THE ENDEAVOURS OF BALAAM
The Christadelphian Statement of Faith (known as the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith) commences with a “Foundation Clause” which describes the doctrine of inspiration thus:
“That the book currently known as the Bible, consisting of the Scriptures of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles, is the only source of knowledge concerning God and His purposes at present extant or available in the earth, and that the same were wholly given by inspiration of God in the writers, and are consequently without error in all parts of them, except such as may be due to errors of transcription or translation.- 2Timothy 3:16; 1Corinthians 2:13; Hebrews 1:1; 2Peter 1:21; Corinthians 14:37; Nehemiah 9:30; John 10:35”.
The inspiration of Scripture is a foundation principle: all other doctrines are based upon this fact: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16), and therefore what it teaches is both Authoritative and Truth – as our Master himself taught: “thy word is truth” (Jno. 17:17).
By contrast, the December 2013 issue of The Endeavour Magazine denies this teaching, and so undermines the authority of Bible doctrines. In an article by Keith Lowe, under the heading: “Faith and Commitment”, we read:
“All the writers of scripture do not sing from the same hymn sheet. There is no unified vision within the canon and the ideological diversity is irreducible …”
Again, in disagreeing with the Bible teaching concerning Creation, he writes:
“Genesis chapters 1-3 give us an account of human beginnings. It is seriously at odds with the story as told by scientific investigation. Many will claim that the scientists have simply got it wrong but many Christadelphians accept the part that evolution has made in the origin of humans. It is now pretty clear that reason provides a perfectly valid tool to help us to understand the text in a realistic fashion through systematic philosophical reflection and scientific investigation. Using reason to understand scripture is bound to promote tension, because we are effectively seeking the best way to coordinate the cultural logic of both the Old and New Testament writings with the cultural logic of our own time. For me, and countless others, it is unreasonable to read early Genesis literally.
Talking animals and humans living beyond 900 years does not strike me as real history.”
The logical outcome of denying the Divine origin of the Scriptures, is that it’s teaching is robbed of its authority. Hence, we would be at liberty to accept or reject any of it’s teachings at will, and according to our whim. Accordingly Keith Lowe continues:
“Based on a flawed understanding of the symbolic world of early Genesis, the writer of 1Timothy’s scandalous judgment promotes the religious degradation of women.”
In the letter to Titus the reader is instructed that heretics ‘must be silenced…They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work’ (1:11&16). The writer contradicts himself in Chapter 3 when, wearing a spiritual hat, he exhorts his readers ‘to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy towards all people.’
(“Faith and Commitment”, Keith Lowe, Endeavour December 2012 – Emphasis ours)
So much for “Faith and Commitment”: the New Testament writers had “a flawed understanding”, contradicting themselves, and their judgement is “scandalous.” Whilst there may be some who are thankful for the implied superior understanding of Keith Lowe in correcting the Apostles of Jesus Christ, we prefer to accept the Word of God above his opinion. Having faith in the revealed Word, we make a firm commitment to study and learn from it, as “little children” (Mat. 18:3).
WHAT IS INSPIRATION?
We cited 2 Timothy chapter 3 above, which is a key verse in determining inspiration:
“… from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:15-17).
From these words, we learn that the Bible is able to impart a saving wisdom to us (to make us “wise unto salvation”) and it is able to do this because it is “given by inspiration of God”. The Greek for “inspiration of God” carries the sense of “God-Breathed”. That is, words are vocalized by being breathed out by God, as per Isaiah chapter 55: “so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereunto I sent it” (Isa. 55:11).
The words which we have in the pages of Scripture are therefore the product of God breathing out those words, which were then penned by the human prophets.
YAHWEH – AN AUTHOR, NOT EDITOR
There are those who speak of a so-called “human element” in the production of Scripture. That is, the writers had to gather together their information, and pen the words, and those words were somehow guided by God, to ensure that the end product was correct. The case of the gospel of Luke is sometimes cited, it being claimed that Luke gathered his material from a variety of eye-witness accounts, and he then produced the record that bears his name.
However, the Bible never speaks in this way. The Bible portrays Yahweh as being an Author, not an Editor of men’s words. The Bible itself is not a compilation of man’s corrected writings, but it comprises those words that the Divine Author chose to be written.
Consider the following verses which illustrate the point:
“man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of Yahweh doth man live” (Deut. 8:3).
“… the sweet Psalmist of Israel, said, The Spirit of Yahweh spake by me, and his word was in my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2).
“Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas … (Acts 1:16).
“Lord, thou art God … who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?”
“again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, Today, after so long a time, as it it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Heb. 4:17)
“David himself said by the Holy Spirit, the Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Mark 12:46)
“Then Yahweh put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And Yahweh said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth …” (Jer. 1:9).
