does mt 4.4 teach perfect preservation?

This is in response to the ongoing conversation in reply to my last post. Kent has given his reasons for teaching that Matthew 4.4 teaches perfect preservation and continual availability of the word of God in every generation. My thesis is that the text teaches no such thing.

First let’s look at the text itself:

Matthew 4:4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

This is a quotation from Dt 8.3:

Deuteronomy 8:3 And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.

What is the point of the passage? It is possible for a NT quotation to be an application of an OT passage, not giving a new meaning exactly, but instead taking the general principle and applying it to a new situation. This doesn’t appear to be the case in this passage.

The situations are remarkably parallel. Consider:

  1. The Jews spent 40 years in the wilderness; Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness.
  2. The Jews were in the wilderness at the command of God; Jesus was in the wilderness having been driven there by the Spirit (Mk 1.12).
  3. The Jews suffered lack in the wilderness at the hand of God; Jesus suffered lack by the will of God.
  4. A major issue in the Jews relationship with God during this period was ‘where do we get food’; the issue with Jesus was ‘I am denying myself food’.

I think you will agree with me that the two passages are tightly connected by their contexts.

In the temptation, Satan takes it as a given that Jesus is the Son of God (‘If  you are the son’ – first class condition, assuming it to be a fact). The power of the temptation lies in Jesus’ hunger, just as it did with Israel in the wilderness.

In the wilderness, the men and women and their little children soon forgot the mighty power of God that delivered them from Egypt and began to complain against God – ‘why have you led us out here? there’s no food, no water, we’ll die!’ – they were accusing the good God of being something other than good. Their hunger, and especially, I think, the hunger of their little ones enraged them with fear against God.

In the case of Jesus, his hunger is used similarly to tempt him to act independently of God, to in effect say that God is not good or worth following. ‘Since you are God,’ the tempter says, ‘what’s with all this waiting around? You can feed yourself. You don’t need to wait on anyone. The Father isn’t doing anything about it, but you can … and you deserve it.’ (The temptation, by the way, is a powerful argument for the real humanity of Christ. If he were not human, the temptation would have no power – you try fasting for more than one day, see how you like it!)

Tom Constable says on this temptation: “God had intended Israel’s hunger in the wilderness to teach her that hearing and obeying God’s Word is the most important thing in life (Deut. 8:2–3). Israel demanded bread in the wilderness but died. Jesus forewent bread in submission to His Father’s will and lived.”1

This gets us to the heart of Jesus’ reply. The point is that men must learn to depend in faith on what God says – everything God says, whether it makes sense or not.

From the human standpoint, does it make sense to go out into the wilderness on a 40 day fast? This is especially senseless when one lives in a civilized (relatively) area where plenty of food is available and no crisis demands such rigour.

Adam was unable to withstand temptation for more than a few minutes, it seems. Israel succumbed within the first few days of their journeyings (after what food they brought with them ran out). Jesus fasted forty days. And refused the tempter – he lived by the Word of God that sent him to the wilderness.

Now, Kent and others are arguing, Jesus is referring to every individual word (at least, that portion that had as yet been given). From this assertion, that Jesus is referring to every one of the words from Genesis to Malachi, Kent reasons that for them to live by every word of God, they would have to have those words available. Hence, he says, this assertion implies that God will always make his word available to his people.

A couple of things need to be said here:

  1. Kent is using reason to argue a system here. The passage in no way says that God will make every word always available to men. This is a reasoned position, reasoned by man, not revealed by God.
  2. The word that the Israelites were told to live by had not been written at the time. It was available only orally, not in any written form. When it became available in written form, how many copies were available to the average Israelite? Probably only one copy during the entire 40 years in the wilderness, kept by the priests in the Tabernacle. The Deuteronomy passage itself was not written until Moses spoke it, at the end of the 40 years.

So let’s consider the Word that the Israelites had to learn to live by in the wilderness. What was it? I think we can paraphrase it this way: “Follow Moses out of Egypt and go take the land I promised your fathers.”

