Earlier in the week I came across a powerful quote, and one that came at just the right time, helping me formulate some thoughts I had been trying to express. This comes from John Frame’s Systematic Theology, and it challenges each one of us to understand, believe, and obey the sheer authority of God’s Word.
When God Commands, we are to obey. When he asserts, we are to believe him. When he promises, we are to embrace and trust those promises. Thus, we respond to the sheer authority of God’s word.
Adam and Eve had no way of testing what God told them about the forbidden fruit. They couldn’t work any experiment that would show them whether God had rightly predicted the effects of the fruit. They simply had to take God at his word. Satan interposed a contrary interpretation, but the first couple should not have taken his opinion seriously. They should simply have believed God. They did not, of course. They sided with Satan rather than God–or, perhaps better, they claimed that their own authority transcended God’s. That is to say, they claimed autonomy. They claimed that they themselves were the highest authority, the ultimate criterion of truth and right.
The NT praises Noah (Heb. 11:7), Abraham (Rom. 4:1-25; Heb. 11:8-19), and many others because of their faith, and their faith was grounded in God’s word. They simply believed what God said and obeyed him. So for new covenant believers: if they love Jesus, they will do what he says (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:7, 10, 14; 17:6, 17; 1 John 2:3-5; 3:22; 5:2-3; 2 John 6).
So we should think of God’s word as a personal communication from him to us. In DWG, I presented this as a general way of thinking about the word of God: the personal-word model. Think of God speaking to you as a real person would–as directly as your parents, your spouse, your children, your friends. Many in Scripture heard such speech from God, such as Noah, Abraham, and Moses.
And when God speaks, his word carries authority. This means that it imposes obligations. When God commands, he expects us to obey. When he brings information, we are to believe him. When he promises, we should embrace his promises.
If God really talked to you, as he did to Abraham, you would not (if you know what is best for you) criticize his words or disagree with him.
Every now and again I like to write about one of the Bible’s tricky texts—those passages in the Bible that Christians tend to misunderstand and misuse. 1 Corinthians 7:10-12 is just that kind of text. In these verses Paul makes two statements about divorce. Before one he says, “not I, but the Lord” and before the other, “I, not the Lord.” Here is the text:
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.
To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.
When I come across this text in books or blogs, I often find authors suggesting that in the first statement Paul is drawing upon a statement that is binding on all Christians while in the second he is either expressing humility or a kind of personal opinion. In either case, they highlight the full authority of the first statement and then diminish the authority of the second statement, saying something like, “Paul was humble enough to say that this was simply his understanding of the situation” or “In the second statement Paul was expressing his personal opinion.”
However, the contrast here is not between divine revelation and personal opinion. Rather, the contrast is between two different kinds of authority, each of which is from God and each of which is fully authoritative and fully binding.
In the New Testament we find the new Christians drawing upon three different sources of authority: The Old Testament scriptures; the teachings of Jesus; and new revelation given to the Apostles. Each of these was considered authoritative revelation from God. So sometimes we see New Testament Christians drawing from the Old Testament, sometimes from words Jesus spoke while he was on earth, and sometimes from new teachings given under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Never do we find these sources of authority ranked or contrasted as if one is more important or authoritative than the others.
As we come to 1 Corinthians 7:10 we find Paul speaking about divorce and drawing directly from the words of Jesus. Jesus had said, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12). These words had been spoken, remembered, recorded, and made an integral part of the Christian teaching on marriage and divorce. On this basis Paul could says, “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.“ He makes it clearly that he is reiterating what Jesus said.
But as Paul writes to the church in Corinth, he wishes to address an area that Jesus did not speak to specifically. While Jesus taught extensively, he did not teach exhaustively. One area he did not speak to is the case of a mixed marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. So as Paul addresses it, he does so by prefacing his words with “I, not the Lord.” In his commentary on 1 Corinthians Anthony Thistleton suggests it may be better to understand Paul as saying, “a saying of the Lord” and “not a saying of the Lord.” “To the rest I say (not a saying of the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.” He does not mean to say that his words carry less authority or that they are less binding on the Christian; rather, he is making it clear to them that this is a new teaching given by God through one of his Apostles. This makes it a teaching that carries every bit as much of the authority as Jesus’ words. Why? Because it is given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Though it did not come from the mouth of Jesus, it is still the word of God and binding on the Christian.
