Illusions of the Times

“The end is near! Jesus will be back any day now!”

As Christians, not only do we hear this a lot, but very many of us say it a lot as well. If you look on Facebook or Twitter, or if you go to Bible studies or listen to people’s prayer requests, you find a common sentiment that finally, in the 21st century, we are living in the last days and Jesus will return probably in our lifetimes.

This sentiment is nothing new, of course. It has been around since Jesus ascended. But that’s exactly why we should be skeptical of it today. If 2000 years ago everyone thought Jesus would BRB, but He didn’t, I don’t know why we would think that our day has a significantly different chance than they did.

But many people think they have proof. After all, didn’t Jesus say that the end would come with signs of war, famine, earthquakes, and violence? Today is more violent, war-torn, and full of natural disasters than ever before, right? So Jesus has to be coming back especially soon.

There are two problems with this. Firstly, Jesus never said any of those things were signs that the end was about to come. Instead, He specifically said they are not signs of the end. Here is the relevant passage in Matthew:

Then Jesus replied to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will deceive many. You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, because these things must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these events are the beginning of birth pains.

“Then they will hand you over for persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of My name. Then many will take offense, betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered. This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come.

Matthew 24:4-14

Pay close attention. Jesus specifically lists all of these problems with the notice, “the end is not yet.” These wars, earthquakes, famines, persecutions, and lawlessness are all part of the beginning of the birth pains, not the end. These evils began even before the end of the first century. They began in full force ages ago. Jesus warned the disciples not to freak out or be confused by these signs. He told them, “All of this stuff will look frightening, but they don’t mean the end is here!” So the way people use these events today is in fact the opposite of how Jesus spoke of them.

The other problem with this line of thought is that it misreads the present. Even if these things were signs of the end, then we shouldn’t expect Jesus to come back now, because we have less of this stuff today than at almost any other time in history. These days out of the hundreds of countries in the world, only a couple of them, mostly in the Middle East, are at war. This is different from most of history. There is less war today than ever before. The same goes for famine. With modern technology, there is more food in the world than ever before, and even when prices have gone up a bit there has been no shortage of food in Western countries since the Great Depression (and even then, there have been many worse periods in history). Developing countries are actually developing and suffer less famine than they ever did in previous centuries (except Yemen, which is being systematically starved by the Saudi war and our abominable US support). Natural disasters don’t appear to have changed much.

Even violence hasn’t really changed. We think these mass shootings and terrorist acts are bad and new, but in fact they are tame compared to history. The Holocaust is in the past now. But even before that, constant tribal warfare, torture, brutal methods of execution, vigilante justice, and barbarian pillaging were all widespread for most the past. The idea of a landmass and population as large as the United States, for example, not being filled with wars and political murders and lynchings and human sacrifice is a novelty. Abortion, infanticide, and the rampant sexual immorality which have only in the past several decades infiltrated Western countries were already the norm in the Roman Empire in Jesus’ day. Overall, not much seems any worse than it ever has.

Thus, what many people see as signs of the times just really aren’t. They’re illusions. This doesn’t mean Jesus isn’t coming back soon. I think He may come back at any time, though to be honest I expect the Gospel to reach a lot more of the unreached world first, per the last verse in the text I quoted. But the point is we have no idea when He will come, there is no specific reason to think we are especially close right now, and we can only hope, pray, and evangelize if we do want it to be soon (which we should).

The truth is, as long as the Church is around, we will be waiting with the feeling that Jesus’ coming is right around the corner, and that’s honestly because He is. While the years may extend, Jesus is never far away. Heaven and earth are but separated by a thin curtain, a curtain Jesus has already opened, and in His Church Jesus constantly blurs the lines between this age and the age to come. So we will always feel the pressure of Christ’s coming on our time, and we will always long for His final day of salvation. But whenever that day will come, well, we can just have no idea.

Does this look like a family?

Does Anyone Really Believe in the Church Family?

A few weeks ago, I ran across a question on Reddit about Christians giving preference to helping Christians. Someone, who if I recall consider herself a Christian, had heard Christians wishing to especially help Christian refugees moreso than others. She was horrified by this, and asked if anyone agreed and how they could.

Does that thought make you uncomfortable at all? Are you alright with giving special treatment to Christians, at least in your personal life? Some of you probably feel fine about that, while I’m sure at least some of you find this a bit disconcerting, at least in some corner of your mind or heart. 

