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Beware False Balances
(Talk 1 of 3)
By Dusty Peterson, 2004
(This is the
transcript of a talk Dusty recently gave at a Fellowship in
Beware False Balances: Talk Two
morning. My sermon today has the rather un-snappy title of ‘Beware False Balances’ and I intend to allow some time at
the end for any questions, but here’s a quick question for you - to get the blood pumping:
Who can tell me roughly how many denominations are officially
thought to now exist within professing Christianity?
Any estimates? 50?
in 1986 a volume was published called The
Christian Sourcebook which reported that 21 thousand
denominations existed, with 270 new ones expected to emerge each year.
But that was inaccurate. Many
more than 270 per year have
since formed. Just eleven
years later, in 1997, there were reportedly seven thousand additional
denominations, and a U.S. Census Bureau study in 2001 found that there
were indeed over 30,000 in existence.
Yes, 30 thousand separate
denominations, most (if not all) apparently developing different
beliefs on Christianity but still referring to themselves as Christian.
Do mull that over for a moment, for it is a truly astonishing
Why So Many?
people will ask how this extraordinary state of affairs could have been
reached – especially given that no other religion sees anything like
that degree of fracturing as far as I’m aware. (Every religion
will see some fragmentation, simply because fallen humans are often not
terribly good at getting on with each other. And certain religions
are inevitably divided doctrinally
because they claim that there is no such thing as objective truth.
But I’ve never heard of a faith which does
believe in objective truth that comes close to the splintering seen within
one obvious possible explanation is that the Bible is true – and
therefore that the Devil, about whom the Christian Bible teaches, is
rather more interested in dividing and undermining Christians
than in expending his efforts on pagans (because the latter are already
serving him). Of course, we
Christians believe that this is a correct conclusion, but it can only be part of the explanation for this colossal amount of division…
factor is that, since the Reformation, folks in many countries have had
increasingly easy access to the Bible and have reached a huge number of
distinct interpretations of the scriptures.
But if one stops to think about it, this fact alone doesn’t tell
us why it should be possible
to reach up to 30,000 contradictory doctrinal outlooks from the same
Even if we make the (utterly ridiculous!) assumption that no doctrinal differences are present within any of these 30 thousand denominations, and if we also assume that that no new denominations have formed since 2001 and that there are actually 30 denominations per doctrinal outlook (i.e. like-minded sets of denominations are only divided from each other because they are unaware of each other’s existence or because of personality clashes or gross sinfulness), it still means there are over one thousand contradictory views of God and His Kingdom within professing Christianity – and most, if not all, of these world-views are derived from the same source. How does this come to be??…
Answer: Ambiguous Verses
fact is that there exist a very large number of ambiguous
portions within holy scripture. Now,
these ambiguous sections usually just comprise individual verses (or even
just parts of verses), but each can be interpreted as pointing readers in
different directions to the rest of God’s Word.
(As I will explain later, this is anything
but a criticism!) If we
were to pause for a moment I’m sure we would all be able to think of
examples of such verses. I’ll
just mention a couple at this stage:
Firstly, although there are many passages in Scripture which plainly call
the Lord God “Almighty” or “omnipotent”, and although this is
obviously the thrust of the Bible when seen as a whole, according to
Genesis He “rested” on the
seventh day. Of course this
simply means that He ended the
work He had been doing (as a way of showing us that we are to work for six
days and to take a day off per week).
It is not saying that He spent the seventh day recovering
from that work. But if a
denomination would prefer to believe that God is not
Almighty then there is a little bit of ammunition like this available to
Next, holy writ is clear that God is all-knowing, or ‘omniscient’.
But there are also a tiny handful of verses which, on the surface,
imply otherwise – such as Hosea 8:4 where God talks about the time when
While we are looking at some of God’s attributes, let’s finish this
small set of examples by citing His omnipresence.
