Blue Parakeet Passages in the Bible

Since I was a high schooler I’ve been bugged by what is commonly called “pick and choose” when it comes to the Bible. 30 years later convinces me that (1) we all do this and (2) we need to talk about something underneath it all: HOW we pick and choose. I believe that Christians have always read the Bible carefully and have “discerned” how to live the Bible out in the world today. But this runs smack-dab into the face of perhaps the most common attitude that many Christians think they are using when it comes to “applying” the Bible. Here it is:



1. God says it.
2. I believe it.
3. That settles it.

In The Blue Parakeet
we address this entire issue of picking and choosing (what I’d prefer to call “adopting and adapting”) and how it is that we have learned to apply the Bible. It is a process of discernment. I don’t believe those three numbered points above are how we actually apply the Bible — unless we want to use it has a hammer against someone else.

This is how we apply the Bible most of the time: we see what the Bible says and we discern how to live it out. What we do is try to live out today what we see in the Bible — and we need the guidance of the Spirit in the context of the community in order to do this right.

Take, for an example, footwashing. The text of John 13 clearly shows Jesus expected his followers to wash the feet of others. He didn’t expect them just to do acts of service for one another. But, because of cultural shifts and the like, we “discern” from a specific act (footwashing) and a specific command (to wash feet) that the way to “apply” that today is to take a visitor’s coat, offer them something to drink or eat, and usher them to a comfortable place in our home. That act of “discernment” is what our book explores.

I believe most application of the Bible works like this; I don’t believe the above three points are how we apply the Bible most of the time.

To ask this question means we have to look at some very difficult passages, passages that we read and know deep inside that we don’t practice that verse as it says, and I call these passages “blue parakeet” passages.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Your Name

    Hi Scot,
    Funny how i just started the book about two hours ago… the above sounds quite familiar. To be honest with you, i am greatly looking forward to the read because you are looking at the bible through the same set of ‘question asking glasses’ that i have been; and as many of your students have as well over the past couple years. I am now a part time seminary student and a full time youth pastor, and have been confronted in my study by many parakeet passages over the past couple of years. I am grateful for the book and will look forward to any blog conversations that involve looking directly at some of the blue parakeets of yourself and others who are enriched by the dialogue on this blog. Here are a couple of mine, that i know are not new:
    Gen 1-11 (Still haven’t found anyone who discusses this in a way that has answered questions that arise out of this from a theological standpoint [noah, babel, etc. epic's that weren't historical? Adam historical?]… maybe you address it in the book?… if not, any good places to start?);
    militant passages such as Joshua (how do i dialogue about a God of liberation without simply jumping past this part of the Exodus story?… I love Bell’s new book, but he and everyone else I have read seem to gloss over this difficult parakeet)
    Anyway, i will look forward to the book and to further conversation. Thanks for making room for us young evangelicals to ask questions and to seek new ways of being the community of Jesus!

  • http://groansfromwithin.blogspot.com/ Kurt

    Hi Scot,
    Funny how i just started the book about two hours ago… the above sounds quite familiar. To be honest with you, i am greatly looking forward to the read because you are looking at the bible through the same set of ‘question asking glasses’ that i have been; and as many of your students have as well over the past couple years. I am now a part time seminary student and a full time youth pastor, and have been confronted in my study by many parakeet passages over the past couple of years. I am grateful for the book and will look forward to any blog conversations that involve looking directly at some of the blue parakeets of yourself and others who are enriched by the dialogue on this blog. Here are a couple of mine, that i know are not new:
    Gen 1-11 (Still haven’t found anyone who discusses this in a way that has answered questions that arise out of this from a theological standpoint [noah, babel, etc. epic's that weren't historical? Adam historical?]… maybe you address it in the book?… if not, any good places to start?);
    Militant passages such as Joshua (how do i dialogue about a God of liberation without simply jumping past this part of the Exodus story?… I love Bell’s new book, but he and everyone else I have read seem to gloss over this difficult parakeet)
    Anyway, i will look forward to the book and to further conversation. Thanks for making room for us young evangelicals to ask questions and to seek new ways of being the community of Jesus!

  • Jeremiah Daniels

    Scot,
    I just purchased your book — even though I’ve been participating in this blog for about a month and had seen some of your posts via RSS for the last several months. Plan to read it over the Christmas holiday if not before.
    So, whatever write now is totally in ignorance of what you have written in The Blue Parakeet.
    I have attempted over the last 3 years to introduce to my students applying the Bible by “Principle” and not just by plain sense reading.
    Additionally, I have tried in my own way to deal with difficult passages (such as the massacres of the Canaanites by Joshua) by appreciating the cultural context in which those events occurred.
    I don’t know if I’ve gotten all these explanations 100% correct to my students, but, then again, a lot of us are still sorting out all the details and the implications of switching from a more literal view of Scripture to a more “wholistic” and culturally appreciative view.
    I look forward to seeing more in this thread and learning more of the things that God has revealed to you (and the other contributors here).
    Note to Kurt #2 : RJS blogs in this blog about Gen 1 – 11. We’ve been having some wonderfully energetic discussions there.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com ChrisB

    Scot, your experience may well be different than mine, but I’ve generally encountered that little triplet not as how to apply the Bible but on whether. Specifically, it’s used when people want to doubt the historicity of Genesis 3 or the resurrection.
    On application, I think there’s an unspoken, understood prior condition:
    0. I [believe I] correctly understand this passage.
    1. God says it.
    2. I believe it.
    3. That settles it
    Yes we need to be clear on how we accomplish point 0. We’ve been trying to work that out for 2000 years.