I’ve thought about this lately, and realized that this must stem in part from one Biblical belief which has largely forgotten (at least at a practical level) in the modern American church. What is this basic belief? The family nature of the Church.

In most evangelical churches, there is a sentiment about the Church as a family, but that is usually all it is: a sentiment, a feeling. People in close churches “feel” like a family. That’s not the point of the Biblical teaching, though. Here’s what Jesus said about family:

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, and even his own life — he cannot be My disciple.

Luke 14:26

The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

Matthew 10:37

But He replied to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother.”

Matthew 12:48-50

The Old Testament also demonstrates the primacy of covenant and worship over natural family:

“If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’—which neither you nor your fathers have known, any of the gods of the peoples around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other—you must not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity, and do not spare him or shield him. Instead, you must kill him. Your hand is to be the first against him to put him to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone him to death for trying to turn you away from the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.”

Deuteronomy 13:6-10

Romans 9 also makes a point about the primacy of grace over natural family relations, but it is somewhat tangential, so I will not look much at it for now. Feel free to peruse it later.

All of this in mind, the Biblical teaching should be clear. Natural family is superseded by the Church family. We are now not, firstly, sons of our fathers, daughters of our mothers, brothers of brothers or sisters of sisters. Rather, the first and most fundamental relationship we have is the new birth from one Father, which makes us children of God and siblings of Christ and each other1 This displaces all of our other relationships. When we become a Christian and enter the Church through baptism, we are re-related. All our previous relationships of family and friends become secondary to our new true family in Christ. We are to, in comparison to Christ and His family, hate them all.

These words, alas, make many people uncomfortable in this day and age, probably because of the liberal (in the classical sense) underpinnings of American society. Embedded in our Constitution and culture is the sense of the individual as the fundamental unit. Every person is his own person and thing, defined by himself apart from all other people. What matters is your own self-determination and preferences.

Most people think this way, even Christians, to some extent and on some level. It is reinforced by the wider culture and legal structures which surround us, embedding itself into our hearts and minds. This has particularly poisoned people’s view of religion. In most people’s minds, religion is a preference, a personal interest. It is no more or less substantial than your interests, careers, or passions. Those are important to you, but are freely chosen and no objective standard really matters. What is sacred is not the religion, but your choice of religion.

If this is the framework, then your religion can’t be a new and superseding family. Religion is a preference! It can’t create obligations to other people, or override any relationships you already had. More importantly, it can’t be used to treat some individuals any differently than others, because it’s all a matter of personal preference, and you can’t discriminate among people based on personal preferences.

We must drop this nonsense. God has recreated us, given us a new birth and identity in Christ. Our old persons and identities are passing away, and only those which join with us in the new life of Christ will last. All of our families and friends outside the Church are not family in the same way that even strangers in the Church are. Our foremost obligations are to the new family, not the old which exists by the flesh.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that we are to neglect or not love the others. Rather, if we love them, we must seek by all means to bring them into the Church, to make them a part of the new family. Our children, parents, cousins, friends, and acquaintances outside the faith need us to love them into it, that they might in fact receive the high place we wish them to have.

So basically, let us remember that the Church is our true family, over and (when necessary) against all other relationships. This isn’t just a negative fact against the rest of the world. It is a positive one, the beginning of the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that His followers would receive more than enough to replace all they gave us for Him. In fact, I had something else to say, but I think I’ll let Jesus finish for me:

“I assure you,” Jesus said, “there is no one who has left house, brothers or sisters, mother or father, children, or fields because of Me and the gospel,
who will not receive 100 times more, now at this time — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions — and eternal life in the age to come.

Mark 10:29-30

5 Myths about Heaven

The title pretty well says it all. I just want to address a couple popular misconceptions about heaven. At least a couple of these are going to be half-truths, so keep an eye out for those. But that aside, here’s some myths about heaven, and the truth about them.