How should we use this text? We should use it to teach what God wants us to know about divorce and remarriage and what God wants us to know about Christians married to unbelievers. We need to highlight that both parts are fully authoritative because both parts are fully inspired by God.
My wife became a Christian the first time she heard the gospel. It didn’t take years, or even months or weeks of soul-searching. It didn’t take a great pilgrimage or a critical analysis of the Bible’s trustworthiness or inerrancy. A very practical person who had been raised without reference to religion, she heard the gospel at the age of eighteen, understood that it made sense of the world and her life, and responded in faith. Since that time she hasn’t seriously considered reconsidering.
But not everyone’s journey is quite so simple or straightforward. We are all different people with a very different make up. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is Nabeel Qureshi’s story of how he became a Christian, and his story could not be more different from my wife’s.
Qureshi was born the eldest son of Pakistani immigrants and he grew up in America and the U.K.—wherever the U.S. Navy assigned his father. His parents were devout Muslims and wherever they went, they attached themselves to a mosque and to the local Islamic community. Qureshi grew up studying, understanding and loving the Koran; he performed his prayers just like every other good Muslim. His father was an amateur apologist for Islam, so he, too, grew up with an interest in defending his faith. He loved his religion in both its theology and its practice.
While Qureshi was in college he met David Wood, a young Christian man who, like him, was studying toward a career in medicine. The two became fast and dedicated friends, who loved and respected one another despite adhering to very different faiths. As their relationship continued, they became religious sparring partners, each testing and challenging the other.
It was through these conversations that Qureshi began to grapple with the claims of Christianity that countered his Islamic faith. He grappled with the authority and reliability of the Bible contra the authority and reliability of the Koran; he grappled with salvation by faith in Jesus Christ contra salvation by accruing good deeds; he grappled with the deity of Jesus Christ contra the prophecies of Mohammad.
Eventually, through years of debates, through interacting with some of the most significant Christian apologists, and through deep soul-searching, Qureshi began to doubt everything he had ever believed about Islam. In Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus he essentially tells two stories: his crumbling Islamic faith and his newfound Christian faith. He came to the conviction that Islam simply could not withstand careful scrutiny, because he believed its scriptures are unreliable and its prophet neither admirable nor prophetic. At the same time, he came to the conviction that Christianity could withstand the most careful scrutiny, because he believed its scriptures are completely reliable and its central figure not only admirable but the very Son of God.
His story is especially interesting and important in a few ways. First, he gives an insider’s perspective of the Muslim mindset. There are some unique challenges to reaching Muslims, especially in their understanding of authority and the difficulties they face in rejecting the faith of their families. Those who have the opportunity to share the gospel with Muslims will do well to read and consider these. He also discusses the vast difference between the mindset of first-generation immigrant Muslims and their children. Though the children are usually practicing Muslims, they are also Westernized and less tied to the tenets of the parents’ faith. Finally, he dispels some of the fear about radical Islam. His parents were devout, but not radical. In the aftermath of 9/11 they faced some measure of persecution despite despising and disavowing what the terrorists had done. Qureshi portrays his family as loving, kind and close rather than cold and domineering. This is very consistent with the Muslim families I know and admire today.
If I have hesitations about the book, it is largely in the area of extra-biblical encounters with the Lord. Qureshi describes several dreams or visions that played into his conversion and, while such tales are very common among former Muslims (Muslims, after all, regard dreams as especially important) it does seem to clash with his belief in the authority and even the sufficiency of Scripture. One could read this book and almost assume that the Lord may or will owe us dreams to help convince us of truth; yet God promises nothing more and nothing less than the Holy Spirit illuminating the Bible.
Every few years the Christian world receives another important apologetic work. Lee Strobel brought us The Case for Christ where he, as a reporter, applied his reporting skills to the Christian faith and emerged a Christian. J. Warner Wallace brought us Cold-Case Christianity where he, as a crime scene investigator, applied his investigation skills to the Christian faith and emerged a Christian. Qureshi’s book is similar in that he is a careful, logical, analytical thinker who unexpectedly finds himself coming to the Christian faith. With over a billion Muslims in the world today, Christians need to be equipped to share their faith with those who love and honor Islam. Qureshi has given us a valuable tool to read and to share.