Defending God's Word_02 (2)

Acts 17:2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures,

The value of God’s Word is incomprehensible. With it, we are able to answer some of life’s most difficult questions. Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? If there is a God and he is good, why so much suffering? What is the purpose of our existence? What is right and wrong and who should determine it? Will world peace ever be achieved? Will poverty ever end? How can we be happy? What is true freedom and does it exist? What happens after we die? Is there such a thing as absolute truth? Moreover, I am certain that each of us could add many more life questions to this list. However, the last question above is there such a thing as absolute truth, can be answered with an absolute yes and it is found in the Bible alone. In the Bible, we find answers to the above questions and far more. We discover that we have a Creator and why such a loving Creator would allow sickness, old age, and death, with much suffering all throughout our limited lives.[1] We also learn the truth about why we are here, what our Creator expects of us, and how his decisions on our behalf have been for our good. – Psalm 19:7-11; Isaiah 48:17.

As true Christians, we accept the Bible as the inspired, fully inerrant Word of God and that it has the power to change lives for the better, so we defend it and share it with others. (Heb. 4:12) When we share these truths with others, we want to help them to realize that it is not our absolute truths, but rather truths that belong to the God of the heavens and the earth, which he has revealed to us within the Scriptures. Thus, we want to use the Bible, as it is the authority, the absolute truth, when we talk with others, literally reading from it. Like Paul, we want to ‘reason with them from the Scriptures.’ (Ac 17:2) We want to help them accept the Bible for what it is, the inspired Word of God, and accept what it teaches as absolute truth. – 2 Timothy 2:15.

It is highly important that we share what God’s Word says rather than what we feel, think, or believe. This can be exemplified in the prophetic book of Jeremiah. The prophets other than Jeremiah were merely saying what the people wanted to hear, pacifying, i.e., seeking to make the people and rulers less angry, upset, or hostile, saying untrue things to please them. In other words, they were not telling the people the Word of God.

Jeremiah 23:25-28 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

25 I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ 26 How long will this be in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy lies, even these prophets of the deceit of their own heart, 27 who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as  their fathers forgot my name for Baal? 28 The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?” declares Jehovah.

On the other hand, Jeremiah did speak God’s Word truthfully, even if it was not well received, or it meant his life was in danger. The apostle Paul tells the Corinthians and us that the historical events of the Old Testament were recorded to serve as “examples for us.” Thus, like Jeremiah, we too want to feel obligated to teach only what the authors meant when they penned their particular books and not water down the Word of God or impose modern day thinking into the text, deliberately avoiding offense. For example, today we have an undertaking called the feminist movement, belief in the need to secure rights and opportunities for women equal to those of men, or a commitment to securing these. While the idea of attaining the right to vote, equal pay for equal work, among other modern day rights is perfectly fine, it should not retroactively be applied to the Word of God. Paul clearly states at 2 Timothy 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” The natural reading of 1 Timothy 2:12 is that Paul in his apostolic authority prohibits women from teaching and exercising authority over a man, which means that women cannot serve as pastors or elders in the Christian congregation. We are not to mold to the pressures of the modern day feminist movement because this position goes back to before the fall, has always been applicable, and will always be applicable. For a detail explanation of this text, see the footnote below.[2]

Even Jesus himself said, “My teaching is not mine, but belongs to him that sent me. If anyone wants to do his will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory, but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him, this one is true, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” (John 7:16-18) Even the Son of God himself refused to speak of his own authority, but rather the authority of the Father, who had sent him. Therefore, how much more so should we avoid speaking on our own authority? Like, the elders, all Christians want to be “holding fast to the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” (Titus 1:9) Then, there is the counsel from Paul for Timothy to hand off to the congregations, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim. 4:2) Whether we are answering questions at a Bible study in the congregation, an elder or pastor is giving a lecture, or we are witnessing to someone outside of the congregation, we want to “preach the word.”

However, the Bible is a deep, complex book, because it was it was written from 2,000 to 3,500 years ago in many different cultures, the language of biblical Hebrew and Koine (common) Greek, among many other things is it difficult to understand. Therefore, we could never evangelize by just reading the Bible alone, saying no more, especially to this generation that is almost entirely unfamiliar with it. If our listener is to grasp fully what the authors meant and how it applies to us, we are going to have to offer that connection. In the account of the Ethiopian eunuch referred to at Acts 8:26-38, he did not fully understand what was meant in the Book of Isaiah that he was reading in his travels. This Eunuch was familiar with the Hebrew or Greek translation of the Old Testament, as he had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning to his homeland, and yet he still did not understand Isaiah 53:7-8. How much more help does the unbelievers of today need? Nevertheless, once this eunuch fully understood the importance of the text, seeing how it applied to him personally, he chose to leave the Judaism of the day and become a Christian.