Scripture makes plain that, although God is totally holy and has
therefore had to separate Himself from this fallen world, nevertheless His
presence is, in a sense, everywhere (e.g. see Psalm 139).
But if a denomination is not willing to believe this, then one or
two passages once again exist which do superficially oppose this doctrine:
instance, Scripture speaks about the Lord’s presence ‘going with
Applies To All
of us will undoubtedly have come across many other examples of this
feature of the Bible. Indeed,
from my own reading of the scriptures over the years, I have yet to notice
a correct doctrine which cannot
superficially be undermined using bits of the Bible.
(For any who doubt this I’ll give a few more illustrations in a
moment, but the way in which professing Christians around the world seem
to disagree on virtually every aspect of the faith surely backs up my
position.) It has often been
said that it is possible to prove anything from the Bible.
In the past I’ve claimed this myself.
But in fact that’s not correct.
For example, you cannot, as far as I know, show that King Hezekiah
was a ten-foot-tall circus contortionist who also went by the name ‘The
Great Bendini’. But it does
seem to be true that you can ‘DISprove’
anything from the Bible – i.e. it appears that you can oppose any
true doctrine via passages from holy scripture itself…
turns out that there are some very good reasons why we should actually
expect this to be the case. I’ll
come on to those later. For
now though, let’s just say that this feature of the Bible patently ought
to encourage us, prayerfully, to respect and study the whole
of God’s Word, rather than limiting ourselves to pet books or favourite
are some promised further instances to help bolster my general assertion.
However, you need to be aware that I am constrained from offering many of
the examples I would like to. This is because I want this talk to be as widely circulated as sensibly possible but I know of
numerous sincere believers who have fallen for one or more of the cases I
might otherwise have given here (and who would probably thus walk away
from the rest of my material if I did include such).
anyone uncomfortable with the fact that the Holy Spirit is a Person?
Well, He appears to be called an “it” on occasion in the Bible.
(See Part Five of the book identified in this footnote:
for a very simple resolution to this seeming difficulty.)
Is anyone opposed to the teaching that the Messiah is the only true way to
God? Do they need to find some
scriptures they can exploit to gainsay this truth?
No problem! (What I
mean is, no problem in the sense that some ambiguous verses, and various
OT passages, enable people to do just this.)
anyone not want to believe that we are saved by grace alone (despite the
rest of the gospel making little sense otherwise)?
Let’s see, we’ve got the “sheep and goats” passage in
Matthew, along with two verses in James, that we can take out of context
to question this teaching. (Please
don’t misunderstand me. All ‘problem passages’ need to be
honestly explained rather than merely swept under the carpet, and it is
unwise to teach on a given doctrine until one can
resolve the ‘difficult’ passages on it.)
◄ Are we none-too-prepared to believe that Christ was infallible?
Well, the Lord chose Judas Iscariot as a disciple didn’t He?
This fact must undermine His standing in the eyes of some who
don’t know Scripture and don’t realize that the Lord had
to choose Judas in order to fulfil prophecy.
could readily go on and on with examples of this feature of the Bible.
(And it’s important to note that this feature applies to our practices as well, not just to our
doctrines. It applies to the
ways in which a Fellowship is run, for example.)
It seems the old saying ‘The exception that proves the rule’ is
not such an odd expression after all.
an aside, if you find you are unhappy with any doctrinal statements I give
in this sermon,
can I urge you to make sure that you
haven’t inadvertently fallen for the ambiguous minority over the
unambiguous majority? If,
after checking this, you find that it is
I who am in the wrong, then please do let me know.)
me to summarise this section. If
you or I would prefer to reject any
true doctrine, then a small, but noticeable, amount of the evidence within
God’s Word appears, on the surface, to deny that particular teaching and
thus enables us to “believe a lie” (2 Thess. 2:10).
with every doctrine, if any of
us want to have a false view of the Bible itself
then holy writ again allows us to think we are justified in doing so.
