Handling Scripture Wisely and Profitably

by Rev. Sterling M. Durgy
No matter how orthodox our confession about Scripture, unless it controls our faith and practice, it loses its value. (Dr. Robert A. Traina, professor emeritus and retired academic dean of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, quoted from "My Central Convictions," Wesley Theological Journal, Volume 30, Number 2, Fall 1995).

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Protestants and the Authority of Scripture

The Proper Handling of the Scriptures

Understanding God's Word

Reading From, not Into, the Scriptures

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Protestants and the Authority of Scripture

If you measured events in church history as if they were geological events, the Protestant Reformation was a major earthquake, something that changed the history of the entire Christian church from the time it began, 25 years after the Columbus discovered America, to this day. However, many Christians today are abandoning some of the most basic principles of the Reformation. How important is this? Very, if you consider that the Reformation was an attempt to return to Christianity as practiced by the church in New Testament times - an attempt to recapture true Christian spirituality.

Prior to the Reformation, many individuals tried to bring the Scriptures to the people and, with the Scriptures, the knowledge of the Christian faith as taught by Jesus and the apostles. Notable among these were John Wycliffe of England and John Huss of Bohemia, who was influenced by Wycliffe. In turn, the influence of Huss later contributed to the founding of the Moravian church. The Reformation occurred as the printing press was changing the way the Bible was transmitted. Before this, copies of the Bible were kept in the hands of the clergy. To their credit, monks and priests took great care in copying and preserving Biblical manuscripts. Often written in a language other than that which the people spoke, however, the only knowledge of the Scriptures had by lay people was that which was given by clergymen. As often as not, the teaching of the clergy was made frightening to keep the people "in line." Too often, the "grace" taught by the clergy was presented as a grace that came through the church, not from God. Worship consisted primarily of the celebration of Holy Communion and, participation in this sacrament was considered the highest form of worship. Beyond this, the church became exceedingly corrupt, a "machine" for generating money rather than an organization dedicated to minister to the people to the glory of God.

In the early 1500's, Martin Luther, a monk who was given the task of interpreting Scripture, became deeply troubled by the corruption of the church he saw around him. Further, he became convinced that the teachings of Scripture contradicted many of the practices of the church in his day. A trip to Rome caused him to lose respect for the papacy. Finally, Luther could keep quiet no longer, and openly protested the false teachings of the church. Although many supported him, Luther was expelled from the Roman Catholic church. It was a great age of exploration, and of the advancement of knowledge and technology - a time of change in society in which the reformation of the church became a popular cause. The Reformation swept Northern Europe. Other men such as John Calvin, Philip Melanchthon, and Ulrich Zwingli provided leadership. The Scriptures were distributed in great numbers in the language of the people of each nation. Much later, Luther's teachings and the influence of the Moravians brought the Episcopal priest John Wesley to place faith in Jesus Christ as His Savior, deeply changing Wesley's life and ministry. Wesley founded the Methodist movement, changing the history of England and, subsequently, the United States, in ways that revolutionized those societies, bringing social changes such as the abolition of slavery.

One of basic principles of the reformation Luther called "sola scriptura," the principle that the authority for spiritual truth rests not in the clergy or in tradition, but in the Holy Scriptures alone. In the words of the Articles of Religion of my own denomination, the Free Methodist Church, "The Bible has authority over all human life . . . Whatever is not found in the Bible nor can be proved by it is not to be required as an article of belief or as necessary to salvation." Many Protestant denominations have similar statements in their articles of faith. In discussing Reformation theology, Anglican scholar Philip Hughes wrote, "Holy Scripture was, indeed, the formal principle of the Reformation. It was consistently applied in every sphere of private and social life as the supreme standard of faith, worship, and conduct" (Philip E. Huges, Theology of the English Reformers, New Edition, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1965, p.19).

This emphasis upon the Scriptures was an effort to restore Scriptural Christianity as demonstrated in the life of the early church. When John Wesley wanted to describe His interpretation of how Christians should live he called it "Scriptural holiness" (italics mine). The emphasis even affected church architecture. No longer was the communion table the center of worship. Now, the pulpit moved to the front-center of many churches. Even when the pulpit was not placed in the center, it gained a new prominence in church architecture, sometimes accompanied by a "lectern" to hold a Bible from which the Scriptures were read during public worship. Worship centered on the Word of God, in readings, hymns, and sermons, because in Protestantism the highest form of worship is to go out from the church to live all of ones' life for Jesus Christ.