How Jesus Used the Scriptures

Matthew writes, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” (7:28-29) He later writes of Jesus return to his hometown, “He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished.” (13:54) After that, when Jesus is speaking on a number of subjects, but especially who shall be saved, Matthew says the disciples “were greatly astonished.” (19:25) Later still when Jesus dealt with the resurrection belief of the Sadducees, “when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.” (22:33)

Why were the crowds astonished at Jesus’ way of teaching? What does it mean that he was teaching them as one who had authority? How is it that they say no one had ever spoken as Jesus had? The Greek verb used by Matthew about how Jesus’ teaching affected others was ekplessomai, which meant that they were “so amazed as to be practically overwhelmed–‘to be greatly astounded.’[3] In 7:28, the verb is in the imperfect tense, which suggested an ongoing effect. Jesus taught with the authority of the Scriptures, unlike the scribes, who were busy quoting Rabbis as their authority. Jesus, on the other hand, quoted over 120 Hebrew verses in the dialog that is given to us in the Gospel accounts, accounts that would amount to about a three-hour lecture.

Bible Background on the Scribes

In ancient times, the scribes were merely officers whose duties included writing of various kinds; but, on the return of the Jews from Babylonian captivity, the sopherim, as the scribes were called, were organized by Ezra into a distinct body. Among other duties, they copied the Pentateuch, the Phylacteries, and the Mezuzoth. So great was their care in copying that they counted and compared all the letters to be sure that none were left out that belonged to the text, or none inserted wrongly. On stated occasions, they read the law in the synagogues. They also lectured to their disciples. Because of the knowledge they obtained through their work, they became natural interpreters of God’s law as well as copyists.

The lawyers (Matthew 22:35; Luke 7:30; 11:45; 14:3) and the doctors of the law (Luke 2:46; 5:17; Acts 5:34) were substantially the same as the scribes. Efforts have been made to show that different classes of duties were assigned to lawyers, doctors, and scribes, but without any measurably different results. It may be, as some believe, that the doctors were a higher grade than the ordinary scribes. The scribes were all carefully educated for their work from early life, and at an appropriate age—some say thirty-years-old—they were admitted to office through a solemn ceremony.

The scribes were not only copyists of the law; they were also keepers of the oral traditional comments and additions to the law. Gradually accumulating with the progress of time, these were numerous, and were regarded by many as of equal value with the law itself. To this Jesus alludes in Mark 7:5–13. Paul represents himself as having been, before his conversion, “exceedingly zealous of the traditions” of his fathers (Galatians 1:14). The scribes also adopted forced interpretations of the law, endeavoring to find a special meaning in every word, syllable, and letter. Thus the Savior charges them: “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering” (Luke 11:52).

At the time of Christ, the people were increasingly dependent on the scribes for a knowledge of their Scriptures. The language of the Jews was passing into the Aramaic dialect, and the majority of the people, being unable to understand their own sacred books, were obliged to accept the interpretation that the scribes put upon them. Hence, their astonishment, as indicated in our text-verse, at the peculiar style of teaching adopted by Jesus, and especially illustrated in His Sermon on the Mount. The scribes repeated traditions, but Jesus spoke with authority: “I tell you.” The scribes had little sympathy with the masses, but Jesus mingled with the people, explaining to them in a simple, practical way the requirements of religion.[4]

Hendriksen and Kistemaker asked the question that concerned us as well, “What were some of the reasons for this feeling of wonder and astonishment? Matt. 13:54, 55 may supply part of the answer. Nevertheless, on the basis of the sermon itself and of 7:28 (“not as their scribes”) the following items are worthy of consideration:”

  1. He spoke the truth (John 14:6; 18:37). Corrupt and evasive reasoning marked the sermons of many of the scribes (Matt. 5:21 ff.).
  2. He presented matters of great significance, matters of life, death, and eternity (see the entire sermon). They often wasted their time on trivialities (Matt. 23:23; Luke 11:42).
  3. There was system in his preaching. As their Talmud proves, they often rambled on and on.
  4. He excited curiosity by making generous use of illustrations (5:13–16; 6:26–30; 7:24–27; etc.) and concrete examples (5:21–6:24; etc.), as the sermon shows from beginning to end. Their speeches were often dry as dust.
  5. He spoke as the Lover of men, as One concerned with the everlasting welfare of his listeners, and pointed to the Father and his love (5:44–48). Their lack of love is clear from such passages as 23:4, 13–15; Mark 12:40; etc.
  6. Finally, and this is the most important, for it is specifically stated here (verse 28), he spoke “with authority” (Matt. 5:18, 26; etc.), for his message came straight from the very heart and mind of the Father (John 8:26), hence also from his own inner being, and from Scripture (5:17; 7:12; cf. 4:4, 7, 10). They were constantly borrowing from fallible sources, one scribe quoting another scribe. They were trying to draw water from broken cisterns. He drew from himself, being “the Fountain of living waters” (Jer. 2:13).[5]

Clearly, Jesus set the example in how one is to use the Scriptures effectively. Let us examine his use of questions.

