Bible - Inspiration & Authority

Embracing Uncertainty and Ambiguity About the Bible: What Happens to the Church?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
In this article we share two examples.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part five of a series. Read part four.

What happens when the church embraces such ideas? In this article we share two examples.

In the last article we presented an answer to the higher critics who say that we must become comfortable with the notion that the text of the Bible is in many places "uncertain" and "ambiguous". This leads to another question: What happens when the church embraces such ideas? In this article we share two examples, one from a pastor in Brazil, another from a church member in the United States.

An Encounter in Panama

After our intensive week with Dr. Wilbur Pickering, Andrew Uibel and I left Brazil at 1:45 AM on a Sunday morning to return home. At dawn we landed in Panama for a connecting flight to Washington, DC. While we were in the airport, the Lord in His providence gave me the opportunity for a long conversation with a young lady who said that she is an evangelical Christian, a member of a non-denominational church in Idaho.

She, her sister, and her parents are all medical professionals, and they were on their way to Ecuador to look into an opportunity to be involved in medical missions there. She asked about our travels, and what we had been doing in Brazil. I told her that we had been meeting with the leading expert on the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, who has demonstrated beyond any doubt that God has preserved His Word exactly as the Holy Spirit originally gave it through chosen men - not one word or letter lost.

This young woman's reaction was precious. It was as though she was relieved to know that such a thing was possible. She said that for many years she has been told, by a succession of pastors, that she needs to accept the idea that many places in the Bible are uncertain. I observed that in teaching this, and in using translations that introduce such uncertainty, pastors and scholars are putting themselves in authority over the Bible, instead of submitting to the authority of the Bible. She enthusiastically agreed. "Yes, I feel that my pastors have been doing that."

As we continued to talk, this young lady showed that she understands the problem that pervades so much of Christian academia and the church today. If God is not sovereign over His Word, we have nothing. We have no God. We have no Savior. We have no hope. The Bible has no inherent, objective authority. There is no such thing as truth.

A Pastor's Experience

During our visit to Brazil we spent many hours in the home of Horacio Vieira, who is the pastor of Comunidade Crista de Brasilia (Christian Community Church of Brasilia), which Dr. Pickering attends. Horacio told us that the Protestant Bible that has long been used in Brazil is the Almeida Version, a Portuguese translation produced in the second half of the 17th century. The Almeida New Testament is a translation of the Received Text of the New Testament, the same Greek text that was used to produce English versions such as the Geneva Bible, King James Bible, and New King James Bible as well as versions in many other languages.

Horacio told us what happened when revisions of the Almeida Version, based on the corrupted Critical Text of the New Testament (also known as the Westcott-Hort, Nestle-Aland, and United Bible Societies texts), began to appear in Brazil. These adulterated Bibles came on the scene at a time when there had been a revival among some of the evangelical churches in Brazil. There was a moving of the Spirit. People were being saved, and some Christians were realizing, in a deeper way than they had before, the need for sanctification. But Satan came to steal the seed of the authentic Word. Jesus warned, in the parable of the sower, that the great enemy of the Word would do such things:

Therefore hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the Word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. (Matthew 13:18-19)

The word that is translated "understand" in this passage is the Greek synientos, which carries the sense of understanding the whole of something. Adulterating the Scriptures robs the reader of the complete sense of God's message, undermining confidence in the Word, and can lead to many misunderstandings and errors. 

Horacio told us, "I and most other pastors had been using the faithful translation of the Scriptures during all of the years of our ministries. And now here were these new translations [principally produced in 1993, 1995, and 2009] sweeping their way through the Brazilian evangelical churches. These 'revised and updated' versions were missing entire passages. There were thousands of omitted words. There were also many additions, and changes of wording that changed the meaning. Many words were in brackets, indicating that the textual critics said that they were not part of the original Bible.

"Our people were asking hard questions, mainly this one: Which is the truth - the Bible we have been using all our lives, or this new one? As a young pastor I was asking those questions myself. What am I supposed to preach? What is actually the truth? With each 'revised and updated' edition there were more changes, more revisions. More words and phrases and whole passages in brackets, indicating that they were not in the original text."

Horacio further told us, "I came to a crisis point in my ministry as a pastor in my early thirties - a crisis of faith. It took some time and considerable study before I understood that these new Bible versions were based on corrupted texts, and that I as a pastor had to reject them, and I could with confidence tell my people that they needed to reject them.

"Some other pastors saw this as well. But many other pastors were confused and remain confused. Some left the ministry. Others are still preaching using that corrupted Bible, and other corrupted translations that have followed. They are being led astray, and so they are leading their people astray. I thank the Lord that He preserved some of us from that, and one of the main reasons was the influence of Dr. Pickering. And so we have worked together to hold workshops for pastors to explain all of this. We have had as many as 70 pastors at a time come for these meetings. We also had a Greek professor come from one of the Protestant seminaries in Brazil. After the workshop he said to Dr. Pickering, 'You have restored my faith in the authentic text.'  The next year, he came again, because he wanted to hear everything a second time."

The Problem: A Naturalistic View of the Bible

Jesus' parable of Satan's theft of the Word manifested itself almost immediately after His return to Heaven. In the opening verses of 2nd Corinthians chapter 4, the Apostle Paul spoke of the fact that even in the early days of the New Testament church some men were already adulterating the written Word of God:

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the Word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:1-2)

Here is the essence of what the Paul is saying in verse two when he declares that he and those who ministered with him had not handled the Word of God deceitfully. Literally, he is saying, we have not falsified, adulterated, or corrupted the Word of God. He goes on to say that because of this steadfastness their ministry has been characterized by "manifestation of the truth" - literally, a plain and forthright disclosure of revealed truth.

In other words, the Apostle Paul and his associates were simply obeying the Bible's own commandments about how it is to be handled. We have already noted Deuteronomy 4:2, where God through Moses said this to the nation of Israel as they were about to enter the promised land:

You shall not add to the Word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.

Why were men doing this in Paul's day? Why are men doing this in our day? They are sowing these seeds of doubt and confusion because they take a naturalistic view of the Bible. They do not understand and acknowledge the supernatural character of the Book. It is the Word of God, not the word of man. It is an essential element of God's Sovereign Decree. Some of these men are deceivers; many others are being deceived because they ascribe to the deceivers greater authority than the Holy Spirit. Their thinking is not gripped by the fact this this is the only supernatural Book - that it is God-breathed, that holy men of God wrote as they were driven to write the actual words by God the Holy Spirit, and that God has promised to supernaturally preserve His supernatural Word in all ages.

Next: If God Is Not Sovereign Over His Word, What Are the Implications?


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