This wasn't "Bibliolatry," the worship of the Bible for its own sake, because it was their desire to use the Scriptures to find the living Word, Jesus Christ, and to serve Him. Neither did most Protestants abolish or belittle Holy Communion - rather, its place in worship, and the way it was perceived, changed. Nor did this mean that people could interpret the Scriptures any way that they pleased. The Scriptures, as God's revealed Word, are holy. Those who are rash, careless, or reckless in interpreting God's Word are not honoring its authority, nor the God who brought them into existence for our benefit. Those who interpret the Scriptures without reference to others in the Body of Christ whom God has gifted to interpret His Word, are arrogant and prone to wander into error. It is my firm belief that God has given no one person a monopoly on spiritual truth to encourage us to work together as His Body and to emphasize that full knowledge lies only in the Head of the Body - Jesus Christ.

To the extent that people look elsewhere for authority in spiritual matters, whether tradition or church practice as in Luther's day, or in reason, feelings, the authority of a preacher or religious organization, or miracles, they reject the principle of "sola scriptura" that differentiates Protestants from Roman Catholics and religious cults to this day, and thereby cease to be true Protestants.

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume III, Part 9, September 1995.
Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.

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The Proper Handling of the Scriptures

The Scriptures are meant to be "the Word of Life." But, in his second letter, Peter warns that it is possible to twist the Scriptures to our own destruction. Peter warns that two kinds of people are likely to do so, the "untaught," those who have never studied the Word of God with the help of those who are gifted in the interpretation of the Scriptures, and the "unstable," those whose goals in studying the Scriptures are not pure (II Peter 3:16).

Twisting God's Word is one of the chief methods Satan uses to tempt people into sin. In the Garden of Eden, the temptation of Eve began with Satan asking "has God said . . .?" (Genesis 3:1). In the wilderness, Jesus was tempted by Satan, who quoted verses from Psalm 91 to suggest that Jesus make a spectacle of His faith before the people and put God to the test (Matthew 4:6-7).

One of the marks of the cults is the exaltation of one individual, or one group of individuals, to dictate the meaning of the Scriptures to others. All groups outside the cult are ridiculed or condemned outright, and the cult leader or cult is proclaimed as the sole source of spiritual knowledge. This prevents the cult's followers from seeking or learning the full truth. Groups like the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses even have their own versions of the Scriptures where verses that contradict the cult's claims are conveniently changed to support the cult's teaching. Such groups often proclaim allegiance to the Word of God, but their actions demonstrate that they have another agenda.

An even larger segment of our society has been affected by classic theological liberalism. Liberalism proclaims that reason cannot accept the Scriptures without modification; especially in teachings about the supernatural. The scholarship of liberals is often guided more by prejudices than by facts, as they pick and choose which Scriptures to honor as Scripture. When finished, they have often justified their prejudices rather than learned from God's Word.

As many people as have been affected by the cults and by theological liberalism, the latter part of the 20th century has seen a new and even larger movement that denies the authority of God's Word. This group sees experience as proof of spirituality. This belief can be attributed to "American pragmatism," a belief that permeates all of American life and society. Essentially, American pragmatism says, "if it works, it must be OK." Or, the spiritual equivalent, "if it works, it must be of God." Thus, the athlete who cheats but wins a sporting event says, "it must have been OK, the official didn't call it," the salesman who misrepresents his product but whose sales campaign is successful says, "it must have been all right, or I wouldn't have made so much money." In spiritual life, modern day counterparts of the Biblical "sadducees" spend time and effort seeking fame or fortune solely for their own benefit and, if successful, feel that their selfishness has been "blessed by God!" Cult leaders feel Divinely confirmed if people follow them. You can accurately say that "American pragmatism" is a "religion of success" rather than of moral absolutes.

The second attribute of this modern movement is looking inward for spiritual truth. This kind of thinking is found in pagan religions. But in American society today, it finds its roots in the philosophy of existentialism - a philosophy that exalts experience and how we feel. A consequence of this philosophy is anti-rationalism, or the rejection of anything that involves the use of the mind. Hedonism flourishes in our society - recreation, entertainment, gambling, casual sex, alcohol and drug use; anything that provides emotional or sensual gratification. News, history, Scripture, sermons, hymns, personal discipline, anything that involves using the mind or that doesn't feel good is rejected. For many people, the test of true worship or true doctrine is not whether it is Scriptural or consistent with the teachings of the church at-large or throughout history, but whether it "feels" right to them personally.

