Tuesday, January 09, 2007

“So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Is 55:11 KJV)

This verse is sometimes used to say that giving people a Bible is enough, for it is God’s Word and God’s Word will not return void. Personally, I don’t think that’s what this verse is saying. I think that “my word” here refers to God uttering a decree; when God says something it will happen.

Still I have long held to the belief that anyone can and should be able to understand the Bible on their own and, through that understanding, learn the truth and become a Christian. While still believing in the power of God’s Word, I have some doubts about that exact process. Here’s why:

(1) As I’ve been discussing recently, God’s Word was not originally delivered in book form, not originally distributed to the masses in book form as it is today. Therefore, that cannot have been God’s original plan. It could be a way for people to come to the truth, but it’s certainly not intended to be the most important way. In fact, this whole idea didn’t spring up until the last few centuries, when printed Bibles were readily available.

(2) The Bible never makes the claim that everyone can just read it and understand it. As troubling as that sounds, it’s true. Faith in biblical times was not built around people sitting at home reading God’s Word. They had to come together to do it. And they didn’t have trouble with the idea that someone would need to explain it. Look at Nehemiah 8, when Ezra stood and read the Book of the Law to the people following their return from exile. Notice that the Levites were explaining the meaning as Ezra read: “Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
  And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.” (Nehemiah 8:7-9 ESV)
Look also at the eunuch’s words in Acts 8: “So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” (Acts 8:30-31 ESV) Philip didn’t reprimand him saying: “Of course you can understand. Anyone can.” He taught him.

(3) I cannot think of even one example in the Bible where evangelism is done by giving someone a Bible. Again, look at Philip and the eunuch. The eunuch had the Bible in his hand, yet Philip was sent to teach him. I believe in the Bible and the power of the Bible. I just don’t see where God says, “Hand out these books and people will become Christians.”

God works through people and through relationships. He always sent a prophet. He didn’t just hand Moses a book. Jesus wrote no book. People need God’s Word, but “Bible-only” evangelism isn’t God’s way.

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