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Welcoming Transgender People

NOTES

By Les Sherlock

Introduction

At the end of January 2018, the Church of England House of Bishops issued an update on ‘Welcoming Transgender people’. An extract follows here:

Posted February 2018

Unless otherwise stated, all scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.





* Mal 2:17 You have wearied the LORD with your words; "Yet you say, "In what way have we wearied Him?" In that you say, "Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and He delights in them,"…

GENERAL SYNOD     GS Misc 1178
An update on 'Welcoming Transgender People'

3. The House of Bishops welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmation of trans people, equally with all people, within the Church, the body of Christ, and rejoices in the diversity of that one body, into which all Christians have been baptized by one Spirit.

6. …The image of God, in which we are all made, transcends gender, race, and any other characteristic,* and our shared identity as followers of Jesus is the unity which makes all one in Christ (Galatians 3.27–28).

This update disturbs and alarms me considerably,* since it places the reasoning of humans higher than the declared will of Almighty God. As a committed Christian, acceptance of God’s will must always take precedence over any human ideas - including my own - which is why I spend time every day reading His word and asking Him to change my thinking into His. This page is the result of doing this for several decades.

Before I start I must make absolutely clear that I am not singling out LGBT people or anyone else here: quite the reverse, I am making the Biblical point that everyone is of equal value and should be treated the same. The problem with the update is that it does single them out for special treatment. Let me illustrate in this way. There are two men: Bill with a natural tendency to want a sexual relationship with another man and Fred with a natural tendency to want a sexual relationship with many women. Is it legitimate for both of them to follow their natural desires?

I would be very surprised if any bishop would agree for Fred to do what he wants because the Bible expressly forbids it; but if it is ok for Bill to follow his desire, or for a person with a male body to act like a female, which are also contrary to scripture, why is it wrong for Fred?

The point here is that it is not so much a matter of sexuality, but of authority: if the Bible is God’s word and He has the right to determine how we act,* then everyone should be treated exactly the same way. If, on the other hand, a special case is made for certain people to follow their desires, then it is only right that everyone else should be able to follow theirs; and we end up with a situation where everyone is their own god, choosing their own way ** and God’s word is effectively made irrelevant.

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* It must be clearly understood that everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, health, wealth, or whatever, should be welcome in any Christian Church. All should be free to live in the way they choose without fear as long as it is lawful and harms no-one else. At the same time, it is the responsibility of those within the Church to inform people what God has said, His requirements of them and the consequences should they choose to ignore this. Qualifications for membership of a church, though, is not the same thing as the welcome people should receive if they choose to visit one. Everything on this page must be understood in the light of this statement.




* And the Church of England creeds state both of these things as truth.


** This takes us back to the first temptation of Satan: “Has God said? Not really - you can have your own way, do your own thing and be like God.” (Gen 3:1–6) It is the original sin repeated all over again, albeit over a different issue, and has the same result - it leads to disobeying God and being cut off from Him.






* Emphasis mine

The Update

The first point to be made is that the above update contradicts the Church of England’s own teaching. Amongst the confessions authorised by them is:

All
 God our Father,
    long-suffering, full of grace and truth,
    you create us from nothing and give us life.
    You give your faithful people new life in the water of baptism.
    You do not turn your face from us,
    nor cast us aside.
    We confess that we have sinned
    against you and our neighbour.
    We have wounded your love and marred your image in us. *
    Restore us for the sake of your Son,
    and bring us to heavenly joy,
    in Jesus Christ our Lord.
    Amen.

All
  Almighty and most merciful Father,
    we have wandered and strayed from your ways
        like lost sheep.
    We have followed too much the devices and desires
        of our own hearts.

For behaving just as we wish,
    without thinking of you;
    Father, forgive us:

There can be only one reason why the claim is being made in the update that regardless of all our “characteristics” (to quote item 6 of the update) we are all in God’s image: it is in order to say all of the sexual desires and inclinations of people who are in God’s image must therefore be valid. In total contrast to this, the above confessions state that we have distorted God’s image in us; we have followed the desires of our own hearts, which is the result of wandering and straying from God’s ways; and we have been behaving as we wish without thinking of the Father. If we have marred God’s image in us by our sin, it is impossible to know what His image is like by looking at ourselves. It is also impossible to discern God’s original design for us, since we have moved away from it.


