Category Archives: Scripture

Can You Read?

When I first started in ordained ministry, I was a missionary in a small, remote community in north-central British Columbia.  Some of the people there were functionally illiterate.  A few could barely speak English.  My wife and I had the privilege – and the challenge – of bringing the gospel to this village.  It’s an experience that’s shaped me to the present day and one I’ll never forget.  A few years ago I wrote a book about our time there and all the ups and downs — you can find it here.

In that book, I mention a wonderful couple named Charlie and Marion.  They were involved with our little mission congregation from the start.  In fact, our sending church had been doing outreach in the village long before we arrived and Charlie and Marion were often involved.  They struggled with things in their life, but they were usually warm to the gospel.  When they were home, they almost always attended our worship services.

I also visited them regularly to read the Bible with them.  You see, Charlie and Marion were virtually illiterate.  Because of their age and other factors, they never did learn how to read.  And yet I wanted them to hear God’s Word, not just on Sunday, but through the week too.  They told me they wanted that too.

One day I was reading Evangelical Missions Quarterly when I spotted something about a unique way to reach illiterate people with the Word of God:  the Talking Bible.  The Talking Bible looked like a Bible, but it had a tape player inside it which would allow you to hear the Bible being read.  The Talking Bible (in dozens of languages) is still around, but of course, the technology has improved vastly.

Charlie and Marion seemed to enjoy their Talking Bible.  I say that because every week or two I still had to come and visit – but now to replace the batteries in their Talking Bible.  For these people who couldn’t read, they were now able to hear the Word of God every day.

If you couldn’t read, what measures would you go to still access the Scriptures?

When I was a seminary student, I read somewhere the story of William McPherson.  He lived sometime in the early twentieth century.  He worked at a stone quarry in Colorado.  He’d recently become a Christian when he had a terrible accident.  Some dynamite exploded in his face, blinding him, and also causing him to lose the use of his hands.  As he began his recovery, he had a hunger for the Word of God.  He heard of a woman in Britain who’d learned to read Braille with her lips.  McPherson couldn’t do that because the accident had damaged the nerve endings around his mouth.  But he still had his tongue.  He learned to read Braille with his tongue.  Over the next 65 years, McPherson read through the Bible four times – reading it in Braille with his tongue.  Talk about dedication!

Now, if you couldn’t read, what measures would you go to still access the Scriptures?

But you can read!  You’re reading this.  Yet how often don’t we neglect one of the greatest gifts God has given, his Word?  Dear reader, thank God today that you can read, that you have the precious gift of literacy.  Don’t take that gift for granted!  Thank God today that you have the Bible in your own language — you have unfettered access to all the wonders of the gospel.  Then let the prayer of Psalm 119:103 be your aspiration too:  “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”  Those words were never truer than when fulfilled by our Lord Jesus, but they’re to become increasingly true of Jesus’ disciples too.


Sproul: Infallibility and Inerrancy

In his little booklet Can I Trust the Bible? R.C. Sproul discusses the terms “infallibility” and “inerrancy.”  I appreciate the way he describes the difference and the need to maintain both:

The church historically has seen that the Bible alone, of all the written literature in history, is uniquely infallible.  The word infallible may be defined as “that which cannot fail”; it means something is incapable of making a mistake.  From a linguistic standpoint, the term infallible is higher than the term inerrant.  Though the words have often been used virtually as synonyms in the English language, there remains a historic technical definition between the two.  The distinction is that of the potential and the actual, the hypothetical and the real.  Infallibility has to do with the question of ability or potential; that which is infallible is said to be unable to make mistakes or to err.  By contrast, that which is inerrant is that which, in fact, does not err.  As an illustration: a student can take a test made up of twenty questions and get twenty correct answers, giving him an inerrant test.  However, the student’s inerrancy in this restricted arena does not make him infallible, as mistakes on subsequent tests would verify. (pp.26-27)

This is a good illustration of what medieval theologian John Duns Scotus called a formal distinction.  Infallibility and inerrancy are both characteristics of Scripture.  They can be distinguished, as Sproul did above, but they cannot be separated.  They belong together.


