Wrangling Over Words

We had a guest pastor today at church, who was called to teach from 2 Timothy. As I opened my Bible to the start of 2 Timothy, the first revelation I received was a badly gouged page. How does the center of a book page get such a nasty tear?  I set out straightening the tear and smoothing all the wrinkles to fit the sliver of paper back into place. It was 2 Timothy 2:14 which read, “Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.” As a truth-seeker I have always delved into the meaning of the Word. It feels like wrangling at times, but I hope it’s not. I hope that what I am doing is seeking what God is saying to us without regard to merely winning arguments.

When I wrote XPO: What Believers Ought To Believe I meant to summarize what the Bible clearly conveys to mankind about basic truths in science, history, and faith; but I knew that “wrangling about words” was an ever-present danger. As a long-time advocate of Biblical worldview and creationism, I have been challenged with 2 Timothy 2:14 as a warning against the divisiveness that springs from the church’s multi-faceted views about origins. I knew too well the vehement arguments between old earth and young earth creationists, and I probably have been drawn in from time to time. Nevertheless, the Lord has given me a mission to advocate unity, the kind that can only come from a united understanding of the truth of Scripture. As these thoughts raced in my mind, the Holy Spirit urged me to try once more to bridge the gap between the Word and believers’ interpretations.

The opening chapters of Genesis clearly describe the Creator’s work in six days, but I realize that even something as clear as day gets muddied by human reasoning. The author of Genesis left openings for speculation. What is a day? Are there gaps between days? Are some days longer than other days? Although we can construct a timeline from Adam to the present with reasonable precision over a few thousand years (the genealogies are even repeated in the Gospels), we aren’t told how long Adam was in the Garden or whether time passed while the earth was formless and void. There was just enough wiggle room in the Genesis narrative that sincere people trying to reconcile Scripture with secular science could imagine a long gap of time between the formulation of the universe and the creation of man.

How then can conflicting interpretations be resolved? I’ve often been advised to let Scripture interpret Scripture. Look for information elsewhere in the Bible to clarify the verse in dispute. For that reason, I’ve always been drawn to Exodus 20:8-11 which says in the context of the commandment to keep the Sabbath,

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.”

These aren’t just Bible verses. These are God’s direct words recorded by Moses as God spoke them. His words make it clear that the creation days were contiguous, without gaps. But there’s something more.  God correlates the seven day week of creation with mankind’s weekly calendar. Work as I work and rest as I rested. Is it just me, or is it clear to everyone that this is an important clue? It’s as if God knows we will wonder about the creation account and He means to clarify it for us.

Recently my wife and I began observing the Sabbath, not as something legalistic, but as a blessing. Through this practice, we’ve become familiar with the ancient traditions that have been passed down through observant Jews from the very beginning of God’s interaction with His people. For all this time, observant Jews have invoked the weekly Sabbath with a ceremonial prayer that remembers the creation week with God’s rest on the seventh day. Although not strictly Biblical, it is yet another way that God inspired His people to keep forever in mind the related meaning of creation and the weekly Sabbath.

What we observe is the synchronization of the words of Genesis, the Ten Commandments, the most ancient ceremonial observances of devout Jews, and the secular calendar. All of these are reminders of a plain, common-sense understanding of God’s creation in six days with rest on the seventh.  Without any intent to wrangle over words, I say the Creator’s meaning is corroborated through every means available to us.

I will leave you with this question. Can’t we in the church agree about the most foundational tenets of Christianity? Christians are living in a time when every truth is filtered through “what it means to me”. I challenge you to set aside each of your ideas about faith and reality and trade them in for God’s first-hand knowledge of them.