Item 6 in the update (see above) quotes Galatians 3.27–28. For context I include the previous verse below:

Gal 3:26–28 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.


What does it mean “to put on Christ?” Pointing out it was a common expression in early Greek writing, Albert Barnes, in his ‘Notes on the Bible’, puts it this way in his note on Rom 13:14 - a verse that tells us we must make no provision for what our bodies want us to do: *

So the Greek writers speak of putting on Plato, Socrates, etc. meaning to take them as instructors, to follow them as disciples. (See Schleusner.) Thus, to put on the Lord Jesus means to take him as a pattern and guide, to imitate his example, to obey his precepts, to become like him, etc. In “all” respects the Lord Jesus was unlike what had been specified in the previous verse.* He was temperate, chaste, pure, peaceable, and meek; and to “put him on” was to imitate him in these respects.


* I quote him here not particularly as any kind of authority, but because he puts it so well.



* Rom 13:13

We can only be “all one in Christ Jesus” when we all have put on Christ Jesus. It is a contradiction in someone claiming to have put on Christ who, at the same time, is living a lifestyle contrary to His teaching. There is an enormous difference between accepting the Bible truth that all humans are eligible for the offer of salvation, and distorting this to mean that everyone can accept the offer without needing to be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit.


Because I was so alarmed by this departure from orthodoxy, I wrote a letter to two of the Bishops and, with the exception of a few minor additions, it can be seen below. The replies I received and my comments on them are here:

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My Letter

The Bible says all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). How can people who have come short of God's glory be in His image? This is a contradiction. To put it more strongly: is a paedophile in God's image? Is a murderer in God's image? Is a thief in God's image? Since God is holy and righteous, never changes and has said these things are wrong, it would be blasphemous to claim that a person following his own nature and doing these things is doing so because he is in God's image. This is precisely what Romans 1:23 condemns:

"and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man…" *






* The reason they made this error was:

"because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened" Romans 1:21.




* While there may be some controversy in things John Calvin said, it is incontrovertible that he was a leading theologian in the early years of the Reformation who fully accepted the authority of the Bible and had an intimate grasp of its teaching. He said:

It cannot be doubted that when Adam lost his first estate he became alienated from God. Wherefore, although we grant that the image of God was not utterly effaced and destroyed in him, it was, however, so corrupted, that any thing which remains is fearful deformity; and, therefore, our deliverance begins with that renovation which we obtain from Christ, who is, therefore, called the second Adam, because he restores us to true and substantial integrity.”  Calvin, John. The Institutes of the Christian Religion (pp. 93-94). Kindle Edition. Location 3679.

The Institutes of the Christian Religion can be downloaded from here: Kindle version.

Only three people have been entirely in God's image: Adam, Eve and Jesus Christ, about whom we are told:

Col 1:15 "He is the image of the invisible God;"

Heb 1:3 "who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person."

When Adam and Eve sinned they fell short of that image, and ever since, the image of God has been distorted in the whole of humanity. God's image can still be seen in us; but, to borrow Paul's phrase, it is through a mirror dimly (1 Cor 13:12) because the shadow of sin in all of us hinders His perfection from being seen.* In fact, nowhere in the Bible does it say that we are in God's image now, at this present time. In the Old Testament, there are only two references to man being in His image: Genesis 1:26–27 tells us He created man in His image originally; and in Genesis 9:6 He commands the death penalty for murder because when He created man, it was in His image.

In the only reference in the New Testament, 1 Cor 11:3–7, Paul says (bearing in mind He was writing for a first-century, Middle-Eastern readership) that men should dress like men and women like women because they were created in God's image, thus echoing Deut 22:5 - something the House of Bishops should take seriously instead of pretending it doesn't matter. Otherwise, the entire Bible teaching on the subject is that our salvation is in order to change us from what we are presently into the image of God:

"For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren" Rom 8:29

"And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man" 1 Cor 15:49

"But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord" 2 Cor 3:18

"and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him," Col 3:10.