Piper: Can the Divine Author Say More than the Human Author?

One of the topics John Piper discusses in Reading the Bible Supernaturally is meaning.  He stresses how important it is to reach for the intended meaning of any given Bible passage.  Specifically, what did the human author intend to say?  Of course, Piper insists that God speaks through these human authors and their words in Scripture.  But that raises the question:  does it ever happen in Scripture that there is more to a human author’s words than he might have been aware of when he wrote them?  Listen to Piper:

So, can the human author intend things of which he is not conscious at the moment?  The answer is yes.  I know this sounds contradictory, since I have defined meaning as what the author intends to communicate.  And now I am saying he can intend something he is not conscious of.  What does that mean?

It really is not that strange.  You do this every time you use the little abbreviation etc.  Or when you say, “and so forth.”  Suppose you say, “Any green vegetable that you can buy at the grocery store is good for you, including lettuce, broccoli, cucumbers, etc.”  At that moment, those are the only green vegetables that come to your mind.  You are not conscious of any others at the moment you speak.  But the term etc. is designed to carry your intention beyond what you are conscious of.

Etc., in your sentence, can’t mean just anything.  You have given it boundaries.  You said, “Any green vegetable,” and you said, “that you can buy at the grocery store.”  These two traits limit the meaning of etc.  So if someone said, “Do you mean — that is, do you intend — to include asparagus?” you would say, “Yes.”  You meant asparagus even though you were not conscious of asparagus.  Another way of saying this is to point out that necessary implications of our conscious meaning are included in our meaning, even if we are not conscious of all of them.  (pp.318-319)

Piper follows this up with examples.  The first is the prophecy of Caiaphas in John 11:49-52.  Piper writes:

Caiaphas’s immediate intention was to communicate that it would be better that Jesus be killed than that the Jewish nation be wiped out by the Romans.  God communicated to John that God had a different intention with the same words, namely, that Christ’s death would indeed, by a substitution, save his people, but that salvation would be greater, both in depth and scope. (p.320)

The other example is from Col. 3:17, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  Notes Piper:

God sees every single one of the billions of acts included in “everything” and intends for us to do each of them in the name of Jesus.  Paul, however, cannot see the specific implications of the word everything for every Christian who ever lives.  Therefore, God, in this sense, always intends a fuller, more specific, meaning than the human authors.  (p.321)

Well-said!

Reading the Bible Supernaturally is available for free on-line here.


Fighting Truth Decay

Truth has fallen on hard times.  As I read the headlines each day, I can’t help but wonder:  “What happened to truth?”  Then I think of all the ways God’s people are bombarded with lies every day.  They’re carefully crafted lies and they so easily deceive.  Satan, the head trafficker of lies, is doing booming business.  Though it comes from an entirely different context, Isaiah 59:14-15 seems to have been penned just this morning:

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.  Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

How can we as Christians continue to stand in the face of this truth crisis?  How will the church survive?  It’s going to be like it always has:  on the basis of the public, objective truth of God’s Word.  Let me point out four ways we need to work with God’s Word to battle truth decay in our day.

The Preaching

When you come to worship each Lord’s Day, you’ll hear your pastor proclaim God’s Word as steadfast, eternal truth.  You can’t underestimate the impact that has.  When you hear a man himself firmly convicted of the truth he’s preaching, that’s going to be a boost for your own grasp on the truth.  Moreover, if that preaching is faithful to God’s Word, it’s not merely a man you’re hearing.  In fact, Scripture teaches that the preaching of God’s Word is God’s Word (1 Thess. 2:13).  It’s a word from him who will never lie (Titus 1:2).  Faithful preaching is the Word of Christ, who is not only the way and the life, but also the truth (John 14:6).  There’s a reason why the Holy Spirit tells believers not to forsaking gathering together (Heb. 10:25) — the Spirit of truth drives home the word of truth in our gatherings.  So come each Lord’s Day and get your truth supplement.