What word was Jesus living by in the wilderness of temptation? This word: “Go out into the wilderness until such time as I call thee.” The Spirit drove him out into the wilderness, remember. Do you think Jesus went out there with a backpack full of scrolls? Do you think he’s thinking, “Man, the Spirit wants me out in the wilderness, I better pack Genesis to Malachi so I won’t die out there. Now where did I put Obadiah?” (I speak as a fool!)

No, Jesus knows he is in the wilderness by the Word of God. He knows he will not stay in the wilderness because he has his Father’s business to do, also something he knows by the Word of God. He has learned to obey the word, and will not be turned aside from it.

I suppose Kent may argue, “but the text says every word”. Yes it does. But that is a command for us to hear and heed. It is not a promise to us that God is going to always make every individual word available to us. Jesus didn’t have every individual written Word available to him in the wilderness. But he was there by the Word, under the Word, committed to the Word and completely dependent on the Word.

May we all have such a trust in God’s Word that we never give in to any temptation to doubt what God says to us.

don_sig2

Notes:

  1. Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Mt 4:3 (Galaxie Software, 2003; 2003). []

Comments

  1. While it is true that we should “order our lives” by the Word of God, we should not understand the term, “live,” in that sense here in Matthew 4:4. In this context, I consider it is better to think of it as the “maintenance of physical life.” We don’t live solely through the nourishment and sustenance obtained from food; rather, we depend upon the actual commands from God that cause the bread to nourish us and allow us to obtain bread in the first place. Broadus concurs when he says, “the support of life is not absolutely dependent on ordinary food, but it may be sustained on whatever God shall choose to say, to appoint.” (Broadus, Matthew, p. 64). Dr. Krummacher in his sermon on the Temptation of Christ puts it this way:

    Since then, the nutritive power lies not in the bread, but in the will and Word of God alone, it will readily be seen how with five loaves and two fishes, He could perfectly satisfy five thousand men; how by means of a single barley cake He could sustain Elijah forty days and forty nights; yea, how He satisfies and preserves many a poor family now, who, besides a morsel of dry bread in the morning and in the evening, scarcely see any other food during the day. The Lord needs no bread at all for our sustenance, if He does not will it. His bare words, “let him live,” is enough – and we live. Without bread, Moses was maintained at Sinai – Jesus in the wilderness – and many more. He needs but to speak, and the very air we breathe turns to milk and wine, and we eat the costliest dainties – we imbibe pure vigor and strength without opening our lips, without sitting at table, without reaching out our hand. This is what is meant by “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (Krummacher, “The Temptation of Christ” in A Glimpse of the Kingdom of Grace, p. 22).

    While the phrase, “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” does not refer primarily to Scripture, I do believe that this passage can be applied in principle to Scripture since the Word does give spiritual nourishment to our souls and it does proceed out of the mouth of God. (Contra Broadus, who “admits to no such application…” p. 64). Every word of Scripture is profitable for our spiritual growth and sustains up spiritually. Additionally, we should obey God, even when it doesn’t make sense from a human perspective, because we can trust God to provide for all our needs. It is His Word that has sustained us so far and it is His Word that will continue to keep us. It is His sovereign word as spoken by the Lord of hosts that keeps this universe intact (“he upholds all things by the word of his power” Heb 1:3) and provides for our daily needs.

  2. Again, good comments, Don. Christ’s “every word” reply would lose effect if we were to insist that Christ was giving general doctrine rather than specific counter to Satan’s temptation. The “every word” must be taken in the sense that each specific word by which the follower of God lives in a specific aspect of life for God is sufficient. God wanted Christ there; Christ recognized that; and therefore, knowing that every word of God is sufficient, Christ obeyed the Father’s will with regard to this specific word.
    Christ was not simply providing some pious statement like, “I don’t really need food. I can meditate on all the word of God instead.” This loses the point that Christ was trusting God’s word for him at that point in time for that specific purpose. So, the “every word” meant “since all God’s words are trustworthy, this specific word to me now is that in which I will trust.” You’re right, Don, this is no statement on the availability of…Obadiah.

