Does our Father let us believe error? The reaction of many might be "No, the spirit guides us into all truth!" (John 16:13). That is true, but the process takes time and is not complete in any of us! Have you learned any major new Biblical truth or prophetic understanding in the past 10 years? We hope so! Does that mean that you believed some error before you learned the new truth? Yes, it does. Were you therefore unconverted before you learned the new truth? Have you been rebaptized and had hands laid on you again after you learned this truth? In most cases, "No!" So why did the Eternal let you, a converted person believe error for all of that time?
Before we begin answering these questions, we would like to take them one step further: Do you have any friends who you believe were converted, but passed away without learning the new truths that you have recently learned? Many of us know loving, commandment-keeping, peaceful individuals who died firmly believing what we now consider to be doctrinal error. Will they be eternally condemned for this?
We can take this even a step further: If you were to write down a summary of essential doctrines that you believe (or maybe just open a copy of your favorite organization's doctrinal statement), could you historically show that there have been people holding to all of those doctrines since the first century? Probably not. This author has never found a 2000-year continued existence of any set of doctrines for any church. Yet, our Savior said he would build a congregation that would endure through the ages (Matt 16:18).
The "letters to the seven churches" in Revelation 2 and 3 tell us that there was error in some of the very early congregations. These letters do not say that only one is a "true church" and the rest are "false churches." They were all part of the "true church" though some were in danger if they did not repent.
But these "seven churches" are not just isolated cases of doctrinal misunderstanding. The entire Bible was written so that it was hard to understand:
For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people, To whom He said, "This is the rest with which You may cause the weary to rest," And, "This is the refreshing"; Yet they would not hear. But the word of the Lord was to them, "Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little," That they might go and fall backward, and be broken and snared and caught. (Isaiah 28:11-13.)
Even the righteous Daniel (Ezk 14:14) was not allowed to understand the prophecies he wrote down (Dan 12:8-9). Other prophecies were written in most difficult to understand mannersskipping many years between clauses with no warning at all. For example, Isaiah 61 is a prophecy of the Messiah, but gives no indication at all that Messiah will come twice, fulfilling parts of the prophecy with each coming. Yet we can be certain that is exactly what it means because our Messiah said he was fulfilling it in Luke 4:16-21. Yet he stopped in the middle of a sentence and closed the scroll because he did not proclaim the day of vengeance until late in his ministry (Luke 21:22). Many other parts of Isaiah 61 were not fulfilled at all during his first coming. Yet none of the Messiah's listeners seemed to understand it. Years later, the leaders were still asking Him about His Messiahship and authority (John 10:24, Mark 11:28).
The difficulty in understanding scripture was also prophesied in a not-so-obvious prophecy in Isaiah 6:9-10. Our Savior expounded this scripture in Matthew 13:10-17:
And the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?" He answered and said to them, "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:
"'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.'
"But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it."
But did the Messiah's followers still have error? Yes. They often misunderstood the Scriptures and the words of our Savioreven though he was available to ask. It started with His human parents: "...'Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?' But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them" (Luke 2:49-50).
Even though the Messiah had taught on the subject several times, the disciples still erroneously believed that a literal Kingdom was about to appear (Luke 19:11). They asked about it again after his resurrection, but he had to tell them "...It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority" (Acts 1:6-7).
Our Savior predicted his own death, " but they [the disciples] did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying" (Luke 9:45). After He died, Peter planned to go fishing (John 21:3). The Messiah's statement about destroying the temple and raising it up in three days was so misleading that it was used as evidence against him at his trial (Matt 26:61). It was not understood by anyone until later (John 2:19-22). Furthermore, the apostles did not grasp the meaning of the foot-washing when it happened, nor the meaning of the last words to Judas (John 13:7, 27-29).
For years, the apostles read several scriptures and remembered the words of the Messiah, strongly indicating that the Gospel would eventually go to the Gentiles (Ex 12:38, Isaiah 56, Zech 8:20-23, Mark 16:15, Acts 1:8). Yet, a remarkable miracle was needed, as well as a lot of convincing, before the apostles understood this truth and began to act on it (Acts 10, 11:1-19).
