I’ve listened to several fascinating conversations over the past few weeks about how people approach Scripture with biased hearts. When we sit down with the Bible, we bring to our reading an entire suite of preconceptions – biases we’ve come to believe from sermons we enjoyed, social preferences and mores, even political preferences that have little to do with Scripture itself.
I thought it would be instructive this month to reflect on things we've come to think are discussed in the Bible explicitly, but which aren’t. Some might be there in concept, but not in direct words. Some might be historical misunderstandings. Still others might be complete fabrications imposed by modern spins of Christian sects.
But all of the things I discuss below should center us on one key question: How well do we really know the Scriptures, and to what extent do we force it to say what we’ve already decided to believe?
NOT THERE #1: The Word “Trinity”
This is one you probably already knew: The word Trinity is nowhere to be found in all of Scripture. Those whose faith biases them to reject the Trinity are quick to point out that the word is not a Biblical one. Those who see Trinity as a central element of the entire Christian faith just as quickly point out that the absence of the word is not the same thing as the absence of the concept. And while there is one verse that seems to speak explicitly about the three-fold person of God (1 John 5:7), many respected Biblical scholars point out that the verse can’t be found in early manuscripts of Scripture, and seems to have been added much later.
Personally, I believe in the Trinity as a concept borne out by Scripture. But I do need to ask myself this question: If the concept of Trinity is so central to the foundations of the Christian faith, why is it not an explicit fact that’s central to the New Testament? Why isn’t it an unambiguous theme hammered home as directly and specifically as the nature of God being Love?
NOT THERE #2: A Devil Named Lucifer
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O heylel, son of the morning,” reads Isaiah 14:12, a verse famously misapplied to a character named Lucifer. If you look in your King James Version, you will even see heylel changed to lucifer – a rendering inspired by the Roman Catholic Vulgate’s Latin translation of Scripture, which is a fairly decent attempt to capture heylel’s sense of a shining daystar, a bright light of dawn. Interestingly, the Latin Vulgate presents the word lucifer without an initial capital letter, the lower case indicating it wasn’t understood as anyone’s name.
But here’s the kicker. Whatever the translation or rendering of that word, the passage has nothing at all to do with Satan, the accuser. The entire speech is directly and unambiguously addressed to the King of Babylon, not to any spiritual being, god, or angel. That fact is further driven home by the words immediately following the fall of the heylel: “Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble?”
The words heylel and/or lucifer appear nowhere else in Scripture.
NOT THERE #3: The Devil in the Garden of Eden
I’ve covered this idea in a previous blog post, but it bears repeating here. Nowhere in the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden and the Fall are we told that the serpent involved in Eve’s deception was anything but a serpent. Furthermore, there’s no later Scripture that interprets the passage that way. As far as we can tell from the actual text in all the Bible, not one sacred writer had the idea that the serpent was the devil.
As I detailed in that other post, there is a single line in Revelation comparing the devil to a snake, but that passage says nothing of the Garden of Eden – and other passages compare many other Biblical entities to a serpent, including one that references Christ Himself (John 3:14).
One brother in Christ I shared this with insisted, “Yes, I know it isn’t there, but it simply had to be the devil that entered into the snake to do that!” And therein lies the message of this entire blog post: What do we know the Scriptures say, vs. what do we insist it must say because we already think so?
NOT THERE #4: The Term “Personal Lord and Savior”
As often as we ask others, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?”, you’d think the line appeared at least once in the Scriptures. Not true. Jesus as a “personal Lord” or as a “personal Savior” is not a term explicitly stated anywhere in the New Testament, and may be more an expression of American individualism and revivalism than anything else. To the contrary, there are numerous examples of just the opposite: Jesus not as a personal savior, but as savior of the world, savior of all men, Lord over all – a Corporate Savior and Lord, to put it succinctly.
But here, as with Trinity, we have to hunt for the concept rather than the specific term. Romans 10:9, for example, says: “… if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” For those of you who love ancient languages, you’ll be even more pleased to know that the “thy” and “thine” used in that verse are renderings of the genitive case of the Greek sou, the second person singular pronoun. It’s clearly a single “you” and not “y’all” doing the confessing and believing. One person, personally confessing.