  3. Paul S Ferguson says:

    Interesting exegesis but surely does not stand up to the purpose expressed in Scripture for Scripture. Dan’s comment is typical when he says, “The “every word” must be taken in the sense that each specific word by which the follower of God lives in a specific aspect of life for God is sufficient.” I actually agree but for very different reasons. We are told in II Tim 3:16-17 that all of Scripture is inspired (and I assume here that we all believe this is every word) and is profitable for us in every specific aspect of a believer’s life. We are also told in v17 that all of Scripture is necessary for making a man “perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. ” This can only mean that every word of Obadiah is not superfluous but absolutely essential. If it is essential, required to live by, will judge us then it follows that it must be available and oefectky preserved.

    Returning to Don’s exegesis of Matt 4:4. Tom Constable’s claim that “God had intended Israel’s hunger in the wilderness to teach her that hearing and obeying God’s Word is the most important thing in life” is not fully accurate as the passage states it is “every word” not just the generic “message” or “truth” which Constable and all of you here are seemingly arguing for in respect of availability. Indeed, there are no such things as wordless concepts and repeatedly we are warned against adding or taking away from the Words (not concepts or ideas) of the Bible (e.g. Deut 4:2; Prov. 30:5-6; Rev. 22:18-19). In discussions such as this, I always remind myself that it was actually the HOLY SPIRIT who inspired every Word of Scripture and indeed the specific grammatical sense of every Hebrew/Greek word. I also presuppose that He knew what He was doing better than me, has no intention to be ambiguous, and knew the difference between saying “every word” and “the message” or the “concepts” of the Bible. So when I read “every Word” is needed for me to live by and Paul repeats this in II Tim 3:16-17 I see no need to force the text to fit the views of modern textual criticism. I just take it at face value especially as this fits with the general purpose of Scripture both within the direct context of Matt 4:4 and Deut 8 as well as the rest of Scripture.

    I am also not sure that you have all thought through the implications of your alternative solution. In effect you are saying that God did NOT promise the availability or all of His Words, is indifferent to it, and has no purpose in preserving and making available all of these Words for almost the whole of the Church Age. One wonders why God would have even bothered inspiring all of these Words if frankly they were superfluous and unnecessary for the Church. This uncertain “certainty” position of yours is in marked contrast to the whole tenor of both Old and New Testaments. For instance, the Lord spoke through Solomon about the inspired words, “Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, That I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth; that thou mightest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee?” (Prov. 22:20-21). Luke penned a two volume, fifty-two chapter history of the life of Christ and the first thirty years of the church, which had more words than all of Paul’s epistles, and he expressly stated it was for the purpose, “That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed” (Luke 1:4).

  4. Don,

    Where you flop in this is, first, by not looking at all of Deuteronomy, which is laid out like an ancient suzerain treaty with God the suzerain and Israel the vassal. The words are the terms of surrender to Israel. She must obey every Word to live. Second, you don’t look back at v. 1 of Daniel 8 to get your understanding of “live,” the near context. You just ignore it. Both of them are the Hebrew khawyaw, same Hebrew word. That ought to be important to you, especially in light of the connection between obedience to commandments and the living by every Word. Third, really in line with your ignorance, purposeful or otherwise, of the whole book of Deuteronomy, you miss the fact that it was more than just the command to leave Egypt and go to the land at that point. It was everything that God has said to them in Deuteronomy 5 and beyond. Ignoring that in order to keep alive your no-availability teaching is curious at the least. Jesus had a broader teaching than just what the Father’s will for Him was. It refers to every Word that the Father gave. Fourth, you and everyone else essentially didn’t argue with what I wrote but with a strawman. I have to leave here in two minutes so I can’t elaborate too much.

