The Bible is not against what we might call scholarship or intellectual pursuit. From all that history can tell us, the apostle Paul may have been one of the most intellectual men who have ever lived. II Peter 3:15-16 warns believers that Paul's epistles contain instruction so hard to understand that false teachers can easily twist them to say wrong and harmful things. Members of the church, made up of the weak of the world (I Corinthians 1:26-29), can be especially gullible when it comes to intellectualism, and some stumble.
Even so, Scripture displays no animosity toward the use of the intellect, nor is it against rational arguments and dispassionate reasoning. When used properly, these things are good. God Himself gave us these skills, and we must use these tools to understand God's way of life. In fact, He wants us to use them in our ongoing pursuit of the truth of God. The true teachings of God that we understand and believe have all undergone deep scrutiny by these means and methods—scholarship, rational arguments, and dispassionate reasoning—and they pass muster on all counts. The doctrines that we in the churches of God agree on are sound and biblically based.
While not condemned by any means, human reason, scholarship, logic, and abundant research must take a back seat to two important elements, both of which are given directly by God: divine revelation and the Holy Spirit. These two pieces must be present before the rest of the puzzle will fall into place. Revelation is God's gift to us of His truth through His Word, and the Holy Spirit must be used to understand it properly. Once we have this initial understanding, we can apply scholarship, rational arguments, and dispassionate reasoning to glean further understanding. The important thing is that divine revelation and God's Spirit must come first.
We tend to forget about divine revelation because it is right in our Bibles, right under our noses, and we take it for granted. Of course, we study it frequently, but we rarely think about how the words and the truths they form got there in the first place. They are there because God revealed them, they were recorded by willing minds, and transmitted down through the centuries, guided and protected by God Himself. That is an awesome thing to consider.
We need to be careful to understand that the revelation we interact with in our Bibles is not direct revelation, as experienced by the apostles and prophets in visions, dreams, and the actual appearance by angels or even God Himself from time to time (Hebrews 1:1). Direct revelation is exceedingly rare. What we have in reading God's Word can be called "general revelation." It is what is available to everyone generally.
Scripture contains all that we need to know about our salvation, about God's Plan, and about our parts in it. If it is not in the Book, we can be sure that whatever it may be is not necessary for us to know in terms of salvation. If a fact does not appear in Scripture, it probably does not have much bearing on our calling and our future in the Kingdom of God. Extra-biblical knowledge may be occasionally helpful, and it may even add depth to our understanding. However, when it comes to a conclusion about whether something is spiritually true or not, the words of the Bible itself must be the final arbiter short of a direct appearance from God.
Another way of putting it is that general revelation—what is contained in God's Word—trumps every other source of information available—even church of God publications. Many people have taken Herbert W. Armstrong's booklets and made them into the equivalent of the Epistles of Herbert, metaphorically stapling them at the backs of their Bibles. We should understand that, though inspired by God's Spirit, his writings are not Scripture (see Isaiah 8:16; the canon of Scripture was finished with the death of Christ's disciples, the original twelve apostles). While his works contain quotations from Scripture, they also contain a great deal of material that was simply his explanations of various topics. They should be accorded respect but not veneration.
The only real source of divine revelation that we have access to, then, is the Bible. Certainly, it is more conclusive a source than any Bible resource help, such as concordances, lexicons, commentaries, and Bible dictionaries. Those books can be helpful, adding information and perspective, but they are not the final word on a given topic or doctrine. That is the Bible's job.
In the same way, the Bible is more authoritative than Jewish sources like the Talmud, the Mishna, the Targums, or any Jewish tradition. It is far more trustworthy than any opinion from a sage, rabbi, priest, or historian. The Bible is simply the last word on any matter of true Christian doctrine or practice.
The Bible itself claims this position. Jesus, for instance, in John 17:17, while praying to His Father just before His arrest, says plainly, "Sanctify them [His disciples, including us] by Your truth. Your word is truth." In reality, we need to look no further for the truth—those truths that have to do with our salvation and future in the Kingdom are in God's Word. Our Savior said so.
In II Timothy 3:14-17, Paul instructs the younger Timothy on what is to be the basis for his ministry and preaching:
But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Timothy had learned the truth from Paul, who had learned them from Christ. There was a direct line of descent of truth from the Source. That same truth has been preserved and made available to us in our Bibles. In a larger respect, Paul tells us that the Bible—the instruction that we have received from the prophets, apostles, and Jesus Christ Himself—is all that we need to equip us completely for the Kingdom of God.
So, beyond learning and applying these things, what is our responsibility to the revelation given to us? In II Thessalonians 2:13-15, Paul answers this question: "God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth . . . for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle."
The apostle warns that difficult times are coming, times of apostasy, so we must hang on to the revealed truths we have been taught, including the godly traditions we have learned. The revelation of God is precious and should not be sold for a bowl of soup. Do not let cunning arguments or even rational discussions, which may be completely bogus, take us off track. Stick to the pure words of the Book.
- Richard T. Ritenbaugh
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