Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Bible Complements Itself

It is interesting that in debates over biblical truth, we so often hear someone try to refute someone else by saying, “Yes, I know what your verse says, but I have a verse that says just the opposite.” This seems to be especially common when the debate is over “Calvinism” and “Arminianism.”

When we analyze such debate tactics, we must either conclude that the Bible does, in fact, have contradictions, or that the Bible is truly consistent and must be allowed to interpret itself. If the first is true, then we have nothing and all debate becomes meaningless. However, if the second is true, which it clearly is, then the Bible is a complete presentation of all that God intends for us to know about Him. In some cases, we must work at the process of understanding rather than expect our English translations to just spoon-feed to us every nugget of truth that is there.

The truth is that there is no such thing as a passage of Scripture that “says just the opposite” of another passage. God, who is always consistent with Himself, would not, did not, and could not tell us opposite things in His Word. Such would be contrary to His very nature. If we think there is a contradiction, then the problem lies with us, not with the character of God. We are limited and finite. He is infinite and all-wise.

We must not attempt to negate Scripture with logic or even with other Scripture. Such is a fool’s errand. Instead, when we come across something that confuses us, we need to dig a bit and determine how the Scripture in question fits with the rest of the Bible. For example, in the KJV, 1 Timothy 2:3-4 says, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” At first glance, this seems to teach that all men will be saved – universal salvation. Of course, we know such a teaching is preposterous, since the whole of Scripture makes it clear that many will perish. So what do we do? Do we try to find other Scriptures to disprove this one? Or do we make a legitimate study of the Scriptures and find an answer that does not question the integrity of God and the unity of His Word? The answer is obvious. If I believed in “Universalism,” the teaching that all will ultimately be saved, I would most certainly run to 1 Timothy 2:4 in the KJV to find a Scripture to support my preconceived notion.

It is necessary to note that, while the KJV is a well-respected translation that has been used for hundreds of years, and which I still use a great deal, there are a number of weak translations found within it. I know that such a statement will label me as a “heretic” in some circles, but the fact remains that the Bible was not originally penned in English but in more precise languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. English has changed a great deal in 400 years, and the common understanding of words back then is not always the common understanding today.

The wording of 1 Timothy 2:4 is certainly one of those confusing translations in the KJV. It says that God “…will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” That seems to be very straightforward and easy to understand, yet neither the underlying language nor the rest of Scripture bears out universal salvation. If we look at the same verse in the NASB, we find these words: “…who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Even in the English, we now have a clarification that indicates a “desire” on God’s part, not a statement that he “will” save everyone. Going a step further, a study of the literal meanings of the underlying words reveals that there is a huge difference between God’s desires, based on His heart of love, and his sovereign will, based on His eternal purpose. If God had decreed the salvation of all men, then all men would be saved. It really is as simple as that. Instead, there will be those from “every nation and tribe and tongue and people” who will be saved. It would be absurd in the extreme if He had decreed the salvation of all men and then had been unable to make it happen. Such would not be an act of the all-powerful God, the Sovereign Lord of the Universe. Interpreting Scripture in light of all Scripture can clarify such things for us.

As we study the Scriptures, it is important to rely on the Holy Spirit to instruct us and to do the work of studying diligently, comparing Scripture to Scripture. Isolated verses can often only give us questions, but the whole of Scripture will give us answers. The Bible never contradicts itself; it complements itself.

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