Reconciliation within PC(USA) could be well-served by a systematic approach to discerning what is the ‘Word of God’ vs. what are the ‘words of men’. (Refer to the 1967 Confession, I.C.2. The Bible):
“The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written. They reflect views of life, history, and the cosmos which were then current.”
The Bible is comprised of both the Word of God and the words of men. This is exemplified in Jeremiah 1:1-2a:
“The words of Jeremiah… to whom the word of the Lord came ….”
Letting Jesus be our teacher, here are 8 examples of what could be considered the “words of men” in their own time and culture, and not as immutable commands from God.
1. Dietary laws in Lev. 11, Deut. 14, contradicted by Jesus in Mark 7:18-20, et. al.
2. Divorce law in Deut. 24:1-4, versus Jesus in Mat. 5:31-32 & Mat. 19:3-9.
3. Work on the Sabbath in Exodus 20:10, Deut. 5:14 (“but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work.”) In Luke 6:1-11, Jesus works to gather grain on a Sabbath, and heals a man with a withered hand on another Sabbath.
In Numbers 15:32-36: The killing of a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath.
Verse 35: Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall surely be put to death….”
If that policy is the immutable Word of God, then when was the last time you murdered someone for working on the Sabbath?
4. Stoning the adulteress as per Lev. 20:10, overturned by God’s mercy in Jesus’ actions in John 8:3-11. “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
5. Eye for an eye retaliation law in Exo. 21:24-25, Lev. 17:20, Deut. 19:21, replaced by Jesus in Mat. 5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-37.
6. Worship in Jerusalem alone as the one acceptable place: Deut. 12:5, 1 Kgs 8:29,30, 1 Kgs. 11:36, 2 Chron. 6:6. This is contradicted by Jesus’ revolutionary statement to the Samaritan woman in John 4:21-24. By endorsing worship of the Father “in spirit and truth” outside of Jerusalem, Jesus is negating the Temple sacrifice regime in Torah.
7. The oppression of women is given in 1 Timothy 2:11-15:
“A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet….”
Modern experience with women in authoritative positions would make a 1st century apostle rewrite some letters. Jesus himself confronted the prejudice against women by example in the Gospel of John 4: 7 – 42. He spoke his message to a Samaritan woman who was looked down on by Jewish society. Jesus delivered to the woman his famous “living water” message, and told her of worshiping the Father in “spirit and truth”, and not in Jerusalem. He also revealed to her that He was the Messiah, the Christ. These were the most serious spiritual messages that Jesus entrusted to a foreign woman, scorned by men of that time.
She conveyed her experience with Jesus to the men of her village.
“From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman.” John 4:39.
8. Sheol the end point after death, in Gen. 37:35 and Num. 16:33. In the Old Testament, physical death resulted in the person becoming a barely-existing “shade” in Sheol, beneath the earth’s surface. In the O.T. after death, there is no eternal life in heaven, no fellowship with God, nor even the remembrance of God. (Ps. 6:5; 88:3-5; 115:17; Isaiah 38:18).
Jesus gives a completely different teaching, which is the ultimate refutation of death: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Most Christians accept Jesus as the authority in word and deed – “the Word of God incarnate” in the 1967 Confession; “the Word made flesh” in John 1:14. Then we may conclude that the 8 refuted Biblical examples (above) are not the immutable and perfect Word of God.
by Stephen E. Schlarb. All Bible quotes NASB.