Sye Ten Bruggencate often tells people that he doesn’t do “Bible study with unbelievers.” Sye is a Christian apologist from Canada that some find a bit abrasive, but I personally love. He is quick witted and has a great love and passion for our King, Jesus the Son of God. (You can check him out here at: www.proofthatgodexists.org).
Now I’ll admit that the first time I heard Sye make the comment about not doing Bible study with unbelievers I was a bit perplexed. Others, knowing I listen to him and support what he is doing in ministry, have attempted to challenge me to defend such a position. The fact of the matter is there’s nothing to defend.
By definition an unbeliever is one that has great distaste for the God of the Bible. By this statement, I am not denying that some unbeliever’s read the Bible. No doubt, there are many that do. However, the distinction between how an unbeliever and a believer approaches the Word of God is in regards to their heart. A believer wants to know what is written in order to apply it. My experience with unbelievers is that they would much rather mock the positions found in Scripture than seek to understand them. Given their revealed disposition that’s really not all that surprising.
What Biblical Study is…
There is a marked difference, however, between sharing what the Scriptures teach to another versus biblical study. Biblical study, when you get right down do it means taking the time to flesh out what is written (exegete the text) with an attitude of submission. We should not come to the Bible with the mindset of “this has to fall in line with what I believe.” Actually, the exact opposite is supposed to happen when we study God’s Word, “my thinking has to fall into line with what it teaches.”
We are to read the passage that we are studying, mull it over, ask questions of it (who, what, when, where, why, how, etc.), pay attention to the flow-of-thought, carefully identify key words/phrases, giving special attention to the grammar and history of the period (i.e. who is writing to whom, what is the key issue at the time of the writing, what is being addressed by the author, etc.). It is not until you’ve spent sufficient time “observing the text” that you begin to do the interpretative process. This answers the hermeneutical question of: “What does this mean?”
Of course there are checks and balances that need to be applied at this phase, like using Scripture to interpret Scripture (allowing the easier texts on the same subject to help define the more difficult portions of the Bible). An awareness of any biases and theological issues is also very important at this interval of study. Finally, when all that is done, you can begin to apply the passage.
The application phase of Bible study deals with four major questions: What is the teaching of the passage? What area of my life is being rebuked? What sort of corrections should I make? How can I apply what I have learned to live a godly life? This is the entire point of Scripture to begin with; teaching us who we truly are in light of our Creator, in order to mirror Him in all of life (cf. 2Tim 3.16-17). Of course the underlying assumption is that we started the whole process by appealing to the Holy Spirit in prayer to guide our interaction/understanding of His Word.
Inherently unbelievers have a problem at this point, since their starting position is bottom-up rather than top-down. Humility is a fruit of the Spirit (cf. Isa 66.2; Phil 2.8) and is therefore a God-given attribute that we do not possess by nature. A person who is not humble and not contrite will come to the biblical text with an attitude of submission in mind to be sure, but the polar opposite of the born-again Christian. The goal for the non-believing person will be to make the text submit to them; rather than, they submit to what the text is actually stating. Unfortunately, let’s face it, even professing believers struggle with this. (I haven’t spoken to Sye, but I would imagine that such considerations are why he doesn’t believe it will be profitable to have Bible study with an unbeliever until their hubris has been broken and they have subsequently bent the knee).
How a person’s approach to the Bible affects their outlook on God’s Law…
This becomes readily apparent when it comes to the idea of God’s Law. God is not the “big guy in the sky” that’s true, but God isn’t “your bro or your buddy” either. God is God, and while it may offend the sensibilities of some people to think that there is someone who knows our every motive and action, and then keeps a running account of such activity to compare it with His standard of holiness and righteousness in order to give to each person on the planet (past, present and future) what they deserve on Judgment Day, the fact is that is precisely what the Bible teaches (cf. Rev 20.12-15). Every knee will bow and confess what they have done. Every deed, idle word, and thought will be weighed in the balance. And, every person will be held accountable. The only hope of reprieve is found in the God-Man Jesus Christ. He is the standard-bearer. He met the full requirement of God’s Law and any in Him will be saved because of God’s mercy, but any not in Him will face God’s wrath.
Is it any wonder then, when it comes to the Law-Word of God that many professing believers and all unbelievers are found running to the hills? All the while they hold up the sign that God is “love” and He wouldn’t do such a thing today. I read the account of one former “Christian” that the reason he left the faith is because he didn’t like the prospect of God constantly looking over his shoulder, judging his actions.
Various attitudes towards God’s Law-Word and the Escape hatch people desire…
In the minds of many, the Law in the O.T. is archaic and hateful, and the God who enforces such things is not a God they want to know. In order to soften this, some professed members of the household of faith will turn in a variety of directions to avoid the truth. What truth? God has spoken and He expects His creatures to listen and obey. Ethics and morality are not in flux. They are not dependent upon human thought or convention. God has set the standard and it is eternal.