If we are being changed now * and are going to be changed into His full image in the future, as these scriptures so clearly teach, it is very plain that we are not completely in His image at the present time! This being the case, it is obvious that we cannot know precisely from looking at ourselves what God's image is like, or what is His intention for human nature. Conversely, we can see that throughout the human race, in our broken world, every part of our physical bodies has been damaged by disease, deformity, etc., in someone, somewhere. Every aspect of the mind can be seen to be damaged in someone, somewhere. Why should our sexuality be any different? God has made abundantly clear in both Old and New Testaments what He expects in this regard, and to celebrate (or “rejoice in,” as the update puts it) divergence from His standard in this would be like celebrating blindness, deafness, lameness, insanity, or any other ailment, be it physical, mental or spiritual - we may celebrate the way people overcome these difficulties, but we certainly don't celebrate that they have them.

* But how can we be ‘being transformed into the same image’ (2 Cor 3:18) if we refuse to change? Romans 12 says:

Rom 12:1–2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,

How can our mind be renewed if we refuse to change it?


* This is in no way to suggest that blindness, or any other physical ailment, is related to sinfulness. I use it as a simple example demonstrating that we are not the way God originally designed; but in the future eternity, for those who love and serve God, there will be no such departure from His perfection.

It is no-one's fault the way they are born; but we are all responsible for our own behaviour. It is sad if some people have sexual urges that God says would be sinful to follow, because this makes it impossible for them to express those urges if they want to please Him; but it is just as sad for a person born blind (for example),* who finds it impossible to be able to see. It is not sinful to be born with a body, mind, spirit or sexuality that is different from God's perfect design, because we can't help the way we are born. However, we don't take our standards for the way we live from ourselves, but from our Creator, and it is certainly sinful to act contrary to the way God has spoken. Indeed, He has specifically said that we must not do what is right in our own eyes (Num 15:39; Deut 12:8; Ps 36:1–4; Ps 81:11–12; Prov 3:7; 12:15; 16:2; 21:2; 26:5, 12; Prov 30:12; Is 5:21; 53:6 with 1 Pet 2:25; Rom 3:10–18;).

Because a person is born blind, this does not mean God has always wanted some people to be born blind - it means they have been born in a world blighted by sin and Satan, and they are the innocent victims. This is why Jesus came into the world - to enable us to rise above the way we were born and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, live the way He wants us to live. What else did Jesus mean when He said we should take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23), if not this? Paul, after giving a long list of wrong ways people were born, then says:


"And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6:11).

In other words they were like that before, but now they have been changed and are like it no longer. He also points out that without this change taking place,

"…the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Cor 6:9).

It would appear that the transforming power of Jesus Christ through His work on the cross, which changes us all from death to life * and from darkness to light ** (i.e. the heart of Christianity), is being ignored today and the Church treated like some club where, as long as people sign up to be members, they can continue to live in the way they have always done because no inner change has taken place in them or is necessary.






* John 5:24
** Eph 5:8

The scriptures on sexuality are clear and well known,* so it would be superfluous to repeat them here, other than to state that both Old and New Testaments make very plain that sexual activity between two people is only valid when the participants are husband (man) and wife (woman). This is supported by science, which tells us that females have an XX pair of sex chromosomes, and males an XY pair. Medical science may be able to mimic the female form in a male and vice versa, to some degree; but the XY or XX chromosomes in every cell of the body cries out that a person is male/female, and no one can do anything to change this. If a person's mind is at odds with their body, then instead of spending huge amounts of money on expensive surgery and a life-time of drugs that the NHS can ill afford in order to try to do the impossible and make the body match the mind, it would be far better, and fully scriptural,** to work on mental health in changing the mind to match the body.

God promises healing for all our ailments, be they physical, mental, spiritual, or sexual; but if we do not experience healing ourselves (for whatever reason), then like Abraham and the Old Testament saints we wait in faith:

* e.g. Lev 18:22; Rom 1:26–29; 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10; Jude 1:7, 10




** Rom 12:2

 "…not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (Heb 11:13).


