Dan Popp
Why scoffers can't understand the Bible
By Dan Popp
June 21, 2015

Great is the anger of God when He does not correct sins, but punishes blindness with blindness. – Jerome

Did you know that, in the Old Testament, God sanctioned abortion? Or that Jesus and the Apostles were big fans of Karl Marx? Surely you're aware that they were all gay, right? And that Peter was a Universalist, and that Jesus promised to return before the Apostles died? No? All of these seem to be beyond preposterous? Well, congratulations: You're not a scoffer.

In my six years as a Renew America columnist the article that has prompted the most feedback (both positive and negative) has been one called Why disbelievers can't understand the Bible. As I began to think about revisiting that essay I kept finding scriptures that affirm the premise: Those who will not submit their hearts to God will not get His message through their heads. I simply listed some of those passages recently as, Scoffers can't understand the Bible.

In the original version of the piece you're reading now I used the word "disbeliever." This confused a lot of disbelievers who weren't able to make it all the way to the fourth sentence for my definition, so I'll happily change it to the biblical word, "scoffer." This describes someone who rails against God, against his fellow man and against reason and common sense, too. He's just better and smarter than the rest of us. A scoffer could be an atheist, a Muslim, or even someone who identifies himself as a Christian.

Here are some reasons these people can cite the Bible, but can't understand the Bible.

1. Scoffers ignore context.

Cherry-picking data is always lying, whether you're examining global temperatures or the gospel. Christians have been known to pull "proof texts" out of context, too. The Bible is a big book, so the scoffer isn't likely to take time to read the whole thing. Note that what many people call "reading" I call "word recognition." If you don't understand it, you haven't truly read it.

But the issue of context is much more difficult with the Bible than with other books because God's Word presents to us an amazing number of paradoxes. Jesus is fully God. And fully man. We are to labor diligently and save for rainy days, but we are not to be anxious about tomorrow. We are asked give to the poor, but we are required to provide for our families. We're called to choose Christ, but once we do, we find that He chose us. The scoffer will call these "contradictions," because he wants to find contradictions – and he can't see that his wishes are irrelevant. But anyone, including the Pope or any Christian, can fixate on one side of a biblical paradox and dismiss scriptures that reveal the other dimension. That is to commit the elementary error against context.

2. Scoffers don't know what kind of book the Bible is.

Opponents of Christ want the Bible to be a book of short prescriptions and proscriptions similar to The Analects of Confucius. But in addition to the proverbs of Solomon, the Scriptures contain historical narratives, parables, lists, poems, songs, lessons, commands, prophecies – many kinds of text, each of which must be read in the way appropriate to its nature. You wouldn't read a court order the same way you would read a newspaper, but scoffers can't seem to help reading Leviticus, the Sermon on the Mount and Revelation in the same way – and then accusing believers of "simplistic" or "literal" interpretation!

3. Scoffers reject the environment cues necessary for understanding.

Every communication has a sender, a receiver, a message, a medium and an environment. All of these affect the quality of the communication; that is, how well the sender's intentions are understood by the receiver. It's curious that a scoffer will write, "Jesus told his disciples to be poor!" (typing on his $1,000 computer from his quarter-million-dollar home) knowing that Christians as a group have never believed that – and imagine that he, the outsider, has correctly understood a message that insiders miss.

One of the more anxiety-producing ordeals of courtship is meeting the future in-laws. Within this group of familiars, I am a stranger. It may take a while for me to understand how the family communicates. "Was your dad kidding when he said...?" "That's just Aunt Harriet's way of telling you...." The family's shared experiences and values frame all of its communication. Until I experience life with the family over a period of time, I'm losing something in translation. God's family has a much longer history, and even deeper values.

By the way, this is why I cringe when Christians tweet "gotcha" verses of the Quran. They're probably committing these same errors concerning context and environment.

4. Scoffers are the wrong species to receive this communication.

I could write a note to my cat, including the word "TUNA" in great big letters, and he probably wouldn't respond at all. Some human-feline communication is possible (or so I've been told), but this isn't the right approach. Communication must be adapted to the species.

God would be sending Morse code to turtles if He were to try to get a complex message to scoffers. The nonbeliever is still Man, Version 1.1, the model with the Fatal Error. The believer is Man, 2.0. "Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature...." (2 Corinthians 5:17) – a new species of being. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (1 Corinthians 2:14)

Non-Christians shouldn't be offended by this. We have hints in the Word of God that even the holy angels are not the appropriate species to grasp this particular communication. The prophecies of the Old Testament as well as the gospel of the New are called "things into which angels long to look." (1 Peter 1:12)

5. God actively hides His message from scoffers.

[This was the subject of my previous entry.] To those who earnestly asked the way to heaven, Jesus candidly answered, "I am the Way." But to the rich young official who lied both to himself and to God, the Good Teacher responded craftily to the same question, "Keep the commandments."

The Bible is simply not open to inquiry by the insincere. The Scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees had read God's word diligently every day of their lives. They didn't have the context problem of the present-day scoffer. They knew what kind of material they were looking at. But when the Word-Made-Flesh, the Fulfillment of every prophecy, the long-expected Messiah stood right in front of them, they didn't recognize Him. Jesus told them, "You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me." (John 5:39) They had scrutinized the sacred scrolls until their eyes bled, but missed the whole Point.

In His terrifying way, as He did when He hardened Pharaoh's heart, the Almighty is honoring the rebel's wish for God to go away by solidifying that decision. A scoffer waving the Bible is claiming knowledge that he has pointedly refused: the knowledge of God. That's what the Bible gives. That's what the scoffer will not, and therefore cannot, have.

Someone will say that I'm proclaiming a "Secret Decoder Ring" theology. In a way, that's true. No competent General announces his plans to the other side. But God in His goodness and love has given each human being a decoder ring. You have one, believer. You have one, too, unbeliever. Mr. or Ms. Scoffer, you have the very same secret decoder ring I do.

That ring is your will.

All you have to do is turn it.

If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. (John 7:17)

© Dan Popp


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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