Taboo on Tools?

IMAGINE FOR a moment that you are living in Palestine during Jesus' lifetime. You have heard about the strange Carpenter from Nazareth and want to learn more about Him. So you equip yourself with a thermometer, sphygmomanometer, stethoscope, measuring tape, scales, and notebook and set out to find Jesus. . .

-book editor, Southern Publishing Association, Nashville, Tennessee at the time this article was written

IMAGINE FOR a moment that you are living in Palestine during Jesus' lifetime. You have heard about the strange Carpenter from Nazareth and want to learn more about Him. So you equip yourself with a thermometer, sphygmomanometer, stethoscope, measuring tape, scales, and notebook and set out to find Jesus.

After an interesting three-week trek crisscrossing the area, you push your way through a crowd swarming around a central figure. "Jesus of Nazareth, I presume." He is. When you explain your mission, He invites you to join Him and His twelve for as long as you like.

Immediately you open your notebook and jot down your first observations: "Species: Homo sapiens. Race: Jewish. Sex: male." After a little more time with the Carpenter you add further entries: "Eyes: brown. Hair: brown shoulder length. Beard: reddish-brown. Voice: baritone. Language: Aramaic."

One evening at the close of a busy day you snap open your gadget bag, withdraw the thermometer, and place it under Jesus' tongue. While His mouth warms the cool glass you take His pulse and check His respiration. Under "TPR" in your notebook, you enter three figures: "98.6; 70; 16." You wrap the cuff of the sphygmomanometer around His upper arm, put the stethoscope into your ears, and check His blood pressure. Next you measure and weigh Jesus. Finally, you put His fingerprints in your notebook.

A few more weeks with Jesus adds pages of more details His way of walking, His favorite food, His prayer life, His frequent figures of speech, His miraculous powers, the gist of His teaching, even how often He bathes.

A month and a half later you return home your notebook jammed with information about the Nazarene. Since you have lived and talked with Him for six weeks, you can now share a description of Jesus with anyone who wants it. In fact, you write one up--- based on the jottings in your notebook. You can truthfully say that you know Jesus of Nazareth or can you?

During those forty-two days, you amassed an impressive list of factual data about the man Jesus. And it is all vital information. But your tools and observations have failed to tell you the whole story.

The twelve disciples, whom you had also come to know, shared a growing conviction that the Carpenter of Nazareth was more than a man more than a typical Jewish male of A.D. 30.

John put it this way: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (verse 14). "We have heard, ... we have seen with our eyes, . . . our hands have handled, of the Word of life" (1 John 1:1).

The Proper Use of Tools

Are your conclusions based on your technological observations wrong, then? No, they are absolutely accurate, but they are partial---incomplete. The tools you used to inform you about Jesus are not designed to gather in formation about God---only about man. John's conclusion that the Word was God did not derive from the hearing, seeing, and feeling which he mentions in 1 John 1:1. That conclusion was formed by the eye and ear of faith.

The Ebionites figuratively used the same tools you used to gain information about Jesus, and they concluded like the majority of Jesus' compatriots that He was merely man. That's all their senses and tools could tell them, and they decided that that was all there was to know about Him. They did not let the eye of faith take over where their physical eyes left off.

And this raises another fundamental question: Because the Ebionites drew a faulty conclusion from their use of these tools, must Christians spurn the same tools? Of course not. Such reasoning is not only simplistic but also contrary to the facts. John admits that he used the same equipment. He looked with his eyes. He heard with his ears. He touched with his fingers. But his conclusion differed drastically from that of the Ebionite faction. Yes, the Word was flesh. John's physical eyes told him that. But the Word also was God. And only John's eye of faith could tell him that.

The man of faith, then, need not throw out the tools just because the Ebionites utilized them. Aware of their inherent limitations, he uses them whenever he wants to know something about the humanity of the God-man Jesus.

Ecclesiastical history reveals that whenever we try to compartmentalize one aspect of Jesus' nature from the other, we plunge into theological trouble. Both Jesus' humanity and divinity are inseparable, and to know Him in His fullness means that we must use both the eye of flesh and the eye of faith together. The Ebionites used the former without the latter, whereas the Docetist utilized the latter without the former.

Tools of Biblical Scholarship

Similarly, the written Word partakes of the same two natures as does the living Word, and as with Jesus, the humanity of Scripture veils its divinity. Once again scholars have developed tools that can tell the student much about any given piece of literature as a human document.

Liberal Biblical scholars have applied these tools to Scripture and have handled God's written word much like the Ebionites treated the living Word. As a result, liberal scholars have often reached erroneous conclusions, for their tools can only tell them about the human side of Scripture---valuable information, to be sure, but incomplete.

Thus, once again the question arises: Should the Christian discard these tools because faithless scholars have often formed faulty conclusions, based on their use? Hardly. These tools can often give the user genuine insights, but the information is inherently lopsided, for it tells an incomplete story. Just as with the living Word so with the written word the human and divine aspects are inextricably intertwined with each other. And the Christian must maintain this double focus when he investigates Scripture.

Sometimes conservative Biblical scholars express the legitimate concern that in using these so-called tools we might end up with the same conclusions liberal scholars have formed. However, we must distinguish between facts and the conclusions drawn from those facts. For example, the evolutionist uses certain scientific tools or methodologies. This does not mean that the creationist discards these tools and methodologies. Both groups of scientists deal with identical data. The difference lies in the conclusions drawn from that data. So with the Biblical scholar. No intellectually honest Biblical scholar wants to ignore the facts. However, his interpretation of the facts might differ from the conclusion another equally competent Biblical scholar draws.

Some Bible scholars worry about the intellectual honesty of using tools that have been based on presuppositions that we do not share another legitimate concern. However, just because someone sawed Isaiah asunder does not mean that saws must only be used to silence the prophetic voice even if we could establish beyond doubt that the saw was invented for that precise purpose. Saws can be used for other more congenial and beneficent purposes.

Again the modern scientific method grew out of the decidedly Christian philosophy that God created and sustains the universe, that since God is both one and immutable, He runs the universe in a consistent and predictable way, and that scientific inquiry is, therefore, both probable and possible. Yet none of us would care to insist that since the scientific method was derived from Christian presuppositions, an atheist cannot be intellectually honest as a scientist. The scientific method is still utilized, although many of its users no longer accept the original presuppositions that led to its development.

Man, as a tool builder, has invented many valuable tools. As the inventor he controls his inventions or should. Never must he allow his tools to en slave and dominate him. In the same way, the tools that have been developed to help us understand the humanity of both the living Word and the written word must never tyrannize their Christian user. Instead, the Christian recognizes that, as with all tools, they can prove dangerous. Hence, he utilizes them carefully with his eye of flesh on the humanity of Christ and Scripture, and with his eye of faith on their divinity.


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-book editor, Southern Publishing Association, Nashville, Tennessee at the time this article was written

September 1975

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