Rejecting the Bible – an interesting way to view scripture and doctrine

I recently interacted with someone on a Facebook forum dedicated to looking at the role of women and men from a biblical basis – that is, the point is to consider what the Bible has to say about women and men in the body of Christ. Our interaction in this instance was on a different point, though; she criticized my use of the words Old Covenant and New Covenant in discussing the eras in which we read of the great relationships of Ruth and Boaz (who lived under the Old Covenant) and Mary and Joseph (in the advent of the New Covenant).

She said the phrases Old Testament and New Testament wrongly give the impression that the original Hebrew Scriptures had been replaced. Yet I hadn’t used the word “testament” at all, and for the specific reason that I was speaking of the covenant the people lived under (or were approaching), not the name of the writings in which they appear. I pointed out to her that I relied on language from Hebrews 8 in my word choice:

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. (Hebrews 8:13.)

Her response – verbatim – was, “I don’t care what the Bible says.”

Not Caring About Words

That’s something I hear from people, but it was jarring to read it from someone engaging as a member of a forum dedicated to looking at what the Bible says about women and men. If we don’t care what the Bible says, how can it be the basis for any doctrine, whether on covenants or on men and women? After all, doctrine is merely a word that describes a set of beliefs and when it comes to God it is important to have a correct understanding of what to believe.

I think the answer for some people is that the Bible is fine for doctrine, as long as it results in doctrine they like. But if people are offended by Hebrews 8:13, they reject the passage. They may not recognize or admit they’re rejecting it. Instead they might merely ignore it or finesse the text so that it fits their sensibilities.

That means that when it comes to a right understanding of God, they rely on something other than the Bible. That also means that no one can criticize their understanding as being non-Biblical because the Bible is not their standard or guide. Their sensibilities are a trump card played whenever someone asks them to re-consider a passage suggesting a different way of looking at an issue.

Scripture Wrestling

Of course it’s not that we should blindly accept the words of a passage in the Bible without concern for context, adopt a superficial understanding, and then apply that understanding to arrive at a wobbly doctrinal stance. Good doctrine is hard work and takes intentional effort. Wrestle with hard passages of Scripture until you understand them better.

But wrestling with Scripture is not the same as jamming it into a straitjacket. Rather, it takes time and attention to detail. The Bible even gives examples of what this looks like: the Bereans were commended for checking up on Paul’s preaching by comparing it to the Hebrew Scriptures, Peter recognized it can be hard to understanding Paul’s teaching, and Paul himself said it takes spiritual guidance to arrive at a mature understanding of God’s word. Nowhere does it say this would be easy.

One doesn’t wrestle with an idea by rejecting it out of hand. Rather, the idea must be engaged. Such close engagement might lead to understanding that a passage actually means something different than appeared on first blush, but that’s because the Bible is huge and no single passage can be used as an isolated foundation for a doctrinal position.

Scripture reading can be easy: breeze through the passages you like and skip the ones that offend you. Scripture understanding is different. It takes effort, it takes time, and it takes a willingness to engage God and his word.

In the long run, it’s worth it.

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Scripture understanding

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32 Responses to Rejecting the Bible – an interesting way to view scripture and doctrine

  1. There are difficult passages, or ones not PC, but I agree with you–we can’t pick and choose just what we agree with. Scripture challenges us to grow.

  2. nmcdonal says:

    Obviously we don’t see eye-to-eye on the women as elders issue, but I whole-heartedly agree with you here, Tim.

    • Tim says:

      Are you saying you’ve never met an elderly woman, Nick? 😉

      • Jeannie says:

        Wow, that was quite an exchange, Tim. Most people don’t reveal their true position quite as openly as that woman did. 🙂 I am by NO means an expert on Scripture but it bugs me sometimes when people make their points based on “somewhere in the Bible it says something like x.” An older woman in my weekly study group is always saying things like “Well, Jesus DID tell the woman at the well to go and sin no more” and “Well, the Bible DOES say it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God.” I corrected her on the first one but I didn’t even bother bringing up Jonathan Edwards the second time. 🙂 These are little mistakes of course, not an indication that the person doesn’t esteem the Bible — but it’s often discussed in a very sloppy way. Really understanding what the Bible is saying can be challenging and takes effort, as you say.

        • Jeannie says:

          oops that comment should have replied to your post as a whole, Tim, not to your convo with Nick…

        • Tim says:

          Happily the Spirit can guide us even when we make mistakes like that, Jeannie. When a person rejects the text, though, I think they are – at least in that moment – rejecting the Spirit’s guidance as well.

