Friday, May 16, 2014

Witness for the Defense

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Yes, I have a sense of humor.  And, if you think you recognize the hat, pipe, and magnifying glass considered symbols of the famous Sherlock Holmes, you're right.  At least those were some of the tools in Basil Rathbone's M.O. for creating his characterization of Holmes.  And it's that term that got me thinking.

A friend of mine, Shawn Mullin, mentioned M.O. in a post she published yesterday.  The first thought that came to mind was  recalling where I'd first heard that term.  Which, if memory serves, was from Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday on Dragnet.  My train of thought went to Sherlock.  And then, I started thinking about the term M.O., itself.

M.O. is short for the latin phrase modus operandi, the mode or method of operation.  Perhaps more important to our discussion, today, is that it's a police or detective term.  That's especially important when we consider our study of the Bible.  If we use sources that hold minority views, then we're more likely to come to similar minority conclusions.    We'll get to that in a bit.

Acts 10:43 (KJV)  To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.

No matter what our beliefs, we always seek clarity of thought. Or at least as much clarity as we can find. Sometimes that’s not as easy as it seems. There are some whose thinking, in one way or another, negates the validity of the Old Testament. But that will get us headed in a very wrong direction. That verse in Acts says all the prophets, not just those in the New Testament. And it says they are a witness of Jesus. What does He say to that?

John 5:31 (KJV)  If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.

Jesus adds another dimension to that in Matthew 5:17, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”. All of the Old Testament stuff we might consider too legalistic is what Jesus came to fulfill. In fact, He summarizes the law, in Matthew 22:37-40, this way, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”.

In reality, the Old Testament isn’t depicting an angry God. It’s showing a God forced to fulfill the consequences we were warned about.   God gave us free will, but we haven’t always used that gift wisely.  And Jesus is directly quoting Old Testament Scripture in Matthew 22.

When we study the Bible, we need to be Sherlock Holmes.  Our M.O. has to be that we study both Old and New Testaments.  Neither eliminates  the other.  There are discussions of whether the Bible is inerrant, infallible, or both.  Then there are a few who suggest it's neither and not the Word of God. The last ignores a growing body of historical evidence.  We may get to that in more detail in another post in the future.  We're only laying groundwork, at this point.

2 Timothy 2:15-16 (KJV)  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.  But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (KJV)  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 perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

That first passage in 2 Timothy is a call to become a Sherlock Holmes of Scripture.  When we study the Bible, we are to look at doctrinal passages in light of the surrounding passages, in the context of other passages.  We're also to understand the differences in translations, which ones are more accurate, and where the accuracies and inaccuracies lie.  The original documents were in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, not English.  And the original documents, despite differences in passages about minor doctrines, are in agreement on all the major doctrines.

Let's hit one of the other common arguments against accuracy.  The existing Biblical manuscripts are copies 100-200 years after there would be originals.  And there are slight variations, as we've mentioned.  This is considered by some as proof they're inaccurate.  Yet scholars take copies of Shakespeare's writing that are farther in time from the original documents, and with more variations, as accurately representing Shakespeare's original work.  So, which is it?  Are both inaccurate?  Or are both qualified documents?  Can we validly use different standards for each.  What's the right M.O. for determining that?  We'll get to that.

What about 2 Timothy 3?  There are some who suggest that the Bible can't be holy Scripture and their reasoning is that you can't trust a document that says that about itself.  Yet, that argument isn't used about holy documents of other religions.  Are we, once again, seeing a double standard?

Prophecy (or prophesy) can be foretelling (speaking of the future) or it can be forthtelling (speaking of present conditions).  Prophets have done both in their call.  Old Testament prophets did both.  So did Jesus in that aspect of His ministry.  And a major part of what He based His teaching on was Old Testament Scripture.  So, can we take Jesus, but skip the documents He taught from? Especially when Jesus says He's the fulfillment of that law, not its replacement?  And what of Matthew 22:37-40?  That sounds very different from how the naysayers describe the Old Testament.  So, is it the Old Testament that's wrong or that the understanding some have that needs correction?

I should make a confession, here.  There was a time when I was the one who argued against the Bible.  I, too, liked Jesus, but not so much the Old Testament.  And I was very good at contrasting behavior to purported beliefs.  And like a number of people I've since had discussions with, I felt I was wise enough to pick and choose which parts were real and which I could toss out.  And, like the dissenters I now discuss this with, it brings up some real questions.

  1. What makes my opinion more valid than numerous people who have spent a great deal of effort and time studying languages, cultures, and documents?  If I or someone else says we've considered something, but don't say what brought us to our conclusions, what gives anyone else an opportunity to determine if our conclusions have any basis?
  2. If I use outside sources to validate my ideas, are they accepted scholars or is there anything questionable about how they came to their conclusions?  And are we accepting what they say only because it validates and agrees with our own ideas?
  3. If I accept Jesus and His teachings, can I honestly negate the Old Testament He taught from?
  4. If I accept some of the Bible and not other parts,  what makes my choices more valid than the buffet selection of someone else?  Is some Scripture inspired and not all?
  5. Does it make sense to throw out Scripture because some who purport to follow it are failures? Doesn't the Bible say that, by ourselves, we're all failures in something?  Do we toss out the ideal of marriage because some spouses are abusers or cheaters?  By the same token, do we throw out Biblical principles because some are better at saying they believe than acting that way?
I could continue.  There are definitely more questions. that need answering.  Whatever part of the spiritual spectrum we're on regarding the Bible, we need to become spiritual CSIs.  Sherlock Holmes was the first fictional CSI to capture the imagination.  There's a reality to his crime solving.  There needs to be a real basis to our conclusions.  And it has to be something that, while others may agree or disagree, other people can see the foundation of our deductions.  So, I'll throw out a suggestion.  Or, possibly, a challenge.

Bible college.  Whether you're atheist, agnostic, questioning Christian, or solidly a believer, find a good one.  And, especially, find one that doesn't have a denominational axe to grind.  Then be guided in taking courses that will answer your questions.  Discover why the various Christian tenets exist and how they relate to what you believe.  No matter what your spiritual stance, that may change your mind or it may solidify what you believe.  But it'll give you facts instead of opinion.

My recommendation is Maryland Bible College and Seminary.  It's the one I went to and can recommend from personal experience.  Yes, that's a link to the college's website.  There are quite a few online courses.  If you're not going for a certificate or degree, there are even some good free courses.  Learn whether what you believe holds water or is nothing more than opinion.  It's important. Be the spiritual Sherlock Holmes of your life.

1 Thessalonians 5:21 (KJV)  Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 

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