Plenary Inspiration ≠ Plenary Application

I’m not sure what it is about us, other than sheer narcissism, that makes us believe every single verse of Holy Scripture has to somehow apply to us. I’ve even heard of people reading themselves into the Bible. For example, my first name is Aaron. Psalm 118:4 reads,

Let the house of Aaron now say, that his mercy endureth for ever.

While I have a family or a house, if you will, and I affirm that the mercy of God endures forever, I should not read myself into the text and think of myself as related to or having any bearing on the Aaronic High Priesthood of the nation of Israel during the Old Testament era.

That’s just foolish pride.

My naming was not because I have Jewish parents desiring to honor God’s anointed kohen ha-gadol, the older brother to Moshe Rabbeinu. I was named Aaron as a compromise because my mom wanted to name me after her dad, Irvin, and my dad didn’t, so he offered Aaron as an alternative.

Not destiny, not special, and not in any way, shape, or form, related to the Aaron of the Bible, even though my name comes from his name.

There are other examples I could give, but for this blog entry, I’m just going to focus on a few. But before I do, I want to share what I mean by the use of the world plenary and how it fits into the title.

Plenary, when used to describe the inspiration of God upon the Holy Scriptures, means that they are inspired in full. That is, every aspect of their creation and existence, even down to the smallest word, jot, and tittle, comes from the breath of God, as His Holy Spirit operated upon the men of old to write (See 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21) . This makes the Bible, along with being inspired, also inerrant or without error.

This does not mean that any translation is so inspired. Nor does it mean that any manuscript copy is, either. Rather, the affirmation is that the original, now not existing first autographs were fully inspired and so totally inerrant.

But, even with this being the case, all disciples of the Word must remember a few things. Some portions of the Bible, although they were included under the inspiration of God, do not have God’s approval upon them as they happened. What do I mean?

Take the raping to death of a man’s concubine and her subsequent mutilation, and then eventual near annihilation of the tribe of Benjamin that occurred in pre-Monarchial Israel as recorded in the Book of Judges (Judges 19). As a historical fact, it needs to be in the Bible, and so the writing of it was inspired, but God in no way inspired those events to take place.

So we see here an area of the Bible where we SHOULD NOT apply the Holy Scriptures to our lives. Although these things are written for our knowledge, spiritual education, or even as a warning, they are not contained in the pages of the Book so we can pattern our lives after them (Consider, ladies. Would you have your husband sleep with and attempt to impregnate another woman if you were barren, a la Sarah, Abraham, and Hagar?).

But now, let me get more specific.

Psalm 119:67,

67. Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word.

I’ve seen this verse used as a doctrinal justification whereby it is taught that God personally hurts and punishes His people, even though His people have already been atoned for through Jesus Christ, and the Lord’s death propitiated the Father nearly 2,000 years ago (See 2 Corinthians 5:19-21). The idea is, is that any believer who is currently suffering, must only be doing so as God deems it necessary to divinely afflict them in order to keep them saved.

I’m sorry, but this is an anti-grace position. God doesn’t need to kick my teeth in to keep me saved. Rather, the Bible reads that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8), and in another place, that we are saved by hope (Romans 8:24). So, for me to stay saved, do I hope God smashes me with unbearable affliction, or do I hope God, in His eternally enduring mercy, reaches for me in love and helps gently redirect my path into His good grace, understanding that saving grace, and not damaging affliction, is the New Testament teacher that shows how to live a saved life (See Titus 2:11)?

The honest answer is that is can be either. God knows what is best and what it is I truly need. But what we cannot do is assume that because in this one verse, the author of the psalm, in this case David, because he needed to be afflicted by God in order to keep the Word, that all people everywhere (i.e. plenary application) need to be so afflicted before they keep His Word, too. Notice the context: “I was…I went…I kept…” It’s all first person. And though inspired, let’s not remove the verse from being very true, real, and literal to David. It’s not a verse of Scripture just for the sake of being a verse of Scripture. It’s a personal confession David is making to God in musical format. This verse, before it ever was a “verse”, was a lyric in a grand opus, conceived in the heart of the king by the Holy Spirit, something so inspired as a real truth for David, if not for anyone else.

Because the fact is, some people enjoy keeping God’s Word. It’s their greatest joy to do so. They don’t need trial and hardship lashed onto their backs before they jump to obey. Some are more than ready, being sufficiently Christ-like, to do all that the Word of God commands.

