Most of my life, I’ve heard people preface some sort of argument they want to support with the preface, “The Bible clearly states…” I’ve come to believe, however, that this is a phrase Christians should eliminate from their vocabulary, for a number of reasons:
- There’s no such thing as un-interpreted scripture – Legendary preacher and theologian Fred Craddock famously noted that, even if one believes the Bible is inerrant, perfect or directly handed to humanity from God, there’s still no way to glean an absolute understanding from the texts. After all, we all are imperfect, and as such all that we perceive flows through this imperfect vessel. The good news is that the bible is full of imperfect vessels still being used for incredible good. So maybe rather than an absolute’s we’re meant to focus more on growth, improvement and restoration.
- We can use the Bible to make nearly any claim we want – Did you know “the Bible says” that if my man-jewels are squished irreparably for any reason, I’m barred from heaven (No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord. Deut. 23:1 ESV)? And have you considered that the Bible condones mass killing, or what some might consider genocide (Make ready to slaughter his sons for the guilt of their fathers; Lest they rise and posses the earth, and fill the breadth of the world with tyrants. (Isaiah 14:21 NAB), or even infanticide (Isaiah 13:15-18 NLT.) I can use the Bible to justify slavery (wouldn’t be the first time), keeping a sexual concubine, or why eating shrimp condemns me to hell.
- I’ve never met ANYONE in my life who follows the Bible completely, from beginning to end – I could swear the protesters from Westboro Baptist wear shirts that are a poly-cotton blend, and that some of the fiercest Bible-bangers out there enjoy a good shrimp cocktail from time to time.
- Yes, there are contradictions in scripture – From the first book in the Bible, and even in the very first pages, there are two accounts of the creation of the universe. In one account, humans are created all at once (assuming men and women both, unless the people were intersex, self-propagating creatures who later split into two sexes. Then in the more well-known story, in which the main characters are Adam (which actually means “human”) and Eve (which actually means “life”) has Adam created first, then Eve is the runner-up. There are accounts of God changing God’s mind (Nineveh any one?) which would be unnecessary if the relationship with God was absolute. And let’s not even get into “eye for an eye,” versus “turn the other cheek,” and all of the Torah laws Jesus violated. which leads me to another point…
- Jesus was not a scripture literalist – If he was, he would never have said things like, “the law (in the Bible) says, but I say…”. If it was absolute, immutable and perfect (especially once in the hands of Humans – see point one above), then he would have just referred folks back to what already was on the books. It also would have been unnecessary for him to speak in open-ended parables and ask people who they said he was. After all, that leaves all kinds of space wide open for personal interpretation, which varied widely even hen it came to Jesus’ followers, about who he was.
For far too long, we’ve used the Bible to condemn, judge, feel superior to, or even wreak systemic injustice and violence on our brothers and sisters. And again, if we hold up Jesus and his claims as central to our faith as Christians, then the most important path or guide – the one on which everything else depends and gets it’s context and meaning – is that complete, consuming, sacrificial, at-all-costs love of God, ourselves and all of humanity and creation comes first. Period. Always.
And you’re certainly within your right to disagree. However the ironic part is by not living in this way, you’ve already co-opted the Gospel for a personal agenda, rather than living out “what the Bible clearly states.”
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