Regardless of whether we are addressing the plethora of problems that exist in the unregenerate world or issues in the professing church today, the root problem of both the world and the church in this present age is the matter of unbelief. Scripture tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please [God]”; first, one must believe that God exists, and then one must believe that He rewards those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6). Faith is the foundation of our relationship with God and subsequently our fellowship with God as believers. The apostle John wrote his entire Gospel through inspiration of the Holy Spirit and provides us with his thesis at the end of the book: “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name” (Jn. 20:31). In other words, we are to believe the things written in order to obtain eternal life. Likewise, as believers, we are to trust His Word if we are to maintain proper fellowship with Him throughout this life.
Of course, we can expect the world to degenerate and fall apart because man is inherently sinful and lost. Men trust in themselves; men trust in the platitudes and the philosophies of the unregenerate “elite” and “educated” minds of our day; men trust in the message of those who are “blinded” by the god of this world who seeks to keep anyone he can from “the glorious gospel of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:3-4). The world today calls “evil good, and good evil” (Isa. 5:20). The world today castigates any who believe God has spoken and who believe that His Word is true and certain. Just as the Scriptures have predicted, we can see the fruit of such unbelief in the course of this age—in the swim of politics, culture, morality, religion, etc.
Yet even in the professing church today, people either ignorantly or willfully choose to slight the clear teachings of Scripture to their own destruction. Again, the Scriptures are replete with warnings concerning this dangerous and destructive path, and they make it clear that as this age comes to a close, we will continue to see not only men and women “deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13) but also that “many will follow their pernicious ways” (2 Pet. 2:2) as they surround themselves with religious leaders and teachers who tell them what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear (2 Tim. 4:3-4). The Bible cautions us that even professing believers will twist the Scriptures “to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16) and that they will speak “great swelling words” and have other Christians’ admiration because of their smooth words and charismatic personalities (Jude 16).
The longer we live, the more we can expect to be in the minority if we choose to truly believe the Word of God—the whole counsel of God. Just recently, a Baptist news agency published an article that attacked “fundamentalists” for failing to live and act like Jesus. The author equated “fundamentalism” with right-wing political activism and chided “fundamentalists” for ignoring the “red letter” portions of Scripture where, he claimed, Jesus fought for the marginalized and the disenfranchised (i.e., the illegal immigrants, socialists, and Black Lives Matter crowd). Clearly, the author knows nothing of historical, biblical fundamentalism, nor does he have any respect for, or understanding of, the totality of Scripture. Likely, he does not believe that the writings of the apostles and prophets of the New Testament are equal with the “red letter” teachings of Jesus (who inspired these writers, as He made clear in His “red letter” statements in John 14 and 16). No contradiction nor priority exists between the words of Jesus and the other authors of Scripture—for He is the Author of all Scripture.
How have we come to this place even in the professing church? The answer is simple: Unbelief—unbelief in God’s Word to mankind and unbelief concerning what the Scripture claims for itself—that all of it is God-breathed, preserved for us, inerrant, and eternal. But what has contributed to this plague of unbelief? How has unbelief become so ingrained in even those who profess to be Christians? In my opinion, a low view of Scripture is a major reason for such unbelief in the professing church today. Let us consider three ways in which unbelief has manifested itself in the hearts and minds of professing Christians in relation to the Word of God—three particular attitudes that have permeated the church for decades and have brought us to where we are today.
1. A Lack of Confidence in the Word of God
Of course, the unbelieving skeptics and scoffers put no credence in the Scriptures, for they do not even profess to believe them in the first place. But the blight that has plagued the Christian church for the last century is a slow and subtle undermining of confidence in the Word of God that we possess. For over 300 years, godly English-speaking Christians could confidently declare that the translation they held in their hands was God’s Word and that it was true and reliable. Their Bible was derived from Greek and Hebrew manuscripts that had been widely used and revered for centuries. In general, Christians did not think that God’s truth was obscurred or in question, nor were they waiting for additional older manuscripts to be discovered that would “improve” their understanding—or their possession—of God’s Word. They also did not think that only seminary-trained pastors or Bible teachers could give them the “real sense” of what God was actually saying in His Word.
But for the past century, Christians have been told time and again that words in their Bibles are “mistranslated” or that “scribal errors” are in the Scriptures they possess; they have been informed that entire words, verses, or phrases do not really belong in the text. Confidence in the Word of God has been slowly chipped away by often well-meaning pastors and Bible teachers who are simply parroting information from a commentary or from another Bible teacher, without considering alternate explanations and solutions to a textual difficulty or how their words may affect their hearers.
Since the compilation of a new eclectic Greek text in 1881, people sitting in the pew have been told that their English translations derived from the Masoretic Hebrew text and the Byzantine-based Greek texts are flawed and that in order to truly grasp the meaning of Scripture they must realize that they cannot wholly trust any one translation of Scripture. While it is certainly true that the translation process from one language to another has its challenges and often allows for a variety of words to accurately convey an intended meaning, pastors and authors who sow seeds of uncertainty and doubt in the minds of believers decade after decade have sprouted a lack of confidence in the Scriptures. Of course, I am not saying (and I reject the heresy) that the English words are inspired in the same manner as were the original Greek and Hebrew texts, but I am saying that God has preserved His Word in the Greek and Hebrews texts that have been read, used, loved, and studied down through the centuries. God’s Word did not suddenly become “more accurate” once the Critical Text was compiled.
