Rational or Spiritual Creatures?

We must believe that the Bible was addressed to rational creatures, and designed by God to be understood for their profit. When we open the Bible under the impression that it is a book of mysteries, understood only by a few learned ministers, we are at once discouraged from reading and investigating its contents. But believing it was written for our learning and profit, and therefore addressed to our understanding, we are encouraged to read and diligently search its sacred pages. – Barton Stone

I think Stone may have more closely approximated the truth if he had begun this thought with “We must believe that the Bible was addressed to spiritual creatures, and designed by God to be understood for their profit.” The text of Scripture gives no indication that its contents are primarily rational, not in the way that Stone indicates, and it certainly gives just the opposite impression of divine truth. In 1 Corinthians 2:13:16, Paul writes:

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Paul explicitly denies that human wisdom can grasp the truth about God. He contrasts human discernment with a “spiritual discernment” that is rooted in our redeemed, indwelled state. Spiritual truth is expressed in spiritual words, words that presumably do not accord with human modes of thinking. For this reason the unspiritual man is incapable of accepting or even adequately grasping truth about God. It is, to him, foolishness.

Paul explains, so far as I can tell, that this is because of the radical otherness of God. Who can know the mind of God from which spiritual truth flows? It seems self-evident to Paul that humanity is incapable of knowing God apart from His spiritually discerned truths. Normal human methods, what he terms “human wisdom” earlier in the chapter and what Stone would call rationality, are inadequate because God ineffably transcends our standard modes of thinking. Only through the transformative work of the Spirit, conforming our minds to “the mind of Christ” can we begin to grasp God. Only when we teach ourselves to “think” as God “thinks” is truth made known.

It is amusing to me that if the first sentence of Stone’s quote is corrected in the way I suggested, the remainder of the quote seems to follow Paul’s thinking quite nicely. It becomes a critique of hyper-rationalism and the belief that the truth of the Bible rests in the hands of an intellectual elite rather than, as I think Paul would assert, in the hands of a spiritual elite. Read it again:

We must believe that the Bible was addressed to spiritual creatures, and designed by God to be understood for their profit. When we open the Bible under the impression that it is a book of mysteries, understood only by a few learned ministers, we are at once discouraged from reading and investigating its contents. But believing it was written for our learning and profit, and therefore addressed to our understanding, we are encouraged to read and diligently search its sacred pages. – Barton Stone, with revisions

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