  • We’ll spend eternity there. Depending on what you mean precisely by “heaven,” that may or may not be true. If we mean by “heaven” the place we go after we die to be with Jesus, then we will only be there until the Resurrection. Right now we are clothed with mortal bodies, then we will be unclothed for a time, until we are clothed again with new bodies1. We shall sleep for a time and then rise2. Our eternal destiny will be the new earth, not what we presently call “heaven”3.
  • Jesus promised we would have mansions in heaven. Usually John 14:2 is cited as proof, which says in the KJV, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Yet this is an example of the English language changing. In 1661, when the KJV was published, the word “mansion” did not imply the big, luxurious house that it does for us. It simply meant a place to stay, perhaps during a journey. That accurately captured the meaning of the Greek monai, which meant “dwellings” or “abodes.” Modern translations have appropriately updated the language, using “rooms” (ESV, NIV) or “dwelling places” (NRSV, HCSB, NASB). This isn’t to say for sure we won’t end up with mansions, though such a prospect seems suspiciously like materialistic wish fulfillment. But if we do, it won’t technically be in what we presently call “heaven,” which is not physical, but the new earth.
  • Time will be no more. This one is actually true if we restrict the meaning of “heaven” to the place we currently go when we die, but most people say this about where we will spend eternity, which is the new earth. Yet the new earth is a “resurrection,” for lack of a better word, of the current world. Space and time will not be scrapped, but redeemed. Don’t take my reason for it, though. Scripture itself clearly indicates the passage of time in Revelation 22:2, which refers to the tree of life bearing fruit every month.
  • When Jesus says “the kingdom of heaven,” He’s talking about where we go when we die, or maybe the new earth. Neither of these would ever be true. The term “kingdom of heaven” is only used in Matthew. Matthew, following a peculiar Jewish tradition, frequently substituted “heaven” for “God” as a way of being reverent. The other Gospels, wherever Matthew says “kingdom of heaven,” say “kingdom of God”4. The kingdom of God referred not to a place people go when they die, but the reign of God being established on earth5, particularly in Israel. Think, for example, of how the kingdom was always referred to as something coming6, not a place you go. But that would be a book (and N. T. Wright has written many on this topic).
  • Heaven is the end. No, my friends. Heaven is just the beginning. 🙂

For more about the misconceptions people have about heaven, see these posts.

“Christianity Isn’t a Religion” Is a Liberal Thing to Say

“Christianity isn’t a religion; it’s a relationship!” How many times have you heard that before? If you’ve moved in many of the same circles that I have, then you’re probably pretty familiar with it. I’ve argued against this line before, pointing out that a religion is simply a set of beliefs in some kind of higher power, and of course Christianity is that (though also far more). But there is another danger of this way of thinking that has come to mind, and I would to point it out briefly.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, there began the rise of German liberal theology. With science exploding, standards of living rising like the tide, and the world all around seeming to swing towards progress, humanity came to think pretty highly of itself. A belief in unaided human reason as the final arbiter of truth and falsehood, combined with a skepticism about the authority of traditions in such an age of novelty, led many people to question the truth of Christianity’s basic claims. Was Jesus real? Was He actually like the Bible says He was? Can we trust the Gospels? Do we really know anything about Jesus?

These problems led certain pastors, theologians, and churches to turn away from traditional beliefs about the truthfulness of Christian doctrine. Instead of a Jesus who really lived, died, and rose, and a real authoritative body of teaching about Him in the Scriptures, the focus became all about the individual experience of faith. Who knew who Jesus really was, what He really did, and whether He is truly God in some way? What mattered was how people felt about Him. Faith was something which happened inside, changing the person and their relationship to the world around them in positive ways, ways which were expressed in religious terms about Jesus. Ultimately, the religious experience of faith was supposed to be the point of Christianity.

Now, all of my evangelical Protestant friends out there who use the slogan “relationship not religion” wouldn’t agree with this. They wouldn’t do like the German liberals and deny Jesus’ deity, the virgin birth, the resurrection, etc. all in favor of a faith experience. But, there is one crucial similarity. The say that Christianity is a relationship instead of a religion betrays the same basic concern: what really matters is the individual experience of faith.

This is a serious problem. The “relationship not religion” attitude often pushes doctrine, the Church, sacrament, and other “religious” things to the side, instead making “experiencing God” in some subjective way the focus. It sounds, and often acts, as though your relationship with Christ doesn’t really need to involve right knowledge of Him, or fellowship and cooperative ministry with His people, or regular, tangible reminders of our union with Him. All it really needs is the right worship music, devotionals, and preaching to make you feel the love of Jesus in your heart. 

Essentially, this is the same goal as theological liberalism. Experience faith and love, which will help make you a better person, too. Good theology, a community of believers, and regular reenactments of what Jesus has done for us in fellowship are all nice things, but what really counts? Faith itself. Believing in something better, something divine, that changes you for the better.

