A friend of mine has apparently abandoned his Christian faith and is embracing Judaism. He has begun learning Hebrew and is consuming all kinds of pro-Judaism apologetics. He is half Jewish by birth and is teaching his sons Hebrew and embracing Hebrew culture. He has even looked into packing up and moving them all to Israel. All this despite the fact that his Jewish father and grandfather were Messianic Jews who embraced and taught the Christian faith to their children.
I began an e-mail dialogue with my friend, who quoted an Old Testament Scripture to me, by way of explanation for his departure from Christianity:
“‘How can you say, “We are wise,
for we have the law of the Lord,”
when actually the lying pen of the scribes
has handled it falsely? -Jeremiah 8:8
Logic alone tells us that if the writer of Jeremiah was inspired by God, and if he meant what this Scripture is taken to mean—that the Word of God has been perverted—then all bets are off! This scenario is like a Wizard of Id strip I read years ago. In it, the King is receiving the day’s portent from his stargazer, who tells him, “Don’t take any advice today.” The King looks at him and tells him, “Go to heck!” and walks away.
How absurd is it for us to trust in the truth of Scripture only for the purpose of discounting the rest of it? If Jer. 8:8 is true, then nothing can be taken as sacrosanct, and there is no foundation for Judaism, Christianity or any of it. We might as well throw it all out and do our own thing. But if God is the wise, loving, all-powerful Being described in Scripture—IF He is—-then He is able to bring His Word intact through the original writing, centuries of handling and translation, negotiations over the formation of the Canon and countless attempts to pervert it and stamp it out through its history. And if God hasn’t accomplished all this, then His Word is untrustworthy, in which case He would have no reason to expect us to do anything more specific than follow our own consciences and try to live good lives in a general sort of way. We can’t be justly held to a higher standard than what we have received. God Himself has told us that we do not possess an innate sense of direction. (Jer. 17:9) Hence the need for the written Word in the first place.
If God hadn’t preserved His Word, it would make Him some kind of celestial schizophrenic. What hope do we have if God is holding us responsible to extract truth from a corrupted mess of altered text? If God were like that, where would our motivation be to approach Him? And even if I work myself into a frenzy trying to please Him, on what grounds do I hold myself to a system He Himself has said is not trustworthy (if that is what He meant in Jer. 8:8)? Such a God as this might well give me some horrible disease and torture me for all eternity no matter how honorably I’ve lived. Our only hope is that God has preserved His Word and will help us understand it and apply it to our lives.
The upshot of all this is that, in the end, we are utterly at the mercy of God. Even after I have read every translation of Scripture; learned Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic and have access to the best available manuscripts; have all known biblical reference books and use them well; know all the text families and the history of the translation process involved in each of them; am thoroughly familiar with the science of translation and the study of ancient documents and know the historic context in which each book of the Bible was written, there is still the question of interpretation. To know for certain how accurate my Bible is and exactly what it is saying to me, I would have to peek over the shoulder of every monk who ever copied a manuscript, sit in on the Nicene Council sessions when the Holy Canon was ratified, be inside the chests of the Apostles and prophets and writers of Scripture to know what they were trying to communicate and how faithfully they were putting it down on the parchments.
Only God can do all those things. We need His help and instruction at every point. Eventually it comes down to a simple choice: Trust God or don’t. And for the record, I believe God has inspired and preserved His Word and that He is quite able to help me apply it to my life. God help me to do my part!