Pelham Road Baptist Church | Greenville, SC

Mark Twain and Scripture

I have read the Scripture for most of my life. Some of it I remember. Of course, the point of reading scripture is not to memorize it (although that is impressive) or even to be able to use it to answer the question at Thursday Night  Trivia (although that is impressive). The point of reading scripture is to be able to practice it with some regularity.

Scripture, Christian or any other sacred scripture, is Holy because the words have been found to be true, full of timeless wisdom. I am in no position to review other faiths scripture. I am sure I have not read and studied enough of other faiths Holy writings. Sometimes I even wonder if I should comment on the Christian scripture.

When something is true, at least in my experience, it has a way of shaping me or even others. Of course, facts, are a bit weaker than truth. Facts can be manipulated or put into a graph. I remember Mark Twain once wrote, “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.” If this quote is wrong Mark Twain would be the first to defend me.

While I’m misquoting people it was either Dr. Seuss, Robert Fulghum, or Aerosmith who said “I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.” Here’s a good example of what I’m talking about. I may have the fact wrong, I may not know who said it, but is what said the truth. Is imagination, myth, dreams, laughter, and love as the author (whoever it may be) writes more powerful than their adversaries? You or I or anyone could get caught up in trying to determine if this is factually  accurate (academic papers demand footnotes which prove that fact of who wrote and when, there is no note to explain whether what is written is actually true or just more ink spilled on paper).

Nietzsche wrote, “There are no facts, only interpretations.” If you read the news, listen to sermons, or watch Verizon commercials you know he’s telling the truth, not a fact. With this in mind, the value of truth is on the rise because facts are too weak of a foundation to build on.

Which brings me back to the scripture. When I read some scripture I’m going to tell you the unvarnished truth (why do we never say fact?) it feels like milk or eggs, the expiration date has come and gone. Facts evolve, the truth, however, does not. Let me give you an example—-

I don’t allow a wife (woman) to teach or to control her husband (man). Instead, she should be a quiet listener (1 Timothy 2:12).

In all the scripture I have memorized over the years I have never been asked to memorize this one. Most of my teachers have been women, maybe they did not want to waste my time with such. The irony here is most of my teachers have been women—-who were most definitely not listening but speaking.

Someone will defend the scripture and say in the first century there was a good reason for this command. Others will say this is Paul’s advice to a young Timothy who was moving into a community, Paul knew well. Even if you concede both of these points—the actual passage seems to have a limited shelf life. Would you include something with an expiration date in such an eternal document?  Thus here is a good example of something that was a fact but it is not the truth. If the word is cannot be included in the sentence it is not the truth. The truth is, facts come and go and can be in the past tense (not always present tense).

This has adjusted the way I read scripture. Hopefully, it has also improved the way I practice it. If you are concerned about facts then the Bible will keep you up at night. Did David kill Goliath (1 Sam. 17) or did Elhanan (2 Sam. 21). People can explain this contradiction so that the facts are defended, but the defense sounds like a fast talking Politician.  When we read scripture for the truth and not facts, such a contradiction hardly registers on the Richter scale. Further, since I am less bothered by the contradictions I think more soberly about the truth I need to practice.

So in scripture we have timeless truth written beside facts which have passed their expiration date, but how do you tell the difference?

Your mom tells your dad, and you hear her tell him, “Before you come home from work pick up some nuts at the grocery store.”

After he dies your mother tells you, “When you were 3 and your brother was 5 your dad lost his job.  In a desperate act, he drove three hours to a new town and took a job as a service manager at the Chevy dealership. For six months he slept in his office, showered at the YMCA, (to keep expenses low). Each weekend he came home and worked on friends cars from Sunup to Sundown. All to piece together a living, keep a roof over our heads, and allow me to stay home with two young children.”

Now you tell me, which of these two stories sounds like it needs to be remembered and passed on to the grandchildren? Which is the truth about your dad?

How do you tell the difference between eternal truth and something else—listen.

I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; 9also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, 10but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. 11Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 12I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor (I Timothy 2:8-14).

Now listen to this.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10   Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11   Give us this day our daily bread. 
12   And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13   And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
14For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:9-14).

Which one do you think the grandchildren need to hold on to?