Believing what one reads

“How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us?’ But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord, so what wisdom is in them?” (Jeremiah 8:8-9, ESV).

How often have we heard or said, “You cannot believe everything you read?” Human writers make mistakes. They also are always influenced by their own preconceptions, experience, education, and abilities, to say nothing of pressure from outside to conform to the demands of others. Sometimes, sadly, they just plain lie.

Even when it comes to sacred Scripture, which is from God and therefore is true (2 Timothy 3:16-17), we today are dependent upon other humans to preserve, translate, and explain it to us (as in Nehemiah 8:5-8). God’s word is absolutely dependable. Human teachers, not so much so.

I was with Bangla friends in a communications store a few years ago. There were signs in the window telling of the services which the store provided. I read one of the signs that was printed in the Bangla language. An employee laughed and said, “You are reading that from the English, not the Bangla.” Until then I had not noticed that the other window, on the opposite side of the door had a similar sign printed in English. I replied, “No, I am reading the Bangla – the English is not the same.” My companions laughed and agreed that the wording differed.

English readers of the Bible today are blessed to be heirs of nearly 700 years of Bible translation, primarily by sincere believers whose goal was to render God’s words as accurately as possible into the language of the common man (that is, those who knew English). Some translations have been primarily or entirely the work of one person. Others have been done by committees of various sizes. The modern reader has a wide range of choices, most of which are demonstrably scholarly and accurate. If there is any doubt as to the fidelity of a particular translation to the original one has many others with which to compare it.

But whenever humans are involved, mistakes can be made, and errors can be introduced either accidentally or deliberately. Jeremiah warned Israel to trust God’s word, but be wary of the scribes (copyists and teachers). Our Bibles are reliable, especially when one studies from multiple translations. But commentaries and other study helps must always be read critically with awareness of the limitations of any writer.

We should always be mindful of the responsibility of the reader or hearer. Note that Jeremiah concludes concerning the wise men who read the scribes’ writings, “Behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord, so what wisdom is in them?” One who listens to men, regardless of the claims they make, and follow error, are themselves responsible.

The young prophet from Judah who died because he believed what an older prophet told him (1 Kings 13:1-32) is an example of this responsibility. God had given him direct instructions. The older prophet claimed to have his own, contradictory, message from God. But that man was lying. When the young prophet believed and followed his instructions God pronounced judgment upon him, not the lying older man.

Many today blindly trust and follow a particular preacher, commentator, or church tradition, not trying to determine their accuracy. The Bible clearly warns us that the reader will account for what and whom he or she believes and follows.

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