  3. Pastor Bob says:

    A couple of thoughts:
    — “I think the answer for some people is that the Bible is fine for doctrine, as long as it results in doctrine they like.” Happens a lot, eh?
    — “Scripture reading can be easy: breeze through the passages you like and skip the ones that offend you.” Many skip the ones they do not understand, but never get back to them.
    Daresay, “lazy?”

  4. Loura Shares A Story says:

    “Out of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45

  5. Carmen S. says:

    I’ve just started listening to the sermons of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. 117 sermons on the book of Acts (Sunday evenings, 1965-1968). 232 sermons on the book of Ephesians ( Sunday mornings 1954-1962). 254 sermons of the book of John. 366 sermons on the book of Romans. And that’s just a start. “Good doctrine is hard work and takes intentional effort.” Yes, it does, and the day comes when God’s Word is as important to you as breathing

  6. Beth Caplin says:

    First of all, I think it’s safe to say that all people of faith cherry-pick. I don’t believe anyone who swears they don’t. We all have individual objections or criticisms of certain biblical mandates, and until Christians unanimously decide which ones were meant for a specific 1st-century culture and which are universal, we act as if they don’t exist…until someone outside the faith brings them up.

    Maybe this is hypocritical of me, but I don’t think making a conscious choice to focus on Jesus falls under cherry-picking. I would consider it an act of prioritizing, not unlike Jewish people focusing on the story of Exodus over the purity laws of Leviticus. Why? Because the story of the Israelites’ slavery and exile in Egypt is the core of the faith, upon which all denominations are founded on. That is what I like to think connects all people of the Book, regardless of whether they are Orthodox, Reform, or somewhere in between. In the same vein, what Christians believe about Jesus far outweighs the debates about gender roles or what have you. Those issues matter, but are not what I consider “center stage.”

    • Tim says:

      I think people do as well. But even then it’s not the same as saying one doesn’t care what the Bible says. We should reflect on all of Scripture to understand what it all means.

      • joepote01 says:

        Yes! There is a huge difference between saying, “I really don’t understand that passage very well and hope to someday better understand how it fits” versus saying “I don’t care what the Bible says.”

  7. Bill M says:

    I’m wondering if the “I don’t care” is often just a sloppy statement. I’ve heard the phrase before and can recite a few instances. Later I found they did care, when they were telling me they didn’t care they actually didn’t trust my interpretation or recollection. I even caught myself using the phrase. Not knowing the context nor the person could someone be saying “I don’t care what the Bible says according to interpretation by someone else”?
    Regardless the “I don’t care” is still dismissive but it can be well worth the effort to sidestep the abrupt response and ask a few questions to uncover their real meaning. Part of the meaning may be a reflection of the relationship, how much we care for people influences their willingness to listen. If someone tells me “they don’t care” it may imply they sense I don’t care for them.

    • Tim says:

      Good points, Bill. In this conversation, she followed up her “I don’t care” with something along the lines of “The Bible has a lot of anti-Semitic passages that I choose not to bother listening to.” It was presented in a fairly dismissive way, so I didn’t pursue it. Facebook forums just don’t lend themselves to delving into these types of debates well.

  8. Greg Hahn says:

    I had a pastor who told me that once. We were discussing the communion elements, with my position being that the elements should be bread and wine, not grape juice. (As it was in all churches everywhere, without contention, for the first 1800 years.) As I turned to the Scripture to make my point, he finally said: “I don’t care what the Bible says. We voted on this in 1982 and ratified it in 1983 and we can’t change it now.” I was absolutley floored by that, and still am to this day.

    This was a conservative, allegedly Bible-believing Charismatic preacher, who constantly proclaimed himself a “Word man” and would often preach about the importance of the Scriptures. And he kept on preaching that way, as if our conversation never happened. I could never see him the same after that, and we eventually left that church.

    • Tim says:

      I remember talking to a pastor once about a church ministry program . I asked how the program would tie into the overall mission of the church. I phrased it as “How is this about Jesus?” His response was “Not everything has to be about Jesus.” I was left speechless.

    • joepote01 says:

      Wow! I wonder if he even realized what he had just said. A different wording could have really changed your perception.

      For example, it would have been much more understandable if he had said, “I understand what you’re saying and you make a good point. However, this has historically been an area of much disagreement. We voted on this in 1982 and ratified it in 1983 and I really don’t think it’s worth dredging up again now.”

      That may have been closer to what he actually meant…but if so he certainly didn’t express it well.

