The Scriptures are reliable down to the tenses

The Scriptures are reliable down to the tenses

Jesus was approached by the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23-33 with a ridiculous question about marriage in heaven. They described a situation where a woman had been married to a series of brothers (one at a time) after following the Old Testament law. Jesus was asked whose wife she was in heaven since she had been married to all of them.

The answer Jesus gave showed that heaven was real and that things in the resurrection life don’t work the way they do in this life (you can read more about this in the previous post here). But for the purposes of this post, look at how Jesus shows that the resurrection life is real. He uses a famous passage from Exodus, the part of the Bible that the Sadducees respected. Jesus noted that when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, he said:

And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (Exod. 3:6 ESV)

On first glance, you might not notice how this shows that there is life after death. It looks like a basic statement about God and his power. Yet, if we know the Bible storyline, we see the logic here. When God spoke these words in Exodus 3, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had all been dead for over 400 years. Yet God said that “I am” their God, present tense. He did not say he “was” their God. Therefore, they were still alive, even though they had died, and God remained their God.

Do you see what this argument rests on? A tense. Jesus’ explanation holds because God used the present tense and not the past tense. This tells us that the Scriptures are true even down to the smallest details, and those smallest details are important.

There are many things we can take away from this, but let me give you three possibilities:

  • When you read the Bible, read it carefully. It is tempting to skim through things and just get the basic idea, and there is time for reading the Bible in quantity. Yet we need to slow down and look closely to see all there is to see. I have lost track of the times when I have noticed something important when preparing a sermon on a passage I have read countless times before. Something like a place name or a sentence structure or a verb tense can unlock something significant. It is often better to read less, but read more carefully and reflect on what you read.
  • Good sermons also take the details seriously. I have heard sermons that are series of stories, easy to listen to but very light on Bible. In fact, when visiting a range of churches earlier in the year, there were a few times I never opened my Bible or was asked to consider the details. If the Bible is God’s word, down to the tenses, that is not taking the Scriptures seriously enough. This doesn’t mean sermons need to be boring commentaries, but they do need to explain the whole text and be unafraid of unpacking the details.
  • It will help you to know the Bible storyline. If you didn’t know that Abraham was dead by the time God spoke to Moses, then Jesus’ argument makes little sense. There are many good resources out there that can help you grasp the storyline of the Bible – try Allan Chapple’s GPS, or Vaughan Roberts’ The Big Picture. You will see that this helps a great deal in getting the most out of God’s precious Word to us.