  • RJS

    Scot,
    You mentioned this passage in a post recently, but I’ve been reading the Epistles of Cyprian lately and the interpretation of these gospel passages is key:

    Mt 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

    Mt 18:18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

    Jn 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.

    In time of great persecution (ca. 250 AD) Cyprian (and the church) interpreted these verses to say that if the church did not forgive the sin and receive back into communion the repentant fallen brother or sister that person would be forever condemned by God.
    On the other he had reasoned that if the Church erred and was fooled by an unrepentant person God would see the truth and condemn the person despite the verdict of the church.
    In other words – he took the ability of the church to bind and retain sin very seriously; but qualified the ability of the church to loose and forgive.
    Pick and Choose (practicing discernment) is a practice of long tradition. (And a necessary practice of course.)

  • http://www.rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    To echo Kurt, “it’s funny” that your example is foot washing, because the group of which I have been a part for almost thirty years practices foot washing. It may just be once a year, at a New Year’s Eve “watchnight” service or at a summer youth event, but it is considered an ordinance in our particular denomination. We have three altogether. I know the RCC has seven.
    As Flannery O’Connor had the landlady in Wise Blood say to Hazel Motes when she discovered he had wrapped his chest with barbed wire, “What’s that wire around you for? It’s not naural.”
    “It’s natural,” he said.
    “Well, it’s not normal. It’s like one of them gory stories, it’s something that people have quit doing — like boiling in oil or being a saint or waling up cats,” she said. “There’s no reason for it. People have quit doing it.”
    “They ain’t quit doing it as long as I’m doing it,” he said.
    Just like foot washing.

  • Bob Brague

    naural -> natural, sorry.

  • Bob Brague

    Oops, again, waling -> walling

  • http://abisomeone.blogspot.com/ Peggy

    Scot,
    Finally finished the book…took lots of notes which I will be blogging through. I appreciated the way in which you discussed the process of discernment.
    Having spent 10 years in a church that practiced footwashing, I must say that the pondering I have done actually points away from “normal hospitality” as an updated form of “footwashing” … and leads more to the riskier hospitality that calls for the embracing of serving tasks that most people feel are “beneath” them … or even more pointedly, that most people feel are beneath their exalted leaders!
    Footwashing was the lowest of the low jobs … and yet it is the one that Jesus chose to teach his disciples about becoming “the least”. It is almost like the old joke about there being a task that “anybody” could do and “somebody” should do but “nobody” did it.
    We are called to be the “nobody” that actually does what “could” or “should” be done but is too often neglected. Like loving the unlovely or the enemy … living the Jesus Creed.
    This is part of what I have come to call the Purple Martyrdom. It is the very common cross that we are all called to pick up daily as we follow Christ … to be the “nobody” in the “body” of Christ is to be one with each other and one with Christ. And that is the very essence of being “somebody”!
    …let those with eyes to see….

  • Bob Brague

    Peggy seems to be saying that our modern “discernment” sometimes ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

  • http://abisomeone.blogspot.com/ Peggy

    Well, Bob … I do think it takes lots of pondering to get to solid discernment — and I tend to be open for regular updates to previously discerned issues. ;^)
    Footwashing can be a powerful experience of grace and mercy and love. It can also be a dangerous experience of fawning over the privilege of washing leaders’ feet. I wish it was more frequently and consistently practiced from the position of leaders to followers…. I think it has sometimes been overtaken by the example of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair … and I don’t believe any of us should receive that kind of worship.
    Just my two cents, of course….

  • Terry

    Scot, this is a great post. I’ve already read the book once and am beginning it again… you’ve put words to a bit of my thinking, and you’ve given more mature thought and insight to this topic than I ever thought possible. Thank you!
    It would be great to see this post blossom into an entire series of Blue Parakeet posts. Not So much the book itself, but handling various Blue Parakeet passages (and from the titles, perhaps that is your thinking?) IMO the only thing missing from the book is the companion, exhaustive commentary.

  • http://joshlinton.wordpress.com Josh Linton

    Scott, I’ve lurked your blog for awhile now with little, if any, comment. I read Parakeet last week and wanted to tell you how helpful and powerful it was to me. Thanks.

  • Tim Graham

    I acknowledge that we pick and choose. But it doesn’t follow that we ought to. The book is full of bald assertions — the Bible says we ought to do X, but we obviously shouldn’t, so what are we to make of that. But what if God actually meant what he said?
    For example, you make reference in the book to the fact that while the Bible calls homosexuality an abomination it also calls homosexuals to be stoned. But you complete avoid the question of why, if it was so serious to God then that it merited stoning, we ought to just say it doesn’t matter to him now. (The same point, of course, applies to adultery and rebellion).
    It’s not so easy just to “discern” inconvenient passages away … “discernment” can then very easily become a synonym for ignoring the parts of what God has said that we don’t like — the consequence being rejection of the very revelation that is the only means of salvation. Indeed, given that the human mind and will are depraved it’s very likely that this is EXACTLY what will happen.
    What if everything that we naturally believe is actually wrong and those inconvenient passages are actually exactly what God intended?


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