The Third Rule

The third rule is, we must think of and express what we learn from the Bible the same way God does. We must put aside the words and phrases we have acquired during our lives, if they confuse and interfere with a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches. When discussing the lessons found in the Bible, we must exchange the expressions to which we are accustomed with those found in the Bible as much as possible, whenever our own expressions may obscure Bible truth.

This rule is based upon the fact that God is wiser than we are, not only in what He says, but also in the way that He says it. Because we must think about and express the truths that we find in the Bible in the same way that God does, we must learn to use His vocabulary and grammar. We must use the words and phrases He uses. We must talk and write in the same way He does. Conversely, the more we think about and try to explain a verse by using words invented by man, the more careful we must be to be sure that have not strayed away from the truth that the Bible teaches.

Bible support for the Third Rule

The biblical support for this rule is found in many places. We shall look at Psalm 119:11 and John 17:17.

Psalm 119:11 does not say "God's ideas have I hid in my heart." or "God's concepts have I hid in my heart." It says "Thy word ....." The idea is we must memorize the Bible word-for-word so that we will be able to recall it faithfully in a time of need. We never memorize God's Word in general. We memorize specific verses that contain specific words. To the extent that we remember God's own words, we will have the power of His Word to help us. We are not guaranteed anything if we only have a general idea of a verse or if we only can rephrase it approximately, in similar but different words.

In the same way, the Bible says in John 17:17 that God's Word is true, even, as we read in Galatians 3:16, to a single letter. From God's point of view, His choice of words is not incidental. Nor are the words He uses interchangeable with others, as in a paraphrase. Words are His invention not man's. The words he uses have precise and unique meanings. So, we must conform to both what God says as well as they way in which He says it.

The Bible does not contain truth which we must somehow extract by the best possible explanation. Our explanations do not become truth to the degree that they conform to the intent of the Bible. Instead, the Bible words themselves are truth and nothing else can be trusted. Therefore, if we want to stay as close to the truth, we must be careful to choose words and expressions that are as close as possible to those that God uses.

Illustrating the Third Rule

Let me illustrate the third rule by showing how the wrong use of words can be an impediment to and even destroy truth, in the sense that the words we use to talk about the contents of the Bible can confuse people and lead them away from the truth. For centuries, students of the Bible have debated, wrestled and expounded upon the question "How do we reconcile God's sovereignty and man's responsibility?" People who puzzle over this question wonder how an Almighty God can be in control of all things in the universe, if at the same time man has the mind to decide and the ability to either respond positively to God's offer of salvation or to rebelliously reject it. This apparent conflict shows how our thinking can be abducted and imprisoned by words. Let me resolve this apparent conflict and free our minds to think correctly.

Consider a concordance of the English language, say a Strong's or a Young's concordance. In either concordance we will be able to find every word that occurs in the English King James Bible and, if we work at hard enough, every word that occurs in the original Hebrew and Greek Bibles together with the verses in which these words are found. So I ask, "How many times does the word "responsibility" or "responsible" occur in the Bible?" In fact, if we add to that the number of times that the words "respond" or "response" occur, how big would that number be?  Would we guess more than 100? Less that 100? Less than 50? Less than 10? Did you know that all the words together occur exactly zero times? That's right. The words "responsibility" or "responsible" are never found in the Bible.

"Well," someone might object, "that might be true but the idea is there even if the English word is not. After all," the objector might continue, "we have to use English words that people understand in order to explain what Bible verses mean." However that objection is not really valid. It is true that when we explain the contents of the Bible, we sometimes use words that are not used in the Bible. The word Trinity is one example. But since those words do not come from the Bible, they carry meanings with them that they import from the world in which they originate. So we must use them with care.

The word "responsibility" seems like such a respectable Bible word, or at least it seems to express an honorable Bible idea. But the idea it conveys is not a true one. In fact, if it is not used carefully, the word "responsibility" is a very destructive word. It means just what it says, "respond" plus "ability" which equals to "the ability to respond." Now God is sovereign indeed. But does the Bible teach that man can in anyway respond to the will of God? The answer is absolutely "No." Man is totally dead and is not able to respond to God (Eph. 2:1). Man is not spiritually responsible at all.

Now we can clearly see the whole issue. The issue is not God's sovereignty verses man's responsibility. For man cannot respond. The real issue is God's sovereignty verses man's accountability, and the word "account" is the Bible. It is true that God is King of His universe and does exactly what He wills without a rival in anyone including man. But it is also true that man must answer for his wickedness. Unsaved people will give an account to God for their rebellion. In this way the apparent conflict resolves itself into two biblically compatible facts.

This illustration shows how a sloppy vocabulary leads to sloppy thinking and eventually to wrong thinking. In summary, we can use words to explain or to distort the contents of the Bible. The call of the Bible is to say Bible truths in the Bible's way.

An Example of the Application of the Third Rule.

Let us try to understand the words "Jesus" and "God." The Bible has much to say about both of these words. But we must be careful when we put ideas together so that we express a conclusion supported by the Bible. For example, the Bible tells us Mary was the mother of Jesus. The Bible also tells us Jesus is fully God, Immanuel. However, we cannot put those two facts together to conclude that Mary is the mother of God. The Son, the second Person of the Trinity, added to Himself flesh in the form of Jesus, so the moment Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit His humanity began. But that was not the beginning of God. Mary did not have anything to do with the existence of God. She was recruited to give birth to the body which the second Person put on in order to be a Savior.

In a similar example, the Bible tells us Jesus died for the sins of His people. And, to repeat, the Bible tells us Jesus is God. However, we cannot say in truth that God died. For one thing God cannot die. He never has and never will. He is an eternal Spirit. Secondly, God's death would not be the atonement required as payment for sin. Man sinned and man must pay for sin. That is the perfect justice of God. It is for that reason the Son added to Himself a human nature. His human part that died and His God part sustained Him so that He would not be consumed by the wrath of God.. All of this does not mean we fully understand what God did to pay for the sins of His people. But it does mean we must be careful to use words in the way that the Bible uses them. In our efforts to make the message of the Bible clearer or to draw conclusion, we must limit how we think and express Bible truths to the way in which the Bible itself does in order to avoid thinking and saying things that are incorrect.

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