Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Putting Words in God’s Mouth

There is an English idiom that people often use when they think another person is not accurately interpreting what they are communicating. They will say, “You are putting words in my mouth.” For the injured party, the experience can be quite displeasing. It is never polite to speak presumptuously for another. It is exceedingly dangerous when you are doing so for God.

‘But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ (Deut. 18:20) zîd is frequently used to refer to three specific aspects of pride. One is presumption. Because a person is proud he presumes too much in his favor, especially in the sense of authority. For instance, the false prophet was one who presumed to speak in the name of God, assuming authority to do so, without having been called (Deut 18:20; cf. v. 22 for use of the noun derivative).[1]
It does not take lofty critical skills to understand very quickly where the sin rests. Moreover, if you are not immediately humbled and tremble at the realization of what this passages reveals, you should be.

When I was initially regenerated and baptized into Christ, it was in the Pentecostal Church. My spiritual leaders taught me that God still speaks inspired utterances through human beings down to the present day. This is a common Pentecostal/Charismatic doctrine. Benny Hinn made the following prophecy in 1989: "The Spirit tells me - Fidel Castro will die - in the 90's. Oooh my! Some will try to kill him and they will not succeed. But there will come a change in his physical health, and he will not stay in power, and Cuba will be visited of God." Then again: "The Lord also tells me to tell you in the mid 90's, about '94-'95, no later than that, God will destroy the homosexual community of America. [audience applauds] But He will not destroy it - with what many minds have thought Him to be, He will destroy it with fire. And many will turn and be saved, and many will rebel and be destroyed." In light of where we are on this issue and the fact that Castro did not die in the 90s, I think I am safe in saying that Benny Hinn is a false prophet. If Hinn were living in ancient Hebrew times, the penalty would have been death. No man may take the Word of God in arrogance and he certainly cannot pretend His words are God’s words without exposing himself to serious danger.

This egregious error may be difficult for some to see and easy for others. Whether or not people see it for what it is, is of little consequence. That fact has no bearing on the righteous judgment of God who will hold men accountable for their wicked deeds. While most evangelicals are not Pentecostal and can see the error in this doctrine, we still have a serious liability every time we encounter the sacred Word of God. After all, the Sacred Text is not like any other book by virtue of its nature.

Kierkegaard said, “And then the interpretations – 30,000 different interpretations.” Vanhoozer writes, “This mirror image raises what I believe to be the most important question for contemporary theories of interpretation, whether of the Bible or of any other book: Is there something in the text that reflects a reality independent of the reader’s interpretive activity, or does the text only reflect the reality of the reader?” [Vanhoozer, Is There A Meaning In The Text? 15] For many modern Christians living in American culture, Scripture is simply a reflection of our own prejudices and values. We force one anachronistic interpretation onto the text after another. When fathers should be attempting to mimic God as Father, American Christians are busy dragging God down to their versions of the ideal American father. This is one example of many, committed every week in Sunday Schools, Sermons, and Bible studies all across our land. Indeed, we have little more regard for Scripture than we do the blank notebook sitting at our child’s study desk. The text has become nearly a blank sheet of paper for us to construct whatever kind of God, Christ, and Christianity we desire. “Humankind is vulnerable to moral evil, and imagination, perception, and intention can readily be misdirected or deceived into situations of evil.” [Thistelton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine, 263] And so we have engaged in each of these and it is against these we must set ourselves if we are to rightly handle the Word of God.

Mishandling of the Biblical text is a parlous action. The level of preparedness one takes in order to treat the text as it deserves, in a fair and ethical manner, is a reflection of the inner attitude of the individual Christian. Moreover, the attitude one has concerning the Biblical text is a replication of the attitude one has toward it’s divine Author, not to mention one’s own self. If we genuinely recognize the holy character of God the Author, and the true sinful condition of our own deceptive heart, we cannot help but approach the text with the deepest levels of humility, coupled with a passionate enthusiasm to equip ourselves appropriately for the task of receiving what God has said, not to mention communicating that message to others. “God’s Word commands our very best because, in the ultimate analysis, it is not a human word, but the Word of God. This means that our interpretive enterprise must rest on a robust doctrine of biblical revelation and a high view of Scripture – as Jesus taught, Scripture is “the word of God” and this “cannot be broken” (John 10:35).” [Kostenberger, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 62]

When we as human beings listen to the Bible, we are listening to God’s word. We experience his meaning, his control, and his presence. We learn specifically information and hear specific commands (meaning); we are transformed as our minds are renewed (control; Rom. 12:1-2); and we have spiritual communion with him (presence). [Poythress, In the Beginning Was the Word, 28] One express purpose for Scripture is perlocution. Scripture comes to our doorstep with the goal of not informing for the sake of informing. Scripture brings radical transformation goals with it. Scripture has a job to do on and in our hearts. Hence, if we are busy putting words in God’s mouth, not only are we engaging in a serious peril, we are cutting off our nose to spite our face. As a result, God’s work, which is performed by the Holy Spirit through the application of Scripture in the human mind, does not run its course because we delight in perverting the holy text, even if we do so out of ignorance.  We must approach the text with fear and trembling, in all humility. We must not presume that our sinful heart has no desire to blind us from the truth of God’s revelation. We must approach the Biblical text in the most guarded manner, knowing the dreadful state in which we may find ourselves should we presume upon the content therein. We must acknowledge our utter dependence upon the Spirit, who is promised to us as an ever present help in the task of understanding the divine Words of our heavenly Father. By grace, through faith, we know and are certain that God alone will aid us in our understanding of His Truth. It is when we think we can obtain a level of expertise using tools of our own devising, with human reason alone, with our own intellectual power that we expose ourselves to the peril of presumption and putting words in God’s mouth. A humble reliance on God’s grace and the aid of His Spirit, coupled with a determined willingness, an eagerness to acquire the right training, the right skill, it what the Christian must bring to the Biblical text.

For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe (I Thess. 2:13).                                                                                                     

[1] Leon J. Wood, "547 זִיד" In , in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr. and Bruce K. Waltke, electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 239.

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