Truth, Not Lies2020 Jul 8
Truth about God comes from Jesus Christ, and he taught us that the truth will set us free (John 8:32). Sources other than Jesus do not provide equivalent truth for teachings about God.
A good part of our bible was written before Jesus. Those earlier writers had a limited understanding of God. God progressively revealed himself to people through history. This culminated in Jesus, through his life, his actions and teachings.
If we had nothing but Jesus to learn about God, we would have complete truth. Only that from earlier times which is consistent with what Jesus has taught us, also then is truth.
The Bible comes in two sections, each connected to a covenant that God made with a group of people. The parts are commonly called OT & NT (Old & New Testaments). However, these parts would be better named as Old Covenant and New Covenant because these covenants are the reasons for the two parts of the Bible. note The old covenant was with the Israelite people, but the new covenant is with all people. The OT covers history leading up to and related to the old covenant; the NT covers context and instruction about the new covenant.
A convenant is not the same as a contract.
- A contract looses force when it is broken; the parties in the contract are no longer bound by it if it is broken.
- A convenant is a promise by the parties to fulfill what is promised, and this remains in force even if one party breaks their promise.
The Bible was written over a long period of time and its arc shows that there was changing understanding about God and of spiritual things over that range. This can be seen in a number of things such as expected spiritual rituals, understandings of God’s expectations of us, and understandings about God’s solution for the problem of sin.
This was because God’s revelation to us was progressive through time. Paul confirmed the truth of this as he was speaking about Jesus:
[God commissioned me] “… to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people.” Colossians 1:25-26 NIV note
Mystery here simply means something that previously was not disclosed to humans, but now is revealed in Christ. It was a mystery until Christ, but now Christ has disclosed it to us.
We are privileged to live after Jesus arrived into history because it is through Jesus that we see God most clearly:
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him” Colossians 1:15, 18-19 NIV
By this we see that before Jesus, nothing that God revealed had contained the fullness of God.
The Bible was written from other cultures, other periods of history and in other languages. For those that have lived all their lives in one country, it can be hard to comprehend the vast strangeness of that gulf. (For those in the USA, maybe think of the present divide between people on far opposite sides of the political spectrum.) Could persons across these differences easily understand each other? It can be very easy to completely miss or misinterpret important context and the meaning of people that are strange to us even in our own time. In the now, we must be humble in our effort to understand those that are “other” to us. How much more do we need to do this for those across time!
I actually think that the Bible is amazingly easy to understand considering its source context. note Certainly we have the advantage of very good translations in English that give us substantial help. However, we must have humility when it comes to the Bible, to be thoughtful about what we believe to be the most reliable truth and what things we hold more loosely.
Note that the NT writings are from a culture and mindset that is closer to our thinking than anything from the OT. We are still heavily influenced by Greek thought and reasoning, and that is the context from which the NT was written. This is not so for the OT. We should therefore be very careful and cautious about assuming we understand OT context, culture and thought.
For instance, our theology should come primarily from what we know about Jesus Christ and from his teachings. Jesus is God, and Jesus best represents God to us, so what he said about God and what he exemplified about God more clearly shows God to us than any earlier teaching. God hid aspects of himself from all people until He revealed himself in Jesus. Therefore, earlier teaching about God (from the OT) is veiled and incomplete, and it does not clearly teach us about God or about related spiritual things. note
The book of Hebrews repeatedly argues this that Jesus is better than anything in the OT: better than angels, better than Moses, the best priest for us to God, and more.
We are explicitly told in the NT that the writers of the OT were prevented from fully understanding God. We are told in the NT that even direct revelation from God to any people before Christ had veiled the full nature of God. So even things like the Ten Commandments (which is the essence of the Old Covenant) does not fully reveal God to us. Only Jesus Christ fully reveals God to us by what he said and what he did.
Therefore, if some teaching derived from the OT contradicts what you see in Christ, then that derived description of God is invalid note or the derived teaching is corrupted; the teaching does not represent God. This is because Christ absolutely teaches us more about God than the OT does. Christ teaches us better and more clearly and more accurately about God than the OT does. Our critical understanding of God is to come from Christ instead of another other source - even in the Bible.
Valid understanding comes from correctness regarding culture, context and language. Scholars do the best they can, however, there are some things about the past that nobody can know any more. Our ability to fully understand these things is corrupted by the ravages of time, and generally the more distant the time past, the less we can understand.
Then there is the problem of correctly transmitting what is in the scholar’s head to everybody else. We may misunderstand the context that the scholar has figured out in their own mind, so our understanding can be corrupted in this transmission.
Unfortunately also, sometimes scholars have biases or an agenda that lead them to deviate from the truth. This also is a corruption. Teachers are human, so we must be careful about who we put our trust in.
However, if the OT teaches us things about God that are in harmony with what we see in Christ, then those OT things can have supplemental value for us as Christians. note Christ best reveals God to us, so ideas about God from the OT are to be judged by the standard of what Christ has revealed to us, and not the other way around.
The OT always has value for historical context, so the OT is important. For instance, there is real value to see the progression of thought on spiritual things that the writers of the OT had across time.
God is consistent; God has full integrity in his own being and character; and, God is fully realized in Christ. We are Christians, so we follow Christ, and not any other. If some teaching about God is in conflict with Christ’s teaching or contradicts Christ’s example in action and living, then that other must be discarded; it is a lie.
As Darren Twa has said, “Lies impair your ability to reason”. Lies about God derived by us from the OT impair our ability to come to a reasonable understanding of God. Truth about God comes from Jesus Christ. The truth will set us free, so we do not need to fear the truth.
Stick to the most reliable source of truth: Jesus.
This essay was built on ideas out of conversations with and teaching by Darren Twa.