Our attitude when we come to the Scriptures is of primary importance. Paul wrote, "To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure" (Titus 2:15). Jesus said, "The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness" (Matthew 6:22-23). If we come to the Scriptures looking for the wrong thing, we are unlikely to see the truth.

Scripture teaches, "All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight," "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel," "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 16:2, 12:15, 14:12). These things do not change when a person comes to know Christ. For this reason, whenever we come across something in the Word of God that calls upon us to change, there is a strong tendency for us to rationalize what we do, to interpret the Scriptures in such a way that we don't have to change, or to ignore that Scripture altogether. Thus we are dependent upon others to help keep us "straight" in that matter. Whenever we want to ignore or change Scripture, it may very well be that it is because it speaks to a need we just don't want to address.

However, even when we desire with our whole hearts to serve God in whatever He asks, our personal limitations of experience and knowledge may cause us to misunderstand what the Scriptures truly teach. Human beings tend to understand new things in terms of what they already know. This means that it often takes time to learn new things. But if we approach the Scriptures, not just from our own understanding, but open to the insights of others in the true Body of Christ, we have the opportunity to learn what, left to ourselves, we might never learn (Philippians 3:17, I Thessalonians 5:12-13, I Timothy 5:17). In turn, if we pay attention to the teachings of Christians who lived before us, we have a ballast that helps us to resist the false teachings unique to our own times.

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume III, Part 10, October 1995.
Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.

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Understanding God's Word

Assuming that we have committed our lives to the service of Jesus Christ and that we believe that the Scriptures are God's Word, the question still arises, how are we to know what God wishes to teach us through His Word?

It is convenient to believe that the Holy Spirit makes God's truth obvious to every believer, but we know from history and from experience that this is not the case. Many cult members spend a great deal of time studying the Scriptures, yet, become entirely convinced of things that are directly contrary to the clear teachings of Scripture. Put another way, how are two people who disagree, each of whom is totally convinced that he or she regards the Scriptures with total reverence and that the Holy Spirit has given he or she a certain interpretation of Scripture, to decide which one is correct?

For many people the answer has been that they turn to their feelings. They believe whatever is comfortable for them to believe. If they feel confident, they believe that their confidence comes from the Holy Spirit. However, study of the Scriptures shows that God's people are often uncomfortable with the truth and the will of God. The author of Hebrews wrote that "solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14). Moses did not feel comfortable accepting God's commission to be spokesman before Pharoh, so he asked for his brother Aaron to accompany him and do the speaking. Job did not understand why God asked him to suffer. Elijah fled when he didn't have to. Peter was uncomfortable with the taking the Gospel to the Gentiles. The Garden of Gethsemane was a place of deep struggle for Jesus.

Certainly, students of the Word of God need to apply guidelines for the interpretation of Scripture in order to understand it correctly, but this begs the question, where do we find these guidelines? The number of voices claiming to teach the truth is always large, and seems larger at critical times in history, such as ours. Much of the answer lies in the concept of the Body of Christ.

Truth and the Body of Christ

A "metaphor" is an expression indicating that something is similar to something else. The "Body of Christ" is a metaphor used to help us attain a correct understanding of the Christian church. It consists of all individuals who have truly committed themselves to love and serve God through Jesus Christ. As Christians die, they leave the earthly church, but not the Body of Christ. Further, the Body of Christ grows in a progressive manner. The Body does not become new with each new generation, but continues to grow towards its full size and spiritual maturity.

This means that the concept of the Body of Christ cannot be limited by time. Although the apostle Paul died many years ago, his spirit lives with Christ, and in that sense he is our contemporary (Matthew 22:31-32). We are both currently members of the Body of Christ. Since the Body is built up through time but does not grow in separate blocks of time, all true growth must be consistent with earlier growth. Therefore, Paul says that the church is "grafted" into Israel. He is careful to build on the foundation of Christ (I Corinthians 3:10-11), and in The Revelation to John we find that the foundation of the Holy City consists of the twelve apostles (Revelation 21:14).