In other words, despite all the irrefutably miraculous features of
God’s Word, from its staggering quantity of precisely-fulfilled
prophecies and its completely unrivalled – and totally accurate –
histories, to its unmatched beauty and its awesome power to transform
lives, if anyone would like to disrespect or even reject
the Bible, then God seems to have arranged for a modest, but
non-negligible, proportion of the evidence to superficially support that
Does anyone not want to believe that the Scriptures are complete (despite
the fact that it would be a deeply
unimpressive God who was not able to protect His own Word and make it
available)? Alongside all the
evidence for the completeness of holy writ, you can indeed find a small
amount of evidence which can be made to support the opposite stance.
Do you know people who are not prepared to believe in Sola Scriptura – i.e. that the Bible is sufficient for all matters
of faith and practice (despite God warning us not to add anything to the
Bible, and since we have no way of being certain what is true unless we have an objective basis)?
Again, no hassle: A quantity of ambiguous evidence is available to
defend such a notion.
Ever come across a group uncomfortable with the idea that the Bible is infallible
(despite it being God-breathed and despite Christ Jesus Himself saying
“Scripture cannot be
broken”)? We’ve already
seen that verses exist which appear to negate others.
It is precisely when people do
such verses properly
that they feel the Bible contradicts itself and thus that it is fallible:
Lord has arranged, for instance, for the gospels to appear
to have an amount of disharmony.
Now, I’ve studied a fair few cases and I have yet to locate a
single occasion where a genuine disharmony can be shown.
(Differences between accounts are either due to the same event
being expressed from different, but complementary, angles, or because the
accounts refer to separate, but similar, events.
As I say, none of the
differences I have yet seen are irreconcilable.)
a bit of a digression, I know a young chap who is the unsaved son of a
friend of mine.
Now, this young man has a truly brilliant intellect. He
gained a double-first at
he started investigating each of these problems, and, after checking the
original Hebrew / Greek, or determining the full context of the relevant
passage, or looking into the culture in the
is a vivid example of where mental capacity is no substitute for wisdom.
This young chap simply refused to see the pattern in front of his
nose. For, there were all
these supposed problems in the Bible, most of which were not hard to spot,
and which all disappeared
when properly studied. What’s
more, there were far too many of them, and most were far too conspicuous (especially given the intricate construction of
the Bible) to have been included by accident,
yet my friend’s son could not see the likelihood that they were thus
If this is true, as I contend it is, then no matter how many of
these ‘problems’ a person is able to reconcile, it follows that God
has ensured the presence of enough further instances such that anyone who wants
to have reasons to disbelieve the Bible’s divine nature will find
(Obviously I’ve written my
talks on the basis that the Bible is the truth. If anyone doesn’t
agree with this view I would simply ask that they be prepared to see the
Bible as a candidate for being the truth and to consider the
content of all three of my sermons before drawing any firm conclusions and before deciding whether or not
the worldview I am positing is internally consistent.)
appreciate that what I’ve been saying today may lead you to believe I think God
deceives people. Actually
that’s not what I’ve been
claiming. What I’ve said is
that God enables people to deceive
themselves, which is not the same thing. I also need to
clarify that God hates all lies and cannot Himself lie (for this would go
against His nature). But
an outright lie is not the same as, say, using ambiguous wording which
people can take in the wrong way if they so choose. Let’s have a
proper look at what the scriptures
say regarding this whole matter of misleading without lying:
start out with God’s handling of His enemies. On more than one
occasion, God’s tactics for
the Lord sometimes sent a deceiving spirit into the mouths of the
‘prophets’ (e.g. in order to destroy King Ahab in 1 Kings 22).
And God warned
some will say these were only deceptions against the Lord’s enemies, but they were still
deceptions from God. Besides,
let us consider what constitutes an enemy of the Lord.
Does it always mean people implacably opposed to God’s ways?
We need to remember that the Lord allowed a man of God to be
deceived via the old prophet in 1 Kings 13 only a very
short while after the former had faithfully been doing the Lord’s work
and had healed someone in God’s Name.