One of the greatest areas of misunderstanding was the timing of our Savior's return. "Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom" (Matt 16:28).His statement led the apostles to believe that the second coming would occur in their lifetime. This belief is reflected in the wording of the early writings of the apostles (Jms 5:7-9, 1Cor 10:11, 15:51-54, 1Thes 4:14-17). Paul went so far as recommending that single people not marry! (1Cor 7:25-38.) It would be interesting to know how many singles who could have had families never married based on that advice. Yet the apostles' later writings show they expected a much-later second coming and that they would die a human death (2Pet 1:13-15, 3:3-4, 8-9; 2Tim 4:6-8). The ending of the gospel of John directly addresses the issue of our Savior's words being misunderstood:
Peter, seeing him [John], said to Jesus, "But Lord, what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If I will that he remain [stay alive] till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me." Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, "If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?" (John 21:22-24).
John shows us that we must not make what we feel are obvious inferences from our Savior's wordswe must listen to what he says. When He said "there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom" (Mat 16:28), he was referring to the apostles who saw the vision of the kingdom as described in the very next verses. We must be careful to note that he said "see" not "be with."
Finally, probably just to show us our human weakness, the Eternal allowed John's correction of one error to be followed by an error of his own creation: "And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen" (John 21:25). If a one-cubic-foot scroll were written for each and every second of His life (He lived about 1 billion seconds), all of the scrolls would fit in a building 40 feet high and 1 mile square. John's supposition was wrong. The lesson for us: Even when the holy spirit is powerfully in someone, everything they write is not necessarily correct. John was certainly used to record the sayings and actions of the Messiah, but he was not a mathematician.
There are other New Testament examples of significant error among the brethren and how that error was corrected. Some of that error was caused completely by human sin and laxness, but others were caused by intentionally difficult scriptures or words from our Messiahthe meaning of which was not revealed.
Why Does He Let It Happen?
First of all, we must understand that everyone is not supposed to understand all of the teachings of scripture. "And He said, 'To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that "Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand"'" (Luke 8:10). People who see truth are more responsible than those who are blind: "Jesus said to them, 'If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, "We see." Therefore your sin remains."'" (John 9:41). While this scripture was to the unconverted, the same principle applies to the converted:
Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.... And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more (Luke 12:43,47-48).
Our loving Father is not going to give us more truth than we can handle. He had to measure out the truth that he gave to His apostles: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now" (John 16:12). Even the apostle Paul realized he still had much to learn: "But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.... For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known (1Cor 13:10,12).
Sometimes truth must be withheld from us because it is too hard for us to believe that it is truth. After our Savior told people: "...unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you... many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, 'This is a hard saying; who can understand it?' From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more" (John 6:53,60,66). There are truths that He cannot tell us now, because we would probably leave Him if He did. Paul also speaks for a man who heard words (truth) so wonderful that it was not lawful for a man to say it (2Cor 12:3-4). That truth never made it into the Bible and it is possible that no one living understands it today.
Our Father also withholds truth from us because humans become vain about what they know. The entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that simple love is more important than all knowledge and great spiritual gifts. Yet Paul had to contend with men who thought they were the "most eminent apostles" (2Cor 12:11). In our own age this author has observed people who have been given understanding of significant Biblical truth. These people usually teach that truth, but too many of them go on to proclaim great things about themselveswithout any such command from the Bible or the Eternal. The results are contention and division among the brethrenwith much of the power and effect of the truth being lost. If we could accept it humbly, He could teach us much more truth.
Can a Loving Father Really Allow Us To Be Deceived?
But someone will certainly say: "If God deliberately lets us accept error as truth, then He is either lying to us or at least tempting us, both of which the scriptures say He does not do" (Tit 1:2, Jms 1:13). That is not true. While the Eternal does not lie or tempt us, he has never promised to prevent Satan from lying or tempting usHe has let him deceive the world (Rev 12:9). At times, the Eternal uses the deception of Satan and his demons to accomplish his own purposes:
Then Micaiah said, "Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by, on His right hand and on His left. And the LORD said, 'Who will persuade Ahab to go up, that he may fall at Ramoth Gilead?' So one spoke in this manner, and another spoke in that manner. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, and said, 'I will persuade him.' The LORD said to him, 'In what way?' So he said, 'I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.' And the LORD said, 'You shall persuade him, and also prevail. Go out and do so.' Therefore look! The LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours, and the LORD has declared disaster against you" (1Kngs 22:19-23).
