Reflections and Blog

Irony of Ironies

In the Sunday sermon on Ecclesiastes 12:9-14, I stressed that Solomon includes the final epilogue section to prevent people from misunderstanding his book. But perhaps you found it ironic, as I do, that many modern interpreters use the epilogue of Ecclesiastes itself to argue for distorted views of his work! Because of only minor changes in subject, style, and vocabulary in the epilogue, some Bible scholars regard Ecclesiastes 12:9-14 as part of the proof that Ecclesiastes, in fact, was not carefully written by one author (cf. Eccl 12:9-10), does not have a consistent message (cf. Eccl 12:11-12), and was not written to lead readers to lives of holiness and joy before God (cf. Eccl 12:13-14).

Yet Ecclesiastes is not unique in this ironic phenomenon; so called “higher criticism” similarly seeks to turn other parts of the Bible meant to establish credibility on their heads. Another example is the book of Daniel. Daniel is an absolutely astonishing book due to its detailed prophetic visions of the future. And these visions have been historically verified: not only the general succession of Middle East-dominating empires revealed in Daniel 2 and 7 but also specifically Alexander the Great’s Greek empire and the successor states that came after him (especially the Ptolemaic and Seleucid Greek kingdoms) in Daniel 8 and 11. Surely all this confirmed prophecy should make us pay attention to the words of Daniel and to the totally sovereign God who reveals mysteries (Daniel 2:20-23)! Not so, say many Bible scholars. Rather, Daniel’s incredible accuracy is just part of the proof that the book was written much later than it claims. In other words, the author of Daniel must have written all his words of “prophecy” after the fact in order to achieve his great accuracy.

Or take still another common target of higher biblical scholarship: the Gospels. You would think that the fact that four different authors writing with different styles and different purposes yet all recording a consistent message about the person and ministry of Jesus would be highly significant—we can trust their united record! After all, does not the Torah say that two or three witnesses are needed to establish a matter in court (Dt 17:6, 19:15)? The New Testament has four Gospel witnesses! Yet somehow modern biblical scholarship inverts this evidence and asserts that the great similarities in the Gospels, especially the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), is proof that the biblical writers copied one another. We don’t really have four independent witnesses, they say, but maybe two. Paradoxically, these same scholars will also assert that the differences in the Gospels represent outright contradictions about the life of Jesus. So then, from the supposedly sage vantage-points of many of these interpreters, we’ll never know for certain what to believe about Jesus since the records about him are so unreliable.

What to make of all this? Clearly, here, we see how important is the worldview or set of assumptions someone brings to assess the data of life, whether that data is in the world or in the Bible. Depending on one’s assumptions, the same evidence might confirm or contradict what God says in his word. Yet not all assumptions or worldviews are made equal. As many presuppositional apologists will tell you, reality simply does not make consistent sense without biblical assumptions: there is a God and he is our Creator, this God will one day perfectly judge the world in righteousness, and this God has revealed himself to us in the Bible.

The Bible tells us why people refuse to interpret according to biblical assumptions: because in pride they do not want to acknowledge God but instead live their own ways (Isa 53:6). They therefore suppress the truth in unrighteousness and live with insanity in their hearts all their days (Rom 1:18; Eccl 9:3). Yet the Bible, even Solomon, outlines a better way to understand the world and operate in it: the fear of the Lord (Eccl 12:13). In interpreting the Bible or in living our lives in general, we have the choice of whether we will exalt ourselves like gods or humble ourselves as creations designed to adore the one true God. The outcome of either path is already clear from the Bible:

Matthew 23:12 (NASB95), “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”

Questions to Consider:
1. Many people will point to life experiences that “prove” certain truths about God: even God’s cruelty or non-existence. How should we respond?
2. Bible interpreters often get into trouble when they speculate without enough evidence or assume what they are trying to prove. How can we get into similar trouble when it comes to interpreting people?
3. Do you live with a humble fear of God? What are the fruit of such fear in your life?