Scripture is not like take-out at McDonalds
They’re on high alert as they hike toward the river with their fishing gear in tow. Only when they’ve stepped into their boat and paddled far from shore do they feel safe enough to bring forth Bibles. They must share their worn copies, not having nearly enough for everyone.
This is North Korea, where reading Scripture is punished by imprisonment.
Suddenly, these Christians are terrified, according to Rachel Goodwin at World Help who told this story several years ago.
The Christians watch helplessly as a second boat draws near. Have they been caught?
The man in the approaching boat reaches out and extends a box to them. Inside are enough new Bibles for everyone. The Christians cheer. Many weep.
As you can see, Scripture means the world to them.
This was also true for King Josiah, reigning in Judah roughly 600 B.C. The Bible says there was no king like Josiah, who gave everything to God. 2 Kings 23:25, 22:2
The day will come when Josiah will also weep when he’s given Scripture. But not like the North Korean Christians. His are not tears of joy, but sorrow.
It seems while Josiah’s men repair the temple, the Book of the Law is found, apparently hidden away during the evil reigns of earlier kings. When it’s read to Josiah, he rips his clothes and weeps.
I’ll tell you why the king was so upset—you won’t believe the things God’s people were doing. But this is what happens next: Josiah sends the scrolls to Huldah, the highest prophet in the country. Huldah asks the Lord if they’re authentic or a fraud. God certifies that it’s Scripture.
Josiah then assembles his people, reads the scrolls, and everyone agrees to follow the Law.
These are the changes: Vessels used to worship Baal and other idols in God’s temple are brought forth and burned; idolatrous priests are deposed or killed; religious prostitution ends; child sacrifice is abolished; the altars Solomon built to gods 300 years earlier are destroyed; and wizards and mediums are banned. 2 Kings 23:1-24
I know, it’s unbelievable that such practices were acceptable to God’s people.
The prophet Huldah isn’t finished, but also says that the nation will pay for its evil. 2 Kings 22:15ff.
The Hebrews turn again from God, Southern Israel is conquered, and Jerusalem is set on fire.
Huldah’s words were from God and had authority over everyone—the king, the men of the kingdom, Huldah's spouse.
Yet Huldah was a woman. 2 Kings 22:14
Some 600 years later, the Apostle Paul will say: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” 1 Timothy 2:12
So who’s right?
Listen, everything in the Bible is meant to be there. God does not err.
The answer is rooted in the early church’s decisions about circumcision: Jewish Christians must be circumcised but Gentiles are exempt as long as they follow four obscure rules. Acts 15:20
Yet Paul changes his thinking on this. 1 Corinthians 8, 10:25-33
Paul also changes his mind about Jewish Christians needing circumcision—we’re saved by the cross of Christ and that alone.
None of this is a secret. The early church struggled and the apostles fought!
Decades pass as you read Acts, and Paul’s thinking on grace, circumcision, food, slavery, John Mark, and even women changes. He finally says, “There is no Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; no male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
Paul arrives at a strong, coherent theology, yet countless Christians ignore this --- it’s unthinkable to them that Paul isn’t perfect from the beginning.
Paul's theology strengthens over 30 years, as it should. He’s not Jesus.
This is inconvenient. Countless Christians want to open the Bible, point to Paul’s words, and that’s that. End of story.
Let me gently say that Scripture isn’t like take-out from the drive thru at McDonalds: “Pass me that verse through the window, and I’m good.” Care as much about God's word as the North Koreans who cherished the Bibles they received on the river. As much as Josiah, who treasured the Scripture found in the temple.
Study your Bible to understand what God is saying.
Scripture is never wrong. We’re only confused when we don't learn what’s there.
The Rev. R.A. Mathews is the author of “Reaching to God.” Contact her at Letters@RAMathews.com.
Copyright © 2018, 2020 R.A. Mathews.