In Matthew 22:23 – 33, we read of a group of Jewish religious leaders, the Sadducees, whose theology informed their understanding of Scripture rather than allowing Scripture to shed real light on their faulty theology. “This Jewish group apparently based its doctrine on the Pentateuch alone”1John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Mt 22:23
So, when appealing to what Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 25:5-10, they attempted to trip Jesus up, formulating a hypothetical case of a woman that had married seven brothers, one at a time, from the eldest to the youngest as each one died. Sadducees were skeptics, who didn’t believe in the resurrection, which of course Jesus taught, so they used this question to make belief in the resurrection seem ridiculous. “At the resurrection,” they ask,“whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” Jesus turned their ploy back on them in Matthew 22:28 when He replied from the Pentateuch, Exodus 3:6, to do so:
Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. (Matthew 25:29-32 KJV)
“Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” Ignorance of the scriptures does seem to be a popular way of misusing – intentionally (cults for example) or unknowingly – the word of God even today. Many miss, as did the Sadducees, the importance of the main character and theme in the story, God and His power. Many people miss the true teachings in the Bible because of their natural bias against the supernatural. In their thinking, God cannot do things which they deem impossible.
In 1923, J. Gresham Machen’s book, Christianity and Liberalism was published. Liberals of that day were the progressives of Machen’s day. His criticism wasn’t that the Liberals of his era did not claim to be Christian or that they had overtly abandoned the Scriptures. They used the methodology of the Sadducees to deny what seems impossible in human eyes. They held a cynical view of Scripture and created a “theology” which placed their unbelief and their feelings squarely on top of Scripture, vehemently denying what their biased minds could not, therefore did not, believe. Machen describes the premise of his book:
Modern liberalism may be criticized (1) on the ground that it is un-Christian and (2) on the ground that it is unscientific. We shall concern ourselves here chiefly with the former line of criticism; we shall be interested in showing that despite the liberal use of traditional phraseology, modern liberalism not only is a different religion from Christianity but belongs in a totally different class of religions.2Machen, J. Gresham. Christianity & Liberalism (Kindle Locations 91-93). Kindle Edition
Many of the things Machen said in 1923 can be applied with equal validity to Progressives today. Like the Liberals in Machen’s day, Progressives do use “traditional phraseology” and may quote Scripture, but context is missing. Their understanding is guided by personal feeling and desire, not by the contextual intent of the word of God. In “Who’s More Political: Progressive or Conservative Christians?”3George Yancey, “Who’s More Political: Progressive or Conservative Christians?”; April 29, 2021 George Yancy points out :
For progressive Christians, Jesus is primarily the model of inclusion and tolerance. For example, one progressive Christian drew a cartoon of Jesus saying, “The difference between me and you is you use Scripture to determine what love means and I use love to determine what Scripture means.” Progressive Christians focus on the actions and teachings of Jesus that reinforce their values of tolerance and inclusion, which they see as examples of love.
The result of imposing their personal feelings upon scripture is their embrace of a different Jesus and a different gospel. (2 Corinthians 11:4) They love the Jesus that says to the woman accused of adultery in John 8, “Neither do I condemn you;” but their thinking excludes His next words to her, “go, and from now on sin no more.” (ESV) Jesus says and does many compassionate things, and so should we, but Jesus also says things that are a bit harder to hear. Or maybe a LOT harder to hear.
Cult groups practice this as well. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, are skeptical of anything which their own minds cannot accept as possible. Their God, Jehovah, cannot be omnipresent, everywhere at once, or omniscient, all-knowing. In that sense, even the Father is not really all that Godlike. Jehovah has limitations. They take Jesus yet another big step down, insisting Jesus is not even a somewhat limited God like the Father Jehovah, but is a created being a little “g” god, Michael the Archangel. They do this because if Jesus were actually God, as the Scriptures firmly established, there would be, according to their human logic, two separate Gods, Jesus and His Father. They vehemently reject the trinity, which teaches there is ONE God in three persons. They cannot understand it, so they reject it. They have gone so far as to create a Bible translation that they have “fixed” in various places to reflect their biases.
So when, for example, they turn to John 1:1, they avoid the historical-grammatical context and have added an “a” into the text so that it reads:
This use of the little “g” god language is used for the person of Jesus to say Jesus is not God at all because, in their human minds, it would be an impossibility. By abandoning the context, they took the opportunity to add something, the “a,” that better supports their theology of unbelief. Thus, they interfere with the reader’s ability to understand what the Apostle John was actually doing in the book of John. He was writing to expose the heresies of Docetism which denied Jesus’s humanity and claimed that He was a phantasm, an illusion. John begins by pointing back to Genesis 1, demonstrating that the Son, “the Word,” existed before creation, and is the One (with the Father) that created everything – and strengthens his case by writing that if Jesus did not create a thing, it was not created! Even the New World Translation makes it clear in John 1:3 that Jesus created EVERYTHING.
The Bible itself can refute their skeptical attitude. JWs are supposedly a Bible-based belief system. So, they do believe that God parted the Red Sea and appeared in a burning bush, for two examples. But we can ask them, HOW did God make water stand up and dry the sea floor so His people could cross safely and quickly? Is that “logical?” Is it even POSSIBLE? And HOW did God appear to Moses in a burning bush? WHY was the burning bush not consumed by the flame? These miracles cannot be explained by our human mind, but that does not mean we should not believe in them – that the Word of God is not true. The miracles in Scripture must be taken on faith because God said it was so. The Nature of God is hard for human minds to grasp, but since God simply says there are three persons in ONE God, we must simply accept it. God is far above our understanding in SO MANY WAYS. He is AWESOME.
We would like to report that Evangelical Christians are always perfect in their handling of the word of God, but that is not always the case. Sometimes Scriptures are completely removed from their context. A idea loosely based on the Bible is, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Some will go so far as to quote Jeremiah 29:11 completely out of context:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Here is the context: Israel was in captivity at the time, and they were listening to false prophets who were lying to them about their imminent peace and restoration as a nation. Jeremiah, in contrast, told the Israelites to settle in and to understand they will be there until seventy years of their prophesied judgment is completed. He told them to build houses, get married, have families, plant gardens, and be good citizens in their exile. Yet he assures them that the nation will see brighter days. He wanted them to know God had plans for the Nation–after the 70 years are completed!5Jeremiah 29:1-10 At the END of the seventy years:
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.6Jeremiah 29:12-14
The people Jeremiah was directly addressing would likely be long dead, but their children and the nation would have a bright future. It is not any kind of promise that any individual person will have a shiny bright future on this side of heaven.
It is true that those who call upon the name of Jesus will enjoy a blessed and wonderful eternity, BUT that says nothing about what suffering or disappointments they may endure on this side of heaven. Even if ripping Scripture out of context may make us feel good, we are not meant to do that, but to understand what God was saying and to WHOM He was saying it. It can only be understood in its context.
We are not saying that pulling a happy-sounding out-of-context quote is in the same league AT ALL as denying the Trinity or the resurrection! We’re just pointing out that to really understand Scripture, it must be read in its proper context. No one will understand everything correctly in Scripture. Our aim is to greatly improve our understanding of Scripture and potentially save ourselves unnecessary grief by paying close attention to context.Ω
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|↑1||John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Mt 22:23|
|↑2||Machen, J. Gresham. Christianity & Liberalism (Kindle Locations 91-93). Kindle Edition|
|↑3||George Yancey, “Who’s More Political: Progressive or Conservative Christians?”; April 29, 2021|
|↑4||New World Translation, 1984 edition, online at JW.org|