Jeremiah 29:11,

11. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

I know many people love this verse. It has brought them much comfort and help during difficult times. While I affirm that God always knows every thought He thinks toward us, and He is ever mindful of whatever goals He wants us to achieve, may I just say that God, through Jeremiah, wasn’t talking to you? Look at verse 10:

10. For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.

Is God talking to us here in verse 10? Not a chance. But suddenly, one verse later, He stops talking to the exiled prisoners from Judah, and jumps some 2,500+ years into the future to talk to you? This expected end isn’t heaven, or anything remotely related to us here in the 21st century. The “expected end”, as it’s here called, is the promised return of the exiled prisoners back to Judah and Jerusalem, which occurred 70 years after their captivity, just as God promised and Jeremiah prophesied. Those were the thoughts God was thinking, i.e. “I’m going to release my people from captivity 70 years after the fall of Jerusalem, and bring them home”. Not whatever hopes and dreams we hold onto, assuming as we do, that such hopes and dreams must come from Him.

I’m not trying to take away anyone’s comfort and enjoyment from this verse or verses like this. But let’s have some perspective. If we ever hope to really understand God’s Word, we’ve got to get out of the way and stop using our own life experiences as the filter through which we perceive the stories of the Bible.

Another issue is when we see words like “all”, or “everyone”, and we assume such usages must be for all people everywhere for all time. There are way too many examples to list, but for those who read this blog, next time you see “all”, “everyone” or a similar word or phrase, do a double take and make sure that the speaker (God, Jesus, or whomever) is only meaning all or every person within earshot at the time of the discourse. If and since you weren’t there, the spoken words of the text may not apply to you.

Here’s a unique example: Acts 21:28,

28. Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.

This was a cry against the Paul of Tarsus. Do we really think that Paul taught all humans everywhere in the world? Of course not. We can instead realize that wherever Paul went, whenever he taught people the Word of the Lord, he taught them about Jesus Christ and the Gospel. See the difference?

Compare it to Acts 17:30,

30. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent…

Here, all humans in every part of the world for all time are meant. So next time you see one of these inclusive words, make sure you are reading it right.

My final example is a bit dicey. Please hold your stones until the end. It’s regarding 1 Corinthians 11 and the “hair/veil issue”. It’s a bit of a sacred cow among certain Christian groups, and I understand why. But hear me out. I am not going to take a side. Rather, I’m going to point out some things that I bet some believers don’t know or didn’t realize.

Corinth was a major metropolis in the Roman empire. It was a major city of industry, an important stop along Roman trade routes, and was a hot bed for all manner of idolatry. Common to the city were temples dedicated to various fertility goddesses in which women acted as the priestesses and oracles. Included in their religious rights were the following two activities: to act as sex slaves to their goddess and to ritualistically shave their head and burn their hair as an offering to and for the same.

So a woman, in the first century, living in Corinth, professing to be a follower of the One True God and the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 8:6), who often cut her hair or even shaved it close, would look less like a recently converted Daughter of Zion, and more like a temple prostitute usurping the leadership and headship of the men of the city.

So with that background in mind, consider how you apply 1 Corinthians 11 and the “hair/veil issue”. Then ask yourself one question, does the past situation in Corinth 1,960 years ago (and apparently nowhere else since the “hair/veil issue” isn’t written about in any other letter) call for a plenary application?

I know what I believe. My wife does, too. Each can and will decide for themselves. I’m not going to fight anyone over it. In fact, we are told the churches of God have no custom of contention on this particular issue (1 Corinthians 11:16), so let’s keep it that way. My only point is to recommend a deeper study and acceptance of the Word of God as is, without using a modern context, American filter constantly sullying the contents.

(Another quick example: the entire Book of Malachi, written to the backslidden temple priests and ministers, and not to anyone else. Consider that in light of chapter 3, especially).

So as said, this is not even remotely exhaustive. Just a few areas, ones that seem the most popular areas of error. This isn’t designed to bash anyone for mistakenly applying a verse of Scripture that doesn’t have any bearing on them or their life today. By all means, learn from the Word, let it guide and comfort your life. It can and does bring great peace of mind. But we don’t have to twist and bend the Word to fit into every possible scenario that comes our way in order to make It fit. The stories and contents are true. They are inerrant. They are inspired.

And, at least for me, that’s enough. Let’s not mess with the Word anymore than it’s already messed with.


~ by votivesoul on 01/03/2014.

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Mark Showalter's Blog

Always seeking to know God more

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