The real danger of all this is taking the focus away from God to self. Instead of focusing on who Jesus is, what He has done for me, and what He is calling me to do in response, the “relationship not religion” line necessarily moves the focus to how I feel about Jesus, how authentic my faith is, and what about my life is being changed by it. These things matter, but not as the focus. My feelings, faith, and transformed life must be the free flowing result of letting Jesus be my all-in-all, not the all-in-all on their own.

Remembering that Christianity is a religion helps guard against this. Christianity as a religion is decidedly not about myself, but about the One whom this religion worships and follows. Being part of a religion with a Church means not doing it alone and for myself, but only as part of a larger community under the same Lord with the same mission. Having religious doctrine says that I can’t just make Jesus into my own image, but instead must allow myself to be corrected by the truth He has revealed. The religious sacraments mean that I am forced as often as I partake to face the reality to which they point, unable to continually put it all on the back burner without condemning myself.

So please, let’s bury the whole “Christianity isn’t a religion” thing. We’re not German liberals, and don’t need to be like them. There is more to Jesus than personal faith. We must recognize the larger picture and live it out.

5 Myths about End Times

Recently I’ve seen more Christians than usual warning about the imminent end. Perhaps in light of recent political events, an expectation/desire for Jesus to return has increased beyond the everyday. This has reminded me of several misconceptions people have about that time, the eschaton, so I figured I’d throw together this list of 5 popular end times myths.

  1. Wars, earthquakes, famines, and other disasters are signs that Jesus is just about to return. This is a common misconception, based on Mark 13:7-8 and the parallel verses. But this is exactly the opposite of what Jesus says in those verse. He tells the disciples “don’t panic” when you hear of such things. These must come, but “the end won’t follow immediately” (literally “the end not yet”). Instead, they must endure for quite some time, for this is only “the first of the birth pangs” and in the mean time they will need to “watch out” for persecution.
  2. Babylon the Great is America/Islam/[insert modern power here]. In Revelation 17-18, John gives a dramatic description of a great city, called Babylon, which has fallen to ruin. Many popular prophecy teachers like to associate this with America, Islam, or some other modern power perceived as a threat or wicked group. Yet the original historical context clearly identifies this as Rome. Rome was known as the city on seven hills (Rev. 17:9), and had by John’s time seven notable kings (17:9-10). The empire relied heavily on puppet kings in the provinces (17:7,12). For John’s original audience, nothing would have sounded more like a “great city that rules over the kings of the world” than Rome (17:18). Like the Old Testament prophets, John prophesied God’s judgment on a wicked nation oppressing His people.
  3. The last days are just starting, about to start, or recently began. Biblically, the “last days” doesn’t just refer to the very end, the time of the Tribulation and return of Jesus. The last days began with Jesus, when He through His life, death, and resurrection inaugurated the kingdom of God. We have been living in the last days for 2000 years. (See Acts 2:14-21, Heb. 1:2, Jas. 5:3, 1 Pet. 1:20.)
  4. Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 are all or mostly about the end times. Despite the common opinion, Jesus’ speech to His disciples on the Mount of Olives after He cleansed the Temple wasn’t mainly (or some people would say at all, but I’m not 100% sure about that) about the Tribulation and His future return. Instead, the primary point was the judgment about to come on Jerusalem, which happened in AD 70. Mark 13:1-4 and Luke 21:20-24 make this point the most clear. Jesus treated the impending fall of Jerusalem as an event of major theological significance, the last of God’s repeated judgments on His wayward people. He constantly warned them to repent or they would be desolated by Rome, just as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and the other prophets of old warned about other kingdoms. When Jerusalem fell national Israel would fall apart, and only the new Israel of Jesus followers would continue in God’s purpose for election.
  5. Jesus’s return will mean the end of space, time, matter, and planet earth. As I have argued in previous posts, the universe is not to be permanently destroyed any more than our bodies are to die forever. Just as we will die, when Jesus returns the world will be burned up, but this is not a permanent end. God will redeem His creation through the Spirit (see Rom. 8:19-22), and it will become a new heavens and earth (Rev. 21:1), just as we have become a new man/new creation (cf. Eph. 4:24, 2 Cor. 5:17). There is no Biblical evidence that it will be timeless, or simply spiritual, or non-physical, or that the earth will be gone forever. We’re not simply going to heaven forever; heaven is coming to us and recreating our world.

