“the Bible says so!”
end to an argument for a lot of people [who won’t necessarily give you a book, chapter and verse to make it easier on you but are pretty convinced in their heads that because they think something is true then surely the Bible must say so]
about a week ago i got involved in a ‘discussion’ on the ‘book [the less quotable one] where a pastor had posted a statement made by Bishop Tutu that had something to do with homosexuality and he was disagreeing with the statement… in the comments section i asked for clarification on one point because i was not sure what comment he was making on it and that’s where the fun began…
because a number of his followers jumped in to defend him and the sum total of some of their defense was “the bible says so!”
ah, so it must be true then, if it’s in the bible [which contains stories of polygamy, revenge, smashing tent pegs through peoples heads and so on, so maybe the mere fact that something is mentioned in the bible is not enough for starters – we may need a little more in terms of understanding context, intention of writer, original language it was written in, the story as a whole, the intended audience etc] or maybe not.
when Jesus encourages us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” [Matthew 22.37] perhaps He included the bit about the mind because He wanted us to use it?
the homosexuality argument is a case in point because too often people who have used the bible to back up their stance have used ridiculous out-of-context passages to do so – like picking a verse in deuteronomy that suggests homosexuality is wrong but choosing to ignore all the verses around it that say things like ‘A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.’ [verse 5], ‘Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together.’ [verse 11] and of course, ‘If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die.’ [verse 22] which clearly they do not fight as vocally for.
another is the ‘prayer of Jabez’ theology where someone took a couple of verses in Chronicles, relating to one specific man’s specific prayer and God’s response to him:
‘Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.’ [1 Chronicles 4.9-10]
this prayer is given in narrative form rather than teaching form and it rides on the back of ‘Jabez was more honorable than his brothers’ which is not the heavily focused on part, and dwell even more on the ‘enlarge my territory’ bit than the ‘keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain’ phrase. and so people started praying this prayer religiously [superstitiously?] and expecting great things from God.
what is interesting is how we can do that to a short prayer one guy prays and yet no-one has come up with a best-selling ‘The Prayer of Job’ much longer prayers] with such winning phrases as, “May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’ That day—may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine on it. May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more; may a cloud settle over it; may blackness overwhelm it.’ [Job 3.3-5]
you can add some of Isaiah and Jeremiah’s prayers into the mix as well. what may look like it works for a whole bunch of western christians in relative wealth and comfort [the prayer of Jabez] does not look the same at all if you put it into the mouths of Christ followers in countries where if you are caught following or converting to Jesus you are stoned to death or maybe those living in some of the poorer nations of the world. and it doesn’t work if you hold it up against the teachings of Jesus and Paul and the Bible story as a whole.
that would be like reading that King David slept with another man’s wife and that he was ‘a man after God’s own heart’ and so therefore we can sleep with other men’s wives. absolutely crazy. context is important, how it fits into the bible narrative as a whole, who the intended audience was and what the writer was trying to say.
the bible is written in a variety of different styles of writing and you cannot approach poetry the same way as narrative, or prophecy in the same way as teaching – we would never do that in english class and yet people do it with the bible all the time, because, say it with me, “the Bible says so”
this coupled with the fact that one of the biggest blights in the church today is that people do not know their bibles [largely because they do not read their bibles] and so it has become an even worse understood ‘i think the bible says so’ often coupled with a secret ‘because my pastor/favorite author/blogger said so’ and so our definitive declarative statement of ‘the Bible told me so’ has really been watered down to a sense of ‘this is my guess as to what God thinks about this one and i’m too lazy to really check it out for sure.’
it’s time for the church to love Jesus, and grow a brain! oh wait, God already gave us one of those… just start using it then.
in 1 Thessalonians 5 Paul writes, ‘Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is god’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil.’ [vs. 16-22]
now it does seem to be referring specifically to prophecies in that example, but i would suggest that principle needs to be true of any handling of God’s word – that of your pastor says it or if you read it in a book or if you feel like that would be God’s stance on a thing, then you need to go and test it – hold on to the good, avoid every kind of evil. test it by taking it back to the bible and seeing if it falls in line with Jesus teaching and with the overarching theme of the biblical narrative. test it by discussing it with people you know who you respect as people who generally love God and understand His Word. test it by inviting the Holy Spirit in your own heart to bear testimony.
if you hold to a stance that violence is wrong, then you need to read through the old testament again and realise that there is a lot of violence happening there [and a lot which is encouraged, ordered by or brought about by God] and so you might need to do some wrestling with some passages and some understanding of the story and with some authors who have written on the subject to figure out what God is saying about that today.
if you hold to the opinion that monogamy is God’s way for us, then you need to struggle through stories of Abraham, Jacob, David and many others and the face that polygamy doesn’t seem to be directly condemned in the Bible and possibly the closest to teaching on the topic is role-specific where deacons/elders are to be the man of one wife.
and so on. there are many things in the bible that if we start looking at them honestly, become areas that need much wrestling, discussion and prayer to determine exactly what God is and isn’t saying and to throw out a quick and simplistic “the Bible says so” often does not do our faith or our integrity or reputation [specifically to non-believers] any good.
God has given us a brain and He wants us to use it. Reading the Bible is a start. Getting to know and understand Scripture is great. And then effectively applying it to today’s world and context is a further great step. Doing that in community so others can help in areas that might be blind spots for you is a winner. Being able to hold different ideas in tension [which may not seem to work together – can God be just and Loving at the same time?] as well as taking the time to hear someone share their explanation on a topic you might have a strongly different opinion on and really see where they are coming from [women in leadership, tattoos, vegetarianism etc] are all ways of really helping you become more sure about what you believe. as well as having the brains to leave a gap for the possibility that ‘i might be wrong on this one despite how strongly i believe it.’
see also Critique vs Criticism unless you came here from reading that and then don’t or you’ll hit this time loop and if you see yourself the whole universe will implode or something…