Since, every week, bishops declare in the creed * that God has spoken through the scriptures, the entirety of which is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16; see below for more detail), after issuing this update they will presumably tell Him He got it wrong on this issue when they stand before Him at the end of their lives! By their January 2018 update on 'Welcoming Transgender People', far from encouraging faith, the House of Bishops has capitulated to human reasoning, and consigned those unfortunate enough to be affected by this to a life that is contrary to what God has so clearly told us to lead. The only reason the Church of England exists is because of the Reformation that was based on sola scriptura - by scripture alone. They have now abandoned sola scriptura for human notions based on what the Bible calls the sinful nature/the flesh (e.g. Romans chapters 6, 7 & 8), and thus repeated the identical error of the Roman Catholic Church that precipitated the Reformation 500 years ago, albeit on a different issue. Unless they turn back from this, they have made it impossible for Bible-believing Christians to remain under the umbrella of their leadership.

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* On the Church of England web page it says,

God has revealed himself through the Scriptures.

The actual wording of the Nicene Creed is:

He has spoken through the prophets.

Since the part of the Old Testament relevant to the topic of sexuality comes from the prophet Moses, this is clearly included in the above statement. The notion often touted in order to avoid the obvious, is that the prophets didn’t always get it right and some of what they have written is their own ideas and not God’s. This is obvious nonsense! It really means, “If you don’t like what you read you can make up your own mind regarding what you think God really meant and ignore it!” See the sections on 2 Timothy, below, for more on this.

Bishops’ Responses

The first bishop replied by letter, the key parts being as follows:

The House of Bishops of the Church of England is responding to a debate at General Synod last July in which, by a large majority, those who are transgendered were welcomed within the life of the Church.

I have had the privilege of meeting with a small group of Christians who are transgender. They were not at all as you describe * but were prayerful and morally serious people. They, too, are made in the image of God but, like all of us, they were sinners in need of forgiveness. As people who have been baptised they were restored in the image of God.


* Since everything I wrote to the bishops is included in the section headed ‘My Letter’, I think you will see that I did not ‘describe’ transgender people in any way!

All of us are ‘in Christ’ not because we are perfect but because God loves us. Those who are transgender are able to respond to this love for the repentance and forgiveness of sins just like the rest of us. That is why they are welcomed in the life of the Church.


According to the second paragraph above, baptism restores God’s image in us. This contradicts the scriptures quoted earlier showing that it does not! * They show we are at this present time being changed into His image, a change which is not completed until after this life is ended. Bearing in mind the Bishop will no doubt be thinking of infant ‘baptism’, ** the idea that before ‘baptism’ a baby is not in Gods image, but afterwards he or she is fully in God’s image for the whole of life, has no support either in scripture or logic.


* 1 Cor 15:49;2 Cor 3:18.

** This is a separate issue, but briefly:

It makes no more sense to call splashing a few drops of water on a baby’s head “baptism” as it would to wipe a wet flannel over one’s face and call it having a bath, or to paddle in the sea and call it going for a swim!

Baptism follows the new birth - it is not the cause of it. It is the New Covenant equivalent of circumcision in the Old Covenant (Col 2:11–12), and just as it is impossible to circumcise a baby before it is born, so baptism can only follow the new birth. An Old Testament baby was not Jewish because it was circumcised, but was circumcised because it was Jewish; a person is not born again because they are baptised, but baptised because they are born again.

We are saved by grace through faith, not works (Eph 2:8), and infant baptism is works - works undertaken by others outside of the will, choice and decision of the one being ‘baptised’. The order in the New Testament is always “repent and be baptised,” never “be baptised and then repent” (e.g. Acts 2:38)

Children are not not holy because they have been ‘baptised’, but because they have a Christian parent (1 Cor 7:14) and there is no New Testament example of a baby being ‘baptised’ or of believers being told to ‘baptise’ babies.












* The use of capital letters is not mine, but  as found in the New King James Bible, to show the words are quotes from the Old Testament.









* e.g. different age, different culture, etc.

