Monday, April 03, 2006

Precept Upon Precept?

For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little...
(Isaiah 28:10, KJV)
Isaiah 28:10 is often used by Adventist evangelists to establish the principle that one should always compare scripture with scripture to discover what the Bible says on a subject. Usually this is presented in conjunction with the principle that one must always look at the context of a passage in scripture to determine its meaning. After an evangelist in my church presents this, my greatest fear is that someone will actually look up to context of Isaiah 28:10 (verse numbers included for later reference).
7But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. 8For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean. 9Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. 10For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: 11For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. 12To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. 13But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.
(Isaiah 28:7-13, KJV)
The context of this passage is an oracle against drunken priests who are unable to teach even infants because they cannot even speak properly. Verse 13 makes it abundantly clear that "precept upon precept..." is something detrimental, not a principle of Biblical interpretation. Taken alone verse 12 might sound like a reasonable teaching, but in context we realize that it is the product of drunkenness.

This all becomes much more clear when the passage is read in the original language. In Hebrew, Isaiah 2:10 sounds like this: "Bi tsau latsau, tsau latsau, cau lacau, cau lacau, ze'er sham, ze'er sham". The sounds of Isaiah 28:10 mock the babble of a drunken priest, and in Hebrew they hardly even carry a translatable meaning.

I wish that instead of proof-texting from Isaiah 28:10, evangelists would just establish the principle of interpreting scripture with scripture from common sense—the same way they establish the principle the we must read scripture in context. They know the problems with their interpretation of Isaiah 28:10 as well as I do, but they bank on the fact very few people will actually look the passage up in their Bible and check its context. But in doing this they risk the credibility of their message with those who will do more than read the verse they put on their projection screen.


  1. Isn't it ironic that in our explanation of proper Biblical hermeneutics we use terrible hermeneutics? I too have been disturbed at how we explain the proper study of the Bible. The reality is that we have excellent principles but we go wrong when we try to give Biblical support to it. We use proof-texting in the worst possible way.

    We don't have to have a Bible text to support everything we do. The Bible doesn't speak directly to every possible situation in life. When we have a text that in proper context speaks to our situation, great, use it. But when we don't, be honest and don't butcher the Bible to make it say what you want.

  2. Interestingly enough, when I read the entire chapter, I still don't come to that conclusion. I've went over it several times, and even delved into some other translations than the KJV. What I am finding is that this appears to be the mocking of the people and priests towards Isaiah and his instructions to them. Apparently they required instruction in the same things over and over again (not unlike our church today). It still seems to signify in verse 13 that God directed the "precept upon precept, line upon line" methodology. In fact, a quick look through several commentaries that I have access to reveal no deviation from this idea. Indeed such luminaries as Matthew Henry, Jameison, Faucett and Brown, John Gill, and John Wesley all seem to agree on this point. As Matthew Henry put it:

    "For our instruction in the things of God it is requisite that we have precept upon precept and line upon line, that one precept and line should be followed, and so enforced by another; the precept of justice must be upon the precept of piety, and the precept of charity upon that of justice. Nay, it is necessary that the same precept and the same line should be often repeated and inculcated upon us, that we may the better understand them and the more easily recollect them when we have occasion for them. Teachers should accommodate themselves to the capacity of the learners, give them what they most need and can best bear, and a little at a time, Deu_6:6, Deu_6:7. 2."

  3. I guess I should have made it clearer that it's not just SDAs who use Is. 28:10 that way. There's a Christian tradition of looking at it as a instruction rather than a mockery. But 13 still states clearly that when the world of the LORD is "precept upon precept, etc." to you it causes you to stumble and fall. I don't want to ruin a helpful text for anyone. It's just that I think the other reading is more with the context, especially when read in the orriginal language.

  4. Interesting post, Dave. Thanks

  5. I think verses 9-13 are saying that in spite of the Lord's making His knowledge plain by building truth one upon another these priest were rebellious and the truth became to them a snare that trapped them and revealed their rebellion. They as teachers claimed to be full of knowledge and while that knowledge should have caused them to turn to the Lord and abandon their sins, they sought to hide their sins and spare themselves from judgment by making a covenant with death v15. Paul said in 2 Cor. 2:15-16 "For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish:
    2:16 To the one [we are] the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life." God's truth of obedience is often starkest in contrast when people are most rebellious.

  6. Dear David,

    Lets not spiritualize away and literally do away with the principles of interpretation. Line upon line means exactly that, when needed to let the Bible explain itself. It does NOT merely apply to drunken priests.

    Th wine of Babylon is false doctrines that the fallen churches have made the world "drunk" on and therefore they cannot understand truth. because of their spiritually intoxicated condition.

    Rev 18:3 For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.

    Rev 18:4 And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that you be not partakers of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues.

    Rev 13:11 And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spoke as a dragon.

    Rev 17:15 And he said to me, The waters which you saw, where the whore sits, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.

    If waters means nations, tongues and peoples,; Europe, then the earth means the opposite; a new land; America. This is a good prophetic example upon precept on precept.

    Its one thing to merely "say" the Bible does not speak to every life concern, and another matter to prove it. Bible principles cover everything.....nothing is omitted. Please don't come back and say; "where does it mention tobacco; computers; cars; space shuttles,etc." These things are not necessary for our salvation which is the primary purpose of the Bible.

    Heb 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

    Heb 4:13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

  7. BTW,David,
    In my opinion; don't write the hit musical in the first place and then try and justify it! Worldliness is death to the spiritual life of the soul...:)

    1Jn 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

  8. Much of the Bible changes from one context to another--even in the confines of one verse we may have a considerable time difference, and a complete change of direction in thought and inspiration. Remember, God gives the basic inspirational train of thought, and the prophets create that same thought into their words to give mankind God's message.

    However, "precept upon precept," (Isa 28:10) is well within the context of drunken priests. What happens when "priests" or pastors try and interpret Holy Writ while intoxicated? Reason flies out the window. Isaiah presents the contrast here: Satan inspires to use alcohol, to wit;

    1Co_6:10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortionists, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

    When sober we can: "But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation" (1Th_5:8).

    Scripture must also be interpreted reasonably.From the commentary

    10. Precept upon precept. "Truth must be presented clearly and logically, one point leading naturally on to another. Only thus can men become thoroughly acquainted with truth. Instruction must be given as if to children, by repeating the same point again and again, and going on from one point to another by easy and gentle degrees as men whose minds have been darkened by sin are able to follow. Such instruction may appear simple, but it is effective."
    [Nichol, Francis D.: The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Volume 4. Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1978; 2002, S. 210].

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  10. Steve if 13 is positive how does it produce what happens as a result? And if 13 is negative how could the exact same words be positive 3 verses earlier? Remember that the capitalized He is an interpretation. Context would suggest the he refers to the priest and/or the prophet and when read that way the entire chapter makes perfect sense. Only tradition is preventing it from being read as it reads.