“You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of me.” John 5: 39 Christ made this statement to men who were not your average churchgoers. No, these men were exceedingly religious. They studied the Bible. They kept the Sabbath. They paid tithe. They even traversed long distances in search of converts. These men were the First Century champions of Scripture.
To our shock, Jesus’ evaluation of these men was negative. Why? He states plainly that they were “not willing to come to [Him] that [they] may have life" (John 5: 40).
They missed the point of Scripture entirely!
Seventh-day Adventists must walk a fine line. On the one hand, we are called to be firm and zealous advocates of Scripture. On the other hand, we are ever mindful that it was Bible-believers who crucified Christ. This reality appropriately causes us pause. More importantly, it elicits from us the question: How shall we, as Seventh-Day Adventists, relate to Scripture so as to be faithful to Bible truth without falling into the error of the religious leaders of whom Jesus spoke?
There are two answers to this question. One is easy and one more difficult.
The Easy Answer
In one sense it is easy to answer the question posed above. This is so because there are definite ways in which we must relate to Scripture. Here they are:
- We must recognize Scripture’s divine authorship- every page inspired by God.
- We must acknowledge that the Bible was written for a purpose, which is to communicate to man things divine- even the will of God.
- We must accept that it is God who speaks through Scripture. As such, we are to listen to what He says and carefully study the Bible to ascertain God’s message for us.
- We must willingly obey Scripture. Even if our attempts are weak and imperfect, we must apply God’s message to our lives.
By refusing to accept these basic points, we find ourselves in wrong relation to Scripture. This is so because we have not accepted the Bible for what it purports to be. It is that simple. In other words, if we are unwilling to accept Scripture’s claims regarding divine authorship or application to our lives, we are then engaged in pretense. And pretense, by definition, consists not of the thing. Therefore, failure to accept the above-stated points evidences that we are out of step with Scripture.
The chief offender in this regard is higher criticism. Higher criticism is a system of thought which argues that portions of the Bible are either too mystical to be understood or, for whatever reason, are inapplicable to the lives of modern readers. With regard to the latter point, higher critics often resort to elaborate “historical” accounts in an attempt to reach a single conclusion- namely that what is written applies solely to another time, people, and place. To the higher critic, there is nothing that cannot be “contextualized away.” Although an understanding of the historical context of a passage is often necessary to rightly decipher its message, it is never correct to use history and context to mute God’s voice.
Higher critics wrongly relate to Scripture. They claim to be expounders of the Bible, but they have rejected the basics. As such, their claims lack sincerity. Moreover, these critics declare that they speak about things divine, yet they deny Scripture’s divine source. Thus, they speak of things of which they know nothing. As a result, they lack any semblance of credibility.
Due to this, it is unwise to argue with higher critics. Such action grants them legitimacy that is undeserved and unrequired. To engage in such a conversation is akin to asking a person for directions to a destination to which he has neither been, nor even bade to travel to.
Unfortunately, higher critics are positioned in our churches and educational institutions. What is the result? Spiritual declension everywhere we look. Of course, this is predictable. Cause follows effect. Because these persons are unwilling to listen and obey God, they are left to themselves. Their disciples are likewise adrift on the sea of infidelity. They are beckoning us. We cannot respond to their call and expect to remain in right relation to Scripture.
The Difficult Answer
Now to the real issue, how should we relate to Scripture?
First, we must adopt the four points stated above. But, we must not stop there. This is where the religious leaders of Christ’s day ended their search. They did not go any further, and they missed the point. To avoid their error, we must go further. But where shall we go?
Going Further--Even Unto Christ
Many of us read the Bible scholastically. We study its pages to learn about the past. Some of us read the Bible ritually. It is the book we turn to first in the morning, and we read its pages as part of a routine. Some of us read the Bible in an attempt to bolster arguments with non-believers or to prove our favored positions. While some of this may be necessary, it ultimately misses the point!
Jesus states that the Bible testifies of Him. He thereby indicates that the principal purpose for studying Scripture is to become personally acquainted with the Divine. To rightly relate to Scripture therefore is to read the Bible so that we may personally receive its Author.
Not So Fast
Although Jesus’ statement in John 5: 39-40 is easy to understand, it can be difficult to apply. The difficulty of course does not stem from God’s end. Rather, it is something we create. Humans unfortunately would rather have another person tell them what the Bible says and what God would have them do. It is difficult to go to God on our own, to find Him ourselves. But, there is no other safe path. Of course, it is good to listen to advice from others. The problem is that we often mistake the advice of a friend for divine directive.
In short, we must do the heavy lifting. We must struggle with God on our knees. As we do this, we will find the difficulties removed. We will find Christ for ourselves, and we will walk that fine line by His grace.