The Bible’s Certain Words and Fixed Meaning
“So that your trust may be in the LORD; I have instructed you today, even you. Have I not written to you excellent things of counsels and knowledge, that I may make you know the certainty of the words of truth, that you may answer words of truth to those who send you (Prov. 22:19-21)?”
In order for the Church to have anything of eternal value to say, we are charged with speaking words that are true, certain, knowledgeable, and excellent. What is the goal of knowing and speaking so? So that you, even you, can place your trust [faith] in the LORD, and so you can answer words of truth [evangelize] to those who send you or send for you.
One very clear thing to understand for us as Christians concerning how we think and speak about God and His Word is this: uncertainty is not humility, and certainty is not arrogance. God Himself created the reality in which we live, language and how it works to communicate meaning, the rules of logic which govern grammar and discourse, and the sensible world we interact with as embodied creatures. We do not live in the Wachowski’s The Matrix, nor do we live in a world created by some unknown God with ever changing rules of reality. We do not practice pagan spirituality that has as its goal an undefinable numinous “awe” centered on a God we cannot define, based upon questions and not answers. Christianity, by definition, is a religion of answers.
The Word of God is what created all things (Gen. 1). The Word of God sustains and upholds all things by His Word (Col. 1; Heb. 1). The Word of God is that through which men and women are brought into a saving relationship with Christ (Rom. 10:9-21; Tit. 1:1-3). The Word of God is that which through men are judged (John 12:48). The Spirit of God inspired the men who wrote God’s Word in the Bible (2 Pet. 1; 2 Tim. 3). God’s Words are more important than any experience in the Christian life. Recall Job: “Though He slay me, I will trust Him (Job 13:15).” If the validity of God’s Word depended on us in any way or our experience of God, then God’s Word would have ceased to have objective meaning and power long before any of us were alive. We are transformed by the Word, the Word is not transformed by us.
Therefore, we as Christian pastors and laymen are entrusted with that Gospel Word to become established in the “excellent things of counsels and knowledge” so that we come to “know the certainty of the words of truth” so that we can actually evangelize the lost and also defend and explain the faith rationally. The faith advances propositionally in an objective Word, not mystically in a subjective quagmire. Christian ministry and Christian evangelism were never and are never primarily driven by personal experience, nor does evangelism require an extravagant testimony nor a previously wayward life to have the grounds to “authentically” speak God’s Word. Why? Because the worth is located in the God who saved you and His Word; the worth is not grounded in your experience of that salvation.
Remember, the prophet Samuel served God and learned the deep truths of the High Priest Eli from the time of being a child: “Samuel ministered before the LORD, even as a child (1 Sam. 2:18).” Think of others who were never drinking down the dregs of sin before conversion (Daniel, Joseph, David, etc.) Think of those who were great sinners before they were saved, and how they did not glory in their former shame as some supposed merit badge of authenticity that gave them the right to preach, teach, evangelize, or lead (Manasseh, Paul, Moses; cf. Rom. 6:21). Our American ideal of spiritual authority being bound up in a testimony of an exceedingly sinful life, and that somehow giving someone greater authority, finds no place in Scripture or Church history. Read Augustine’s Confessions, and compare that to most modern testimonies, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Augustine knew his authority was grounded in God and His Word, not in his own personal pre-conversion sinful experiences nor his personal post-conversion spiritual experiences. Our experience is secondary, not primary, when it comes to ministry and evangelism.
In a culture that has so thoroughly attacked objective (fixed) meaning vested in words, we are living in a functional despair because we bought into the lie that words cannot be certain, cannot be true, or cannot get at reality as reality. Christian scholars have, in a method of unbelief, gone off looking to cultural background and the Biblical authors’ “intent” to try to timidly grasp at meaning in the Biblical text, when they should simply be looking at the meaning already vested in the inspired text as it stands, not some unspoken intent in the mind of a now dead human author, nor some plausibility structure from the ancient culture to get around the plain meaning of the text and its long-standing tradition of historical interpretation. We are to “hold fast the word of life (Phil. 2:16).”
This is why, for the first time in the Church’s existence, we have people in the Church-at-large, with a straight face, both pastors and laity, calling evil good and good evil, defiantly coming at the Word of God based upon their preferences and experiences instead of humbling themselves under the Word of God. This is why the book of Judges ends on a somber note, “and every man did what was right in his own eyes.” We try to appeal to our experiences and preferences to justify disobedience, disregard, or downright hatred for God’s Word.
“An astonishing and horrible thing
Has been committed in the land:
The prophets prophesy falsely,
And the priests rule by their own power;
And My people love to have it so.
But what will you do in the end (Jer. 5:30-31)?”
Most Christian laymen have given up trying to read the Bible, and instead look for inner words from the Spirit to try and bypass the despair of being hoodwinked into thinking they cannot know anything for certain—but they somehow know that they feel for certain. But if you cannot trust your mind, then by that same rationale you cannot trust your heart. In other words, if you cannot know with certainty, then you cannot feel with certainty. Our inner life, our soul, is connected—we are thinking, feeling, willing beings. We’ve been reduced to finding fixed meaning from God in a rush of feeling, a “quiver in our liver,” as Norman Geisler calls it, instead of God’s Word. We are close to the shamans of old who tossed bones into a dish and based major decisions on intuitions and subjective impressions of what they thought the gods were telling them to do. Beloved, we do not want to get to the point where we “think not till we feel.” Feelings are good when they are in service of the truth and are a response to truth, but not when they become the arbiter and determiner of truth. God’s Word is sufficient for a robust faith and healthy practice thereof (2 Tim. 3:15-17).
The Bible is not true based upon how you feel when you read it, but is true because it is the Word of God. The Bible is not subject to mean anything that anyone wants it to mean, nor can everything be reduced to “the Bible as I see it” when you are explaining it, or “The Bible as you see it” to your opponent in any theological debate—but rather “The Bible as it stands.” This is the heart of strength in our denomination, the EFCA, which laid our foundations and has reformed itself in various ways since 1884 based upon the piety of the old Swedes, Danish, Dutch, and others, with their rallying cry of “Where Stands It Written?”
Remember Prov. 22:19-21, and understand that entire goal of Biblical studies as a pastor or layman is to speak forth the words of truth with certainty, and to correct those in error, from the Word of God, not from your own spiritual experience or authenticity, however you try to define that. This is how we have a certain Word to evangelize with, and it is how Philip easily accompanied the Ethiopian man and brought Him to Christ by way of the book of Isaiah, when the man asked, “How can I [understand], unless someone guides me (Acts 8:31)?” “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him (Acts 8:35).” Philip did not spend time trying to dazzle the Ethiopian with the facts about the angel of the Lord directing Philip to go there (Acts 8:26), trying to establish himself as superior to the Ethiopian, nor as someone who should be listened to over other ministers because he had a supernatural experience. The inspired, inerrant, infallible, powerful, meaningful Word of God was and is sufficient. Even the deeper things of God in experience, and the meat of His written revelation, are not granted to you apart from the diligent study of and submission to His written Word, the Bible.