Psalm 117 – Middle Chapter of the Bible
I have observed that Christians are often provoked at the suggestion that their Bible contains errors. These same Christians are seldom offended to hear it said that there exists errors and false doctrines among the people who comprise the body of Christ. Most will heartily agree that Christians are subject to many fallacies, false beliefs, and sinful behavior. It is quite easy to see the error in someone else’s church, though Christians often fail to discern the pervasiveness of error in their own.
If Yahweh’s Holy Spirit indwells man, yet Christian men are leavened with sin and error, then it follows logically that the Bible which has been delivered to these same frail and faulty men to be safe-guarded, copied, translated, and interpreted to others, also contains leaven among the pure wheat of the Word of God. Men have not done such a stellar job in purifying themselves that they might be pure channels for the Spirit of Christ to flow through, nor have they done a very good job of preserving the original purity of the Scriptures as they were first delivered to holy men of old.
It must be stated, however, that as sinful men pose no threat to the ultimate triumph of Christ and His elect, so too a Bible that has been corrupted through years of human tampering presents no insurmountable obstacle to faith or the apprehension of truth. A sister in Christ, having read the previous chapter, wrote to me and declared that she felt that her faith was being upset by what was shared about the profuse and profound errors throughout the Scriptures. I believe her reaction is not uncommon. Many feel that their faith would be threatened if they cannot declare with confidence that the Bible they read is inerrant.
Fearing that faith is threatened by a flawed Biblical text today reveals a misunderstanding of the vital and central role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. Many Christians have substituted the Bible for the role of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is not up to the task. A Christian’s faith, walk, and spiritual understanding are firmly rooted and grounded in the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in their life. Consider the following words of Yahshua.
“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you… I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth…”
Note that Yahshua does not say that upon His departure He will send them a flawless text of the Scriptures. Neither does He suggest that the Bible will lead them into all truth. These activities belong to the Holy Spirit. As the prophets have testified, “and they all shall be taught of God.” This truth the apostle John affirms.
I John 2:27
And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.
Have you ever been sitting in a church service, or Bible study, and heard someone proclaim something that in your spirit you sensed was not right? You may not be immediately able to refute the error you have heard, but because you are sensitive to the voice of the Spirit as you listen to others speak, you have a sense of truth and error. You may be prompted to go home and look further into some claim that you heard spoken to see if there is validity to it.
As the Holy Spirit is able to make us sensitive to error in the spoken word, He is also capable of disclosing to us error in the written word. Even as a pastor, whose mind has been corrupted by false doctrines and errant beliefs, presents no insolvable roadblock to faith, so too we find that the errors present in our Bibles today may be overcome as we invite Yahweh to lead us into all truth, and to disclose to us error when we encounter it.
As I shared in the preceding chapter, the ultimate environment to stimulate spiritual growth is one in which believers are made to struggle. If truth came too easily to us, we would not learn needed spiritual disciplines, or develop the fruits of the Spirit. In the book of Proverbs, the sluggard and slothful man is condemned.
The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the soul of the diligent is made fat.
You may crave truth as a Christian, but Yahweh has so designed this present creation that it requires diligence to obtain it. If you do not exercise yourself unto godliness, if you fail to stir yourself up and study the word of God as “a workman that need not be ashamed,” you will find that rising above the pervasive and cloying errors of an apostate church is a goal that remains just beyond your reach. Yahweh wants His people to manifest patience, perseverance, longsuffering, faithfulness, and every other good and noble trait as we walk with Christ and search for truth.
There is a very insightful expression stated by Solomon in the book of Proverbs.
The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway.
Consider the metaphor employed here. To the sluggard everything appears too difficult. There seems to be insurmountable obstacles in his way. Therefore, he gives up, deeming it too difficult to make any progress. In contrast to this, the diligent and upright man who is willing to stir himself up to action, finds that the way is not only passable, but is indeed not the hedge of thorns that the sluggard has envisioned. Rather it is a highway capable of being traveled. Attitude makes a great difference.
Relating this to the church’s quest for truth, we find that there are many who declare that it is too difficult to understand the Scriptures. The Bible is indeed a veiled book whose treasures must be mined. When you add to this the understanding that the Bibles we have available to us today all contain a myriad of errors, many of which are serious, some will simply throw up their hands in defeat. They complain that God has made it too difficult to arrive at truth, suggesting that if He truly wants them to receive truth He will have to make it easier to do so. God, however, will not make the apprehension of truth easier. He wants to prove those who are lovers of the truth. The slothful Christian cheats himself out of wisdom and understanding that can come only through much effort and patient pursuit.