  9. joepote01 says:

    Hah! I have to applaud her honesty, at least…though I’m not sure she intended to be that honest. I think her general attitude is actually adopted by a lot more people than are willing to admit it. They use the Bible to shore up their predetermined positions…but don’t want to wrestle with passages that contradict their position.

    I suppose, in some ways, we’re all guilty of that to some extent. I love quoting NT passages about God’s grace and message of love. I can’t say I really enjoy discussing some of the difficult passages such as some of the OT genocide commands. I have wrestled with them enough to feel like I have some degree of understanding as to why such drastic measures may have been required. But then…when I’m forced to look at it on a more human level…to really think about the women and children being killed…my mind starts looking for other topics to discuss.

    Thanks for the provocative post, Tim!

    • Tim says:

      Wrestling with those passages is honest, though, Joe. I once preached an entire sermon on Psalm 136, including the baby bashing verse.

      • joepote01 says:

        I agree. Wrestling with troubling passages is honest…even if the immediate result is to say I don’t fully understand it and will trust God to provide better understanding down the road.

        I think honest wrestling also helps give us more understanding and grace for people who believe differently from us. Knowing there are passages that I wrestle with makes it easier for me to relate to someone who interprets scripture different from my understanding.

        And that even extends to other religions. I have a hard time with some of the posts I see by Christians trying to prove that Islamic or Muslim faith is inherently violent, by quoting passages out of the Koran condoning or commanding violence. I think, yes…I get what your saying, but someone from another faith could do the exact same thing with the Bible.

  10. I care about what Scripture says and I think you are misunderstanding Heb 8:13 by taking it out of context. I will leave it to you if you wish to discuss further.

    • Tim says:

      It’s up to you, Don.

    • One thing is to establish what the new covenant is and is not.

      LEB Jer 31:31  Look, the days are coming,” declares Yahweh, “and I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 
      Jer 31:32  not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors on the day of my grasping them by their hand, bringing them out from the land of Egypt, my covenant that they themselves broke, though I myself was a master over them,” declares Yahweh. 
      Jer 31:33  “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares Yahweh: “I will put my law in their inward parts and on their hearts I will write it, and I will be to them God, and they themselves will be to me people. 
      Jer 31:34  And they will no longer teach each one his neighbor, or each one his brother, saying, ‘Know Yahweh,’ for all of them will know me, from their smallest and up to their greatest,” declares Yahweh, “for I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will no longer remember.” 

      Jeremiah was a prophet to Judah, so these words should be understood in that context, I think. The “law” mentioned in v.33 I think is Torah (Gen-Deu as elaborated on by other Scripture), as that is what the word would mean to a Jew. So I think the main difference between the new covenant and the earlier ones is the LOCATION of the stipulations; NOT the CONTENT of the stipulations. The location for the new covenant is one’s insides, while the previous covenants were written on stone and scrolls. How do you understand these verses?

      • Tim says:

        Another question is what you think is meant by the words “obsolete”, “outdated” and “disappear” in Hebrews 8:13, Don.

        • KJV+ Heb 8:13  In that he saith,G3004 A newG2537 [covenant], he hath made the first old.G3822 G3588 G4413 NowG1161 that which decayethG3822 andG2532 waxeth oldG1095 is ready to vanish away.G1451 G854 

          Those words you asked about mean what the KJV implies by their translation. But the challenge is that the translation you quoted in your original article added stuff that is not in the Greek, when that is done one needs to try to see if that stuff is warranted. In other words, the translators are trying to be helpful (as that is the way they understand the verse) but in some cases they can misunderstand what the verse is saying so the added stuff becomes unhelpful.

          LITV Heb 8:13  In the saying, New, He has made the first old. And the thing being made old and growing aged is near disappearing. 

          The LITV tries not to add words. I recommend checking out the Greek text. Here is how I translate it: In saying “new” He has made the former old; and what is being made old and aged is nearly going away.

          The new is referring to the word new that is a part of the term new covenant. However, by adding the word covenant, this can imply that it is the whole covenant that is being discussed. I do not think it is.

          The question is what is the former thing that is growing old and nearly gone? I think the entire chapter (Heb 8) is discussing Jesus as high priest as a superior high priest and claiming that the Mosaic high priesthood will be going away (with the destruction of the temple). I date the writing of Hebrews to before 70 AD which was when the temple was destroyed and the high priesthood went away.

          In other words, one should not extract a verse from its immediate context, as that is a way to misunderstand the intended meaning.

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