepers.

Their task was to study, teach, and explain the meaning and application of “the Law of the Lord” —meaning the first five books of the Bible, plus all of the commands, teachings, rules and regulations found elsewhere in God’s Word. They were Bible scholars, the Bible experts who advised how to apply God’s “law” to everyday life. Ezra is a classic example of a good and godly scribe.

Another responsibility of the scribe was to provide accurate copies of God’s Word. In that capacity, they were the equivalent of today’s copy machines. They worked in teams, copying biblical text onto a new surface, such as vellum or papyri, checking and correcting each other’s work. This highly respected and trusted role in the community continued on into New Testament times and beyond.

The “Lying Pen”
God accused certain specific scribes of misinterpreting the law of the Lord in such a way that would make some unacceptable, sinful behaviors appear to be acceptable to God. God did not condemn the scribes as a whole, but specifically those who abused their responsibilities.

Were these irresponsible scribes actually changing the text of Scripture as they copied the old to new? Not likely. For one thing, others carefully edited each scribe’s work in order to ensure against copying errors—intentional or otherwise. Several sets of eyes helped to insure the incredible accuracy of the Scriptures.

“The lying pen” refers to the written interpretations of the Scriptures the scribes compiled to suit their own opinions. In the Gospel of Matthew (20:41-44), for example, Jesus challenges the teaching of the scribes on Psalm 101:1 as a misinterpretation. He then warns His disciples:
         Matt. 20:45-47a  “Beware of the teachers of the law [i.e., “scribes”]. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.”

If anything, Jeremiah 8:8 proves how trustworthy the Bible is, for God does not ignore those who seek to abuse it, change it, or misrepresent it. As Jesus concluded in Matthew 20:47b, “These men will be punished most severely.”

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

To Love God Or Fear Him

Biblegems #294

Question: The Bible says that we are to love God (Dt. 6:5), but also says in the very same chapter that we are to fear Him (Dt. 6:13), even though 1 John 4:18 claims there is no fear in love. I’m confused…

Let’s begin with the passage in First John:
         1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Context is everything. From the beginning of chapter four John encourages his readers to love one another with the same love God shows them through His Son, Jesus Christ. Such love demonstrates they truly belong to God and have nothing to fear on the Day of Judgment:
         1 John 4:17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: n this world we are like Jesus.

For those who truly know the love of God through Jesus Christ and treat others with that same love, there is no fear of punishment or condemnation from God.

Deuteronomy 6:5, 13, on the other hand, specifically teach that we are to both love God and fear Him:
         Deut. 6:5  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Deut. 6:13  Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.

Love and fear are not mutually exclusive. In this context, both have little to do with emotions or feelings. You cannot make anyone feel love just by telling them to do so, nor can you make somebody feel afraid just by telling them to do so. Both love and fear are intended to convey actions in this case, not feelings.

To love God with the whole heart, soul and strength is to devote your entire being to God. To fear God, in this context, is connected with serving Him and acting as His representative when making promises and commitments. Our lives are to be spent acting as God’s emissaries, His ambassadors. We are not our own masters. Consequently, everything we do and say carries consequences beyond their own immediate impact. Every person will have to give an account to God as to how well we acted on His behalf in this life.
         Rom. 14:12  So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

The Bible teaches, therefore, that God is King as well as Creator, and that every human being is designed to be completely devoted to Him, exercising that devotion in how we live, love, work and play. To do otherwise is to rebel against God, His Kingdom and His design for our lives. Just as an earthly ambassador represents his own country in a foreign land by everything he or she says and does, so too are we ambassadors of the Kingdom of God to a world in rebellion against God. Our behavior reflects God’s character; and we who claim to be His followers are especially accountable.
         Heb. 12:28  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Does God Repent?

Biblegems # 293

Question: The book of Numbers (23:19) seems to indicate that God never repents. Yet other passages give examples of God repenting. Does God repent?

Here is Numbers 23:19 in the King James Version:
Num. 23:19  God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

In apparent contrast to the verse above, there are several examples where God is presented as repenting:
         Ex. 32:14  And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.

