Scipture is more than a selected quote

I is fairly easy to use scripture to promote your particular point of view to the exclusion of other points of view. It has been going on for centuries. A person has a particular position on a political, social or moral issue and finds a single verse in the bible that seems to support that point of view.They then lift that single verse out of context and proclaim it to be inerrant truth. They believe that simply saying or reading words from the Bible makes them right.

The problem with that kind of thinking is that the Bible is a complex collection of religious teachings that has emerged from generations of faithful living. If you become familiar with the Bible, you discover that it has no problem arguing with itself. The prophet Jeremiah is a direct descendant of the priests who were banished by Solomon when he became king of Israel. Religious disagreements and differences are part of the story of our people and they are a part of our Bible. Both Jesus and Paul take issue with the biblical interpretations of scribes and pharisees. The tradition of arguing about meaning is deeply rooted in scriptural tradition. The concept of “The Bible says it, I believe it, and thats all there is to it,” is a rather contemporary notion. One has to have more than a few choice sentences proof texted from the Bible to live a life of faith.

Here is an example that I’ve heard over and over again: the 10th chapter of the Book of Romans makes the argument that salvation is for all people. “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” The chapter comes from an internal discussion in the church at Rome about whether or not one has to convert to Judaism in order to become Christian. Romans takes the clear view that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek. It goes on to say, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

This argument for universal salvation goes on to urge believers to share their faith with others. It speaks of the key role of those who proclaim the message of Jesus. Verse 14 poses four questions about how the Good News of Jesus is to be saved. The last of these questions is translated in the King James version to say, “and how shall they hear without a preacher?”

Preachers love to extract this one question and use it as a justification of their role. I recently read an article about small group Bible Studies in which the author, who I might add is a self-proclaimed preacher as opposed to one ordained by a major denomination, claims that this verse means that lay people can’t lead bible study. He also has a few verses quoted out of context about the role of women and uses his own brand of logic to conclude that only men can lead Bible study. The funny thing to me about the article is that this person who is arguing against women leading Bible study groups concludes by saying, “I say no . . . ‘How will they hear without a preacher?’ Romans 10:15.” There are several funny things about the argument, not the least of which is that he made the wrong location reference. He is quoting Romans 10:14. But that is the kind of bluster with which too many people abuse scripture. They find a few words they like and quote them out of context. He has taken a passage or scripture that talks about inclusion and the universality of the Gospel and twisted it to support an argument for exclusion.

People who think that they know who is saved and who is not are generally wrong.

There is nothing new about abusing scripture as a technique for personal and political gain. Politicians love to put on a show of being pious. They attend prayer breakfasts and put a grave expression on their faces. They like to be seen with famous televangelists and preachers of big congregations. Many have even learned a few words of scripture that they can sprinkle into their speeches from time to time.

It is easy to use a few words from the Bible to support almost any argument and there are those who do it every day.

Three principles have guided my study of the Bible over the years. The first is that the Bible is for all people. After studying the history of the translation of the Bible into common languages, I have been convinced that our history has invested heavily in making the Bible accessible to all people. People can be trusted with the scriptures. They can be read by believers and non believers alike. Sometimes a first-time reader will see something that has been missed by those who have studied the scriptures for years. Place no limits on access to the Bible.

The second principle is to pay attention to what the Bible has to say about itself. There are many places where scripture comments on itself. In the Gospels, Jesus often quotes scriptures. Paul makes additional commentary on scriptures. The Bible is a useful tool for interpreting itself. When people learn the historical context of the scriptures it becomes easier to see how complex and subtle they can be.

The third principle is to engage in conversation with others. People who spend hours and hours studying the bible in isolation may become very familiar with the scriptures, but they lack the perspective that comes from other points of view. I enjoy reading what others have written about the Bible. I often consult three or more commentaries in preparing a sermon. Beyond that, I find it meaningful to get together with others to read and discuss the scriptures. For all of my career, I have promoted and led responsible Bible study. It is wonderful to read the scriptures for the first time, but it is also valuable to return again and again and look with a fresh perspective.

When you are confronted with someone who uses the Bible to justify their argument, think twice. Don’t be afraid to go to the Bible yourself and learn what it really says.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!