Also, the Eternal has never promised to speak clearly to us. Indeed, He usually speaks in visions, dreams, and "dark speeches" (Num 12:6,8). Daniel had to fast 21 days to receive his vision (Dan 10:1-3). Our Messiah said his followers would fast, as Daniel did (Matt 9:15). If we want to understand truth, we must seek him with our whole heart (Jer 29;13, Acts 8:37).
We can more easily understand this concept by comparing how our Heavenly Father works with His children to the way a good human father might work with a child. A human father cannot teach everything to a child at oncelessons must be taught as the child is ready, in a way that will preserve his life. For example, a human father might spank a toddler for trying to insert objects into an electrical outlet. The child is too young to understand the dangers of electricity, so the father must resort to a more direct means. After a couple of punishments from attempting to fiddle with outlets, the child will probably quit trying. Is it because the child has learned truth from his father and now respects electricity? No! The child probably believes that electrical outlets produce spankings! Is that harmful? No. When the child is old enough to learn about the proper use of outlets, he or she may still be a little scared to plug something in, but will soon get over this problem and forget their protective understanding.
We could also think of many other examples where parents deliberately withhold information from their children until they are ready. Some eight year-old boys are physically capable of driving a carat least in an empty parking lot. They can see out and still reach the pedals. But if such a boy asks his father if he can drive a car by himself, Father will probably say "No, you cannot." If the child assumes "cannot" means that he is physically incapable of driving, he is being making a false assumptionbecause he can drive it. However, if the child is the adventurous type, is it not safer for him if he believes he is physically incapable of driving? As long as he believes that, he will not be tempted to try to drive without his parents permission. Do you think a parent would be wise to make a great point of explaining to his eight year-old that he is really physically capable of most driving functions, but he is just not trustworthy enough to let him try?
We can think of many other areas such as the use of hunting equipment, power tools, alcohol, sex, etc., where parents may allow children to believe assumptions that are not completely truebecause those assumptions protect the children. Children, not being doctrinal purists, usually have little difficulty when they realize their assumptions were wrongin general, they just accept the newly understood truth. Today, unfortunately, many church organizations claim that they have nearly all of "the truth." It is very difficult for people from this mentality to recognize that they made a false assumption, even though the false assumption did not hurt them very much.
Some people will hold to their beliefs because they know that the Eternal has blessed them and their congregation while they held those beliefs. Imagine a toddler being asked to pick up and put away his children's encyclopedias for the first time. He stacks them all in a messy pile sideways on the shelf and announces to his parent that "he did it." The parent gives the child a hug and says "good job!" Should the parent have given the child stern correction for not neatly stacking and alphabetizing the books? Is the parent deceiving the child by letting him think his messy stack was a "good job"? No. If the parent made the job so hard that the child could not do it, the child might hate to stack books and never learn to do it right. But later, the child will learn to live up to a higher standardthat what was "good" before is no longer sufficient.
Both physical and spiritual children must realize that their father cannot tell them all of the truth about everything all of the time. Telling part of the truth is not lying, because the hearer can always ask for the rest of the truth if and when they want it. Some things must be learned as a series of steps over a period of time. Since neither physical nor spiritual children ever obtain all knowledge, they will always be operating on some incomplete and probably incorrect assumptions. The Eternal deals with us on our present level of understanding. We are judged by how well we obey what we know to do: "Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin" (Jms 4:17).
How Much Error Will Our Father Allow His People To Believe?
If we look back throughout history, we have to say that the Eternal has allowed a lot of error to be believed by the masseseven his own people. Numerous times, the Kings and priests of Israel led the people into idolatry and other sin. We must remember that these people did not have a Bible at home allowing them to know the truth apart from their leaders. During Josiah's reign, the people clearly had no knowledge at all of the Scriptures until the "book of the law" was found (2Kng 22:8-23:3). How will the Eternal judge a person who strove to live righteously, but died shortly before the book was found? The person may have never had access to the truth.
In the nearly 2000 years since our Savior died, access to truth has not been much better. Most people could not own copies of Scriptures. The churches that kept and copied the Scriptures usually read only certain portions publiclyoften read in Latin or Greek. After the reading, an on-the-spot translation may have been made, but it probably contained a heavy dose of interpretation. An average person had even less access to accurate history and meanings of ancient languages. If people were told that it was proper to translate the Greek pascha (Passover), as "Easter," how could they prove otherwise? If they were told that history gives us a formula for when to celebrate that day, how could they deny it? If the only Bible they saw contained the full text of 1Jn 5:7-8, how could they know the middle of these two verses were not in most Greek manuscripts.
