“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:10-11)
A couple of weeks ago, I received a comment on a post that disagreed with my interpretation of a particular Bible passage. This was not the first time someone has shared a dissenting point of view and, I am quite certain, will not be the last. To be completely honest, I welcome thoughtful, sincere comments whether they agree with what I have written or not. Opposing viewpoints can have a way of sending us back to the Word of God to re-evaluate our position and to make sure that Scripture really supports it. Anything that leads us to spend more time in the Bible isn’t a bad thing, is it?
What concerned me about this specific comment wasn’t the fact that it criticized my conclusions, it was the reason the person gave for disagreeing. Apparently, this individual had heard a Bible teacher speak about this particular passage of Scripture on Television. The conclusions reached, according to the writer of the comment, were significantly different from what I was sharing in the article. Rather than offering Biblical support for these conclusions or citing corroborating passages, the only basis for accepting the interpretation seemed to lie in the identity and credentials of the man on the T.V. Program.
A Matter Of Authority
There is a great deal of overemphasis placed in the credentials and identity of individuals when it comes to Bible teaching and preaching. I remember browsing through a website a few years ago that advertised openings for pastoral positions in various churches across the country. It amazed me how many listings put the educational requirements first and foremost in their posting. “Must have a Doctorate in Theology or Pastoral Studies” was at the very top of a great many of the advertisements. Now, it is understandable that a church would not want to install a novice, ignorant of the Word of God, into their leadership, but it struck me as ironic that qualifications such as “must be of sound moral character”, or “must exhibit Christian virtues in their daily life” were listed at the bottom of the posting more often than not. It was almost as if these attributes were an afterhought! The most relevant credentials, in the minds of many of these church boards, had more to do with where a pastoral candidate attended school than the spiritual guidance he would bring to their congregation.
It seems that many people would rather put their trust entirely in the educational and experiential background of another person than evaluate their message against the Word of God. If a Bible teacher is famous enough, or has the right academic degree, then they are ready to unquestioningly accept any and all teachings that the person gives. But such a practice is never taught nor commended in the Bible itself. If anyone in Scripture had the authority to rest on His credentials, it would have been the Lord Jesus. Yet even He never urged anyone to accept His teachings uncritically, but frequently backed up His Message with references to the Old Testament (e.g., Mark 12:10, 12:24, Luke 24:27, 24:44, John 5:39). Luke describes the people of Berea in the Book of Acts as “noble” because they not only accepted the teachings of the Apostle Paul with an open mind, but because they “searched the Scriptures daily” in order to verify whether or not what he was teaching was Biblically sound (Acts 17:11).
We do not see anybody in the New Testament bolstering their message by referencing their educational background and credentials. We never see anyone appealing to their fame or popularity as reasons for accepting their teachings. From the Apostle Peter’s Pentecost sermon (Ch. 2) to Stephen’s testimony before the Sanhedrin (Ch. 7), the Book of Acts is filled with messages that are supported and substantiated by the holy Word of God, not the authority of the people giving the message.
Search The Scriptures
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” (2 Timothy 3:16)
Not long after I began “Answers From the Book”, I was contacted by someone who wanted to know a little more about my own credentials and background. They were very interested in quoting my writings and referencing this website but, I was told, it was important to know the credentials of the person they would be quoting, you see, because there is a lot of really bad misinformation out there on the Internet and you can’t be too careful about the articles you refer to. I understand that it can be nice to put a face to something we read and it can be comforting to know that someone we give reference to in our own writings isn’t likely to turn out to be a heretical wacko, but my concern was that they wanted to just accept anything and everything I write without really checking it out for themselves. I would never want anyone to subscribe to my point of view and interpretations of Scripture based on who I am or my educational background. My response to this person was to read what I have written, check it against the Word of God, and if it agrees with what the Bible has to say on the subject, then accept it based on that. In other words, search the Scriptures to see if these things are so.
The Bible: An Open Book
“Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” (Psalm 119:18)
Until the invention of the Gutenberg press, copies of the Bible were few and far between. It wasn’t until the Word of God became widely available and Scripture was not exclusively accessible to the clergy that great leaps and bounds were made in the Biblical knowledge of everyday people. When people began to be able to read and study the Bible for themselves, great Reformations and movements of the Holy Spirit became widespread and far-reaching. The days of total reliance on the spiritual insights of others ended when everyone who was able to read could avail themselves of their very own personal copy of the Bible.
Nowadays, we do not even need to purchase or acquire a physical copy at all. Anyone with Internet access can read the Bible online and find numerous study aids at no cost. The resources that even a generation ago were seldom found outside of the studies of the most ardent Bible scholars can now be affordably accessed by anyone inclined to do so. There really is no reason why we cannot check and verify any Bible interpretation and see if Scripture supports or refutes it. We must be diligent, however, to come to our Bible study with a reliance and expectation on the Spirit of God to open the eyes of our understanding, for He alone is truly qualified to teach the mysteries of His own Word. The interpretations and teachings of others can be of enormous value and the Holy Spirit can use others to show us things from His Word that we have never noticed. But we do well to get alone with the Lord and our own Bibles and verify their message for ourselves.
It is not the credentials or background of the individual teacher that matter most, it is the integrity of the message. Any and all Bible commentaries should stand or fall on their own Scriptural merit and nothing else.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,