All scripture is breathed by God, and it is useful for teaching, for rebuke, for improvement, for training in righteousness, so that people who belong to God may be complete, fitted out and ready for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NTE)]
I didn’t mean to spoil anyone’s holiday last month when writing about some common Christmas misconceptions in “The Real Story.” Like many others, I display historically inaccurate nativity scenes, sing “We Three Kings,” attend live nativities and Christmas pageants, and never will tire of the little ones, in their crooked tinsel halos, singing “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” Even when not historically accurate, Christmas practices like these have become a beautiful part of our traditional celebration of the Lord’s birth. That devotion’s purpose was to point out that, since God’s story needs no embellishment, we need to know the difference between legend, tradition, and truth if our witness is to be effective.
It’s crucial to know what Scripture says because it’s not just Christmas traditions that can blur the line between truth and fiction. For example, even though Dan Brown’s bestseller The Da Vinci Code is entirely fiction, there are many people who believe it to be reality-based. While adding sex, intrigue, and conspiracy to the story of God’s redemption of mankind made for a best seller and popular movie, it’s a poor substitute for the truth found in God’s word! We can’t rewrite Jesus to make Him more human nor can we rewrite His message to make it fit our purposes. As Christians, we must be wary of hoaxes and untruths in any sort of media, whether they purport to be fiction or not.
Several years ago, a woman in our study group asked to lead the day’s prayer from a popular devotional. Because the book’s author originally claimed the book’s words came directly from Jesus, this woman believed she was directly quoting the Lord in the prayer and gave its words the same authority as Scripture. The problem wasn’t in the prayer’s insipid words, it was in the author’s claim of divine revelation—that they were Jesus’ words. None of us can speak for God and that prayer’s words were the author’s, not the Lord’s. If our witness is to be effective, we must know the difference between Spirit-led ideas and God’s word. No matter how inspiring, we must never put our words (or those of anyone else) in Jesus’ mouth. If we want to know what He has to say, the Bible (rather than a devotional) is where we should look!
In another small group, we were discussing the crucifixion when Joseph of Arimathea was mentioned. Scripture only tells us that he was a wealthy member of the Sanhedrin who obtained Jesus’ body from Pilate and, with Nicodemus, prepared it for burial before laying the Lord in his own tomb. One group member, however, related how Joseph later brought the gospel to Britain along with the Holy Grail and, when he stuck his staff into the ground, it miraculously turned into a thorn tree overnight. While Joseph was mentioned by early church historians and in apocryphal and non-canonical accounts, no additional details were ever found credible. He wasn’t even associated with the Holy Grail until his name appeared in a 12th century verse romance and the first mention of his evangelizing Britain wasn’t made until the mid-13th century! As for the Holy Grail—Scripture makes absolutely no mention of a Holy Grail because there was none; like this story of Joseph of Arimathea, it is nothing more than a mythical legend. Nevertheless, many Christians continue to confuse legend with gospel truth.
Because it is authoritative, true, and complete, Scripture alone is the basis for our faith, doctrine, and witness. Proverbs 30:5-6 and Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32 all speak to Scripture’s sufficiency with their warnings to neither add to nor take away from God’s word. Moreover, in spite of skeptics’ claims, every book that God intended to be in the Bible is there. Rather than being lost or hidden, any “missing” books were rejected because they were fallible religious/historical books rather than the inspired inerrant Word of God.
As Jesus’ witnesses, we are expected to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!” Of course, to do that we must know the truth and we can only do that by doing what the Bereans did—test what we hear and read by searching for the truth in Scripture!