A recent online edition of Christianity Today contained an article on a controversy over how to translate the biblical phrase the Son of God in Bibles used in Islamic nations. The problem is that the Koran actually pronounces a curse on the use of such a title and many Christian missionaries have found the use of this title a positive hindrance to their evangelism. Some have adopted a compromised position of shifting away from the language of Scripture in order to avoid a hostile reaction.
However, aside from the complexities of dealing with one religious culture or another, there is a very simple issue here. How are we to deal with the hostility of the human heart to the language of God’s word? To answer this we do not need to look anywhere but into Scripture itself.
A long history
Bible terms and doctrines have always been offensive to fallen mankind. The doctrine of atonement especially has been refused since the days of Cain! See Genesis 4:3-8. Cain insisted – even against Divine reprimand – on making atonement his own way and by means of his own alternative sacrifice. Korah’s rebellion (Numbers 16:1-11) essentially revolved around the dislike of God’s requirement for a High Priest.
The ministry of the Lord Jesus
A striking example of how Divine truth can be treated with hostile abhorrence is found in the reaction of many who heard Christ speak of the need for faith in His sacrificial death as the only way to have spiritual and eternal life. This teaching and the reaction to it is recorded in John 6:51-61.
What we must not miss is the Saviour’s response to this situation! He did NOT moderate His language or change it in any way. Though many were offended and left Him, He did NOT modify His terminology. The lesson clearly is: sinful men must learn to accept His word as true and embrace it by faith – just as it is stated by Him.
The Saviour preached using parables. He had a dual purpose in this that comes out in His own explanation of these tactics, Luke 8:10. It was His desire to make the truth simple and easy to be understood. However, the simplicity of His teaching this way was off-putting to those who felt themselves above such childish truth and would not humble themselves as a child to enter the kingdom of Heaven. The Saviour’s explanation of His use of parables makes it clear that it was a deliberate device on His part to expose the pride of the human heart and was the means of turning away those who were wise in their own conceit.
Another instance in the Saviour’s ministry where He cause offence is seen in Matthew 15:12-14. He is told by the disciples – perhaps they wondered what His response would be – that the Pharisees had been offended by His teaching. His response was : Let them alone! It is striking to see that He relates their taking offence to the eternal purposes of God in election. Those who are the Lord’s will not take offence at His word. Those who do take offence at His word do not belong to Him.
Another example can be found in the God-honoured practice of the Apostle Paul as he preached in Corinth. See 1 Corinthians 1:21-23. The world he was desirous to reach for Christ clamoured for certain things in his preaching and he positively refused to accomodate them! His Jewish audience took offence – literally, were scandalized and stumbled – at the doctrines of Christ’s crucifixion as the sole basis of salvation. Yet, that is exactly what he preached! His Greek audience took exception to the fact he made no use of philosophical oratory – but he refused to indulge them in this matter. The modern church would have bent over backwards to re-write the gospel to make it appealing to these audiences but not Paul! His ministry had the authentication of the power of the Holy Ghost to vindicate his approach (1 Corinthians 2:4).
Our burden must be to communicate the truth that God has revealed, as He has revealed it in His word, to whoever He will make willing to listen. It is not our place to make men listen or to make the message appealing. That is the work of God alone! None but He can open the heart as He did for Lydia (Acts 16:14) and He does so in regeneration. We do not need to alter the inspired word of God, we need to see His Spirit work in power to alter the hearts of sinners.