Blind Squirrels and Acorns

Interpreting the book of Job presents numerous challenges, even though the basic message of the book is straightforward and clear. The first two chapters record the LORD’s commendation of Job to Satan and the subsequent challenge presented that led to Job’s suffering. The last chapter records the LORD’s restoration of Job and the commendation for his faithfulness. Other than a few notations of the LORD’s references to behemoth and Leviathan, most people have not considered the chapters in between, even though they comprise the majority of the book. 

These middle chapters contain a lengthy discussion made up of Job’s expression of frustration and then his friends’ efforts to explain the problem, which constituted blaming Job for all that happened and calling on him to repent—in increasing levels of intensity. It is specifically because this contains the inspired record of a conversation between people speaking uninspired words that the book creates such a problem for interpretation. You see, while the Holy Spirit’s inspiration ensured the accuracy of this account, He did not ensure the accuracy of anything said in the conversation. It is the equivalent of how He would later accurately record the words of the Pharisees and Sadducees even though not inspiring them to say it. Therefore, when Job and his friends are speaking, they are not speaking from divine authority. They are spiritually minded people expressing their views so that we can learn from their ignorance. This is why we should NEVER quote from these passages to establish any doctrine or position.

Now, on the other hand, we should recognize that Paul did indeed quote from these men. In 1 Corinthians 3:19 he quoted from Job 5:13 where Eliphaz said, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness.” Paul’s statement, “It is written,” confirms its inspiration, and his usage supports the sentiment. And this is exactly how we should treat this portion of scripture. Paul quoted Eliphaz’s phrase because it captured his point well and because Eliphaz happened to be right in that portion of what he said. But Paul was not using Eliphaz as authority; he was using the reference to point out what was a universally acknowledged truth. Eliphaz had said it well, so Paul quoted him, as the Holy Spirit had captured it for the inspired record. 

There is, however, another point from this. Paul’s willingness to quote from Eliphaz—despite the fact that Eliphaz was completely wrong doctrinally in the context of the speech he was making—shows that it is acceptable to quote people who are wrong about much when they happen to say something right and say it well. In the past, some have criticized preachers for using secular quotes, quotations from denominationalists, or sometimes from an erring Christian as if quoting something they got right is the same as endorsing all they got wrong. The apostle Paul’s inspired decision to quote Eliphaz proves that this is a flawed concept. We should surely use wisdom in quoting anyone in a Bible lesson, and we should never use men as our authority for any point. But referring to them for illustration’s sake is not only acceptable; it is biblical. How ironic that understanding this particular point itself also shows the need for proper hermeneutics in biblical interpretation.

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