Many of these passages refer to David, who is an example of how folk sometimes misunderstand inspiration. In the case of the book of Psalms, it is said that David, in penning these words, draws upon his own experiences as a shepherd, and writes from a Shepherd’s perspective. But when we consider the verses cited above, we can see that in actual fact, the words he uttered were those that Yahweh placed in his mouth, and were not the product of his own musings. In this, we see a wonderful beauty and appropriateness in Divine revelation: where Yahweh wishes to use words which allude to say, a Shepherd’s experiences, then he uses a Shepherd to wrote those words. It is not that David himself drew upon his own experiences in his writings, but rather that Yahweh uses those experiences to teach spiritual principles. And how much more appropriate this seems, when we come to appreciate that the life of David is filled with types and shadows pointing forward to Messiah, the Great Shepherd whose voice we recognize and heed.
Interestingly, the Bible itself teaches that the prophets were students of their own utterances, speaking of the salvation of Christ
“Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow …” (1 Pet. 1:10-11).
King David is a case in point: studying the words that came to and through him, he would be able to relate those words to his own experiences, and apply them to his future seed who will yet sit upon his throne. There is an appropriateness in that studying his message against the backcloth of his own life, he would be able to instruct others, and be caused to pen praises to Yahweh in the Psalms he wrote.
The New Testament continues this theme in the case of the Apostles, who were sent as ministers of the Word
“ … praying always .. for me that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the Gospel …” (Eph. 6:19).
“… when they shall lead you and deliver you up, take no though beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark. 13:11 see also: Mat. 10:19-20, and Luke 21:15).
The testimony of Scripture then, is that it’s words are God-Breathed, being placed in the mouths of His prophets who were moved to speak in manners appropriate to both the circumstance and message that they were to deliver.
THE ENDEAVOURS OF BALAAM
It is written concerning the prophets that “the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). The account regarding Balaam is a case in point: he was a “man” whose “will” was not at all to speak the message he was to utter, but try as he might, he could not alter the words of God for either good or bad.
Numbers chapter 22 recounts how that Balak the king of Moab hired Balaam, a renegade prophet to pronounce a curse against the people of Yahweh. The enterprise was a foolish one from the outset: it is folly to assume that Yahweh will hearken to the voice of a man, and curse his people who he had afore determined to bless. Accordingly, when Balak’s servants came to him, “God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed” (Num. 22:12). Balaam, however, was tempted by the promise of great riches from Balak, and sought to go with the men to curse the people. Yet from the outset, he recognized that he could only speak those words put into his mouth from Yahweh:
“Balaam answered and said unto the servants of Balak, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of Yahweh my God, to do less or more” (Num. 22:18).
Subsequently being given permission to go with the men, Balaam, motivated by greed, sought to fulfill his mission as appointed by Balak – even though he had already said that he would be unable to speak any other words than what Yahweh chose. When he met with Balak, again he said: “… have I any power at all to say anything? The word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak” (Num. 22:38). Here is an example of Inspiration: only those words that Yahweh put in his mouth could be spoken. Balaam was powerless to change the message, or even the wording.
So is was that chapter 23 records how that “Yahweh put a word in Balaam’s mouth,” and sent him back to Balak. But instead of pronouncing a curse upon the people, the prophet instead spoke a wonderful blessing to come upon them. Again, he tried to utter a curse, but again, “Yahweh met Balaam and put a word in his mouth” – another beautiful prophecy of the future blessing of Israel. Then yet again, he sought to utter a curse – yet again, there came another blessing. No matter how hard he tried, Balaam was incapable of uttering a curse upon the people.
Just as the Spirit placed Divine Words upon David’s tongue, “Yahweh put a word in Balaam’s mouth” (23:5,12), and it became physically impossible for Balaam to speak his own words – rather he was compelled to speak the word which Yahweh had put in his mouth. By this means, man’s cursing was changed into God’s blessing, as the prophet himself spake: “How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? Or how shall I defy, whom Yahweh hath not defied? … Must I not take heed to speak that which Yahweh hath put in my mouth?” (23:8,12). Balaam made repeated attempts to speak curses against God’s people, yet each time the Spirit overruled his natural desires, that the blessings of God be uttered instead – as in Chapter 25, where one of the most beautiful prophecies of all Scripture was given. So it was, that his prophecy came “not by the will of man” (2 Pet. 1:21), but contrary to the will of Balaam, and despite his utmost efforts to resist, Inspiration took place. God breathed His words through Balaam, who was powerless to influence them – for “good or bad.”
What we find then, is that Inspiration does not allow for human imperfections. The writings of the Spirit through the Apostles is authoritative, even if Keith Lowe thinks he knows better than the Apostle Paul. We must embrace the Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God, and shun the Endeavour writers who disagree with the inspired Apostles as being only presumptuous upstarts.