And Jeremiah once said, regarding God’s backslidden People:
“Lord GOD! surely Thou hast greatly deceived this people and
it goes beyond this, and I’d urge folks to hear me out. I realise
what I am about to say is seldom taught, but if you’ll bear with me
I’ll supply solid biblical proof. Specifically,
and only for the good of His Kingdom, God could even be said to fool His faithful servants at times. For
instance, Jeremiah cried out “O LORD, Thou hast deceived me”
(Jer. 20:7), and God employed deception in order to reveal to Solomon’s
court the true mother of the disputed baby in 1 Kings 3:23-28 (i.e. by
having Solomon deceptively order the child to be cut in two).
Let’s also recall that God misled His own people in order to bring Jacob
and his family to
another, particularly apt, example I want to mention at this stage.
God deceived Abraham to test him regarding his son (Genesis 22).
God never intended for Abraham to kill
Isaac, but He certainly gave Abraham that impression!
This was to test Abraham’s devotion to God, and it’s an
important clue as to why the
Lord would deceive people – or why He would enable people to deceive
(We’ll come back to this point shortly.)
some of us may know of a verse or two in the Bible indicating that God is
opposed to all deception.
But once again we are talking about a tiny fraction of the relevant
verses, so we need to make sure we interpret them in the light of the rest
of the Bible rather than the other way around. As I say, God is
totally opposed to all lying,
but a person can be misled without being lied to, and it is the latter we
are looking at in these talks.
The fact is that there are numerous places in the Bible where the Lord
unambiguously utilizes the method I have been discussing.
see the footnotes
this transcript for numerous further examples and for more explanation of this
particular issue if it is troubling you. I would also
recommend anyone who may be upset by the material in my
look up all the various Bible references I have cited before dismissing my
other words, please don’t think I am misrepresenting the Lord.
He can, and does, allow us to mislead ourselves if we prefer that
to loving (i.e. seeking and obeying) the truth regardless of the cost.
sensible question at this stage is: Why on earth would God do this?!
I will look at that issue more fully in just a few minutes, but, at
the very least, this pattern we have identified should encourage us all to
be really open to correction (and should encourage all teachers to be extremely
open to correction and to be prepared to learn from the doctrines held by
denominations other than their own). It should also lead Christians
to develop a good working knowledge of the whole
Bible, and to take care that they do so in a seriously respectful way.
use this surprising feature of the Bible as an argument for ignoring
the Bible. For example,
certain folks say “We can effectively forget the Bible, for Jesus said He is the truth – so all
we really need is Him”.
But this is yet another example of the very thing I am looking at
– i.e. taking just a portion of one verse and interpreting all other
verses in the light of it. If
we don’t genuinely need the Bible, what are the epistles (which, let us
remember, were all written to believers)
doing there? If we do not
truly need the Word then the highly unambiguous words of 2 Timothy 3:16-17
(which formed part of our second reading this morning), become a nonsense. As you
will recall, that passage says: “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.” So, at least
until you or I are “perfect”,
we still need to be reading our Bibles!
the explanation for Christ calling Himself
“the Truth” is straightforward. I
want to return to this matter in my second talk, but for now let me note that our Lord Himself
stated, in John 17, that God’s Word
[Greek: Logos] is truth. Now,
the Lord Jesus is God’s Word in human form – and can therefore rightly
call Himself the truth, but the Bible
is God’s Word in written form
– and is therefore also the
truth. When He was here on
Earth, Jesus Himself repeatedly encouraged us to know the scriptures.
He did so: in Luke
, in Luke 6:3, in
and in many
(most of which are
listed in the first part of a book I’ve co-authored – see footnote
not, at this stage, going to say a great deal regarding the amount
of the relevant evidence which will appear misleading on a given doctrine.
