For the week of August 15, 2009 / 25 Av 5769
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:11 - 55:5
God's Words - No More, No Less
Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 13:1 [English 12:32]; ESV)
In the biblical book Mishlei (English: Proverbs) we read:
Whatever God has said is true. Why would we want to add or subtract to what he has revealed? Can we enhance his Word by adding to it? And what would we gain by taking anything away from it? Through the Scriptures God has given us all we need in order to know him and to know our place and purpose in his plan.
Yet for one reason or another, even those of us who claim to accept the Bible as God's written and authoritative Word, add and subtract from it - at times knowingly, at times unknowingly.
Some of the ways we add to God's Word is due to speculation. The Bible doesn't always give us the kind of detail we may prefer or expect. Lack of description in a narrative portion or not being given an explanation as to why God said this or that may lead us to make guesses. Not being satisfied with the information we do have, there is a tendency to elaborate. While giving some time to speculation can be helpful in gaining better understanding of a particular portion, we may read our speculations into the words of the Bible, resulting in our becoming confused over what God has really said.
Legends are stories or concepts that may or may not be historically accurate, but to which we may have sentimental attachment. Similarly, traditions are rarely questioned as to whether they are condoned by the Scriptures. Loyalty to legends and traditions may blind us from accepting that they are actually additions to God's Word.
We may also add to the Bible through how we interpret it. Interpretations may not look like additions, but when they become authoritative we have added our opinions of the Bible to the Bible.
Subtracting from the Bible is something we may do simply because we want to. When certain passages make us uncomfortable, we may choose to reject them. A more subtle way in which we reject portions of God's Word is to ignore them. We might do that by not allowing ourselves to be exposed to certain portions of Scripture or by not taking the time to understand them.
Theological preferences may limit how open we are to the whole Bible. Instead of letting the Bible mold how we think about God and life, our commitment to an interpretive scheme or grid may filter out parts of the Bible.
Another way we subtract from God's Word arises from how we answer the very important question, "What in the Bible applies to us today?" Of course there are significant Bible passages that we are not expected to keep today (for example, I know of no serious Bible scholar who would insist that we follow the Old Covenant sacrificial regulations - not that we cannot learn from such passages). Be that as it may, there is a growing tendency among some to deny the relevancy of Bible passages based on the fact that our current culture is so very different from the cultures of Bible times. This view makes culture the interpretive key rather than the biblical text. If culture becomes the basis of whether or not to follow a directive of God, then we have little basis to follow almost anything in the Bible.
But note what we read from the book of Mishlei:
There is an intimate connection between our relationship to the words of God and the protection we have in him. Neglecting his words places us in significant danger. To add to his words will result in God's confronting us and in some way showing that we have misrepresented him. It is when we receive, believe, and act upon his every word that the Master of the Universe will be our protection and refuge.
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