Know Your Bible

VOL. 10                                                                                                                                                                                December 4, 2011                                                                                                                                                                                NO. 45


 Christmas Cards

Thanksgiving marks the last day of sanity on this year's calendar, and even that is debatable. The following Friday morning marks the modern start to the holiday shopping season and everything else that accompanies the buildup to Christmas Day about a month later. 

In some rudimentary sense, Christmas cards date to the Middle Ages, but their popularity exploded in the nineteenth century so that the U.S. Congress was petitioned to limit the number that any one person could send, lest the mail become overwhelming. John Calcott Horsley is credited with designing the first commercial Christmas card in 1843 and as of the twenty-first century, Americans now dispatch 1.9 billion of them every year. 

The events behind the Christmas holiday, of course, are biblical -- the manger, the baby, the star, the virgin. The annual celebration of those events, however, is of human origin, for God specified a weekly commemoration of His Son's death in the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-31, Acts 20:7). Moreover, the Bible writers do not even bother to indicate the day on which Jesus was born away in that manger, and for various reasons, December 25 is a rather unlikely candidate. 

Christians who are concerned about maintaining Bible authority and worshiping in spirit and truth will be careful not to teach "as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matt. 15:9; cf. Col. 3:17; John 4:23-24). 

Christmas can be observed as a cultural custom, so long as it is not imposed upon God or the church as an unauthorized and misguided celebration of the Lord's unknown birthday. Gifts can be exchanged, houses can be decorated, turkeys and geese can be roasted and ingested. The place to draw the line is at anything that implies, indicates or illustrates the season and day as a biblical celebration of Christ's birth. That it is not and cannot be unless we impose it upon God. 

Christmas cards can be a wonderful way of keeping in touch with loved ones and sharing the mundane minutia of your year, but nativity scenes and other religious themes only serve to perpetuate the myth that Christmas is the birthday of Jesus and a biblical means of celebrating it.

---Jeff S. Smith

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What Sayeth The Authorities?

Once while two Christians were discussing a Bible subject, one of them asked, "What do the authorities say about it?" No doubt he had in mind such things as lexicons, Bible dictionaries, historic, and geographic. Yet I feel that sometimes (though not with the one who raised the question) there is the all too prevalent attitude to depend on what men may say about a certain Bible subject or passage.  It may be a lexicon; it may be a dictionary, or it even may be a preacher, but such is surely to be deplored. Paul said that we ought "not to think of men above that which is written." (1 Cor. 4:6).

None of the foregoing is meant to disparage the use of tools in Bible study. I am persuaded that it would be good if more members of the church would invest a little more money in such aids as dictionaries, lexicons, and the like. What I am trying to say, however, is that such should be kept in their proper place; namely, that of an "aid" or a "tool". A Bible dictionary can be a good thing. Nevertheless it is not the Bible; it is not the word of God; it is a dictionary. It ought to be merely an aid that does just that aid; aid in understanding the Bible, not replace it. And the same goes for commentaries. I am not opposed to the proper use of good commentaries. I use them frequently. I fear, though, that many times, the joke "A good commentary is one that agrees with what I already believe" is far more than a joke. It's a fact! Just because Johnson's Notes may say a thing does not mean that it is so. Just because Adam Clarke may be quoted does not mean that such is the truth. More seldom than somewhat one meets such expressions as: "This passage means so and so." Proof? "See Albert Barnes, page 22!" or "What happened then was thus and thus." How do you know? "See MacKnight, page 38!" Such does not prove anything other than that is what Albert Barnes or somebody thinks. And, frankly, that is not the word of God.

What is an authority? What is a scholar? Well, oftentimes it depends upon whom you ask. Webster says that a scholar is "one who has engaged in advanced study and acquired knowledge in some special field", and I suppose that is the usual way in which the word is used. Nonetheless, we need to remember a few things:

1. Scholars are not divine; they are human beings. Their opinions may be weighty but they are not inspired. They may be skilled in some special field but they do not know everything in that field. They may have acquired some knowledge but they have not acquired all knowledge. Just because a man may know a few things in one field does not mean that he is skilled in another field. Scholars may be learned but they are not infallible.

2. Sometimes scholars, being human beings, are prejudiced. A fellow doesn't have to read very many of them to discover this. At times scholars allow previous practice and previously held positions of their own to influence their thinking. It's not a bad idea to know something about a given scholar's background.

3. Oftentimes scholars disagree. If you look long enough you can find some scholar or authority to substantiate nearly any position imaginable. This might be a good place to point out that the oft heard expression "all scholars agree..." is a figment of an imagination; it just ain't so unless you have a pretty limited definition of the word "scholar". Which reminds me of the debate I heard between two college students from England and two from the University of Florida. One of the Florida students chided the English for not quoting any authorities to substantiate their position. To which one of the English debaters replied, "You can quote authorities on any side of any question. But if you want an authority, here is what one noted authority has written...." Then he concluded, "If you want to know who that authority is and where he wrote such, I made the statement, I wrote it, and that's pretty good authority, at least to me." Well, since scholars disagree it is a good idea to consult several; don't take one man's word.

Let us never get to the point that we feel that because a scholar or even many scholars may say a thing then that must be the way it is. Their thoughts may be valuable but they are not absolute. Before such we may bend, but we must not bow. Remember, we are to "prove all things" (1 Thess. 5:21). We are to "try the spirits", so 1 John 4:1 says. The place to do the proving and the trying is in the word of God. Again let it be noted that we may respect men, and we may study them, but we must not "think of men above that which is written" (1 Cor. 4:6). "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Pet. 4:11). When we say, "What saith the authorities?" let us mean "what saith the scriptures". 

---Hiram Hutto

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Know Your Bible" is e-mailed weekly by the church of Christ which meets at 112 Roberts Avenue in Wise, Virginia. If you know of others who might benefit from the articles contained in this bulletin, we would be glad to have you submit their e-mail addresses and we will include them in next week's mailing. If you are receiving this bulletin and do not wish to continue to do so, please e-mail us with your desire to be removed from the mailing list and we will remove your address promptly. Continue to the bottom of this page and further instructions will be given as to how you may contact us.

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