I plan to look at that properly another time. But what I will say is
that the misleading proportion always seems to be enough to convince those
folks who do not put the truth first. If someone prefers to side
with the minority, ambiguous, part and ignore the great bulk of the
evidence which unambiguously
points in the correct direction,
then God seems to have made sure that this ambiguous part is adequate to
fool such a person.
should clarify this.
In my experience, the exact proportion of ‘misleading’ evidence varies
between topics. In other words some doctrines have a smaller quantity of data ‘pointing’ in the wrong direction than
do others. But they always, I find, include evidence which is
significantly more compelling,
so the overall effect seems unchanged. This leads to an interesting
situation. Let’s imagine a particular doctrine is supported
explicitly, or at least reasonably directly, by the vast
majority of the Bible, and that its negation is only supportable by a tiny
set of passages. In order to
achieve the necessary ‘effect’ discussed, some of these few passages
will seem remarkably compelling at face value.)
principle we have been exploring (i.e. that the truth can be obtained by
being fully open to it and by respecting all
the evidence, but that a non-negligible proportion of this evidence will
superficially point away from
the truth) seems to be a fundamental
spiritual principle. If this
is so, it applies to everything
in this life – not just to the Bible and its contents…
example, it applies to questions regarding Creation and the age of the
Earth. It also applies to the
question of Bible versions and the manuscripts which underlie them.
It applies to the issue of whether a given person’s ministry is
of God or not. It applies to every
aspect of the truth. I plan to take a closer look at this point in
my next talk
where, God-willing, I will also uncover the extremely important
ramifications of this principle.
now though, I do need to return to this matter of why
God would ever mislead people (or why He would allow people to mislead
themselves). I believe there
are two prime reasons:
I think God allows it because any temptation to focus on a subset
of His Word should disappear when we realise that we need to read and
reverence the whole of the Bible
if we are to determine the truth about a given doctrine.
second reason I believe God sometimes ‘misleads’ people is related to
the above, but is even more profound.
I think God allows those people who are not properly
devoted to the truth to be deceived because God aligns Himself so completely with the truth that He takes it as a major personal
affront when we don’t love the truth – and, as such, He’s hardly
going to bless such an attitude. I
plan to develop this crucial point in my second talk,
but another perspective for the time being is to see these ambiguities as
being akin to battlements around a castle. On the one hand they
discourage (or stop) the half-hearted
person because they will require care and effort to overcome, but, on the
other hand, they will encourage
the valiant-hearted person –
because they tell him that the treasures within are even more
precious and priceless than might previously have been supposed.
Matthew 13:10-15 is very instructive here.
idea (i.e. that we really must love
the truth) is reinforced by the first Bible reading we had this morning,
from Proverbs 2.
I’ll just remind us
of verses 3 to 5 before I close.
how thoroughly committed we need to be to the truth:
Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest
up thy voice for understanding;
seekest her as silver, and searchest for
her as for hid treasures;
Then shalt thou
understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.
God makes plain here, this involves heartfelt
desire. It requires us to seek
the truth with the same degree of application and determination with which
we would search for hid treasures.
(It also involves obeying the truths that we have already found.)
Are we not now beginning to see why
so many different denominations – with so many different worldviews
developed from the same book –
any folks don’t agree that this is a very major reason for the existence
of such immense divergence of doctrines within professing Christianity
then they need to locate a better explanation and
they need to explain away the ambiguous Bible verses we have discussed (as
well as all the other ambiguous verses they know of).
(If anyone is experiencing serious doubts about the contents of the
current talk, they can obtain a sneak preview of the second one by visiting the ‘Honey’ section of our website (bayith.org).
