I keep reading that we evangelicals interpret the Bible literally. That is true, inasmuch as it is possible. However, I have found that in certain areas of theology some will go to great lengths to interpret the Bible in a less-than-literal fashion. The area most often abused in this fashion is that of soteriology - the study of the doctrine of salvation.
In the next several days, I want to try to reveal some examples of this practice. I will show that in some people’s desire to ensure that their traditional understanding remain true, they override the intended meaning of the text. In each instance, we'll see that the Bible says very clearly and certainly one thing but many will do anything to stop the Bible from meaning what it means.
First, in the next few days, I want to examine some words that the Bible uses to describe fallen man. One of the words the Bible uses is "BLIND." The Bible says that men are blind - what does that mean?
The word blind appears fifty-three times in the New Testament (NASB). Forty-three of those instances deal obviously with physical blindness. The other ten describe blindness of another kind.
- Five times in Matthew 23 Jesus calls the Pharisees blind guides and blind men. Clearly, these men had physical vision.
- Romans 2:19 talks of being a guide to the blind as well as instructor of the foolish.
- I John 2:11 tells us that whoever hates his brother is in the dark and that darkness has blinded his eyes.
From these passages we see that there is such a thing as spiritual blindness (but a very real blindness nonetheless).
Then, in John 12, we read that Jesus has entered Jerusalem. Beginning in verse 20, some Gentiles begin looking for Him. Andrew took them to Christ and Jesus told them that “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light.”
John writes that Jesus then left and the people still did not believe in Him. Why? The inspired writer credits this amazing lack of ability to believe to an Old Testament passage. In this passage, John quotes Isaiah 6:10, writing, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”
In John’s infallible interpretation of Isaiah, we read that God has blinded and hardened some. The blinding of the eyes is equated with the hardening of the heart and it is God who is the active agent in this disabling. That is hard to accept but accept it we must unless you prefer to allow traditions to supercede contextual analysis (I’ll discuss this passage in more detail later when dealing with John 6).
Besides these “blindness” passages, there are passages that speak of men having their “eyes opened.” As before, some of the passages deal with the miraculous healing of physical blindness. In other places, we must understand it as another type of blindness. In Luke 24:13, we encounter the famous walk of Jesus with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. While walking and talking with these men, verse sixteen says “their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” However, when they sat to eat, verse 31 says that “their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.”
In Acts 26, Luke writes of Paul’s conversion experience with the risen Christ. Jesus gives Paul his marching orders, telling him that He is Paul to the Gentiles “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins.”
In all this, we clearly see that there is a physical blindness that keeps men from interpreting visual stimuli so that they can not see the physical world. However, there is also a spiritual blindness that is just as real and keeps men from perceiving the spiritual world.
This spiritual blindness is what Jesus was talking about in John 3, probably the most misunderstood chapter in all the Bible. In John 3:3, Jesus tells Nicodemus “Truly I say unto you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Natural eyes cannot see - perceive, understand, accept - anything about the kingdom of God. The only way to get this “spiritual vision” is to be born again, which is entirely an act of God (I’ll discuss this later as well).
This condition, in which every single human who has ever lived has either been in or currently is in, is described aptly by Isaiah 59. Read carefully this description of natural man’s “seeing ability”:
9 Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
10 We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among those in full vigor we are like dead men.
The description is apt. I think the point is fairly well made but let me press the issue. What is the problem with a blind man? Is it the absence of light? Of course not. Have you ever wondered how much light it would take for a blind man to see?
- If you held a candle in front of a blind man, would he see that light? No.
- If you held a small flashlight in front of a blind man, would he see that light? No.
- If you held a large flashlight in front of a blind man, would he see that light? No.
- If you drove your car up to him and turned on your headlights, would he see that light? No.
- If you turned on your high beams, would he see that light? No.
- If you stood him in front of a 747 jet, on a runway, and turned on the landing lights, would he see that light? No.
- If you could put this man in space and point him to the sun with its rays uninhibited by out atmosphere, could he see the light of the sun? No.
Not only does the prophet tell us in verse ten that we grope blindly along the wall like a stumbling blind person, we grope along like a person WITH NO EYES AT ALL. The problem with a blind person is not the absence of light but the inability to perceive it. And we are not simply blind – WE DON’T EVEN HAVE EYES! It’s not that our eyes don’t work – we don’t even have eyes to work. That is just how lost and depraved and hopeless fallen man is without the working of the Spirit of God in their lives.
How is it, then, that modern day believers insist that the Bible teaches us that man has within himself the ability to understand the gospel, to come to Christ, to “see the light.” The Bible tells us that no man can do this because of his blindness. Any other understanding is a futile attempt to make Scripture line up with preconceived traditional understandings. It is foolish for modern preaching to tell us to "not resist the light" or "to allow the light to come in" or "to surrender to the light". How does a blind man allow light to penetrate his blindness?
Let’s agree to let the Bible say what it says and mean what it means. The gospel is the only light that can penetrate the darkness of an unbelieving person’s heart. God is Sovereign and God is Light. God causes the light to shine in the darkness and the darkness is powerless to resist the light once God commands it to shine.
So it is with the unregenerate heart. It is God, by His Sovereign Grace and Mercy, who shines the light of the Gospel upon the darkened mind of an unbeliever to bring that person to life - to give him sight to see.
Earlier, John wrote in 5:21 that "just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes." To God be the glory both now and throughout eternity for His marvelous light and His beautiful gift of sight! When He gives sight, you truly see for the first time.
In John 9, Jesus gave a man his physical sight. The Jewish leaders heard of it and didn't like it. At the end of this story, we have this beautiful and yet very fearful exchange:
5 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains."How is your vision?