Some will say, such a God is merely power hungry and therefore not worth of our time. Others will say that God only commands that which benefits people for their good, giving valid reasons for why He says what He says. Then there is another group that will tell you that’s “just the O.T., which no longer applies.” These are the sort of people that look at Jesus reaction in the temple, when they’ve turned a place of worship into a den of robbers, knocking over money changing tables and beating animals and people with a whip in an outburst of righteous fury as nonsensical (cf. John 2.13-17; Luke 19.45-46). I read one individual who commented “that just seemed so out of place with the Jesus she knew.”
Although it is true the majority of western societies have adopted a relativistic mindset (why not, many Christians find no problem borrowing from Eastern religious philosophies anyway?), the God of the Bible is not a relativist. He hates double-standards and calls them an abomination. All people are held accountable to the same standard. Even when they have not heard them described in detail, their own consciences to a certain degree—depending upon the light they have received—will condemn them for acting unlawfully. People may want to scream that they are not God’s creation, but a denial of the fact does not make the fact false. What it really shows is a childish attitude that says “Nuh-uh!”
Does the Law of God apply universally to all people everywhere? Are all people held to the same standard regardless of their ethnicity, time in history, or location on the planet? Some say, “No way!” My question is: “Is that what the Bible says?” If you don’t like that standard, have your pick of another, but the fact remains you will be held accountable of the biblical standard nothing else. You may not like it, and tell me I’m an idiot (O.K., so I am, did that change your position before God? Nope, alright then I’ll continue), but the fact is we will all meet our Maker one day and have to testify for the lives we lived. Why we accepted or rejected His Word.
Universal Standards applied in Differing Circumstances: The Circumstances have changed, but the Law and its applicability have not…
Let’s look at a couple of easy ones shall we, and then next time we will move onto some harder ones and eventually I want to deal with the person who thinks that God only commands what is good for all people. That last one makes me laugh a bit, but I’ll hold my laughter for later.
- “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it” (Deut 22.8; ESV).
What is this law for and does it still apply today? The law was intended to tell the home owner that when they built a new home, they were to make sure they put a rail (parapet) all around the parameter of their roof. Why? Well, like today, many of the homes in that part of the world had flat roofs. In the cool of the day they would entertain or relax with refreshment having endured another day of labor. As the text reveals the law was concerned about the home owner’s neighbor, to protect them from falling and to protect the home owner from liability.
This law is tied to the 5th commandment of “Thou shall not murder.” Negligence of life is called manslaughter, and if you failed to love your neighbor in this fashion, you would—as the home owner—be accountable for the injury or death of that person. And in case you are wondering, your neighbor would include people both inside and outside of the home.
Is this law still valid today? Good question, I have another one: Does God tell us that the law has been invalidated? Has he done away with it? According to Jesus God hasn’t (cf. Matt 5.17-19); so what should be our guiding principle? What I mean is that it is rather obvious for us here in the West that our roofs are normally peaked, not flat. We do not entertain on our roofs, but we do on our porches.
Ironically, we build a rail around our porches don’t we? What about our pools? Some city ordinances (as well as insurance companies) require that a person has a fence around their pool? Why do we put fences around our porches and pools? The same reason that we find demonstrated in this law…to protect life. If someone dies on our property because we were negligent, we are held accountable for that person’s life. The same is true in the case of injury. The overarching principle of the law stands.
- You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain” (Deut 25.4; ESV).
What is this law for and does it apply today? Now I chose this particular law for a reason. It is already been demonstrated that it still applies today by the apostle Paul. We’ll get to him in a second. The concern expressed here in this verse is for the ox; the beast of burden. God says it is not right to keep the ox from eating while it is doing hard work. Animals, like human beings, need at times rest and food. They need breaks from the labor of the day. Unless you’re a farmer, we don’t normally use beasts of burden to do our work today. My lawnmower has the supposed power of 22horses, but horses do not cut my 2 ½ acre lawn, my John Deere does.
Due to the fact that most of us are not farmers, this “archaic” law doesn’t seem to be applicable. Some would argue that it is obviously “culturally bound.” How can this law apply to us?
The overarching principle of the law still stands. Paul uses this text to argue for the just pay of workers who do fair labor, including those who were ministers of the gospel. (This always makes me smile a bit, because I’m often asked “What do you do for a living?” “I’m a minister, a pastor of a church,” I say. “Yes, but what do you do for work?”
Paul basis the just wages for the minister of the gospel and he calls it genuine work, and the text he appeals to in order to justify his position is Deut 25.4. He says,
- “Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.’ Is it for the oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It is written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? …In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1Cor 9.8-11, 14).
The Law of God still has validity today for all people. That’s what these two obscure texts prove. Next time we will look at a couple of the more difficult ones. Until then, God Bless.