Having shared this, I want to pass on to speak of other alterations that have made their way into our Bibles. Some alteration is the result of the innovations men have brought to the Scriptures. One of these innovations is the division of the Bible into chapters and verses. I will readily admit that the chapter and verse markings make it much easier to locate a specific passage of Scripture. The present divisions of chapter and verse found in most Bibles today were devised by numerous men over the course of a few centuries. Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury from the year 1207 until 1228, is credited with dividing the Bible into its present chapters. In 1448 a Jewish Rabbi by the name of Nathan divided the Old Testament into verses. In the year 1555 A.D., Robert Estienne, also known as Stephanus, divided the New Testament into verses. The first printed English Bibles pre-dated Stephanus, so they did not contain numbered verses.
Tyndale Bible of 1526
(Click on Image to View Larger)
Notice that in the image above, the Tyndale Bible is printed in paragraph format with a single column per page. When Christ, the apostles, and evangelists quoted from the Scriptures, they never gave chapter and verse references. At times they did not even name the book from which the quotation was taken.
Then Yahshua said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered.’”
Where in the Bible does it state, “’I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered”? The quotation is taken from Zechariah, chapter 13, and verse 7. If I merely told you that these words were in the Old Testament, or in the book of Zechariah, you would likely have a difficult time locating them. By dividing the books of the Bible into chapters and verses, we can more quickly locate a specific portion of Scripture.
Let us consider another example, this one taken from one of Paul’s writings.
So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,
“You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;
as he says also in another place,
“You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”
Like Christ, the apostle does not tell us where these Scriptures are found, not even naming the prophet who recorded these words. (David was the prophet, and these quotations are found in Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4.)
Although chapter and verse designations make it much easier to locate, or reference a Scripture, they have contributed to a serious problem among Christians today. That problem is taking a Scripture out of its proper context. Many Christians today are in the habit of quoting verses without consideration for the context in which they are found. How many times have you heard the following Scripture quoted?
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
This verse is a favorite of the name-it-and-claim-it prosperity crowd today. Do you want to purchase that new car? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Do you want a down payment for a new home, or to be able to afford a week long holiday cruise? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Do you want to quit wearing hand-me-down clothes, and purchase the latest designer fashions? You guessed it, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Divorced from the context in which this verse is found, it can be used to justify any desire of the soul, or carnal craving, imaginable. Things are quite different, however, when the verse is read in its proper context.
Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Paul is confessing that through Christ he has learned to be content with whatever circumstance in which he finds himself. This is hardly the attitude of the prosperity preachers and their followers. If Paul was experiencing humble means, hunger, or suffering some need, he was just as content as when he was prospering, filled, and had an abundance.
Another Scripture I have often heard cited out of its proper context is the following.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Quite often people quote only the last portion of this verse, “There is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This verse, quoted out of its context, is used frequently to defend the overthrow of a patriarchal system established by Yahweh among men and women. These words are quoted to justify the practice of appointing women as ministers in churches, or in declaring that a husband and wife are co-equal in authority before God. It is used to demand that all decisions should be made only when there is agreement between a husband and wife.
The apostle, however, is not speaking about authority, or governmental order, in this passage of Scripture. In fact, the subject of church or family order is never addressed in the book of Galatians. Paul does speak to the matter of husband/wife relationships, and the divine order established by Yahweh for male/female interactions, in a number of other passages, some of which are quite lengthy. Following are a few excerpts.
I Timothy 2:11-15
Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
I Corinthians 14:34-37
Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment.
But someone may say, “Yeah, well I choose to accept what is stated in Galatians 3:28, ‘there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’” That is well and good if a person looks at the context of these words in Galatians. Paul is speaking of a person’s spiritual inheritance in Christ. He is NOT delivering a teaching on governmental order in the church or among husbands and wives. One has to go all the way back to verse 8 of chapter 3 to see where Paul begins speaking about those who inherit the promises Yahweh spoke to Abraham.
There is a reason that Paul specifically mentions Greeks (Gentiles), slaves, and women in verse 28. Under the Mosaic Law foreigners could not inherit that which belonged to the people of Israel. Likewise, slaves could not inherit, nor women, but only males of the 12 tribes of Israel. The only exception being in a family where a man had no sons, but only daughters. The kingdom of God operates upon different principles of inheritance. Therefore, Paul says to the church, that in Christ all may inherit the promises of God. Foreigners to the race of Israel may inherit. Slaves may inherit. Women may inherit. “For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” That Paul is speaking of inheritance is further borne out by the verse that follows.
And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Notice clearly the word “heirs” in this verse. Paul is speaking of inheritance, not governmental order. Did slaves cease having to honor their masters because of what Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28? No! Elsewhere we find slaves instructed to honor their masters.
I Peter 2:18
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.
Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.
A slave could remain a slave and be an heir with Abraham through Christ. So too could a Gentile be an heir of the promises of Abraham. Likewise a woman can inherit the promises of God. Inheritance is a separate matter altogether from one’s position and standing in this world.