    This is an example with Dan. S: “Christ was not simply providing some pious statement like, “I don’t really need food. I can meditate on all the word of God instead.” This loses the point that Christ was trusting God’s word for him at that point in time for that specific purpose.”

    First, what is wrong with a pious statement? And that is besides the point. I didn’t say anything about Jesus not needing food. Where do you get that from what I wrote? No one said that Jesus said He could meditate on the Word of God instead of eating. And this is typical of the argue against strawman. No one said it, but he argues against it as if it was said. You do this repeatedly, Don.

    I’ll be back.

  5. Should have Deuteronomy 8, not Daniel 8 in the last comment. I just got back from where I left to 1 1/2 hours ago. And I’m ready to briefly break down the post. First, yes, as far as Israel and Jesus were concerned, they both had parallels in the hunger category, they and He in different wildernesses—and I said that in the comment to which this comment is responding. Second, Tom Constable’s comment goes right with what I explained. Third, as I reread it very closely, I see that Don and I don’t disagree with anything until we get to his: “A couple of things need to be said here.” In the following two enumerated points, it seems Don has a problem with the understanding of “every Word.” I think it would be appropriate to ask you a couple questions Don. You say that I come to my application through human reasoning. What I recognize is that God’s people are responsible for every Word that God expected them to obey. Which words would they be expected to obey, Don? I do want you to think through and answer that question. Obviously you can do whatever you want, but if we’re going to debate this, we both should be able to expect each other to answer some questions. Did God desire them to obey all His Words or some of them? Were they responsible for all of them or some of them? Could they get away with not keeping some of them? For instance, when Moses struck the rock rather than speaking to the rock, what about that? That came down to one or two particular Words, that if left out, would have changed Moses’ life. It seems he could have lived a little longer if He had lived by those few Words. What Words does God expect His people to obey? What Words do we know about, Don? Are they oral Words that God expects us to obey, that are sufficient to perfect us unto every good work? Are they the Words that Jesus said between the age of 12 and 30 that He spoke to His parents when He grew up in Galilee? He is God and they proceeded out of His mouth. Are those the Words we’re to live by? What Words are the Words we live by?

    After you give that little indented, enumerated section, then you say that they were living by a paraphrase. If you read Deuteronomy, you don’t get the sense at all that God had the one big goal—go conquer the land—and that was it. It doesn’t read anything like that. Start reading in Deut 1 all the way up to 8. You get this:

    Deuteronomy 4:2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

    Deuteronomy 4:40 Thou shalt keep therefore his statutes, and his commandments, which I command thee this day, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days upon the earth, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, for ever.

    Deuteronomy 5:10 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.

    Deuteronomy 5:29 O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!

    Deuteronomy 6:1-2 Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to possess it: That thou mightest fear the LORD thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged.

    Deuteronomy 6:25 And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the LORD our God, as he hath commanded us.

    Deuteronomy 7:9 Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;

    You will find the same kind of teaching afterwords. If the vassal would obey the Words of the suzerain, he would live. Those were the terms of surrender. That is reiterated at the end of the book in Deut 30 and following as far as blessing and cursing.

    As far as speaking as a fool, I’m not going to answer that question. Jesus didn’t have scrolls, so we’re not talking about the Words God expects us to keep. When Jesus quoted Scripture, He was talking about the Words that we are expected to keep. The assumption is that we are to have every Word. You reject that.

    I’d ask Dan S. and Don. What Words of God do we not have to live by? Which ones? Dan S. says that the quote didn’t have to do with Obadiah. That is the kind of dealing with a text that says that only the blood of Paul’s potential evangelism audience would be on his hands—not on any one elses. When Jesus said, “Follow me,” He only meant those twelve, not everyone else. And if I think that He meant anyone else, then I am using my “reasoning.” Uh-uh. Nope.