Luke 10:25 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

25 And behold, a lawyer[6] [an expert in the Mosaic Law] stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

A historical note here, “an expert in the law,” or “lawyer” as some translations have it, is not a lawyer as we would think of one today. A lawyer was someone that was an expert in the Mosaic Law. However, this person would have the same level of education on the law as a lawyer would today, many years of study and memorization. Thus, this man would certainly know the answer to such an easy question as the one he asked. Now, if a believer is asked a straightforward Bible question, we might be tempted just to offer an answer. Indeed, as the wisest man ever to live, Jesus could have easily answered the question. Instead, Jesus wanted the man to offer his own thoughts, insights or understanding. However, Jesus knew this man was “an expert in the law,” and he recognized the man would have had a certain perspective on his question. In other words, the man was not asked because he did not know. Thus, Jesus asked:

Luke 10:26 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

26 And he said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

The man answered correctly,

Luke 10:27 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

The conversation could have ended there. Again, the man knew the Mosaic Law but seemingly wanted to see if Jesus would agree with what he knew. Jesus gratified him, letting him feel good, by giving the correct answer. Jesus responded:

Luke 10:28-29 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Here again, the man looks to prove himself righteous, and Jesus could have just stated the truth, even the Samaritan. However, Jesus having insight into the setting, the Jews detested the Samaritans; so, while he would give the correct answer it would be disputed in a long, back-and-forth conversation, and the Jews who listened would have sided with the man. Thus, Jesus boxed the man into giving an answer by having him reason on an illustration.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Luke 10:30-37 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

30 Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and laid blows upon and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by coincidence a certain priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And on the next day, he took out two denarii[7] and gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

AN OLD TESTAMENT BIBLE DIFFICULTY COMMENTARY

This man had to admit the elite in the Jewish religion, the priest, and the Levite, had not been neighborly, but the Samaritan proved to be a good neighbor. Jesus moved him to reason out a new way of viewing exactly what “neighbor” meant. Instead of letting the man walk him into a long debate, Jesus made the man do all of the reasoning in the conversation and moved him to admit something no Jew would ever utter,[8] as well as grasp a whole new understanding of what it meant to be a neighbor. Jesus took this approach because the circumstances called for it. However, on another occasion, a scribe, another expert in the law, asked him the same question and on that occasion, he chose to give the direct answer. (Mark 12:28-31) Circumstances vary.

What lessons can we take in from the example that Luke provided us? (1) Jesus used Scriptures initially to answer the man’s question. (2) Jesus proved perceptive enough to take notice of the man’s agenda. (3) Jesus did not just answer the easy Bible question but shifted the responsibility to a question of his own, by asking the man how he understood the law, giving him a chance to express himself. (4) Jesus complimented the man for a discerning with the correct answer. (5) Jesus made sure the man, and the listeners made the connection between the initial question and the Scriptures. (6) Jesus used an illustration that was able to reach the heart and mind, where the answer was kept to the forefront. (7) Jesus moved the man to reason beyond his basic understanding of a neighbor.

The apostle Paul, as well, was an excellent teacher, one from whom we can learn. His traveling companion, Luke the physician, went with him, and his account of Paul’s activity is significant.

Reasoning Adapted to the Listeners

Acts 17:2-3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.”

We have already spoken about the fact that Paul reasoned from the Scriptures. However, he did more, as one can see from the above, that he explained, proved, and made the application. Many times, we may read a Scripture to someone, and while it seems straightforward, enough to us, yet the listener fails to see the point. We may highlight a word or phrase or a part of the text and then explain the verse. We are doing that with Acts 17:2-3, as we highlight explaining and proving. You could also offer to walk them through the context, as we also did previously with Acts 17:2-3, when we backed up to verse 1, to show that Paul reasoned from the Scriptures because he talked with Jews in the Synagogue, people, who would be familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. Another option is offering them additional texts that support the one the evangelist used. If the listener does not grasp the text and the explanation, add an illustration like Jesus did over forty times. Then again, asking the right questions might get the listener to reason on things further. We can learn much by looking at Paul’s method of teaching. He did not merely quote a Scripture. Thus, we need to do more than just read a Scripture. Not only did he reason from the Scriptures, he adapted his reasoning so that it would fit his audience. He did more than share the gospel with the people; he explained it to them, providing them with proof from the Word of God. Let us consider two examples of how effective Paul’s teaching was.

