“But I believe the WHOLE Bible.”
It’s a very common phrase I hear in Christian circles.
In the course of teaching others to live how Jesus lived, to do what Jesus did, and to follow what Jesus taught, there are no shortage of objections to the idea. Sadly, those who most often object to the radical notion we should actually follow what Jesus did and obey what he taught, are fellow Christians.
While we may love to sing, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back,” when we get into the nitty-gritty of emulating how Jesus lived and obeying the things that he taught, we stumble upon things that just don’t seem sensible to us.
Love your enemies?
Die for enemies instead of killing them?
Blessed are the meek?
Put away your sword?
It’s just too much for some Christians. And so, those who are struggling with the commitment to follow Jesus pull the ace from their sleeve:
“But I believe the whole Bible.”
I’ll admit, it sounds good on the surface, but here’s what it really means: it means, “I don’t particularly care for what Jesus said in this passage, but I do know of one from the Old Testament which would contradict that, so I’ll go with the Old Testament.”
I’ve heard it expressed a little more directly at times. “Yes, Jesus did say to love your enemies, but Jesus is the SAME God who commanded we slaughter the Canaanite babies, so certainly he didn’t mean we can’t kill our enemies. I’m going to go ahead and believe the WHOLE Bible, thanks.”
It’s an easy game to play because you have plenty of text to choose from. As my friend Brian Zahnd recently told me, “the cleverest way to hide from Jesus is behind a Bible.” Sadly, this is true. If you want to completely run away from the example and teachings of Jesus you can do so without ever leaving the pages of Scripture.
Hiding from Jesus and using a Bible to do it is nothing new– it’s been that way since he walked among us. In fact, in John 5:39 we find Jesus rebuking the religious leaders for using the Bible as a shield to avoid this radical new way of living he was proposing. In that exchange he tells them that they had missed the entire purpose of scripture: himself.
Jesus warns that one can know the Old Testament inside and out, but still miss the point of it all. He warns that if one uses Scripture to avoid his new way of living, if one uses Scripture to find reasons not to follow his teachings and example, they will have missed out on life itself.
Jesus went onto explain it using an analogy of house building– a story many of us learned by song when we were kids. There was a wise man who built his house upon a rock, and a foolish man who built his house on sand. As the story goes, the “rains came down and the floods came up, the rains came down and the floods came up.” Which one lasted? The one on the rock, of course. At the end of the analogy Jesus explains, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24)
Notice he didn’t say, “everyone who reads the law of Moses and puts it into practice is like a wise man…” but said, “everyone who hears these words of mine…”
When someone stumbles upon something Jesus said and responds with, “But I believe the whole Bible” they are engaging in a 2,000 year-old tradition of using the Bible to hide from Jesus, and become the foolish builder of the story who refused to build their house on the only thing that was worth building on: the example and teaching of Jesus.
Later in the New Testament, we even find a warning that the only proof one is of God, is that they emulate the example of Jesus: “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:6)
Notice the evidence we belong to God isn’t that we live like Moses or Joshua, or anyone else in the Bible– but Jesus.
You see, the point of God’s story is Jesus. It’s always been a story about Jesus. It’s never been about anything else. The moment we miss that truth is the moment we become the ancient religious leaders who used the Old Testament to hide from the new thing God wanted to show them.
The entire purpose of the Christian life is to live and be like Jesus– right here, right now. Not anyone else in the Bible, but Jesus.
Is the Old Testament useful? Certainly. But whenever there is tension between something Jesus said and something from elsewhere in the Bible, the tiebreaker always goes to Jesus. ALWAYS. That’s because Jesus said the entire point of the Old Testament was to bring us to the place where we’d follow him. Just him. No one and nothing gets to share his place. Not other characters from the Bible or even the Bible itself. If Jesus is Lord, nothing else can be.
So, when someone responds to the teachings of Jesus with, “But I believe the whole Bible” it’s usually a sign that one is on the run from Jesus and using the very tool designed to point
us to Jesus as a get-away car.
But it is our job to keep pointing people back to Jesus– even fellow Christians, as unpopular as that may be.
Because following the teachings and life example of Jesus has always been the point of it all.