As mentioned elsewhere on this site, the ability to tell the difference between truth and lies is very important, especially when you are listening to someone explain the Bible.
The name for the ability to properly tell the difference is discernment.
Dictionary.com defines it like this:
dis - cern - ment
1. the faculty of discerning; discrimination; acuteness of judgment and understanding.
"an astonishing lack of discernment"
2. the act or an instance of discerning.
"without providing for a time of healing and discernment, there will be no hope of living through this present moment without a shattering of our common life"
But, Wikipedia adds a little:
Discernment is the ability to obtain sharp perceptions or to judge well (or the activity of so doing). In the case of judgment, discernment can be psychological or moral in nature.
Within judgment, discernment involves going past the mere perception of something and making nuanced judgments about its properties or qualities. Considered as a virtue, a discerning individual is considered to possess wisdom, and be of good judgement; especially so with regard to subject matter often overlooked by others.
While it's easy to say that you can tell the difference, let's take a few examples to get an idea how easy or hard it really can be. First, speaking to someone directly, you have no point of reference unless you know the person well enough to spot the truth from the lies. One way to do that is by recognizing a direct contradiction:
If someone tells you that he always does something, and five minutes later he tells you that he never does that same thing, how do you discern the truth?
Well, both can't be true
This one is relatively straight forward. Both statements by this person cannot be true at the same time. Unless this person changed something big, one of the statements is a lie. For example, if he told you he washes his car every day and then five minutes later says he never washes his car, there is a way to see which is true. Even if you don't know them, you can watch the person or ask someone who knows them to see which one is true. The most important thing to be able to discern is that two opposing statements cannot be true at the same time. However, if you accept both statements as true, then you have a "lack of discernment".
What about those times when it is not so clear?
Someone tells you that she never eats chocolate, but while she is saying that, she bites into a Humphrey's candy bar. You ask her about it, and she relplies "This is carob, not chocolate."
Appearances can be deceiving
OK. Now you can see where what appears to be the case can lead to a mistaken impression on the part of the observer. Anyone observing this person taking a snack, by appearances alone, may easily conclude that she is eating chocolate. This happens a lot when referring to the Bible. The author of the Book or letter may be speaking of one thing, but the translation into English often is misunderstood by the modern reader. This causes a misunderstanding of the intent of the author, leading to the passing on of ideas that are not true. Example? Let's see if we can find one.
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul wrote of the methods by which he passed the Gospel of Christ to those he encountered. Verse 20 says:
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.
Clear enough, or...?
This verse is used by many Christians to "prove" that the law no longer applies to Gentiles. In fact, they claim that it never did. They show this by Paul's statement that they claim means that he is not under the law. OK, let's look at this with discernment. Is there anywhere in the Bible where Paul makes a claim that would make this statement an apparent contradiction? How about Acts 25:8:
Then Paul made his defense: "I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar."
He keeps the law, but he is not under it?
Interestingly, Paul makes it clear that he has never broken any law, whether God-based (temple), Jewish (ceremonial), or secular (Roman law). So, how can he claim to be "not under the law" if he is proud of never having broken any of them? If you read the two statements side by side, one "appears" to contradict the other.
In our previous example and discussion, two contradictory statements about the same issue means that one of them is a lie. Is that what we have here? Well, look at the next verse in 1 Cor 9:21:
To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law.
Here, we have a little difference in the phrase where it appears that Paul is contradicting himself in the very next verse. Did he mean in verse 20 that he faked being under the law, really being outside the law, therefore lying to convince the Jews of the truth? In verse 21 did he "become like one not having the law" by lying to them because he is really under the law? If that was the case, what did he mean by that statement about "not free from God's law"? This could be confusing if you try to follow by assuming an incorrect association with the word "law".
A little background
On another page of this site, I speak of the word "law", discussing how the word is used by most Christians to mean all law. If you say that we are no longer under the law of gravity, how would that sound to someone standing on the ground in front of you? If you say we are no longer under the "law of the land", how would that sound to a lawyer or a cop? However, if you just say we are "no longer under the law", Christians substitute their own meaning for the rest of the "law of" phrase. If we get to do that, we can pretty much choose what laws we want to follow and which we don't.
But, if you look closely, Paul is speaking of two different laws in the two passages. How can we tell? Well, to think that he means all laws causes some irreconcilable problems, so we need to see if we can find out what he is talking about.
Now, what could that mean to us modern day dummies? Well, in the days of Paul, there were God's laws and there were the "safety cushions" added by the Pharisees to build a hedge around the laws of God to keep people from breaking them "accidently". These are most often referred to as the "oral law", or better yet, "traditions", because they are not real laws but manmade rules. These are the "laws" that Jesus spoke about in Luke 11:46:
Jesus replied, "And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
and what the Jews referred to in Matt 12:2:
When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath."
These oral laws are not the "law of God", but enhancements made by the non-Messianic Jews of the day.
A little experiment
Now, this may be hard, but I think you can do it. Go back through the statements of Paul and substitute the words "under the oral law" every time he says "under the law". When he says "having the law", substitute "having the oral law". You can just use the phrases on this page, but it also works every time you see the phrase anywhere in the Bible. Go ahead, I'll wait.
Now, think of that context. It fits perfectly in this case, and every time Paul makes the statement in other places, it now fits with every other statement in the Bible with no contradictions. When you have no contradictions, everything you read can be the truth. Of course, some can even confuse the issue here, but Paul is probably someone we can trust.
Put your money where your mouth is...
So, the next time you hear that the Old Testament no longer applies to us, or that the laws apply to the Jews but not the Gentiles, ask "Which laws?". If you are told, "All of them.", ask if you can borrow his wallet. Their answer means that you can take a few dollars for yourself with no consequences - since the laws no longer apply to Gentiles. Unless, of course, he thinks that causes some sort of contradiction between his circumstances and his beliefs...
Taking the wrong fork in the path
If you understand the discernment discussion so far, you can see where one error in judgment can lead to a series of path changes and soon you are walking down the wrong path. Discarding the law, all law, may seem acceptable because your pastor has convinced the congregation that it is true. The trouble with this is that it still causes contradiction with the statements of Jesus and those of Paul when he taught through his letters. You know, silly things like Matt 5:17-18
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
and Romans 3:31
Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
If what your pastor tells you causes a conflict with the world of God, then either God is lying or your pastor is confused. Your pastor may not actually be trying to tell a lie, but his discernment is not assessing the truth well enough to prevent a contradiction between his words and the Bible. His error in judgment is sending believers on a false path. This is not an accusation, just a statement of fact.
"What do you mean, false path? Not my pastor..."
Don't just take this word for it. Try it when you read the Book. Ask your pastor about it. If he disagrees, please have him contact me and "straighten me out". I welcome the discussion.
From now on, when you see or hear something about the Bible that does not sync with everything else in the Book, don't just ignore it. If you can't figure it out, ask someone. If your pastor tries to pass it off, ask him to explain it in a way that does not cause a contradiction. A contradiction means at least one side is a lie, and the Bible doesn't lie. If he can't explain it, well...try using some discernment regarding your church.
Disagree? Find an error? Contact us at email@example.com and give us your view.