Slicing Up the Bible
I have shared just two Scripture verses that are frequently cited out of their proper context to justify actions and attitudes that are contrary to the original meaning of the authors. The division of the Scriptures into chapter and verse has certainly contributed to this tendency to wrest some meaning from the text of the Bible that was not intended. When man innovates with that which Yahweh has created, whether it be in the natural or spiritual realm, he often creates problems that outweigh the perceived benefits.
The point at which some chapter and verse divisions were arrived at seems quite arbitrary. Frequently, a reader will find a chapter ending, and another beginning, without any change in the flow of thought from one to the other. The same is true of verse demarcations. Sometimes these arbitrary divisions lead to an errant understanding of the Scriptures. Consider the following example.
And He was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”
Note that these words are spoken at the beginning of a new chapter. Because of this, many readers have dissociated these words from that which preceded them. I have heard many spurious explanations of these words. The most common understanding seems to be that some to whom Christ was speaking would not experience a physical death until they saw His return in power and glory. Yet, all of those who heard Christ speak these words died and the Lord has not returned yet. This conundrum has led to many tortured explanations of how the words of Christ might have been fulfilled.
Some have suggested that these words of Christ were fulfilled when Peter, James, and John saw Christ appear in shining raiment during His transfiguration on the mount. They have been aided in arriving at such an interpretation because the very next words of Mark’s gospel relate the transfiguration experience. Yet, Christ’s transfiguration was not a fulfillment of His kingdom coming with power. The kingdom of this world has not yet become the kingdom of our Lord and Christ.
Others have suggested that perhaps these words of Christ were fulfilled at His resurrection, but once more we are met with the reality that the resurrection of Yahshua is not the same thing as His kingdom coming in with power. Some have even suggested that among those who heard Christ’s words there were some who did not die a natural death, that they were possibly taken up into heaven like Elijah. We have no testimony of this occurring, however.
Some years ago a sister in Christ wrote to me and informed me of an online forum established by non-Christians that used this verse as evidence that the Bible was false, and Christianity a false religion. The forum hosts declared that since Christ spoke these words, and all those who heard His words died, and His kingdom has not yet been established, that Christ proclaimed error and was a false prophet. The sister did not know how to answer these charges.
Sadly, this misapprehension of the Scriptures is largely due to an arbitrary chapter and verse division. Christ’s words can only be understood in light of what He said immediately before He uttered His statement in Mark 9:1.
And He summoned the multitude with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?… And He was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”
Yahshua defines the death He is speaking about beginning with verse 34 of chapter 8. It is death to the soul of which He is speaking. This is the death that is figured by a man taking up the cross of Christ, the cross being an instrument of death. Repeatedly throughout the Gospels Christ speaks of the necessity of a man dying to the passions and desires of his soul. Christ declared that those who seek to save their life (psuche – soul) will lose it, but those who lose their life (psuche – soul) will save it. We must die to our own will and desires and accept the will of God for our lives if we are to enter into aionian life in Christ.
When we properly identify what death Christ is speaking about in this passage, we are able to discern that Yahshua is actually lamenting the fact that some of those to whom He was speaking would not taste THIS DEATH until they saw His kingdom coming in power. Then it will be too late. Those who heard the words of Christ, but failed to act upon them, will have forfeited their opportunity to share an inheritance with Him as co-heirs and rulers in His kingdom. These ones will be similar to the sleeping and foolish virgins who carried no oil for their lamps. When the Bridegroom appeared, they had no oil for their lamps. They had to hastily seek to acquire some, but the Bridegroom had entered His chamber and shut the door before they could return. There will be weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth among many who refused to bear the cross.
There are numerous inexplicable divisions between chapters and verses. Acts chapter 7 tells the story of the stoning of Stephen. The chapter ends at an odd point, for the first verse of chapter 8 clearly belongs with the material in chapter 7.
And Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.
Logically, chapter divisions should be placed where the subject of the writing changes. Yet this is not the case. The only book of the Bible that has reasonable chapter divisions is the book of Psalms where each Psalm occupies its own chapter.
Consider that in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he addresses approximately one dozen different topics. These topics are of varying length. Some topics cover as much as four chapters. In other chapters more than one topic is combined. Only chapters 5 and 15 of I Corinthians comprise a single and complete subject of discussion.
The Bible does no better with verse divisions. Consider the following examples of parallel passages which demonstrate how arbitrarily the division of verses were made.
II John 12-13
Having many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that your joy may be made full. 13 The children of your chosen sister greet you.
III John 13-14
I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink; 14 but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.
Why is “The children of your chosen sister greet you,” a separate verse in II John, while “The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name,” is joined with a clause from the preceding sentence in III John? In many places in Scripture, there is little rhyme or reason to the placement of chapter and verse divisions.
As helpful as the chapter and verse divisions are in the Bible, they must be recognized as an innovation of man. Where man alters the divine word of God, he also opens the door for trouble to enter.