I think all Christians would agree, as stated in the third paragraph, transgender people are exactly the same as the rest of us in that we all can respond to God’s love, repent and receive forgiveness for our sins. But repentance means a change of mind and a change of behaviour; so if we continue to live in the same way we have always done, we have not repented. As previously stated, God’s standards for our sexual behaviour are plain and clear in the Bible; so if people are being told they are welcome members of the Church and they do not need to change a lifestyle that is declared in the Bible to be wrong, they are being given a false sense of security. In other words this is ‘another gospel’ (Gal 1:6, 8, 9).

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

God wants us all to come to the repentance to which the bishop refers; but if we refuse to repent (change our behaviour) what is the alternative? According to the above scripture, we perish! We cannot know what is correct behaviour by looking at ourselves, and we do not have the right to make up our own standards of morality or conduct: only God can do this, and it is He to whom we all have to give account of our lives. What I think is unimportant. What He thinks is of supreme importance, because His view of you will determine your eternal destiny. Please do not listen to me, or a bishop, or anyone else; but pay very careful heed to what your Maker has said is His expectation of you.

If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself. - St Augustine, Sermons.

The other bishop replied by email with a rather more reasonable response, which I shall not include here other than to summarise in my own words by saying that the approach was we can’t expect people to change until they become a part of the Church. So we should welcome and accept everyone into the church and trust that through the love and teaching they receive they will later conform to the behaviour described in the New Testament.

At first glance this appears to be perfectly valid - as the old saying goes, you can’t clean fish until you’ve caught them. However, when people are told that in their present condition they are in God’s image, welcomed, unconditionally affirmed and the church rejoices in the diversity their presence brings, while at the same time giving no hint whatsoever that future change may be expected of them, then how could there ever be any motivation to change? Indeed, rather than bringing them into a place where they can change, it is accepting into the life of the church philosophies and practices that are totally contrary to New Testament teaching and the thin end of yet one more wedge to move the Church away from what it once was. There is a very good reason we are told:

2 Cor 6:14–18 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM. I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE." Therefore "COME OUT FROM AMONG THEM AND BE SEPARATE, SAYS THE LORD. DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN, AND I WILL RECEIVE YOU." "I WILL BE A FATHER TO YOU, AND YOU SHALL BE MY SONS AND DAUGHTERS, SAYS THE LORD ALMIGHTY." *

For this reason, in regard to sexual purity, Paul writes:

1 Cor 5:11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.

In the passage from which the above verse comes, Paul directs the Corinthians to take action with regard to someone who had been sexually immoral. But in his second letter he then says:

2 Cor 2:6–8 This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.

So clearly their action had the desired effect. From this we can see that far from allowing unbiblical behaviour in the hope that it might change sometime in the future, it needs to be cut off at the start in order to prevent it from spreading and to bring the person to a place of repentance as soon as possible. However you view the specifics of this case,* the underlying principle is clear and the Church ignores it at its peril. Every club and organisation in existence has its own rules and expectation of behaviour, and if anyone wishes to become a member they know they have to conform - otherwise the ethos of the organisation becomes diluted and ultimately evolves into something very different from the way it started out. So how much more should this be the case for the Church?

Another point made in the email was that the Bible is “less clear on 21st century issues than some early church ones.” Human nature does not change, however, and while the accumulation of scientific knowledge has made possible technology not previously seen, human behaviour has remained the same, as can be observed from the fact that the particular issue with which we are now dealing is reported in the earliest books of the Bible.

What I find most disturbing in the replies from the two bishops is that the central point of my letter - the Bible teaches none of us are exactly in the image of God - was totally ignored. Yet this was given in the update as the validating factor in their conclusion.

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2 Timothy 3:16

One excuse to avoid this clear teaching of Paul on the authority of scripture has been to claim that although the scriptures were inspired of God, or God-breathed, as Paul says here, the writers of the Old Testament books sometimes either misheard what He was saying to them or simply included their own ideas; and therefore what we now have is not necessarily entirely God’s word.

As I mention in several pages on this web site, one clear clue to show if unscriptural ideas are being promoted, is where we see the technique: When the Bible says, “X” it doesn’t mean “X”, it means “Y!” The attitude described in the previous paragraph is another example of this, and is easily dismissed.