At Acts 13:16-41, we find Paul preaching in the Synagogue at Pisidian Antioch. The first thing Paul did was to attempt to find some common ground with his Jewish audience. (Read 13:16-17) Why take that approach? Well, if he could find some common ground, this would draw his listeners in, making them more willing to reason on a subject that they were not going to agree. Notice too that he did not introduce himself as a Christian, nor did he attempt to bring them the good news of Jesus Christ. He was speaking to Jews, who took issue on both accounts, and he being a former Pharisee, he knew their thinking. Rather he referred to them as ‘men of Israel, who fear God, asking them to listen.’ He also inferred that he too was like them, a Hebrew from birth. After that, he gave them an important part of Israelite history, which they would have been familiar. Now, here is where the skill comes in, as he held to the common ground he had established when he began to speak about Jesus Christ.

Notice the tie in as Paul moved through the Israelite history, saying God “raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.” (13:22-23) Then, he pulled in John the Baptizer as a witness to this fact, a person that these Jews viewed as a prophet of God. (13:24-25; Lu 20:4-6) Knowing that his listeners were well aware that the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem had rejected Jesus, Paul beat them to the punch by mentioning it first; then, establishing that this was fulfilled prophecy. (13:27-29) After that, he drew their attention to the fact that God had not abandoned Jesus, by resurrecting him from the dead, to which there were eyewitnesses among the Jews themselves. (13:30-31) Paul brought this complicated matter home, saying, “We preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers.” (13:32) From there he went to the Hebrew Old Testament as his evidence of this truth. Paul quoted first from Psalm 2:7 [“‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’], then Isaiah 55:3 [“‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’], and finally Psalm 16:10 [“‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’]. Paul then went on to reason from those scriptures, “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption.” (13:36-37) Now, Paul closed his argument in a motivating conclusion. Many took serious what he had said. “As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath.” – Acts 13:38-43.

A NEW TESTAMENT BIBLE DIFFICULTY COMMENTARY

Now, how did Paul do when he approached a non-Jewish audience? When Paul addressed the Areopagus in Athens, Greece, he used a comparable approach; he essentially adjusted his witness to the new environment and thinking of the Athenians. Here again, he sought a common ground. So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I also found  an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I also found  an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (Ac 17:22-23) Rather than get explicit with the Scriptures as he did with the Jews, who would have been familiar with such, he paraphrased portions of God’s Word, from which he reason from them, proving and explaining what he was saying. Moreover, since Paul had some knowledge of Greek literature, he quoted two different Greek poets.[9] He did not quote these Greek poets as though they were an authority as the Scriptures are, but the portion he quoted was in harmony with Scripture, and he wanted them to realize the points he was making could be found in their own literature. Because of this approach, “some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.” – Acts 17:24-31, 34.

The good news that Paul preached in both Athens and Antioch was the same. The approach he took was very similar but adapted specifically for a particular audience because he wanted to find a common ground, to reason with them. His love for God and humanity was so deep that Paul took the time to develop his teaching abilities because he cared. In addition, such efforts were fruitful because in both cases he found those, who were receptive to the truths he was sharing. It is hoped this book and others by this author will go a long way in helping us to do the same, reasoning from the Scriptures, explaining and proving the points that need to be made, effectively evangelizing our family friends, coworkers, and community.

Exercises

A hypothetical friend loves adventurous sports that are life risking. For example, he likes serious white water rafting, rock climbing up the sides of cliffs and hang-gliding. How would you reason with him that these life-risking sports are unbiblical?

Find someone you know who has strong beliefs that are unbiblical and engage them in a conversation. If you do not know such a person, find them within social media. After the discussion is over, analyze the discussion. What evidence did you present, did you use any illustrations, did you lead him along with questions, and did you evidence concern for his feelings and background.

[1] Suffering & Evil – Why God?

http://www.christianpublishers.org/suffering-evil-why-god

[2] Women in the Pulpit?

http://www.christianpublishers.org/women-in-the-pulpit

[3] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 311–312.

[4] James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, Manners & Customs of the Bible (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), 420–421.

[5] William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, vol. 9, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 382–383.

[6] That is an expert in the Mosaic Law

[7] The denarius was equivalent to a day’s wages for a laborer

[8] Notice the hatred ran so deep between Jews and Samaritans that when asked by Jesus, who was the neighbor I the illustration, he did not say, the Samaritan, but rather, “the one who …”

[9] Verse 28 has a possible quote from Epimenides of Crete, or it could be a traditional Greek formula. The verse also contains a quote from Aratus’s poem “Phainomena.”