Closely connected to the concept of the Body of Christ is another metaphor, that of the church as a Temple. The concept of the church as a "temple" communicates that the Spirit of God is present in the midst of His people in a special manner. In The Revelation, the presence of the Spirit with each of the seven churches is emphasized, as is the warning that if they do not serve Christ the Spirit will be taken away from them. Jesus said that where two or three are gathered together in His name that He would be in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). There is a close connection between the church, not just individuals in the church, and the Holy Spirit.

Both Paul and Peter discuss the spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to Christians. Because they are gifts of the Holy Spirit, we notice that: 1) since the mission of the Holy Spirit is to exalt God through Christ, and not anyone else, we should expect the correct use of the gifts to bring honor to Christ, not to cause any other individual to become the center of attention (John 16:14), 2) because God is love and His purpose is to communicate His nature to us, the correct use of the gifts always involves love for God and concern for the well-being of others, not self-interest (I Corinthians 13, I Peter 4:10), 3) because the Body of Christ exists across time, the Holy Spirit can choose to gift members of the church in a balanced way through time as well as in any particular generation, 4) because the Head of the Body, Christ, does not change, and because the Spirit does not change, Truth does not change, and we should expect that, even as the church matures, the ministry of the Spirit in any age will be consistent with, and build upon, the ministry of the Spirit in any earlier age.

We also know that the Holy Spirit does give some gifts directly related to spiritual truth: gifts that include apostleship, prophecy (preaching), evangelism, pastoring, teaching, wisdom, knowledge, and discernment.

What all of this means, in terms of the search for truth, is that in order to insure that the Body of Christ achieves the mission for which it exists in this age, it is important that a number of individuals, not just a few, be the interpreters and guardians of the Truth. If this fell to only a few, or to any one person, these individuals could be tempted to pride, and other people would be tempted to worship them rather than Christ. The Head, the source of all Truth and direction for Christ's servants, is Jesus Himself. If finding the Truth is a cooperative, collaborative process, then we are interdependent upon one another, and there is no special status conveyed with any particular gift. If, on the other hand, everyone is an interpreter of the truth, the other gifts of the Spirit are neglected, and there is no cohesiveness to the Body. Consider, for instance, what would happen if the arms, legs, and head of a body all decide to work independently of one another - chaos! There must be unity in the Body, and the unity must point to Christ. This is no less important in spiritual truth than in any other matter that the Body of Christ is concerned with.

The early church recognized the collaborative, cooperative nature of the Christian search for truth in the various councils that met to decide proper doctrine. Later, the leaders of the Reformation rejected the authority of the church of Rome, but they did so in order to be consistent with the teaching of the New Testament apostles and the teachings of the early Christian church.

Tradition can never replace Scripture, but the traditional interpretation of major doctrines can often be a guide to the correct interpretation of Scripture. To believe otherwise is to be so arrogant as to believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to our generation alone. This means that the great spiritual teachers of the Christian church must be considered whenever we are seeking for the truth. Only the early apostles could be the author's of Scripture, and no one human being outside Christ has a full understanding of the Truth. But as we examine the teachings of those individuals the Christian church recognizes as gifted by the Spirit to teach, men like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Arminius, Wesley, and others, we recognize our dependence upon the Body (and thus the Holy Spirit) for Truth, and we find help in understanding that Truth.

In a similar manner, there is a place for teachers of the Word in the Body of Christ. Their task is to examine what the rest of the Body of Christ does not have time, and perhaps the expertise, to examine, and to pass on their insights to the rest of the Body. The Protestant Reformation put the Bible into the language and the hands of the common people, but did not deny the place of spiritual teachers in helping them to properly understand the Truth of that Word.

Responsibility and Truth

Thoughout history there have been those who have claimed to point Christianity in a truer direction, but in reality, have misled people and taught gross error. One of the hallmarks of these teachers is that they try to cut their followers off from the rest of the spiritual teachers of the Body of Christ.

Like many other Christians, I profit from studying the spiritual insights presented by those who are not of my denominational persuasion as well as by those who are. But not so false spiritual leaders, often the founders of "cults." They criticize, mock, and condemn anyone who disagrees with them, and often go so far as to label the teachings of anyone who does not support them as the teachings of Satan. The Jehovah's Witnesses or the Mormons who come to my door is not interested in what I might say, for they only refer to outside references that have been carefully filtered by the leaders of their cults. Likewise, even some teachers who call themselves "evangelical Christians" claim to present "new" insights that have not been tested against the body of Truth generally recognized by reverent teachers of God's Word. It is tragic that they so often find a following.