This apparent contradiction is primarily one of proper translation from the Hebrew word nacham into English. Nacham means “comfort,” “console,” or “relent,”[i] depending on the context. Nacham is used in both Numbers 23 and Exodus 32. In Ex. 32:14 the translation should read: “Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” In fact, of the thirty-eight times nacham is used in the Bible, only twice could it be used to mean “repent,” and those two occasions refer to people repenting, not God.

In Numbers 23:19 nacham should likewise be translated “relent” (meaning, “change”) rather than “repent.” The passage compares God against man: that God does not lie and He is not fickle. When He says He will do something, He does it. 
         1Sam. 15:29  “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.

Even so, Exodus 32:14 states that God did indeed “relent”—He changed His punishment against the Hebrews for building the golden calf in the Wilderness. Yet He did so without violating His own character, for God Himself has repeatedly stated three conditions where He will change His attitude and actions toward people: (1) when people repent (Jer. 18:3-11); (2) when someone intercedes on behalf of others (Amos 7:1-6); and (3) out of His own compassion (Dt. 32:36).

“Repent,” as it’s used today, carries with it emotional and spiritual overtones. In the 1600’s language of the KJV Bible, the word could be used as a synonym for “relent,” and the average reader would understand without difficulty. Because language changes, modern translations often use “relent” instead of “repent” in these and similar passages.

There is no contradiction. When God “relents,” He chooses a pre-planned alternate route to fulfill His promises, in keeping with His character:
         Ps. 106:45  …for their sake he remembered his covenant and out of his great love he relented.

[i] BDB Abridged. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (abridged) (BDB). Based on A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, by F. Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907.  Digitized and abridged as a part of the Princeton Theological Seminary Hebrew Lexicon Project under the direction of Dr. J. M. Roberts.  Used by permission. Electronic text corrected, formatted, and hypertexted by OakTree Software, Inc. This electronic adaptation ©2001 OakTree Software, Inc. Version 3.6

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

God’s Foreign Exchange Program

Biblegems #292

Question: I have read many versions and several commentaries on Isaiah 43:4, and what a wide variety of interpretations there are!! Some seemed trivial, some missed the point (I felt), and some were just bizarre.

The immediate context makes it clear that God is talking directly to Israel:
         Is. 43:1  But now, this is what the LORD says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

The broader context (Is. 42:18-25) reveals why God tells Israel not to fear—the nation is about to be ravaged by war because of her rebelliousness against Him. Historically, we know this devastating attack refers to the Babylonian invasion and seventy-years exile of the Jewish population.
Even so, God assures His people beforehand that His covenant love and promises still stand:
         Is. 43:2  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

In other words, Israel will suffer the consequences of her sinfulness but she will not be utterly destroyed. Then, in striking historical accuracy before the fact, Isaiah 43:3b-4 details how Israel will be redeemed from exile (v. 3b; 4b):
         I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. …I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life.

Then in verse 4a God explains why He will deliver His rebellious people:
         Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you

Through Isaiah, God promised Israel that her return to her homeland would not be accomplished purely out of the goodness of the Babylonian king’s heart. Rather, Cyrus—and later his son Darius I—would be lured by God to expand their empire to the Mediterranean Sea, invading Egypt, Cush and Seba. Transplanting the powerless descendants of the Jewish captivity—second and third generations growing up in Babylon—back into Palestine would provide a friendly stepping stone for such an invasion.

So when God declares in Isaiah 43:4 that He is willing to sacrifice three people groups for the sake of Israel’s return to Palestine He is making a very clear announcement to mankind as a whole: It is far better to be among God’s covenant people (even if temporarily out of favor with Him) than to be outside His covenant.

Those who belong to God by covenant are “precious” to Him. Think of it! God, the Creator and Lord of the universe, loves us and holds us in great honor! Only to His own does He say, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you” (Is. 43:5). All others have every reason to be terrified, for God is in the process of creating a Kingdom people and will not hesitate to eliminate those who refuse Him. As Jesus taught centuries after Isaiah,
         Matt. 13:41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.