Don’t Make Yourself God When You Read the Bible

The Bible is God’s word. This is a conviction Christians have shared since the beginning. When the Bible speaks, we believe, God speaks. We have been debating what exactly that means for quite some time, but nonetheless seem to agree that this is the case. So we try to conform our lives to what Scripture teaches.

Unfortunately, when we believe that God Himself speaks in 66 (or 73 if you’re Catholic, or 77 if you’re Orthodox) books written thousands of years ago by people with totally different situations, languages, cultures, and worldviews, we find ourselves in constant danger. Danger of what? Well, basically idolatry. When reading what we believe is God’s word, we run the constant risk of making ourselves God.

What do I mean by this? If the Bible is God’s word, and when it speaks He speaks in some way, then we remain committed to begin with to the truthfulness of what we find when we read it. But what happens when we read it wrongly? What happens when we misunderstand or misinterpret something? If we don’t realize it, then we take our misinterpretation as God’s own word, His perfect truth. Suddenly we’ve turned our error into divinely authoritative truth, and become obligated to live by it. Moreover, we think everyone else must live by it, too, since it is God’s own word we believe we have found.

When reading what we believe is God’s word, we run the constant risk of making ourselves God.

What makes this particularly dangerous is how easy it is to put our own thoughts into the Bible. For example, if I thought the only two options for alcohol were drunkenness or total abstinence, then by reading the Bible and finding an opposition to drunkenness I have suddenly made total abstinence into God’s word and command! Yet this thought were mine, not God’s or those of His inspired authors. And if this seems too obvious of a mistake, there are many more that are much more subtle.

The constant danger is making ourselves God by projecting our own ideas into the Bible, which we believe is God’s word, and therefore making our ideas into a universal authority. When we aren’t carefully self-aware, we run the risk of autolatry. If we fail to make a clear distinction between our fallible beliefs and the actual teachings of Scripture, we can collapse the I AM into “I (Caleb) am!”

Take as another example the doctrine of creation. There are many views out there: young earth, old earth, theistic evolution, framework hypothesis, historical creationism, etc. Some people repeatedly fail to distinguish between the way they think and the questions they want answered, and the way God has spoken and the questions He has answered. They read Genesis 1-2 as though there is no possible difference between what the text sounds like in their mind versus what the text was actually intended to say. This gives them what they think is a clear and infallible belief about creation, supposedly from God Himself, and so they condemn everyone who disagrees as going against God. Yet this is wrong. We are all fallible, and we all come to the Bible with loads of preexisting wrong ideas which careful Biblical learning is meant to correct. So we should be slow to shout “They’re contradicting God’s truth!” when someone disagrees with us about something the Bible says. We are not God, after all, so we might have something wrong about His word.

We are all fallible, and we all come to the Bible with loads of preexisting wrong ideas which careful Biblical learning is meant to correct.

But I don’t at all want to say we should be, because of all this, timid and relativistic. We don’t have to sit in a corner and say, “Well, I could be wrong, you could be wrong, and we all read ourselves into the Bible, so we don’t have any sure word from God to say one way or the other.” I may come off that way, I fear, but that’s precisely not what I’m saying. The solution to this is careful study of Scripture through the major questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how? Paying attention to the who (author, reader, and subjects) can give us the proper distance between our mind and the Bible we have. Paying attention to the what (what the text actually says) can keep us from twisting texts to fit into our existing molds. Noticing the when (the historical timing of the writing, and any stories involved) helps us keep in mind the differences between then and now so that we don’t squish out any meaning otherwise lost to modern folk. Thinking of where (geographically, on one hand, but also where in the Bible and within an individual book or argument a text is) reminds us to take wider contexts into consideration, so that we don’t try to force a text about A to answer question B in our minds just because they sound similar. The why (motivations and circumstances for this writing or saying, or even precise wording) gives us a bigger picture of what’s really going on so we don’t haphazardly mix and match unique Biblical concerns and circumstances with actually unrelated issues in our lives. Finally, the how (the structure, form, style, vocabulary, etc.) reminds us to keep an eye on larger themes, motifs, and points that we might erase if we simply think about what we want to think about.

The more Spirit-led readers you interact with, the more you can find what the Spirit has helped others realized but you have missed.

This all might sound hard, and it is. Scripture is much like the ocean: there are shores shallow enough for even babies to enjoy, but there are also depths even the most trained divers fear. While anyone can pick us the basic messages of Scripture (redemption from sin and death by God in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit, for example) without trying too hard to keep themselves in check, the more you read the more work and skill it takes to understand everything the way you were meant to, instead of the way you naturally would or want to.

