By Olen Holderby
I know that much has been said lately on this subject, especially in the gospel papers; and, I very well may not have read them all. However, I shall run the risk of being repetitious in order to say some things that need to be said.
This writer is convinced that many problems which con-front brethren today are caused and propitiated by the claim, “We all cannot see the Bible alike.” Many of us have for years found this claim to be quite common in regard to our religious neighbors. When such people could think of no other answer, we expected to hear, “But, we do not all understand the Bible alike.” In recent years this same claim is being heard more and more from the lips of our own brethren. To this writer such a claim sounds like a page out of a denominational publication; and it ought to be returned to its source. It seems that such a claim is made in an effort to bolster the idea that we must have “unity-in-diversity.” If the claim is true, the alternative would at least be acceptable. But, is the claim true?
Before seeking an answer to his question, I wish to make it plain that I am not speaking of things indifferent within themselves as discussed in Romans 14. Rather, I am speaking of things commonly referred to as “doctrinal” matters, things upon which God has legislated. Some have misused Romans 14 in applying the principles there to doctrinal matters. I will not be dealing with Romans 14 in this article; however, I must insist that in order to so use Romans 14 one has to stretch both his imagination and the Scripture. If there was just one place in the “doctrine of Christ” that endorsed the idea of “unity-in-diversity,” it, no doubt, would have been produced long ago. But, no such place exists.
Now, let us go back to the statement, “We cannot all see the Bible alike.” Several reasons (or arguments) shall be offered to show that such a claim is absolutely false.
- The Old Testament prophesied of the simplicity of God’s way. “Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and to choose the good” (Isa. 7:15). This is, as all may understand, a prophecy of the forthcoming Saviour; and that Saviour is our example (1 Pet. 2:21). Again, “And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein” (Isa. 35:8). Did the prophet accurately reflect upon God’s way here?
- God created man and in his own image (Gen. 1:26-27). As Creator of man God well knew man’s limitations; and he knew the capabilities of man. God had this knowledge before he gave the gospel. The gospel came from the mouth of God (2 Tim. 3:16). The question is, could God give a gospel that all men could understand alike? If we say “no,” we question the wisdom, the knowledge, and the power of God. So, our answer must be in the affirmative. The next question is, did God give a gospel that we all can under-stand alike? Dear reader, if you say “no,” you question the mercy, the justice, and even the love of God for man. So again, the answer must be in the affirmative. Remembering, then, that God created man in his own image, and that God gave the gospel for man, to claim that “we cannot all understand the Bible alike” is an insult to the Almighty!
- Paul called God’s giving of the gospel a “revelation” (Eph. 3:3). Of this word (apokalupsis) Thayer (p. 62) says it means, “a laying bare . . . a disclosure of truth, . . . concerning divine things before unknown.” W.E. Vine con-curs in this definition, but adds, “an uncovering . . . of `the mystery,’ the purpose of God in this age, Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:3 . . . an expression of the mind of God for the instruction of the church.” Brethren, think about these definitions. We have all preached the gospel as the revelation of God to man. If the gospel is the revelation of God to man (and it is), it has to uncover, to make known to man the purpose of God for this age, it has to make known God’s mind for the instruction of the church. If the gospel does not do that, it is not a revelation from God to man. Once revealed the revelation must be understandable in order to be a revelation.
- We are commanded to understand this revelation. “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17). “How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words), whereby when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:3-4). How can anyone read these verses and then say, “we cannot all understand alike”? Would God command us to do something which we cannot do?
- God’s revelation to man is a complete revelation, containing all information necessary for our understanding and direction (2 Tim. 3:16-17). This revelation contains “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3). Again, I say, we must remember that God created man and knew exactly how to express his will so that man could understand. God implied that all men could understand the gospel when he commanded that the gospel be preached to every creature (Mk. 16:15). Further, God implied that all Christians could understand the gospel when he instructed that our lives conform to the gospel (Phil. 1:27; Rom. 12:2). Further implication for the same thing is implied in the command to study (2 Tim. 2:15). Yes sir, “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple” (Psa. 119:130).
- God has made our salvation contingent upon our understanding of his revealed will. “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (in. 8:32). We are to obey the truth to purify our souls (1 Pet. 1:22); but, how can we obey that truth if we cannot understand that truth? Paul said that Timothy had “known the holy Scriptures” from the time he was a child (2 Tim. 3:15). This would, of course, make reference to the Old Testament Scriptures. It seems to this writer that Timothy had things harder to be understood than what we have today; yet, he understood them. If we cannot understand that by which we are going to be judged (in. 12:48), how can we prepare for the judgment?
- Certain easily-understood instruction could not be followed if we cannot understand what God wants of us. “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Cor. 1:10). How could any number of people know that they were speaking the same thing, and speaking the truth, if they could not understand? How could they be of the same mind? How could I “mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned” (Rom. 16:17) if I cannot understand that doctrine?
- Limitations which God’s word places upon us forces the conclusion that we must understand his word. Consider again 1 Corinthians 1:10; we must speak the same thing and be of the same mind. The familiar statement of 2 John 9 further illustrates this point. If I cannot understand the doctrine of Christ, how can I know whether I am in or out of that doctrine?
- Paul says that “we walk by faith” (2 Cor. 5:7); and “without faith it is impossible to please” God (Heb. 11:6). “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). If there is no word of God there can be no faith; and I cannot please him without that faith. If I cannot understand God’s word, what happens to my faith? We can understand that if we operate in the realm of silence, we operate without faith; but, is this any worse than operating with a faith that is based upon a perversion? In what do I really trust? No longer can I say, with Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have kept the faith.” For my faith in him to be real, effective, and acceptable I must understand his word.
Still Folks Do Not Understand
All of that, you say, is well and good; yet many do not understand, and you wish to know why. Jesus spoke of an evil heart that did not understand (Matt. 13:15); not because they could not understand, but because they had an evil heart. Prejudice, envy, and jealousy all may preclude an understanding (Acts 17:5,32; 13:40-45). Stephen gave “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears” as being at fault (Acts 7:51). Jesus, perhaps, assigned the reason for most not understanding, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures” (Matt. 22:29). And, what causes one to not know the Scriptures? The answer comes bouncing back a failure to honestly and sincerely study the Scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15). When an open and receptive heart comes to God’s word, he can understand God’s word. Yes, effort is required, sometimes much effort. Not only do some people learn more quickly than others, some have farther to go than others. But, every accountable person upon God’s earth can under-stand God’s word; and every group of such persons can understand God’s word alike! If this is not so, there really is no standard at all.
The claim that “we cannot all see the Bible alike” can-not be used to justify “unity-in-diversity.” And, since we can all see the Bible alike, there is no valid reason to plead for “unity-in-diversity.”
May God help us all to have room in our hearts for an understanding of his word; for, if we do not the consequences could be terrible, both in this life and the one to come. Gr
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 14, p. 12-13
July 15, 1993