A Little Humility Is In Order

The Bible has about 35,000 verses. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that each verse had one and only one bit if information in it, that gives us a metaphorical jigsaw puzzle with about 35,000 pieces in it. But it doesn’t stop there, for it’s impossible to rightly interpret many of those pieces without also understanding the Ancient Near Eastern culture and its writings. So out come 1 Enoch and Jubilees, and a host of other works that, whether you consider them “scripture” or not, were known by, quoted by, and believed by many of the Bible writers. So let’s just estimate that we’ve now brought our Bible puzzle up to 50,000 pieces.

50,000 pieces to be understood and linked together just as God sees them, and not as some modern dabbler might like to force them together.

This is no simple task. In fact, here’s what most Christians do when they are reading and happen upon a verse they do not understand: they ignore it. But this task does not call for ignoring, but for researching each and every piece of the puzzle. And that research will necessarily entail the proving from time to time that we have had things wrong before—that we have jammed together two pieces that don’t belong together, or that we have left a gap where none is called for.

This is no casual task, and no full-time preacher is ever going to solve it. in fact, who can find one who WANTS to solve it? Are not most trained to leave the hard parts alone? And don’t their parishioners want it that way?

So in a discussion forum about how the pieces are properly put together, it SHOULD be unheard of that a participant should be found who is disinterested in hearing challenges to how he has put the pieces together, and who is disinterested in hearing someone else demonstrate a different way that fits better—whether about one piece or 100 or 1,000 pieces. The person who thinks he has it all more or less in place is just plain stupid. We all have gaps in our theories. We all have some pieces jammed into the wrong spots. We all have biases that TEMPT us not to listen to a better model. We all have the temptation of pride.

Sadly, almost nobody understands the true scope of the puzzle, and almost nobody is going after understanding it all. Rather, people seem to pick but a few pieces of the puzzle, and interest themselves primarily with those pieces—arguing with others over them, while having no clue how ignorant they are of the whole picture. People leave churches over such things, and then build new church only paces away, which differs boldly over a handful of puzzle pieces, while leaving the thousands upon thousands of remaining pieces unexamined.

Some will stupidly defend, claiming that that Bible is not meant to be understood, that certain statements in it ought not be taken as actual communications of fact, or that the best way to understand it is to decide NOT to understand it. All of that, however, is irrational, and charges God and his prophets with being the authors of confused senselessness. (And how ironic it is that even Jesus and his apostles are thrown under the bus for their talk of an immiment second coming. Even the respected CS Lewis resorted to this, calling them ignorant and deluded.)

So those who don’t understand—-rather than seeking to learn for themselves—tend to put the blame on God and the authors instead of themselves. How arrogant and misguided that is!

Meanwhile, there are myriad models—none completely right—regarding how the puzzle fits together. And among those working the puzzle, very few seem to understand the need to DEMONSTRATE how the pieces fit. Far too many think that their own say-so constitutes evidence—that their own belief is evidence unto itself—-as if they, unlike everyone else—-could not possibly have a wrong belief.

I realized a few years back that “I am most likely wrong about many things”. And this epiphany has done more to help my Bible study efforts than any other. This has led me to a practice of studying far more possibilities before deciding where a piece of the puzzle belongs—-and it has also led to the discovery of MANY points at which my previous understanding was in error—as well as the correction of those errors.

Yes, I duke it out with others, but it’s about discarding vain belief in search of weighty evidence to take its place. It’s about giving up bias and taking a reality-based approach instead. It’s about demonstrating facts, and not merely assuming them. And this way of thinking always leaves the door open to the possibility that it has got some pieces in the wrong places. So when challenged, it says, “OK, show me.” And those challengers who cannot demonstrate—who cannot show—or worse, who do not even WANT to show—-they are not taken seriously, because they derive their beliefs by another process that is not empirically or logically sound.

Meanwhile, that camp that insists that they understand it all by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that anybody who disagrees with them must be unregenerate—-well, just give them all a Bible quiz and then ask them to explain how the Holy Spirit has misled them so as to disagree with ONE ANOTHER on where this or that piece of the puzzle should go. I’ve never heard a responsible explanation of this.

It’s a giant truth table, folks. Mr. Red Letter Reader will never have a clue that so much of Jesus’ language is a continuation of the same themes from the OT and from the ANE literature—yet he will be so proud of himself and his devotion to the red letters. He will grossly overestimate his own understanding, because that’s what cognitive/moral misers do. They do not tend to make time for entertaining the proposition that they might just be wrong about some things.

So as we ponder what really happened in the Bible and what time it is now, we would do well to guard ourselves against the foolishness of assuming that we have it all more or less figured out. If an attitude of wisdom about such were to prevail, even a handful of funded researchers could get a very long way in the next decade or two. But that’s not how people tend to think. They would rather vie for popularity than to go about the mundane and tedious business of demonstrating how their positions are correct. So they tell and tell, but rarely show and show. And telling—-especially to an audience of co-tellers—-almost never works out well.

I have seen famous people stumble and run away when called upon to demonstrate how their assertions are accurate. This paradigm of demonstration is simply NOT widespread—-in the community of Preterists, or anywhere else. If a person were to hold his own tongue, and refuse to assert anything that he cannot demonstrate to be true, what a colossal difference that would make. Yet far too many get their kicks out of floating their pet theories without responsibly vetting them first. This is not proper for a people professing respect for God and Jesus.

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