The Sin and Danger of Presumption
What do we mean by the words, presumption and presumptuous? They are closely related to the words, assume and assumption. Both have the connotation of taking something for granted without sufficient evidence or concluding in advance of the facts. Consequently, both words may suggest an attitude of arrogance, as noted in the following English definitions:
presumption - when you believe that something is true without having any proof (Cambridge Dictionaries Online)presumptuous - A person who is presumptuous shows little respect for others by doing things they have no right to do (Cambridge Dictionaries Online)presumption - 1. the act of presuming; specif., a. an overstepping of proper bounds; forwardness; effrontery b. the taking of something for granted (Webster's New World College Dictionary)
This idea is found in several Bible passages and is most closely associated with arrogance and pride. The following Hebrew and Greek words are translated as presume, presumptuous, or similar in the NKJ version:
apal - II, presume. (So ASV, RSV; NASB, "to be heedless.") - This root, to which we may compare Arabic gafala "to be heedless, neglectful, inadvertent, " is found in only one OT passage, Num 14:44 (Hiphil), of Israel's rash and reckless attack on the Amalekites and Canaanites, following her lack of faith and great rebellion. There are some authorities who suggest that the Pual of apal in Hab 2:4 may be from the same root, "to presume, be proud" (e.g. Lisowsky; see root I, above). (Theological Wordbook of the OT, Harris, et als, #1663)ruwm - be high, exalted, rise ... 2. be raised, uplifted: a. of highway Is 49:11 (made high, put in order); voice, Dt 27:14 (pt. = adj.) uplifted. b. fig.: of hand, symbol of might, Dt 32:27, Mi 5:8; of Isr. in Exodus Ex 14:8, Nu 33:3 (both P); of hand Is 26:11, Psalm 89:14; fig. of presumption Nu 15:30 (P); ... (Hebrew and English Lexicon (Unabridged), Brown, Driver, Briggs, #8961, p. 926)zuwd, or by permutation, ziyd - vb. boil up, seethe, act proudly, presumptuously, rebelliously ... (Hebrew and English Lexicon (Unabridged), Brown, Driver, Briggs, #2596, p. 267)zadown - 1) pride, insolence, presumptuousness, arrogance (Strongs #2087)zed presumptuous sins Deal. (AVRV). (Hebrew and English Lexicon (Unabridged), Brown, Driver, Briggs, #2597, p. 267)mala' - 5. var.: ... inf., pick up the courage to Ec 8:11, Est 7:5 (Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the OT, Holladay, #4624)tolmetes - bold or daring person; in the NT only in a bad sense arrogant or presumptuous person (2P 2.10) (Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Friberg, Friberg, and Miller, Baker Books, 2000, #26887)
Given the great gulf separating God and man in realms of knowledge, wisdom, foresight, purity, holiness, and virtue, how could a true believer possibly presume to overlook, adjust, alter, or ignore God's Word? What kind of attitude is required to walk in some other way than the path that God in His infinite wisdom has directed and illuminated?
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9 NKJ)
Answering The Rationale of Presumption
Amazingly, man frequently presumes to act, teach, and promote beyond what the Lord has written. We frequently see the following rationale offered to justify man's action, soothe his own conscience, and silence the inner plea to submit to God's Word:
- God is our Heavenly Father. He loves me! Does He not want me to be happy? I know my Father wants me to have this, because it will make me happy!
- God may have been strict in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament we are under a system of grace. Therefore, we are not in bondage to worry about keeping every law perfectly. We do not have to worry about tedious, detailed observances of any kind.
- Do you really think God would send me to hell just for doing this? Will God really condemn me for this one sin?
- What's so bad about doing this?
- Who will be hurt by doing that?
These common questions embody the very spirit of presumption, because they set aside what God has said in favor of man's rationalization. The true servant of God will move as close as possible to what God has written. The more one struggles to move away from the clear writing of Scripture, the more he betrays his own heart's secrets.