    Well, let’s move to the next text. I think you’re wrong.

    • Dear all,

      These replies illustrate why I usually don’t get into these debates. It is absolutely fruitless! And since it is fruitless, it generally only serves to produce frustration and tempts us to sin with our lips. Witness my term ‘baloney’ and others. I am going to try to keep this as dispassionate and non-sarcastic as possible! (Ps 133.1-3)

      Another reason that I don’t like to get into this kind of debate is that there is just too much to deal with in these posts. Listen, guys, if you want to have a discussion, please don’t give us all five or six or seven paragraphs of your reasoning. Blogs bog down this way. You also have the tendency to assume or read into what I or someone else has said, then you argue against your assumption or your perception of the other person’s responses to your argument. This leads to thread drift and increases the frustration factor.

      For that reason, I’ll not answer everything that has been said here, but will make a few points to Paul and Kent. Paul first:

      Paul S Ferguson on 04.04.09 at 7:46 am

      the passage states it is “every word” not just the generic “message” or “truth” which Constable and all of you here are seemingly arguing for in respect of availability.

      Constable isn’t arguing in respect of availability. It isn’t even on his radar screen at all. He is commenting on the meaning of the passage in question. I use his comment to more efficiently sum up my perception of the passage (I also tend to be verbose!).

      In discussions such as this, I always remind myself that it was actually the HOLY SPIRIT who inspired every Word of Scripture and indeed the specific grammatical sense of every Hebrew/Greek word. I also presuppose that He knew what He was doing better than me, has no intention to be ambiguous, and knew the difference between saying “every word” and “the message” or the “concepts” of the Bible.

      If the Holy Spirit had no attention to be ambiguous, why are some passages ambiguous? Why did Jesus teach in parables? Is God obligated to make his word clear or available to men?

      With respect to this specific passage, does the term ‘every word’ mean the same thing at all times and in all places? Language doesn’t work that woodenly. I am dealing with a passage in Romans for tomorrow where Paul uses the same word (‘law’) in the same verse and means two distinctly different things (Rm 3.21). So to understand Mt 4.4, we have to think about what God meant in Dt 8.3 and in the temptation.

      I am also not sure that you have all thought through the implications of your alternative solution. In effect you are saying that God did NOT promise the availability or all of His Words, is indifferent to it, and has no purpose in preserving and making available all of these Words for almost the whole of the Church Age.

      I think you just changed something here. Are you saying now that God only promised availability for only part of the Church Age? Which part did he not promise it for? Do we have a text that tells us when the promise is good for or when it isn’t?

      What I am saying is that God is not under any obligation to make his word available to anyone, but God still judges men by the law, even by law they didn’t know, see Rm 3.19 among others. What I am looking for from you is a specific piece of revelation where God makes any promise of availability to anyone in the Church Age or any age. I don’t see it in the text, but in your reasoning (which I think is faulty).

      ~~~

      Now for Kent:

      Kent on 04.04.09 at 9:26 am
      first, by not looking at all of Deuteronomy, which is laid out like an ancient suzerain treaty with God the suzerain and Israel the vassal. The words are the terms of surrender to Israel. She must obey every Word to live.

      Kent, I realize that many conservative commentaries suggest that Dt is in the form of a suzerainty treaty. Do you know where that idea came from? (Hint: possibly modernistic liberal scholars) Is that really where you want to go in forming your understanding of Dt?

      What is clear is that Dt is a Bible Conference. It is made up of four farewell sermons preached by Moses as he was about to depart this earth.

