There is ample evidence that the writings that are included in the Bible are there as a result of God’s inspiration of the writers. [For a comprehensive discussion in this regard, click on “Is the Bible Reliable?”] But, are all the beliefs that are expressed by the people mentioned in these writings correct? If not, how can we determine which beliefs that are expressed in the Bible are correct? We will consider several incidents in our endeavor to answer these questions.
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible, unless we indicate otherwise.]
Leah’s Conclusion that God Rewarded Her for Giving Her Maidservant to Jacob
Genesis 30:14-18 states,
Now Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” And Rachel said, “Therefore he will lie with you tonight for your son’s mandrakes.” When Jacob came out of the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” And he lay with her that night. And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. Then Leah said, “God has given me my wages, because I have given my maid to my husband.” So she called his name Issachar. [Note: The NIV Bible uses the wording “rewarded me,” rather than “given me my wages.”]
Of all the Bible commentaries that we consulted, only the two that follow address the validity of Leah’s assertion, and both indicate that they disagree with her conclusion.
John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible declares,
Of the mandrakes with which she had hired of Rachel a night’s lodging with Jacob, and for which she had a sufficient recompense, by the son that God had given her: and she added another reason, and a very preposterous one, and shows she put a wrong construction on the blessing she received: which, she judged, was so well pleasing to God, that he had rewarded her with another son.
Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible asserts,
Leah was now blessed with two [additional] sons, the first she called Issachar . . ., reckoning herself well repaid for her mandrakes [that Leah gave to Rachel, Jacob’s other wife, so that she (i.e., Leah) could sleep with Jacob that night], nay (which is a strange construction of the providence) rewarded for giving her maid to her husband.
So, was Leah correct in stating that God had rewarded her for giving her maidservant to Jacob to bear him additional children?
We do not think there is a satisfactory reason to believe that God would reward Leah for what the scripture passage says she did, which apparently was done for a selfish motive (i.e., to improve her own status within Jacob’s family), rather than as an act of self-denial. Regardless, the Bible does not indicate whether or not Leah’s conclusion was correct.
Elisha’s Belief that the Number of Times King Jehoash Struck the Ground with Arrows Would Determine How Many Times Jehoash Would Defeat the Syrians
2 Kings 13:14-19 says,
Elisha had become sick with the illness of which he would die. Then Joash the king of Israel came down to him, and wept over his face, and said, “O my father, my father, the chariots of Israel and their horsemen!” And Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and some arrows.” So he took himself a bow and some arrows. Then he said to the king of Israel, “Put your hand on the bow.” So he put his hand on it, and Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands. And he said, “Open the east window”; and he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot”; and he shot. And he said, “The arrow of the Lord’s deliverance and the arrow of deliverance from Syria; for you must strike the Syrians at Aphek till you have destroyed them.” Then he said, “Take the arrows”; so he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground”; so he struck three times, and stopped. And the man of God was angry with him, and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck Syria till you had destroyed it! But now you will strike Syria only three times.”
Matthew Poole’s English Annotations on the Holy Bible was the only Bible commentary that we consulted that offers a reason as to why Elisha believed that the number of times that King Jehoash struck the ground with arrows would determine the number of times that he would subsequently defeat the Syrians in battle. Poole asserts,
The prophet himself did not yet know how many victories Jehoash should obtain against the Syrians, but God had signified to him that he should learn that by the number of the king’s strokes. And he was angry with him, not simply because he smote only thrice, but because by his unbelief and idolatry he provoked God so to overrule his heart and hand that he should smite but thrice, which was a token that God would assist him no further; although his smiting but thrice might proceed either from his unbelief or negligence. For by the former sign, and the prophet’s comment upon it, he might clearly perceive that this also was intended as a sign of his success against the Syrians, and therefore he ought to have done it frequently and vehemently.
The foregoing discussion begs the question: Was Elisha, a prophet of God, correct in declaring that the number of times King Jehoash struck the ground with arrows indicated how many times Jehoash would subsequently defeat the Syrians?
Elisha’s belief may seem to have been strange, but he was a prophet of God and, therefore, it is not unreasonable to assume that he had received foresight from God about this matter. Furthermore, verse 25 in the same chapter substantiates Elisha’s belief in regard to this matter (i.e., King Jehoash subsequently defeated the Syrians three times). Nevertheless, it is difficult to understand why God relied on such a seemingly superficial method to determine how many times Israel, under the rule of King Jehoash, would defeat one of its enemies. Certainly, God does not need to rely on the faulty abilities of flawed humans to accomplish favorable outcomes for His people.
Nathan’s Belief that David Should Build a Temple for God, If David Wanted to Do So
1 Chronicles 17:1-4 declares,
Now it came to pass, when David was dwelling in his house, that David said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the Lord is under tent curtains.” Then Nathan said to David, “Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you.” But it happened that night that the word of God came to Nathan, saying, “Go and tell My servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: “You shall not build Me a house to dwell in.
In this scripture passage, God made it clear that the prophet Nathan was not correct when he previously told King David to go ahead and build a temple in which to worship God, if that is what David wanted to do. As a result, Nathan’s prior advice to David needed to be corrected, and Nathan subsequently did so.
The incident involving Nathan indicates that God intervened when it was necessary to rectify an incorrect belief that was expressed by a person who had received a special “calling” by Him (e.g., a prophet, an apostle, etc.). In contrast with the incident involving Nathan, God did not find it necessary to correct the Apostle Paul after he expressed certain personal beliefs that we discuss in our article entitled “Do Some of Paul’s Writings Express Just His Personal Opinions?” Therefore, these opinions of Paul should be regarded as valid doctrine. With regard to people like Leah, who did not receive a special calling by God, we do not think there is adequate reason to believe that the beliefs they express are valid just because they are stated in the Bible.
Therefore, we conclude that it is appropriate to presume that the beliefs expressed in the Bible by people who had received a special calling by God are generally valid, even if there is no specific indication in the Bible that those beliefs resulted from God’s revelation to them. (Any exception is made evident if the Bible subsequently reveals that the belief is incorrect, as in the case of the incident involving Nathan.) Conversely, beliefs expressed in the Bible by people who had not received a special calling by God should not be regarded as valid doctrine unless the Bible clearly validates those beliefs.