True or false: We can always know God’s will by reading the Bible.
True! you say. Of course that’s true. After all, doesn’t 2 Timothy 3:16 say that “[a]ll Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”? Even more significantly, didn’t Jesus quote scripture?
Yes, he did, and that’s what’s getting me all befuddled. But maybe I’m jumping ahead of myself.
There are numerous occasions in the Bible where New Testament writers quote Old Testament passages, applying them to the situation at hand. For instance,
- Matthew quotes Isaiah 53:4—“This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.’” (Matthew 8:17)
- Paul quotes Isaiah 52:5 and; Ezekiel 36:20,22—“As it is written: ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’”(Romans 2:24)
- Jesus quotes Psalm 41:9—“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’” (John 13:18)
And so on and so forth.
We too quote Scripture when we want to prove a point. I’m doing it right now. But have you ever encountered someone who used the Bible to justify an action that was clearly wrong?
- Churches who quote scripture to excuse their hatred of people different from them?
- Plantation owners before the Civil War who justified their enslavement of others with verses such as 1 Corinthians 7:17-21?
- The man who leaves his family, and quotes Luke 14:26 in his defense? I actually knew a couple who divorced because the wife thought she could do more effective ministry with another man!
We can so easily deceive ourselves!
That’s why, when I read Matthew 4:1-11, I was deeply disturbed. This is the passage where Jesus is led into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. Satan offers three temptations.
The first was certainly something within Jesus’ ability—turning stones into bread. And Jesus refutes the devil by quoting Scripture. So far, so good.
But Satan picks up on Jesus’ technique and throws it right back at him:
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Satan is quoting Psalm 91:11-12! But was it God’s will for Jesus to throw himself off the roof of the temple? Obviously not, because he counters with, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” He’s quoting Deuteronomy 6:16.
It would be handy if we could always just trust God’s word to tell us what to do, but, as this passage illustrates, it’s so much more complicated than that. The Bible isn’t like any other book. Rather, as the writer to the Hebrews tells us, “… the word of God is alive and active….”
So, we can’t read it like any other book—we need the Holy Spirit to explain to us what we are reading. Yes, God can teach us much through his written word, but apart from him, we might get it all wrong. Our source of truth isn’t a book, it’s a Person.
What if Jesus had jumped?