Without ever having a chance to read through the Bible, how could a person know what is in the Bible and what is not? If corrupt teachers taught that the Sabbath was changed to Sunday, how could the common people have proved that it was not? None of the Bible helps that we take for granted were available to them.
Even today, some people have striven to repent, be baptized, and obey their Creator, but have had no good way to sort out the last 2000 years of entangled theological mess. Their search for a group of believers may be primarily based on the sign their Savior gave: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35). Others may know to look for the Sabbath sign (Ex 31:13). Some people may look for both. But what happens if they cannot find a congregation that has both love and the Seventh Day Sabbath?
I have attended Seventh-Day congregations where people would see very little love among the brethren. People came to services a few minutes before the beginning, listened, and left afterward. Yet, I believe there were converted people there.
On the other hand, I have attended Sunday congregations where there was obviously much love among the brethren, but they thought the Sabbath had been changed to Sunday. Could there be converted people there also? It is hard for some people to accept that a person could be converted, yet be breaking one of the ten commandments every week. But how many of us go through a whole week without breaking one of the commandments? (Consider the expanded understanding given in Matthew 5-7.) How many of us covet?How many of us have idolized human "ministers" and organizations to the point where we would accept their word as truth even though the Bible clearly said something else?
"Some men's sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later (1Tim. 5:24). Because the sins of some are evident to us, does that give us the right to say they are unconvertedor "less converted" than someone whose sins are hidden from us? How can we know how much another person has truly repented, been baptized, and is now seeking to follow His Truth with all their heart? We cannot know. Because of this difficulty, all judgment has been committed to our Elder Brother and Savior (John 5:22). We are told to "judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts" (1Co 4:5).
If we know the Eternal's will and we do not do it, it will certainly be counted as sin for us. If we believe He is good, we want to do everything that He asks of us. For example, the Eternal may not choose to reveal the Sabbath right away to some believers. However, if a person knows the truth of the matter, there is not an optionone day is not as good as another.
This is not saying that everyone who calls themselves "Christian" has the holy spirit and the Eternal is ignoring all of their error. Many professing "Christians" essentially attend a "social club" and do not even know about the basics of repentance, baptism, faith, etc.nor do they believe they should "live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Matt 4:4). Believers probably cannot regularly fellowship with people who meet on a different day of the week and eat food they know is unclean. However, we all should avoid "judging people before the time"declaring them all to be unconverted when we do not really know. Also, it is much easier to teach truth to people if we regard them as "possibly brethren that need a lot of help," rather than labeling them "Pagans."
Does It Matter What We Believe and Do?
If it is possible that the holy spirit and salvation are offered to people who understand only a small portion of the Bible, then why should we obey it in detail? Furthermore, why did so many Sabbath-keepers have to lose jobs, lose friends, drive many hours to services and festivals, and suffer all manner of other things when possibly could have attended their corner Baptist Church and been saved? If a person does not feel that they have been spiritually blessed from obeying the scriptures as they understand them, they should take a serious look at their relationship with the Eternal. The apostles had the faith to rejoice during one of their first big trials: "...and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name" (Acts 5:40-41). "But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed" (1Pet 3:14).
Also, consider the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-15). All of the laborers received the amount they agreed to work for (symbolizing salvation), even though some had to work much longer and harder than others. But since each had an agreementa covenantthey had to do the work agreed to, or the owner would not have to pay them. If we do not act on the truth which has been revealed to us individually, we are breaking our covenant relationship. But we should not fear to do His will. Our Savior said His burden was light! (Matt 11:30.) He came that our "joy might be full" (John 15:11).
Our efforts and success in this life will be our basis for reward in the future (Luke 19:12-27). Each person's work will be tried (1Cor 3). Those who know much truth, can accomplish a lot more than those who know less.
This understanding that the Eternal allows His people to believe error should motivate us to study and pray for understanding a lot more. We may have a lot more truth to learn than we thought! Lastly, it should make us less judgmental and jealous of other errors of other religious groupseven if the group seems to be prospering much more than our own. We can look at these other groups and "rejoice that Christ is preached" (Phil 1:15-18).
Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." So we may boldly say: "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?" (Heb 13:5-6).
Norman S. Edwards