Over and over again one can hear the refrain from pastors and Bible teachers: “This word is translated incorrectly” or “This word is not in the oldest manuscripts” or “The actual word should be….” Again, I am certainly not saying that a variety of English words may or may not more clearly explain a truth laid down in the original Hebrew or Greek. My point is that many pastors and Bible teachers are conveying a lack of trust or confidence in Scripture by their poor choice of words when they are trying to explain a biblical text. People who attend church Sunday after Sunday, hearing this refrain week after week, have begun to believe that they cannot truly trust their Bibles or understand the Scriptures for themselves unless they have pastors, theologians, or experts in Greek or Hebrew to give them the “true” meaning. Pastors and Bible teachers need to present the truth of God’s Word without undermining the very Scriptures held in the hands of those in the pew. And, let me add, this is not a “Majority text versus Eclectic text” issue. Many on both sides of the debate have been guilty of communicating the same lack of confidence in Scripture when they express uncertainty and doubt in their preaching and teaching of God’s Word.
2. A Lack of Contentment with the Sufficiency of the Word of God
To many professing Christians today, what God has declared in His Word is not enough. Like the Pharisees and other religious leaders of Jesus’ day, they want signs and wonders; like the Israelites in the wilderness, they want something tangible to worship; like the first century Gnostics with whom the apostles Paul and John contended, they want to discover and be the recipients of “inside information” or “special truth” unknown to everyone else; like the Israelites who dabbled in spiritism and pagan practices during the times of Isaiah and Jeremiah, they want their experiences and feelings to guide them in their “spiritual quest.” This is not only a hallmark of the charismatic and Pentecostal movements, but it has become a real issue even among evangelical and fundamentalist Christians.
God has made it clear in both the Old and New Testaments that His Word is completely true and totally sufficient to nourish the genuine spiritual needs of His people. In fact, His Word is the very foundation upon which believers are to trust in order to live and walk “by faith.” The Scriptures are not only totally sufficient to bring one to salvation, but they are totally sufficient to lead a believer to spiritual maturity (2 Tim. 3:15-17). In fact, the Scriptures continually exhort us to refrain from following our heart or our own ways, which are always right in our own eyes and yet lead to ruin rather than righteousness (Prov. 14:12).
Though His Word is continually degraded by unbelievers and downplayed even by professing Christians, God describes it as “truth,” “pure,” and “eternal.” We do not need to sit in judgment of the Scriptures, choosing to follow our feelings or to be guided by our emotions. We can know everything God wants us to know, for we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit; as we are yielded to Him, He enlightens us through the Scriptures (1 Jn. 2:20, 27). In fact, the apostle John tells us that it is only through receiving the Word (as revealed by John and other New Testament first-century apostles and prophets) that we can discern between truth and error (1 Jn. 4:6)—not through our intuition, feelings, emotions, or personal experiences.
3. A Lack of Concern for Properly Interpreting the Word of God
Anybody can make the Bible say essentially anything they want it to say. But, because God’s Word is written by the Creator-Redeemer for the purpose of communicating His mind and His will to mankind, we must realize that the “smorgasboard approach” to interpretation is not only dishonest but even dangerous. To spiritualize or allegorize either the Old or New Testament texts is to inject our own interpretations and opinions. God has spoken clearly and literally to the recipients of Scripture, and our responsibility as believers is to understand what He has said to the original recipients and then apply the one, true meaning of Scripture to our own lives and ministries today. This is not an easy task. It requires intense effort and study in order to “rightly divide the word of truth” and prove ourselves to be unashamed workmen in the sight of God (2 Tim. 2:15).
The vast majority of churches, ministries, and denominations today reject the literal, historical, grammatical interpretation of Scripture. As a result, their theology is littered with post-millennialism, amillennialism, existentialism, and themes related to kingdom-living, social justice, contemplative spirituality, and ecumenism. Even many fundamental and evangelical churches and ministries tend to emphasize anecdotal sermons and moral platitudes taken from Old Testament narratives or New Testament parables—narratives and parables that are truly God’s very Word but that have been stripped of their intended meaning in order to propagate an emotionally-charged, motivational message that advances the cause of the speaker rather than the true meaning and application of the biblical text. The written Word of God has but one interpretation, with a wealth of application to believers today, and we must not confuse interpretation for application.
Just as a myriad of prophecies from the Old Testament came to pass exactly as God said they would, so the prophecies not yet fulfilled will come to pass literally and exactly as God says they will. We do not need to spiritualize or allegorize the text simply because it has been centuries—even millenia—since these prophecies were written. Nor do we need to spiritualize or allegorize the text simply because what God declares does not seem to harmonize with our natural minds, supposedly “enlightened” by our modern sensibilities.
When regenerate or unregenerate men and women refuse to believe that God’s Word is literally true and is literally “God’s Word” to mankind or when they think the Bible is limited in its inerrancy, that it has been tainted over time, or that God has left mankind to spiritualize or allegorize His Word, then man has deemed himself to be the judge and ultimate authority of truth. Believers today need to have a simple confidence in God’s Word and believe the Creator-Redeemer rather than their own fallible and fallen intellect. Let us rise above the unbelief and confusion that permeates much of Christianity today, and let us simply listen to God’s Word, take it at face value as God intended it to be understood, and believe what God has declared. He is the Author of His Word, and He desires to be glorified through our unwavering trust in Him.
— By Matt Costella. Reproduced from Foundation magazine, Issue 1, 2021.