2 Tim 3:16–17 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.


When Paul says, “All Scripture,” to what is he referring? It could only be one thing: the 39 books of what we know as the Old Testament, written on scrolls held in the Jewish temple and the Jewish synagogues all around Israel. * He was talking to Timothy about the things he could read in those scrolls; and he said that every single thing he read in them came from God and is profitable, etc. The Greek word used there is theopneustos, and Strong’s Greek Dictionary defines it as:


* If anyone can come up with a feasible alternative to this, I would be very interested to hear it; because after racking my brains I cannot think of one!

From G2316 and a presumed derivative of G4154; *
divinely breathed in: - given by inspiration of God.

* G2361: theos, God.
   G4154: pneo, A primary word; to breathe hard, that is, breeze: - blow.



* So, for example, taking the scriptures as literal truth, Paul says it was according to the scriptures that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures He was raised the third day, and we should hold fast to the word. 1 Cor 15:2–4

The word ‘scripture’ does not refer to the way God’s word was given, since the description of that follows immediately in the words “is given by inspiration of God.” It refers to what is written on the scrolls that Timothy could go and read. All of this is so obvious, it seems superfluous to write it down here; but in order to counter the ludicrous idea that we cannot rely on everything we read in the Old Testament it is necessary. So what it means is that Timothy could absolutely rely on everything he read in those scrolls, because they had been given by God.* And I know no-one who would seriously claim that our Old Testament differs in any significant way from those scrolls.

If it is claimed that by the word “scripture” Paul did not mean what Timothy could read in the scrolls but what God originally told the writers, then it would follow that when Paul said all scripture was God breathed, he was actually saying everything that God breathed/inspired was God-breathed/inspired! This is tautology: saying the same thing twice. There is no point in telling us that all God-inspired scripture was God-inspired, because that is self-evident. It is like saying everything that is true is true; or everything that is white is white.

If it is claimed that by the word “scripture” Paul did not mean all 39 books of the Old Testament, but just the Torah - the first five books - then this is no help either since it is the teaching within the Torah that is at issue here!


When Paul said all scripture is God-breathed, he was referring to the scripture that was available to Timothy there and then - in other words the whole of what we know as the Old Testament - not merely what God originally said when they were first written down. He didn’t say, “It was the original scriptures that were God-breathed, not what you now have available.” This interpretation of the verse destroys the laws of grammar and makes nonsense of language. Grammar has laws so we can understand what is being said; but if they are ignored, as they are here, then no-one can be sure about anything.


On the other hand, if Paul really did mean that what God has originally given had been obscured to some degree by the writers, then he was here giving Timothy a false sense of security and making him vulnerable to deception, since it is very clear that Timothy would have understood from it that everything he could read in the scrolls was dependable and true. No, Paul would have written something like, “All scripture was originally given by God, but what we now have was not written down with total accuracy, so you must be careful to discern what is truth and what is not,” if that is what he meant. Since he did not say this, or anything like it, we can be sure that the scriptures to which he was referring are totally reliable.


All of this means that whether the topic is sexuality, theistic evolution, or anything else, we can be sure when we read the Old Testament we are reading the revelation of God.

Perhaps it should be pointed out that it is called ‘Old’ Testament for a very good reason: there is now a New Testament (or covenant) that has superceded it. This does not mean that anything in the Old Testament is untrue, but rather that through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, things have changed and we now have a different means of relating to our Maker. It is in the 27 books of the New Testament that we discover how we do this and how we should live today. For example, animal sacrifice in the Old Testament is superceded by the sacrifice of Jesus and no longer appropriate. So within the entirety of the Bible new revelation can supercede old revelation, and below are some pointers regarding the way we should read it.

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Understanding the Bible

According to 2 Tim 4:4 people will turn from truth to myth, or fables; but we can have confidence in God’s word to give us the truth because it can be trusted completely. Like God, the original documents are inerrant (John 17:17). However, we do need to accept it in the way it was given.

There is an excellent talk by a scientist on ‘Are there errors in the Bible’ here. Much of this section comes from that talk, with some editing from me.

