The other day I was trying to relax with my wife after we had put the kids to bed. We were talking and began to channel surf to see if there was anything worth watching on television. We passed by the religious station and I saw that the speaker – a well-known TV speaker – was preaching on a favorite passage of mine from John 9 so I paused to listen.
He was in the middle of a rant about how the “translators blew it” with verse 2. There Jesus is answering the disciples’ question about a man blind from birth: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus answer was, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” The speaker went on and on making a big deal about how there shouldn’t be a common but a period before the word ‘but.’ So, according to him, the verse should read, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents. But that the works of God might be displayed in him [and then on into verses 4-5] We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Now, I’m sure we could get into the Greek grammar of the text show him to be wrong exegetically. But that may cause of my readers’ eyes to glaze over. More importantly, we don’t need to do that to show him wrong because what was inherently wrong was his reasoning for reading the text that way.
The speaker explained to his audience that he knew this was right because he “knew God’s M.O.” He knew how God usually worked, he knew what his method of operation usually was so he knew how the verse should be translated. The speaker argued that God would never cause a man to be born blind just so Jesus could come along and heal him and get glory.
But that is exactly what the text is teaching! Pain and suffering aren’t random chance events (Lam 3:33). In the midst of chaos and suffering, the Bible teaches that there is a purpose and a plan that comes from God – “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom 11:36).
More than the specifics of the text, though, was the central fallacy of his approach to the Bible. Yes, we can talk about the “interpretive spiral” where we keep cycling back and forth between the bigger picture of the entire Bible and the smaller passages, allowing both to make sense of the whole. Yes, I get that. But here is a guy who won’t let the text inform his view of God. Instead, he says, ‘I know all I need to know about God’ so if the Bible says something that doesn’t fit with his view of God, then the text is wrong, the translators are wrong, or two thousand years of interpreters are wrong.
Whether or not we like what the text says, whether or not what the text says is easy to believe, whether or not what the text says makes us feel good – it’s the text of God’s word. He is its Author and Giver of its truth and we dare not turn away from it.
It could be the Church, or Christ, or Baptism, or the roles of men and women in marriage and the family – it could be any number of things – but we must always let the totality of Scripture shape our understanding. It’s never right to change meanings, or reject them outright because we don’t like it. That is death to the preacher and his ministry! Instead, we must come again and again to God’s word, humbly seeking to know more, to know better God and his truth.