Seventh-day Adventists are reputed the world over to be diligent Bible students. Even laymen in our church are better versed in Scripture than some preachers of other faiths. As Bible expositors, we have an enviable reputation. We are gratefully conscious of possessing fundamental Bible truth for these last days. But when it comes to the correlated facts of Bible history, we too often fail to maintain our high standard.
In saying this, I well recognize that the emphasis of our Bible teaching and study should not be placed on unimportant details. But with all the advantages of religious training available to Seventh-day Adventists in our own schools and in the Sabbath school, we certainly should come behind no one in even the details of the Bible story. In studying Old and New Testament history, for example, we should gain a comprehensive grasp of Bible chronology and geography, and thereafter not be guilty of the gross errors that often creep into the work of our writers and speakers.
Most minor mistakes can be blamed either to carelessness or to superficiality. I list the following under pure carelessness, for the writers surely knew better. These are items that recently came under observation and had to be corrected in the copy.
My choice illustration is this—two different writers had Nebuchadnezzar instead of Darius going down to the lions' den to release Daniel after his night of incarceration.
Another writer wrote, "Jezebel, Judah's wicked queen," when he should have said "Israel's."
One man, in telling of Paul's experience at Athens, said, "Paul spoke to the unbelieving Jews [instead of Greeks], to convince them by logic, but later determined to know nothing but Christ, and Him crucified."
A writer spoke of Jacob's coat of many colors, instead of Joseph's.
One well-known writer in the denomination accredited the famous "Almost thou persuadest me" speech to Felix instead of to Agrippa.
And how would Ministry readers classify the following?
"The still small voice which followed the earthquake, fire, and rushing mighty wind, gave Elijah comfort on Mt. Carmel." [Horeb.]
"The sermon on the mount was preached on Mt. Olivet." [It was an unnamed mountain. See "Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing," p. 10.]
"Peter said, 'Let us build here three altars.'" [Tabernacles.]
"While waiting at Jerusalem for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the apostles questioned the Saviour as to the time of the restoration." [Christ had already ascended.]
Superficiality leads us to make other errors. For instance, all too frequently our writers assume that the books of the Bible are arranged in historical order of writing. But certain of Paul's epistles, as the Thessalonian and Corinthian letters, obviously were written before the synoptic Gospels, Mark, Matthew, and Luke, as all scholars agree. One writer assumed that Nahum, Zephaniah, and Habbakuk prophesied after Daniel—apparently because their books come after his in the Sacred Canon.
Frequently we hear the situation of the Israelites at the Red Sea described as a parallelogram—the mountains on either side, the sea in front, and the Egyptians behind. But the true figure is a triangle.
"The Hebrews were encamped beside the sea, whose waters presented a seemingly impassable barrier before them, while on the south a rugged mountain obstructed their further progress. Suddenly they beheld in the distance the flashing armor and moving chariots betokening the advance guard of a great army."—"Patriarchs and Prophets," pp. 283, 284.
The conversion of the thief on the cross, also, is often erroneously cited. Many speakers and writers say that he had not seen Christ before, and that therefore his conversion was all the more remarkable. But turn to page 749 of "The Desire of Ages," and read the experience. You will find these words:
"This man was not a hardened criminal. . . . He had seen and heard Jesus, and had been convicted by His teaching, but he had been turned away from Him by the priests and rulers. Seeking to stifle conviction, he had plunged deeper and deeper into sin, until he was arrested, tried as a criminal, and condemned to die on the cross."
Many of the mistakes concerning the Bible which creep into the spoken and written word doubtless are due to preconceived notions and misconceptions received in childhood. The Bible story is "talked down" to the growing child in such a manner that he receives an entirely wrong picture of the facts. For instance, Jacob is pictured as a young man influenced to deceive his father by an overzealous mother, but the best estimates of chronologists place him at nearly eighty when the deception took place.*
Another Bible verse often wrongly interpreted is Leviticus 27:31: "If a man will at all redeem ought of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof." Some have assumed that this verse teaches that a man who is delinquent in tithepaying may make it up by paying 20 per cent interest. But the intent of the text is far from this, as will be evident if one stops to think that the word "redeem" means to buy back, not pay back. The provision was that if the tithing rod fell on a choice breeding animal, for instance, although the owner could not change it himself, he could buy it back from the priest. The priest would add a fifth to the estimated value, which the owner must pay to receive back his animal.
The lesson of all these errors is obvious. We must be more careful in our use of Bible material. It is very helpful to study the Bible with the aid of the Spirit of prophecy. In this way many obscure points are made clear. Divine comment on the Divine Record is the best possible authority for a statement of fact.
It is true that the exact age of a Bible character at any given time may not be important to the line of reasoning we may be developing, and it may not be necessary to know the exact date of a certain event at the moment. But let us not forget that God has given the Inspired Record for a purpose, and it is not His nature to do useless things, such as giving unimportant facts. The Bible is all-important--every word of it. And God is particular that we divide the word aright. The length. of time that God's people spend in a certain country, for instance, is important enough to Him that He arranges for their deliverance on the exact day He wishes them to leave.
And when one of Jacob's twelve sons forfeited his right to tribeship because of his sin, the Lord elevated two grandsons to the honor of sharing with their uncles. It really would be awkward to have only eleven gates in the New Jerusalem, wouldn't it? The number twelve had a part in God's plan, and He couldn't let one sinful man thwart His purposes.
Careful observation of Bible facts is a most satisfying form of Bible study. Inasmuch as such knowledge is available, it certainly would be helpful to any worker to know the exact relationship of Bible chronology to the present systems of keeping track of time, to be able to name all the judges and kings of Israel, and tell the length of their rule or reign ; to have a clear conception of the chronology of events in Christ's life, and a grasp of the different journeys He took; to be able to outline the missionary journeys of Paul; to be able to give from memory an outline of the seven churches of Revelation, the seven seals, and the seven last plagues. But why go on ? Surely such information is within the reach of all. Let us resolve to handle God's word with due reverence by being accurate in our use of Bible materials.
* Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh. Gen. 41:46. After that there were seven years of plenty, and at least two years of famine, before the second visit of the sons of Jacob to Egypt, for Joseph told his brothers that there were yet "five years of famine." Gen. 45:11. This would make Joseph at least thirty-nine years of age at that time. When Israel arrived, he told Pharaoh that he was one hundred and thirty years old. Gen. 47:9. If no interval had elapsed, Joseph was then thirty-nine when his father was one hundred and thirty. Jacob was therefore ninety-one years old when Joseph was born. Joseph was born at the close of Jacob's fourteen years of service to Laban. Substracting fourteen from ninety one, the result is seventy-seven. or Jacob's age when he left home.