True, God is our heavenly Father, and He dearly loves us; however, He seeks our best interest, which is not always what we want, what satisfies for the moment, or what makes us happy in this instant:
Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:9-11 NKJ)
God has promised to give us "good things". When we look to such passages to prove that God gives us what we want, we are assuming that what we want is always good for us. We are assuming that we have judgment, clarity, foresight, knowledge, and wisdom paramount to God! Age and maturity teach that negatively answered prayers (in other words, not giving us what we want) is one of God's greatest blessings that can often only be understood after much time has passed.
You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:2-3 NKJ)
Since what we want and what God wants for us are often two distinct paths, only presumption would ignore God's revealed will for us in exchange for satisfying our palpitating desires.
Although the justification of the New Covenant is based on God's love, God's mercy, and our faith, we should not assume that we are free to haphazardly give God the leftovers, after we have done what we think He may want from us. As seen in the following passages, God's grace does not grant us permission to disregard God's revelation:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? ... Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Romans 6:1-16 NKJ)If you love Me, keep My commandments. ... He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him." (John 14:15-21 NKJ)By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. (I John 5:2-3NKJ)Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. ... No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. (I John 3:4-10 NIV)
Although we are under a New Covenant of grace, that covenant still contains a law (I Corinthians 9:21; Romans 3:27; 8:7; Isaiah 2:3); otherwise, there would be no more sin at all (I John 3:4). Furthermore, the gospel was delivered to be obeyed (Romans 1:5; 16:26). Just because the New Law contains justifying terms of forgiveness, we should not assume those terms are a "blank cheque" to do whatever we want in any part of our relationship to Christ, whether it be in moral principles unto our fellow man or holy precepts unto our God. As long as we are driven and controlled by our carnal desires - willfully continuing in sin, we remain unconverted (I John 3:4-10).
Can a single sin condemn a person? Yes, notice the doom associated with a singular "sin" in the verse below:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 NKJ)
Questioning the harm in a given sin is to question God Himself. If we walk by faith, we will take Him at His word and not demand an explanation of its apparent harm. Often the true harm is not readily apparent or sufficiently appreciated, until it is too late. The attitude that requires full understanding of the consequences before obeying God, demonstrates a lack of trust. Such a person will never be judged for that one sin, because such a person will never stop at just one sin.
Do NOT Presume
The above rationale might be somewhat justifiable, if the Bible provided for such liberality or if the Scriptures contained examples of God approving those exercising such liberty with God's command. However, the Word of God not only does not contain such approval, but in a multitude of passages, it actually contains strict prohibition of any effort to presume upon the revealed will of God:
"You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you." (Deuteronomy 4:2 NKJ)
So, adding to God's Word or taking away from it will prevent one from keeping the commandments of the Lord. Therefore, as seen below, it is imperative that we take great care in following God's Word:
"Therefore you shall be careful to do as the LORD your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left." (Deuteronomy 5:32 NKJ)"Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it." (Deuteronomy 12:32 NKJ)Ponder the path of your feet, And let all your ways be established. Do not turn to the right or the left; Remove your foot from evil. (Proverbs 4:26-27 NKJ)"Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success." (Joshua 1:7 NKJ, see also, Joshua 23:6)
Such carefulness often requires courage and moral strength, because the majority of people will be looking for some shortcut or some easier way, thereby avoiding some challenging aspect of God's law (Matthew 7:13-14). As a consequence, if we are careful to keep God's Word, we may not only have to face our selfish desires, but we may have to withstand enemies both within and without. Furthermore, we must meditate in God's Word daily (II Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17). Ignorance, confusion, and doubt are readily available cloaks to cover our path to satisfy our own will. One's conscience cannot be bothered, if it is unaware of the prohibition. Without vigilant meditation and study, we might easily fall into a trap set around a passage or concept that is not easily understood:
... and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation -- as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. (II Peter 3:15-18 NKJ)
Therefore, let us be diligent students of God's Word. Let us be careful not to presume to add to His Word, take away from it, or wander to the left or the right off of God's path.
"And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment. You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you in that place which the LORD chooses. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they order you. According to the sentence of the law in which they instruct you, according to the judgment which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left from the sentence which they pronounce upon you. Now the man who acts presumptuously and will not heed the priest who stands to minister there before the LORD your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously." (Deuteronomy 17:9-13 NKJ, see also, 17:18-20)
If presumption was defined by straying the slightest from the words of the priest, representing God, how much more presumptuous would it be to stray from the words spoken by our Lord through His apostles and prophets?