      Having said that, I agree that Israel has to obey every word of Dt to live. But you have to note that in Dt 8.3 God through Moses is referring specifically to Israel’s hunger in the wilderness. God is saying to Israel, the purpose of your hunger in the wilderness was to teach you to live by every Word God says. Let’s think about it step by step:

      1. Israel hungered in the wilderness (pre-Deuteronomy) and complained (even though God had said “Go” and had delivered them by a mighty hand.
      2. God allowed them to hunger (‘suffered them’) (pre-Deuteronomy) for the purpose of teaching the lesson that they had to trust what God said.
      3. God gave them manna (pre-Deuteronomy) for the purpose of teaching the lesson that they had to trust what God said.
      4. God did all this pre-Deuteronomy to teach them the lesson that they needed to live by every word God said, pre-Deuteronomy AND NOW post-Deuteronomy. Now he was giving them more words to live by.

      Having said all that, it is clear that God expects them to obey every Word Moses was speaking in Deuteronomy also. But is that a promise of availability to all of the people of God (Israel) at all times? Does that mean that every Israelite would have the Pentateuch available and accessible? How is it that they would have such access?

      Fourth, you and everyone else essentially didn’t argue with what I wrote but with a strawman.

      Perhaps, I wasn’t really trying to argue with what you wrote. I was trying to give my understanding of Mt 4.4 and trying to see how it possibly can be a promise that God promises that every word will generally be available to his people at all times.

      I think it would be appropriate to ask you a couple questions Don. You say that I come to my application through human reasoning.

      That’s true, if you have arrived it at some other way, please enlighten me. I see you reasoning from the meaning of the text to infer that since God commands his people to live by every Word, therefore every Word must always be available.
      Am I reading you correctly?

      After you give that little indented, enumerated section, then you say that they were living by a paraphrase.

      Here you need to read me a little more carefully. I didn’t say they were living by a paraphrase, I said I was offering a paraphrase. Should I have quoted the whole Pentateuch?

      As far as speaking as a fool, I’m not going to answer that question. Jesus didn’t have scrolls, so we’re not talking about the Words God expects us to keep.

      This is an example of what I said earlier about sinning with our lips. I was being a smart-aleck. It was just rhetorical flourish that I thought quite funny at the time. It probably is still funny, but possibly not spiritual.

      Well, let’s move to the next text. I think you’re wrong.

      No, no, let’s not move on to the next text. I am not going to go wandering all over the Bible on this question. I don’t think things are settled concerning this passage at all. Please show me how this text promises perpetual availability of all the words of Scripture. That is what I am asking. You cite it like a proof text in a statement of faith, it is a passage you bring up all the time. So let’s just stick with this text until we can agree on what it means.

      I am not interested in a protracted argument passage by passage through the Bible. If we are going to continue the discussion, let’s deal with this one passage until we thoroughly understand it.

      Or not. We can just drop it, but that would be up to you.

      And one more thing, though this reply has been very long, let’s try to work our way through simply, point by point, question by question. You don’t have to answer everything I said here. Just deal with one aspect of Mt 4.4 and let’s work our way from there. Otherwise this thread will become next to useless.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

      P.S. I want to add that I actually believe the totality of the Words God inspired as Scripture were generally available through all generations. What I don’t believe is that the passages cited by Kent et al make those promises. And I don’t believe that the Scriptures were available to everyone who wanted them at all times, but that doesn’t mean God wasn’t preserving them or that they were completely unavailable.

  6. Christian Markle says:

    Is anyone willing to interact with Brother Efting’s comments (the first to comment). I personally think that “every word” is broader than the scope of direct revelation (the scriptures). I have attempted to explain in more detail in the thread previous to this one (found here). I believe that the view that Brother Efting is suggesting is more consistent with Deuteronomy 8:3.

  7. Christian,

    I’ve already argued against the Efting/Broadus/Krummacher position. What you and he are saying is that the words “You live,” sort of like Jesus’ words to Lazarus in the tomb, are the words we live by. “Not only do we live by bread, but we also live because God says to live,” is how I am understanding you and him. That doesn’t fit into the context here. And I don’t understand why anyone would say “every” word to communicate that understanding, despite the fact that we are tuned into the meaning in 8:1 as I’ve said several times. God wanted them to be serious about everything that He told them to do, instead of obsessing on their meals.