For this reason, I advise (and this is advice which I take myself) seeking out the wisdom and learning of other Christians. The more voices you have, the less of a chance your own voice can dominate. The more Spirit-led readers you interact with, the more you can find what the Spirit has helped others realized but you have missed. Sin, self-centeredness, and simple ignorance can all be corrected when we think and read Scripture within and as the Christian community, the church. This even includes, despite how some people scoff, the voices of Christian intellectuals and scholars who shed light you otherwise simply can’t find without serious research. Reading books, commentaries, and blogs, and listening to good preaching, all can help fill in the blanks.

Basically, check yourself. Remember your fallibility, and how easy it is to be wrong no matter how plain you might think certain parts of the Bible are. Never assume that your thoughts are God’s thoughts, or your ways His ways, even when you’re reading His own word. Sin and our finite lives get in the way. Just don’t make yourself God.

Don’t Believe What Everyone in the Bible Says

Narrator and character. Biographer and subject. Whenever people talk in a written work, there is a difference between how you are supposed to take the words of the author versus the words the author wrote down from various people.

For a quick example, consider the following text:

Suddenly, out of nowhere a large, metallic woman appeared out of nowhere. “It’s my mother!” Dornob exclaimed. Little did he know just how wrong he was.

In this text, two people make statements. The first is the narrator. He is (in most writings) assumed to be correct. The other person saying things is Dornob. He is a character in the story, and unless the narrator tells you that Dornob is infallible or just right, we assume that he is no more or less reliable than the average bear. In this particular case, Dornob is quite wrong, and the narrator tells us so. Of course, the narrator doesn’t have to tell us explicitly that Dornob is wrong for him to be wrong. Past, future, or outside material may make that clear.

This same logic applies to real world writings, too. A reporter can write a piece on the events of the day, but that doesn’t mean he thinks every person he quotes is correct. Sometimes he’ll say so specifically, but other times he may quote something someone said that he knows is not entirely correct without comment, simply because we know he doesn’t agree 100% with everyone he interviews.

To most of you, this probably sounds like common sense (if I’m speaking clearly, that is). But for a lot of people, this basic logic seems to disappear when the Bible is involved. What do I mean? I’ll jump to an example:

His servants asked him, “What did you just do? While the baby was alive, you fasted and wept, but when he died, you got up and ate food.”

He answered, “While the baby was alive, I fasted and wept because I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let him live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I’ll go to him, but he will never return to me.”

2 Samuel 12:21-23

Now, this text is in narrative form. The author is telling a (historical) story. So we have to remember that there’s a difference between what the author/narrator says and what the people he is writing abut in the narrative say. The author was divinely inspired, but the the people he wrote about were just people saying what people say. We would probably agree already that the servants didn’t say anything divinely inspired, so what about David? He is just a person in the narrative, and he is not the inspired author/narrator. Therefore we should also read his words as merely his own, not divinely inspired.

Of course, if you recognize this verse, you may see where this is going. Many Christians use verse 23 to argue that infants who die go to “heaven” (something I do believe, by the way). After all, the Bible says that David would go to his baby, right? Completely wrong. The author/narrator under the inspiration of the Spirit does not say that David will go to be with his child. David himself said that, and the author of 2 Samuel just wrote down what David had said. David had just sinned against God big time, and he had just lost his child. There is no special reason to think that he is speaking God’s words here. Seeing his child again was his own expectation, which could be right or wrong. (As a side note, since God had revealed so little about life after death at this point, David probably wasn’t talking about heaven. He probably just meant they would be together in the grave.)

There are other examples of this kind of thing throughout the Bible. For example, David, the same person from before, lied in 1 Samuel 21 (which was written by the same author, probably). The author doesn’t specifically say that David lied, but the story shows he did. In Genesis 30:18, Jacob’s wife Leah says that God has rewarded her for letting Jacob make a baby with her slave girl, and the text never mentions that she was wrong, but we know from the whole of Scripture that polygamy is wrong.

We always, then, have to make a distinction between what the inspired author says himself and what the people he is writing about said. Otherwise, we can be led into any error of the people the Bible talks about. But since we don’t trust everything the Pharisees, the serpent, or lying Jacob said, we must also remember that we can’t trust everything even the good people said when they are just characters in the story, not the author.

Basically, don’t believe what everyone in the Bible says.