The difficult passages are not difficult because of errors, but because of our imperfect understanding. It was written by 40 different authors over 1,500 years, living in different times and cultures, using different styles and perspectives, for different audiences and purposes. So there will be differences in what we read; but difference does not mean contradiction. If the answer to what we do not understand now is not presently available, it does not mean the answer does not exist - it simply means we do not know what it is at the moment.


At a time when people thought the earth was flat,* they would have dismissed God’s word had it said otherwise, just as today evolutionists dismiss it because it contradicts their wrong belief about the origins of the universe.** So God gave His word in a form that they could understand, without compromising on truth.*** So when Is 40:22 tells us that God sits above the circle of the earth, this is a clear hint as to the truth that the world is a three-dimensional globe, and of course, nowhere in the Bible does it specifically say that the earth is flat; but we can’t expect the Bible to include scientific facts that were unknown at the time it was written.

* When there was no scientific evidence to show differently.
** Today’s evolutionists have no excuse for their beliefs, since there is ample scientific evidence confirming the Genesis account of creation.
*** In the same way, He took the form of a man, something within our experience, so we could understand what He is like: John 1:14; 14:9


One accusation of error has been from Mark 4:31 where Jesus said the mustard seed was the smallest seed on earth; but He was speaking in the context of the community in which He lived and to them it was the smallest seed, and so was a valid example of the point He was making. We must take into account the context in which this took place.

We should not take the attitude that the Bible is guilty of error unless it is proven innocent! We should assume it means what it says, just as we believe that when it says on a can of beans it contains beans, we believe it does.


We shouldn’t confuse our fallible interpretation with God’s infallible revelation. It is infallible and irrevocable and will always be fulfilled: Matt 5:18. Our laws may change, but God’s laws do not.


We must understand the context. For example Ps 14:1 says there is no God; but when you read the context you see this is what a fool says.


The authors had different styles and backgrounds. E.g. Luke was a doctor, Peter was a fisherman.


A partial report in the Bible is not a false report. It cannot give every detail of every incident because it would be too long otherwise. Nor are different reports of the same incident contradictory and therefore in error. When two witnesses report on what they have seen they will each have noticed different things, so their stories will be different. For example, Matthew 28:2 mentioned one angel at the tomb; John 20:12 talked about two. Each mentioned what had been seen. *



* Of course, the one angel rolled the stone away and told the women to tell the other disciples; it was after this that there were two angels present.

The Bible does not approve all it records. Everything contained in the Bible is not commended by the Bible. Otherwise murder, adultery, theft, etc. would all be considered acceptable, since they are reported there. It reveals real life and at the same time tells us how we should live.

We must also be aware of the literary devices used. There is poetry in the Psalms, Jesus used parables, Paul used allegories. There are many metaphors. Using figures of speech is not a mistake or an error; but they mustn’t be taken literally. Ps 36:7 talks about being under the shadow of God’s wings, but this does not mean God is a feathered bird! This is a literary device and obviously should not be understood literally.

On the other hand we must not try to avoid the clear teaching of the Bible by pretending a literal account is poetry, metaphor or allegory. For example, the early chapters of Genesis are not poetry but are written in exactly the same historical style as the rest of the book. They are clearly intended by the writer to be taken literally, as indeed Jesus and the New Testament writers accepted them. While the food laws and the regulations about sabbaths and festivals in the Torah were literal requirements for Israel, under the New Covenant they do not apply to Christians; * but the moral laws are repeated in the New Testament and therefore do still apply to us.







* Col 2:16; Mark 7:19; 1 Tim 4:3–4

Things are either [a] Biblical, [b] unbiblical or [c] non-biblical. They either [a] come from the Bible, [b] violate a scriptural principle, or [c] are not found in the Bible but do not necessarily contradict it (so air-conditioning is not in the Bible, but it is not contrary to Bible principles).*

Psalm 19:7–11 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward.


*The best study on the Bible I have read can be found here, although it is rather long. Well worth reading, though.

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INDEX

Introduction

The Update

My Letter

Bishops’ responses

2 Timothy 3:16

Understanding the Bible

Bible Options