But how quickly could I have recalled that verse if I were challenged in a discussion to support the idea of a “personal Lord and personal Savior”? It’s easy to look as if I knew it right here in this article I took plenty of time to write. Would I have recalled it while witnessing? Have I studied enough to show myself approved?
NOT THERE #5: Unconditional Love
Preachers who tell you that the Greek word agape means “God’s unconditional love” are profoundly mistaken. Since I’ve covered this topic in detail in still another blog post, I won’t devote too much time to it here. I will, however, point out that the term “unconditional love” is not in the Bible, and that I believe the concept itself is clearly anti-Scriptural. “IF you confess, you will be saved,” the verse I cited early says. “You are my friends IF you do as I command you” says the Lord in the Gospel of John. Computer programmers and scripters know what the word IF indicates … a condition, a possible pathway should a routine follow a potential direction. Every IF implies an IF NOT ... in programming and in Scripture as well.
No, no, I am not proclaiming a Gospel of works. We are saved without conditions. But I am proclaiming that the term “unconditional love” is no older than the 1900s, probably coined by the atheist psychoanalyst Erich Fromm in his book The Art of Loving, and certainly pushed heavily by the humanist Carl Rogers via his concept of “unconditional positive regard.” Scripture, on the other hand, is a history of conditions about how one behaves in the Kingdom. The word “if” fills over five pages of Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, a complete guide to all conditional phrases in Scripture. A vast number of those are conditions being set down by the Lord and by His apostles and prophets.
NOT THERE #6: A Ban on Abortion
Yes, I know, this will raise hackles. The simple fact is, Scripture directly discusses abortion only once – an extensive passage in Numbers 5 that gives direction on how to perform one if you think your wife has been cheating on you and is bearing another man’s child. No other direct reference exists. The one thing Scripture has to say about abortion is how to give one.
I’ve heard lots of discussions that try to uncover a Scriptural attitude toward abortion. Pro-choice Christians point out that the law and its punishments never treat a miscarriage caused by a violent act as a murder, but only as a lesser property crime. Pro-life Christians counter that God clearly thinks a blastula has a human soul because Scripture has the Lord saying, “Before you were in your mother’s womb, I knew you.” Pro-choice Christians counter that knowing someone “before” they were in the mother’s womb meant the soul must have existed “before” conception, a belief held only by Mormons if it isn’t poetic. Pro-life Christians counter that counter by saying …
You get the idea. Both sides have a view, and both sides dig up Scriptural rationales to imply support of that view. What is very unlikely is that individuals on either side of the argument began holding that view by reading Scripture. Like so many other ideas, the view came first, and the Scriptural rationales came later.
NOT THERE #7: A 666 Antichrist
Tim LaHaye, coauthor of the sixteen Left Behind novels, has done a masterful job of popularizing the modern mythology developed around the Second Coming of Christ. If you arched an eyebrow at my use of “mythology” just then, please consider this short list:
- embedded microchips in your hand
- a one-world government
- planes crashing at the time the rapture happens due to missing pilots
- the Catholic Church as a one-world Satanic Religion
- the need to rebuild a Temple in Jerusalem
All of these non-Biblical ideas are part of the fanciful thinking (and dare I say vain imaginings?) of those with a premillennial catastrophist mindset like LaHaye’s. The Bible has no microchips, not even implied ones. It has no prophesied one-world government, since the Beast is battling countries from start to finish. The Whore of Babylon in Revelation 17 is never identified as a symbol of a world religion. These are all inventions of those who struggle to interpret one of the most symbolic and arcane books of the Bible.
And as for an Antichrist whose number is 666? That is an imposed interpretation. The Antichrist appears nowhere in the Book of Revelation, the place where the number 666 plays a role. The 666 code refers to one of the symbolic beasts of the apocalyptic calamity. The term “antichrist,” on the other hand, is found only in the letters of John (very likely not the same John as the one who wrote Revelation, given the commonness of the name John and the completely different quality of Greek used by the authors). When antichrist is mentioned in the letters of John, readers are always encouraged to think of the term in the plural … antichrists, not a single man. John seems to encourage believers to stop thinking in terms of one arch villain.