No individual is responsible for all truth, but every individual is responsible to God for who they follow. It is not legitimate to restrict the work of the Holy Spirit to now or to me. No true search for truth can separate us from the Body of Christ and the teachers the Holy Spirit has chosen.

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume II, Part 10, October 1994.
Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.

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Reading From, not Into, the Scriptures

If Christians truly honor the Scriptures, this will be seen in the manner in which they study them. It is possible to know Scripture and to quote Scripture and yet to know nothing of what Scripture teaches. In our own time, more than a few preachers and lay people are connecting pieces of Scripture together like beads on a string - and leading themselves and others astray in the process - because they handle the Scriptures in a sloppy, irreverent manner.

This is hardly new. Once when some of the Sadducees questioned Jesus, He told them, "You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God" (Matthew 22:29). Imagine the reaction from men who had made the study of Scripture their life's work! The reformers of the Protestant Reformation swept away the most common approach to interpreting Scripture in their time - allegory. An analogy compares one thing to another, and an allegory is an extended analogy. Fables and parables are allegories. In an allegory, the characters, situations, or settings symbolize something else. John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, George Orwell's Animal Farm, and Herman Melville's Moby Dick are all allegories. Among the many types of literature in the Scriptures there is allegory. Jesus' parables are allegories. The apostle Paul uses allegory to explain the difference between grace and law in Galatians 4:21-31. However, allegory is not the only or the most common method used to communicate truth in the Scriptures. It is especially dangerous to claim allegory in Scripture where it does not exist, since appeal to allegory enables one to place any interpretation one chooses on just about any part of Scripture. When the reformers repudiated this manner of interpreting all Scripture, they insured that they and those who followed them would have the opportunity to learn what God truly intended to say to them through His Word.

John Wesley made the interesting and cautionary observation that human beings have the ability to pull together a number of unrelated facts and to draw from them conclusions that are entirely unjustified. Modern study of the mind verifies that the human mind is always trying to make sense of the information that it receives. After World War II, psychologists Gordon W. Allport and Leo Postman published The Psychology of Rumor (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1947) in which they made a study of war-time rumors in the United States. They showed how people, in their attempt to make sense of what they saw and experienced, drew the wrong conclusions and spread rumors. It was not the intent of the people to spread false information, they did so as the result of their honest attempt to understand what was happening around them. (Incidentally, if you can find a copy of this book, it can also help us to understand how and why rumors start in churches, even by Christians who have no intention of being malicious.)

We have all seen pictures where an object seemed to be concave, going away from us, then changed and seemed to be convex, coming towards us. If we stare long enough, pictures like this will often appear to go back and forth! This is because the brain is continually trying to make sense of visual clues. Optical illusions are created when visual clues "fool" the brain into "seeing" what is not there. An interesting part of the work in computer interfaces today is trying to create the illusion of three-dimensions on the flat screen of the computer display. Several years ago I was able to view a very sophisticated (and expensive!) system to present 3-D graphics on computer monitors. Even with the expensive technology, if the visual clues weren't obvious, the objects seemed flat. When the visual clue was noticed, the object would "snap" into the appearance of 3-D! The difference was not what the eye saw, which did not change, but what the brain perceived.

This attempt to make sense of what we see is in "full gear" when we approach the Scriptures. In every age there are those who take Scriptures out of context and tie them together, thus coming to conclusions that are entirely unjustified. Often these interpretations are linked together with experiences to try to give greater validity to the interpretation. As if this weren't bad enough, in our own time many are engaging in the related but even more dangerous practice of reading things into the Scriptures that are not taught there - very much like those who interpreted all of Scripture allegorically during the time of the Reformation. Some are doing this because they want to see something there so badly that they abandon care. Others, like crooked car or real-estate salesmen, are doing so purposely, hoping that their "fast-talking" and verbal "sleight-of-hand" will hide the obvious reality from the "customer." In either case, it is important to be somewhat "hard-nosed" about what the Scriptures actually teach so that we don't, in the words of Jesus, "strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!" (Matthew 23:24).