Do NOT Go Beyond
Not only has God specifically warned us not to "add to" His Word, "take away" from it, or wander to "to the right or to the left", but He has also warned us not to extend His Word, to stretch it, or to "go beyond what is written":
Although Balaam was a Gentile prophet, who ultimately disobeyed God (Numbers 31:1-16; Deuteronomy 23:3-5), he still recognized at this time the limitation of his work as a prophet. Moreover, the fact that he truly wanted to disobey God to obtain Balaak's riches demonstrates the power of God's inspiration in man. If Balaam could not go beyond God's Word in prophecy, should we go beyond it in obedience?
Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. (I Corinthians 4:6 NKJ)
Paul applies this same principle to our thinking, specifically in relation to our self-evaluation. We should not think more highly of ourselves in terms of what has been revealed. Although Paul applies this principle to a specific case, the underlying, general principle is clear: Do not act or even think beyond what God has revealed.
Whoever transgresses ["goes too far", NAS; "goeth onward", ASV; "runs ahead", NIV] and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. (II John 1:9 NKJ)
In the above verse, the Greek word for "transgresses" (Gr., parabaino) contains the same meaning, to go beyond:
parabaino - to go beyond established bounds of teaching or instruction, with the implication of failure to obey properly - 'to go beyond bounds, to fail to obey.' (Louw, Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, United Bible Societies, 1989, 2nd Ed., Sec. 36.25)
Therefore, to go beyond what is written is to forfeit one's relationship with God and Christ! How much stronger of a warning can be uttered?
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew 7:21-23 NKJ)
Those who say that we are not under law to Christ place themselves squarely in the line of condemning fire from Jesus: "Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness." To teach and live as if there is no law is the definition of "lawlessness". Only presumption will move one to teach or live as if he is above the law of God, or as if there was no law of God.
The Unalterable Word of God
For God's Word to be reliable and trustworthy, it must not only have been delivered as the Lord desired, but it must also be preserved that way. It cannot be subject to alteration by man.
"For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:18-19 NKJ)"If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God '? (John 10:35-36 NKJ)Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because "All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, But the word of the LORD endures forever." Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you. (I Peter 1:22-25 NKJ)
Not only has God guaranteed the perseverance of His Word, He has also promised not to alter His covenants with us:
Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man's covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. (Galatians 3:15 NKJ)My covenant I will not break, Nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips. (Psalm 89:34 NKJ)
As a consequence revisionists and latter-day saints are operating upon a flawed premise. Furthermore, the Lord took great care to specifically condemn latter-day revelations, regardless of their alleged source:
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9 NKJ)
These promises, in addition to the historical evidence for the successful transmission of the text through the ages, bolster the believer's faith in God's Word and the believer's essential reluctance to presume upon it or Him.
God's Care and Precision in Revelation
Surprisingly, we often hold each other to a higher standard, expecting more from our fellow man than we do from God. Degrees are earned or lost based on one's ability to read, listen, and understand what a professor has written or spoken. Careers are made or broken based on the terms stated and agreed upon by business people. Lawsuits and legal cases are won and lost by human lawyers, juries and judges. Every day - the vague rhetoric of politics not withstanding - meaningful words are communicated between human beings that change lives. Yes, misunderstandings occur, but due diligence, patience, and love ensure that adequate communication occurs and critical decisions are founded on such sensible communication. Yet, for some reason we struggle to conceive that the Creator of all the Universe, the Inventor of Language (Genesis 2:15-16; 11:6-9; Exodus 4:10-12), and the One identified as "The Word" (John 1:1) can communicate understandably and fully with us?! How would our earthly supervisors respond to our handling of their words, if we handled them as loosely as we handle God's Word? God has taken great care to ensure an understandable revelation. In fact, He has promised us that we can understand it, if we will read it diligently:
... how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: (Ephesians 3:3-5 NKJ)
Demonstrating this intent and precision, Jesus proved the existence of life beyond death and the resurrection based on the tense alone of a single verb!