Regular Daily Family Worship

Imagine if every family in the church were to gather regularly for the reading of God’s truth.  Imagine the good that would do not only for our children, but also for parents.  To listen to the truth of God’s Word each day and then to reflect on it together is going to be powerfully reinforcing its message for us.  A super helpful resource for reflecting and discussing every chapter of the Bible together is the Family Worship Bible Guide.

Regular Daily Bible Reading

One of the biggest regrets of my pastoral ministry is that in my first congregation, I didn’t teach the importance of developing the discipline of reading through all the Scriptures — that was so foolish!  God taught me this in my second congregation through a godly elder in a home visit.  More than ever, we need to be imbibing the truth of Scripture for ourselves every day.  It’s not enough just to read a Bible devotional.  Bible devotionals are selective — they only give you a verse or two chosen by the author of the devotional.  Bible devotionals are sometimes defective — too many of them neglect the fact that the Bible is first of all about Jesus.  Bible devotionals are always subjective — as you read it you only get the limited viewpoint of that author.  Bible devotionals can be helpful, but it’s not the same as doing the hard work of reading and studying the Bible for yourself.  It’s through that hard work that you appropriate God’s truth for yourself.  Developing that habit means that every day we’re letting the Holy Spirit speak truth to our hearts through the Word.  There are all kinds of Bible reading plans out there — you just need to pick one and starting running with it.  It may be hard at first, but if you persevere for the long haul, you won’t regret it.

Studying the Bible with Others

Finally, the truth gets reinforced as we study the Scriptures with one another in the communion of saints.  We have brothers and sisters who have seen truths in the Bible that we have not yet seen.  We need them to share that with us.  Similarly, we may have grasped truths from the Scriptures that they haven’t yet.  They need us to bring those truths to them.  Getting a better handle on the truths of God’s Word needs to be a communal effort.  Together, we can see and grasp more of the truth we need for life in this world in the grip of lies.

Let me leave you with Phil. 4:8, where the Holy Spirit says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true…think about these things.”  What is more true than God’s own Word?


Piper: No Desire to Read the Bible?

I’ve learned a lot from this book so far, as I usually do from John Piper.  This excerpt here is the best part I’ve read so far.  It touches on something I’ve experienced and I imagine you have too.  He’s discussing the prayer of the psalmist in Psalm 119:36, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain.”

Over the years in my pastoral ministry, many people have complained to me that they do not have motivation to read the Bible.  They have a sense of duty that they should, but the desire is not there.  It is remarkable how many of those people feel that the absence of the desire is the last nail in the coffin of joyful meditation on God’s word.

When I ask them to describe to me what they are doing about it, they look at me as if I had misunderstood the problem.  What can you do about the absence of desire, they wonder.  “It’s not a matter of doing.  It’s a matter of feeling,” they protest.  The problem with this response is that these folks have not just lost desire for God’s word, but they have lost sight of the sovereign power of God, who gives that desire.  They are acting like practical atheists.  They have adopted a kind of fatalism that ignores the way the psalmist prays.

Evidently, the psalmist too felt this terrible tendency to drift away from the word of God.  Evidently, he too knew the cooling of desire and the tendency of his heart to incline more to other things — especially money.  Otherwise why would he have cried out, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain.“?  He is pleading with God to give him desire for the word.  He knows that ultimately God is sovereign over the desires of the heart.  So he calls on God to cause what he cannot make happen on his own.  This is the answer to fatalism.  This is the answer to acting like an atheist — as if there were no God who rules the heart, and can restore what we have lost.  (p.255)

A little further on, Piper speaks about how to go about this:

Don’t wait until you have lost the desire before you start praying for this desire.  If the desire is present, give thanks and ask him to preserve it and intensify it.  If you sense that it is cooling, plead that he would kindle it.  And if it is gone, and you do not feel any desire to pray, do what you can.  Repent.  Tell him you are sorry that your desire for his word is dead.  Tell him just how you feel.  He knows already.  And ask him — this is possible without hypocrisy because of the “imperishable seed” (1 Pet. 1:23) that remains in his children — ask him to give you the desire that right now you can barely even muster the will to ask for.  He is merciful.  (p.256)

By the way, you can download this book for free right here.