Some people need a verse for every step they take. During a discussion, I spoke at great length about how the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction and Nebuchadnezzar’s madness showed that heaven’s government is hardly a one-man dictatorship but a transparent collaboration between God and created beings ( Sodom was condemned by an independent investigation and Nebuchadnezzar’s madness was decreed by the Holy Watchers) when I was suddenly requested to furnish proof texts to corroborate my conclusion. Stunned speechless at first, I caught my breath and
pointed to the texts I’d just referenced.
As far as this young person was concerned, it wasn’t enough to read the stories and wrestle with them. There had to be a verse stating the conclusion. The Bible, as far as they were concerned, is a catechism. The trouble with this is that the Bible is largely narrative: stories.
The early church faced this problem. There were verses that commanded circumcision but no verses that said, “Oh don’t worry, circumcision will be unnecessary after the cross.” In other words, those arguing for circumcision could fortify themselves with scripture (Moses’ son nearly died because he was uncircumcised), they had all the verses!
This persists today. Most Bible study meetings are really just gunslinging matches with people shooting verses at each other. It’s much worse in our time because at least in the early church’s time, verses didn’t exist! The Bible was demarcated into chapters and verses in medieval times. This division into chapters and verses was meant to make reference easier but today we’ve turned the verse into a self contained universe of incontrovertible truth. The reason behind this is we don’t want our religious bubbles burst, so we quote the Bible to stop thinking and discussion instead of directing it. We all think in bubbles but it’s important for us to structure our bubbles so they can expand. Never stop growing!
Jesus showed us how to read the Bible:
““Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”
(Matthew 23:23-24 ESV)
“Weightier matters of the law,” means that some parts of the Bible are more important than others. Relax, the whole Bible is important, it’s just that the Bible isn’t a flat text. If Jesus lived in my time, He probably would have been accused of “rationalizing” and “philosophizing” instead of “obeying scripture as it reads”. The scribes and Pharisees had collapsed the Bible into a flat formulaic catechism and Jesus said they were doing this for hypocritical reasons.
Tithe and other similar good deeds are easy to quantify; justice, mercy and faithfulness aren’t. A guy trying to pay his way into God’s good books would choose quantifiable currency.
Justice, mercy and faithfulness… God is primarily concerned with character development: What sort of person you are becoming is more important than whether you have a foreskin or not.
“Am I following the rules?” – This question is fine for a start. It’s a question expected from a beginner, a new guy. Rules, however, always have exceptions thus, anybody obsessed with rules finds themselves spinning in a vortex of rules made for exceptions to rules and exceptions to those rules. Dispensing with rules isn’t a viable option either because “no rules” is a rule! The Pharisees were hypocritical because their obsession with rules was really an obsession with the status that came from their apparent obedience to the rules. It was much easier to gain status from answering this question than asking themselves a more difficult one…
“Am I fair and trustworthy?” – In other words, “Am I being loving and lovable?” This question is far more uncomfortable but even more important because they followed all the rules but rejected the Ruler; they had all the verses but crucified the One whom they pointed to.
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”
(John 5: 39-40 ESV)
Going through the Bible is pointless if it doesn’t go through you. Hitting somebody with verses is little more than assault with Biblical intent if the verses haven’t mauled you first. Interpretation is more important than reading i.e. rereaders of the Bible gain far much more than readers because understanding the Bible facilitates better application of it than simply collecting texts in your head.
Is your study of the Bible making you a better person to live with or do you just come with more rules to make you look good? Do you study it to find out how much sin you can get away with and still make it to heaven or does it bring you closer to understanding how heaven’s government works? Here’s a clue… If you find yourself looking for verses to back up your position, you are probably immature (not so bad) or stagnant (horrifying). We all have to grow up sometime.
Being just, merciful and faithful is being like God – in His image. Verses prove nothing if they aren’t leading us to this. Think about this the next time you go Biblical gunslinging.