Is the beast the same as the antichrist? We have no evidence to suggest it is, and plenty of encouragement from the epistle writer John to stop focusing on a single bad guy. There are many antichrists. There is one beast with the code 666. For my money, that was Nero Caesar, whose name adds up to that number. But I am open to other ideas.
NOT THERE #8: A Third Temple
Another result of so many people in the United States embracing a premillennial catastrophist mindset is a need for a third temple to be built on the spot in Jerusalem where the two previous temples stood. However, Scripture say nothing at all about a third temple being built.
Where did the idea come from, then? It arises from an attempt to see the apocalyptic sections of Scripture – Matthew 24, Daniel, parts of Ezekiel, Revelation, etc. – as depictions of far future events, rather than as encoded messages about the writers’ own times. To see those texts as secret codes applying to our own day, we would have to have a temple again, because the texts make such a big deal about what happens with temple sacrifices during the time being discussed. How does one get those sacrifices underway? By inventing a third and final temple for them to happen in, despite the fact that Scripture has no prophecies about a third being built. If your mythology of the End Times demands it, you have to have one.
Far easier would be to read the histories of the time and to realize that nearly all of the prophecies in all the apocalyptic parts of the Bible were fulfilled shortly after being made. Yet even seeing that might not help dissuade us of our modern philosophies about apocalyptic literature. A recent interpretive trend is introducing “dual fulfillment of prophesies” – an idea that springs directly from those honest enough to see the fulfillment of the prophecies in history, but still unwilling to let go of premillennial dispensationalism.
Our earliest ideas die the hardest, sometimes.
NOT THERE #9: Prayer Warriors
This is a relative newcomer to the list, but I wanted to include it. More and more, churches are using the extra-Biblical term “prayer warriors” as if they were describing a special caste of Powerful Praying People, those with more muscle behind their requests of God. Keep an eye on this term. It may soon be declared an actual ministry with its place in the hierarchy, despite the fact that Scripture’s description of the armor of God is for all believers, not just a praying caste.
Yes, there are levels of prayer. The parable of the Widow’s Mite shows us exactly what those levels are: good prayers that get heard, and lousy ones that get ignored and are their own reward. Any other distinction will make us forget that every one of us is to pray at all times, without ceasing. To deem some believers to be “warriors” with special praying powers is to deny direct, efficacious intercession by every child of God.
NOT THERE #10: Moses’ Authorship of the Pentateuch
I thought I’d end on a lighter note. Guys … Moses didn’t write the first five books of the Bible. Honest. He didn’t. Even though your KJV uses the title “Books of Moses” to describe them, those titles are nowhere in the early manuscripts. Even if they were in the early manuscripts, calling them the Books of Moses doesn’t make Moses the author any more than Ruth was the author of the Book of Ruth.
Yes, there’s a line here and there instructing Moses to write down everything he was going through. But that doesn’t mean we have those writings any longer, and it doesn’t mean our Torah is what Moses wrote down. The Bible mentions lots of writings that we no longer have. For example:
- Book of the Wars of the Lord (Numbers 21:14)
- Book of Jasher (Joshua 10:13)
- The Manner of the Kingdom (1 Samuel 10:25)
- Book of Samuel the Seer (1 Chronicles 29:29)
- The Acts of Solomon (1 Kings 11:41)
There is evidence against Moses’ authorship: (1) The books discuss Moses’ death. That part would be tough for Moses to have written. (2) It talks about Moses in the third person, not in the first person as if he had written it. (3) It calls Moses the most humble man on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3) … words not likely to be written by the most humble man on the face of the earth. (4) Genesis 12:6 says of the Promised Land: “At that time the Canaanites lived in the land” … something still true until well after Moses’ death, clearly indicating the words were being written after the Canaanites were gone. (5) Genesis 36:31 says “before any king ruled over the Israelites …” which unambiguously shows the writer knew there were kings over the Israelites hundreds of years after Moses’ death. (6) There are lots of other clues, but I only included this part to poke at a friend who doesn’t agree with me on this.
My prayer is this: That I keep my eyes open to what the Word really says and never get lost in the blindness of my preconceptions, nor too convinced of my own rightness not to accept correction.
Cosmic Parx / YoYo Rez