The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying: "Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. "Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her." Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching. (Matthew 22:23-33 NKJ)
At the time of God's appearance to Moses, the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) had been dead for about 400 years; however, God did not say that He was the God of these three patriarchs, rather He said that He is ("I am") the God of these men. That necessarily meant that these men were alive somewhere, and that there was life beyond death, because God was still watching out for them and protecting them, being their God. All of this Jesus gleaned and expected the Jews to glean from the tense of a single word! How could Jesus expect them to know this, unless God's Word is sufficiently precise and reliable to sustain such analysis?
Part of the reason that the Bible is so reliable is because God took great care ensuring that His prophets spoke only what He inspired them to speak and write:
"But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die." (Deuteronomy 18:20 NKJ)Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar. (Proverbs 30:5-6 NKJ)For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19 NKJ)
To falsely speak in God's name and utter what He did not say, placed one in the direst of straits by placing one in opposition to God Himself. Yet, the prophets who truly spoke in God's name, were to be careful to say exactly what God had given them. They were to be careful to the very word!
"Thus says the LORD:`Stand in the court of the LORD'S house, and speak to all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the LORD'S house, all the words that I command you to speak to them. Do not diminish a word.(Jeremiah 26:2 NKJ)
If God's prophets were to take such care in revealing God's Word, then should we not exercise the same care in obeying it?
Or, if it does not matter what we do in response to the prophets' words, then why should it have ever mattered what the prophets said?
The preserved, inspired words of the Lord's apostles and prophets are critical, because they represent the will of heaven for us.
And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:19 NKJ)"Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. (John 15:20 NKJ)
God did not intend for His Word to be impossible to understand. Either He failed, and He is therefore by definition not God, which is irrational and unacceptable, or we have made His Word harder to understand than it need be through willful ignorance, blindness, or perversion. There are many things that God has not revealed, which are none of our concern, but He did intend that we understand, keep, and obey what He has revealed:
"The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." (Deuteronomy 29:29 NKJ)
The true worshiper of God will not presume upon God or His revelation, because of the following reasons:
- Admiration and respect for God's wisdom, knowledge, foresight, purity, holiness - infinitely beyond our own.
- God's desire for us not to add to His Word, take away from it, or wander to the right or to the left.
- God's will for us not to go beyond what He has revealed in our actions or thoughts.
- God's care in revealing and preserving His Word.
- The unalterable nature of God's Word.
- God's revealed plan for us to be able to read and understand His will through His Word.
- God's intent and the approved examples of Jesus, His apostles, and His prophets relying upon the precise language of Scripture to prove critical doctrines.
Regardless of which covenant you study, Old or New, God expects us to respect His Word and abide by it unchanged. We are not to add to it or take away from it, turning neither to the right hand or to the left, either in practice or thought. We are do what the Bible says, no more and no less. Our willingness to add to or take away from God's commands is an expression of our irreverence for God. Thereby, both the overly-restrictive and the libertine are reprimanded and curbed by a reluctance to presume upon God or His Word. If God had demonstrated or explicitly revealed an ambivalence toward interpreting His Word, then a loose interpretation of His Word might be justified. However, He has repeatedly and clearly stated the immutability of His Word and the importance of adhering to it strictly. It's no wonder that one of the chief characteristics of the damning and damnable false teacher are his presumptuous words:
...to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. ... These, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you, having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness. ... For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. (II Peter 2:9-19 NKJ)
Obviously, the attitude and disposition of presumption can lead one to commit great and heinous sins, as seen in the eyes of God:
Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, And I shall be innocent of great transgression. (Psalm 19:13 NKJ)
Therefore, like the Psalmist, let us make it our aim and prayer to avoid presumptuous sins, realizing that presumption in interpretation of God's Word is a direct reflection on our lack of respect for its Author. Furthermore, let us make it our aim to speak only where God has spoken - no more and no less:
If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (I Peter 4:11 NKJ)
Next, let us apply this reluctance to presume upon our Lord to the topic of interpreting the silence of the Scriptures.