Q&A: Is God Talking to Me?

Is God Talking to Me?

Question

In Luke 8:9, Jesus told his disciples, "The knowledge of the secret of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you" (NLT), as if it were a secret for them and not for others. But this passage is included in the Bible for all to see, thus letting everyone in on the secret. Also, Jesus told his disciples, "The things I tell you in the dark you must say in the daylight, and the things you hear in your private ear you must proclaim from the rooftops" (Matt. 10:27 Phillips). Did Jesus excluded certain people from understanding his teachings, or since all is explained in the Bible, have all people who read the Bible been granted the chance to understand the Gospel?

Also, in Romans 1:6 Paul wrote, "And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ" (NIV). Does this mean that anyone who ever picks up the Bible is called to belong to Christ, or was Paul was only talking to a certain audience, so that each modern reader is not necessarily called?

Along the same lines, in Ephesians 1:4 Paul wrote, "According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy" (KJV). Who is "us?" Am I included, or was it only to the church at Ephesus?

My basic question is this: If God is the real author of the Bible, using human writers to record exactly what he wants to say to humanity, then is he speaking to me? Or do I need to take into consideration the destination of Paul's letters when I study the Bible?

Answer

When we read the Bible, we have to determine what the author's original meaning was. That is the only authoritative meaning. Even though everything preserved in the Bible is for the world to see, we have to figure out why the author put it there for us to see. Every verse in the Bible applies to us, but the way it applies is not always clear. Most often, we are to learn principles or truths, and to apply them to ourselves in ways that account for shifts in history (e.g. the first coming of Christ), shifts in culture (e.g. the definition of "theft" varies depending on the law of the land), and individual personality (e.g. "give no offense" is subjective because different things offend different people). Let me try to address directly the examples you have provided:

"The knowledge of the secret of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you" (Luke 8:9 NLT).

Here Jesus paraphrased Isaiah 6:9. In the original context of Isaiah, God told Isaiah to preach to his people in ways that would harden them toward repentance. It was not that the gospel was not available to them -- they at least possessed the Scriptures, and almost certainly had heard preachers and other people call them to repentance. The same was true of Jesus' original audience, just as it is true of us. The idea in Isaiah 6:9 is that the proclaiming of God's Word works in different ways. This is also the idea in Luke 8:4-15.

In the parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-15), Jesus illustrated the different ways that the preaching of God's Word affects people. The verse in question falls between the telling of the parable of the sower and the explanation of the parable. This indicates to us that it is to be understood in the specific context of this parable. In the parable Jesus taught that some people react negatively to the gospel. They hear the good word, but they do not receive it and persevere. Others respond positively. The preaching of the gospel is intended to provoke both responses (cf. John 12:37-40; Rom. 11:7-8). The same is true of the Bible itself. Some people read it, understand it, and respond positively to it. Others read it but do not understand or respond positively to it. Both responses are according to God's plan.

You asked, "Did Jesus excluded certain people from understanding his teachings, or since all is explained in the Bible, have all people who read the Bible been granted the chance to understand the Gospel?" Actually, this is not an either/or problem; both are true. Jesus excluded certain people from understanding his teachings, as demonstrated in Luke 8:9. However, this does not mean that these people had no chance to believe the gospel. Rather, the gospel is to be offered to all, but because man is fallen, no one responds positively to it. All who hear the gospel have the human "chance" to receive it, but all choose to reject it unless God grants to them a heart to receive it.

"And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ" (Rom 1:6 NIV).

These words were originally directed only toward the Romans who received this letter. That does not mean that they were the only ones who were called, or that others cannot now be called: the principles behind what it means to be called have not changed. Still, Paul was stating a fact about the people to whom Romans was written, not a fact about anyone who happens to read the letter. We can see this distinction clearly by looking at things like the letters to the churches in Ephesus and Pergamum that we find in Revelation 2. To the Ephesians John wrote, "You hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate" (Rev. 2:6). But to those in Pergamum he wrote, "You also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans" (Rev. 2:15). If we imagine that both letters speak directly to us (rather than indirectly, as is the true case), then John has made contradictory statements about us. It simply is not true that we both hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans and at the same time hold their teachings. We don't even know what the Nicolaitans taught or did.

Also, there are many senses of the word "called." There is an outward call of the gospel that is to be given to all humanity. This is a call to repent and believe the gospel. Not everyone heeds it, but all may be called in this way. In this respect, all who read Romans (or any other part of the Bible) are "called."

There is a second meaning of "called," however, that is far more restricted. This second meaning refers to the inward call of the Holy Spirit which results in a new heart, a regenerate spirit, and faith in Jesus Christ. In short, it results in salvation. This is the meaning of "called" in Romans 8:28. If we wrongly understand "called" in this verse to speak to all mankind, then we end up with universal salvation, which is clearly not a biblical teaching.

In Romans, we also see a third meaning of "called" which is even more restricted. In Romans 1:1, Paul said he was "called" as an apostle. Here he referred to his "call" to the office of apostle, a call he shared with only a handful of others. As we seek to understand how to apply these passages to our lives, we must first determine exactly what Paul was saying, and then figure out how we are like and unlike those in the original context. Our similarities and dissimilarities in areas which Paul addressed will guide us in knowing how to apply his words in our own lives.

"According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy" (Eph. 1:4 KJV).

Here Paul was assuming something about his audience and about himself, namely their salvation. His words did not apply to those who were not saved. If we are saved, then Paul's words about the believing Ephesians are also true about us.

As in any correspondence, both Paul and his original audience had to make assumptions about what the other thought. They both assumed a huge body of doctrine that they shared in common, as well as common experiences and an established relationship between themselves. Paul assumed that the Ephesians would read his letter and respect his opinion, and the Ephesians no doubt assumed when they read the letter that Paul was a trustworthy teacher. In fact, it is almost always the case that the most important ideas in any text or conversation are not explicitly stated, but are simply assumed by all parties.

For example, as I respond to your questions, I assume that you are a human being and that we are having an honest conversation about things we both find to be important. I do not assume that I received these questions via a random computer error at my ISP. I also do not assume that you are my boss who is simply testing me to see how I will respond to these questions. Neither do I assume that you are a fictitious character dreamed up by an atheistic webring in order to take up my time unnecessarily. I do assume, though, that you read and understand English, and that you have the ability to receive this response. What I do and don't assume influences to an incredible degree everything that I write here, and it even influences the fact that I respond at all.

If God is the real author of the Bible, using human writers to record exactly what he wants to say to humanity, then is he speaking to me? Or, do I need to take into consideration the destination of Paul's letters when I study the Bible?

The traditional Protestant doctrine on inspiration, the one to which we hold here at Third Millennium, is "organic inspiration." We believe that God did not dictate words that the biblical authors were simply to convey to their original audiences. Rather, the Holy Spirit moved the biblical authors to write infallible truth to their audiences, but he did not do so in a way that obscured the human authors themselves. The Holy Spirit used the personalities of the human authors, as well as their experiences and relationships, working to convey the truth he wanted to convey, but not independently from the people through whom he conveyed it. The authors themselves wrote not directly to us, but directly to their original audiences. They speak to us only indirectly, but no less infallibly or authoritatively.

This means that we can't just read the Bible as if it were written directly to us. We need to recognize that the original writings were produced with someone else directly in mind. The more clearly we understand the author and his original audience, as well as the circumstances behind and addressed in the author's writing, the better we will understand the author's original meaning. The similarities between ourselves and the original audience, and between our circumstances and places in history, help us determine how to apply the author's teaching in our own lives.


Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.