I am confident in the Lord that this will deal with all such
doubts. If this proves not to be the case then please do contact me
via that website.)
any folks are tempted to reject my argument on the basis that it doesn’t
fit with their existing doctrinal framework, I would humbly suggest that
they are in danger of doing exactly what this talk
warns about – i.e. putting something before truth. I urge
them to consider what I have to say in the second talk before dismissing what we have covered thus far.
of us who still thinks he is immune from the problem I have identified this
in my view, dangerously naive. I would argue that he is being even
more naive than the newly-wed man today who, in a society which now sees
more than half of all marriages
end in divorce,
lets himself imagine that he will never suffer with any marital problems himself. (I recommend we all pause for a
moment to consider the unspeakable foolishness of such an expectation.)
feel I should end this talk by simply encouraging each one of us – myself included – to
reconsider all our doctrines and to make absolutely certain that none
of them is founded on the sand of the ambiguous minority of verses, nor on the sand of a subset of verses taken out
of context, but on the solid rock of the majority evidence God has
supplied which is pointing us in the right direction.
you for your time.
Much of the data for this paragraph was obtained from http://killdevilhill.com/biblechat/messages2,
although I cannot endorse the rest of the article nor the site on
which it appears.
(Note that identifying a seeming
error is not the same as spotting a cast-iron error that is utterly
logically irreconcilable no matter what assumptions are made.)
A good example of ‘disharmony’ in the gospels revolves
around the respective records of the Lord’s burial and resurrection.
My argument is that there are too many such
ultimately-resolvable ‘discrepancies’, many of which are too
conspicuous, for them all to be there by accident.
This is the case with the Easter ‘discrepancies’.
More exist than ought to have been the case if the accounts
were written by serious people; they are often more conspicuous than
ought to have been the case if they were written by serious people;
and all are able to be reconciled by the single book ‘The Easter
Enigma’ (with the arguable exception of one).
Is there not a bit of a pattern here?
My theory would predict that the Easter passages would have a
substantial number of seeming inconsistencies.
It would further predict that these ‘discrepancies’ would
vary in ‘conspicuousness’ and also vary in difficulty of resolution.
I would expect there to be one or two which were very hard
indeed to resolve such that anyone who refused to recognise this
consistent pattern in the Bible would have something to cling to which
allowed them to side-step the Bible and its challenging message.
There are one or two verses which may be worrying some of us.
For instance, Proverbs 24:28 says “Be not a witness against
thy neighbour without cause; and deceive
not with thy lips”. We
may think this verse proves that God opposes all
deception and that He would therefore never use it Himself. But
the first half of the verse refers to people witnessing to a thing
“without cause” – i.e. lying. (It’s a similar story with
Psalm 101:7.) God is not
saying here that all
deception is wrong – rather that deception by lying (plus deception
for evil motives) is wrong. Thus we see God blessing,
rather than chastising, the Hebrew midwives for deceiving Pharaoh; and
we see God blessing, rather
than cursing, Rahab for deceiving the men who were looking for the
Jewish spies; and we see God blessing,
rather than condemning, Abraham for deceiving his servants into
thinking he hadn’t been told to sacrifice Isaac. There are a surprising
number of other such instances (so much so that I plan to turn them
into a talk in their own right), but for now here are some
confirmatory Bible references: Judg. 3:15-26; Jer.
38:14-27, esp. vv 14-15,24-27; Luke 24:28; and 1 Sam. 20:5-6.
Please note: there is a lot more evidence I could bring to bear here,
beyond all the places in holy scripture where God hides things from
His people, or where He blinds or confounds people such that they
cannot see the truth. God can and
does use deception when it
is necessary for the sake of His Kingdom.
Once believers recognise this arrangement God has put in place, it
should encourage the wise among us to take the Bible even more
seriously than we did before.
These battlements are the tools by which God separates the ‘wheat
from the chaff’ in terms of commitment to Him.
These battlements are principally inserted as a stumbling block
to reveal (to us) those souls who don’t genuinely love the truth,
just as the Lord’s parables were designed to.
Consider what God says in Isaiah 6:8-10: “Go, and tell this
people, Hear ye indeed, but understand
not; and see ye indeed, but
perceive not. Make the heart of
this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut
their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears,
and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.”