To avoid being mislead, we should stay with the plain meaning of the text unless another interpretation is indicated, pay attention to the context and the historical situation at the time the Scripture was written, use Scripture to help us understand other Scripture whenever possible, and be very careful when considering an interpretation of Scripture that is unique in the history of Christian doctrine. And, certainly, if the Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture, and He surely is (II Timothy 3:16-17), then He will not be offended if we take care in coming to an interpretation of Scripture that is sound. The Holy Spirit is not schizophrenic, He did not give us the Scriptures so that He could then urge us away from paying too much attention to them.

One of the approaches to the study of Scripture that is most valuable is called "inductive" Bible study. Rather than interpret Scripture in terms of what we already know, so that we "read into" the Scriptures our own ideas, inductive Bible study leads us to draw understanding from the text, then link those truths together in order to apply them in our lives. Let's apply the inductive approach to some Scripture verses that are being misinterpreted in our own time.

On the basis of Acts 2:1-21, a number of preachers are teaching that when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost, the disciples acted as if they were drunk. Were the apostles acting like a bunch of stumblebums at Pentecost? If we are under the influence of the Holy Spirit, should we expect to act as if we are intoxicated?

An inspection of Acts 2:1-21 reveals that verses 13-15 are the only passages that deal with this subject directly. The context shows no other evidence that would lead to the conclusion of drunkenness. Secondly, we notice that not all of the people present accused the apostles of being drunk. Verse 12 shows us that there was general "amazement and great perplexity" as to what had happened to the apostles, but only some of those present explained it as drunkenness. Further, those who said the apostles were drunk were "mocking" when they made their accusation.

What led to the charge of drunkenness? The context tells us that the disciples were speaking in numerous languages, and leads us to believe that a number of the disciples, if not all, were speaking at the same time. The people who heard the apostles said, "we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God."

There is no mention of stumbling or erratic behavior on the part of the disciples in the Scriptures. The only other statement we have concerning drunkenness is from Peter, who says, "these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day." Notice that Peter did not say, "these men are drunk with the Spirit of God," he denied that they were drunk.

Why, then, did some say that the apostles were drunk? We know that if the disciples were all speaking at once that it would have sounded like "babble" to anyone not paying attention to the content, especially if that person was inclined to mock what was happening. If we look at other Scripture, we find that in I Corinthians 14:23 the apostle Paul says, "If therefore the whole church should assemble together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?" This seems to strengthen the belief that it was a number apostles speaking at once that led to the charge by unbelievers who were mocking the disciples.

Furthermore, in Matthew 11:18-19 and Luke 7:33-34 we learn that Jesus was called a drunkard and a glutton by His opponents. In Acts, we find that Festus called the apostle Paul "mad" on the basis that Paul had studied too hard (26:24). Yet, Jesus was not a drunkard or a glutton, nor was Paul insane. Unbelievers make accusations that aren't substantiated. In addition, there is no evidence of Jesus acting "drunk with the Spirit." We would expect Him to if anyone would, for who had more of God's Spirit? A perusal of the book of Acts shows us no other place where the apostles were said to have been "drunk" because the Holy Spirit came upon them. However, Scripture is filled with condemnations of drunkenness and warnings to be sober-minded.

Those who contend that the apostles were acting drunk point to Ephesians 5:18, "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit" and make the claim that we should be "drunk with the Holy Spirit" rather than "drunk with wine."

Once again, what does the verse actually say? Paul says not to get drunk with wine, "for that is dissipation." The issue here is to avoid "dissipation," one cause of which is being drunk. What is dissipation? A check of the dictionary shows that this it is the frivolous wasting of time or energy. The word translated "dissipation" can also be translated "debauchery," "profligacy," or "dissolution," all of which connote the same disintegration and careless waste indicated by "dissipation." There is no verse in the New Testament that tells us to be "drunk with the Spirit." Therefore, the most commonly accepted interpretation of Ephesians 5:18 is that the "fullness of the Spirit" is the opposite of drunkenness, not an alternate form of it.

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume III, Part 11, November 1995.
Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.

Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Permission is granted to reprint "Handling Scripture Wisely and Profitably" or any portion as long as all copyrights are included, this statement is included, the text is not altered in any way, and the text or reprint is not sold to the recipients.

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