Proof-Texting Ethics 😬

…just to be clear, there is a Bible verse for…

1. Burning witches

2. Castrating theological opponents

3. Cutting off women’s hands

4. Killing the babies of your enemies

5. Killing your own children if they disrespect you

6. Eating kosher

7. Kissing everyone in church 🤨

8. Being baptized for the dead (🤯🤷‍♂️)

9. Women being saved by having babies

…just pointing to one verse and saying, “see! See?! The bible says!” Is not enough. In fact, that is scary!

The bible is a coming together of the human and the divine. Do you understand the people of the time? Do you know what problems they were trying to address with these laws? Do you know the bigger story? Can you glean out some principles? Can you tie everything back to Jesus’ principle, that all commands should be hinged on love of God and neighbour? Do you know your OWN story? Do you know the history that brought you to the beliefs that you have? Do you know the culture in which you live? Do you know the real-life heartache and problems around you? Can you remember that true godliness is about purity of life, and care of the vulnerable and the outcasts? Can you balance biblical commands with mercy, as Jesus taught?

Interpreting the Bible is hard. Work. Which is why it is usually best done in community. It’s a long book with a lot of seeming contradictions. I think this is on purpose. We see ourselves in the story, but the Bible resists a rigid “black-and-white” interpretation. There’s always that one verse that doesn’t quite fit.

It’s complicated. It’s hard work. It’s heart work. We won’t always get it right. We may feel like we are living in the grey. It can be quite unsatisfying.

…and yet, God can guide us, and we can find ourselves in the story. The Bible can become a living book, to give us timeless help in our changing lives.

…but someone just studying alone, unreflective, cut off from culture, not reading any commentaries, and basing all their ethics on proof-texts? “The Bible says!” “I’ve got a verse for that!” “Look right here, it says…” 😬 Yeah…there’s a LOT of verses in there…😬😬

Proof-text ethics is just scary…

Fences Around the Law

Because the Pharisees believed that a person could go to Hell for breaking any of the 613 commandments in the Old Testament, they (along with the lawyers, teachers, and scribes) made more rules, which some called a “fence” around the law. The logic being: if you can fall into Hell for gathering sticks on a Sabbath, then let’s make a rule about not even walking more than x number of steps on a sabbath. Just in case.
Jesus comes along and just doesn’t give a hoot about their traditions. He walks through them like a bulldozer through barbed wire.
Furthermore, he says:
1) You have totally missed the spirit of the commands (which were supposed to be about love)
2) You teach as precepts of God the commandments of men (Mark 7:6)
3) You tie up heavy burdens on people
4) You very often use tradition to even disregard commandments entirely
5) You measure your spirituality by your ability to follow a lot of external, showy rules.
They seemed to think that the more rules the better: but Jesus seemed to think the opposite.
….so question…
What are some of the “fences around the law” that you were raised with? Let’s make a list! I’ll start:
…the Bible says “Don’t get drunk,” so tradition says, “don’t ever touch alcohol.”
…the bible says “don’t cross-dress,” so tradition says, “women must wear dresses” (even when they are outdated and fairly impractical at times, especially for sports!)
…tradition says rock music is bad. But nobody can seem to find the verse for it.
…there is one fairly confusing verse about men having short hair (despite many long-haired dudes in the Old Testament) and so good Christian men don’t have hair past their ears.
…now your turn…
…what “fences” did you see around the law, growing up? What did it feel like to have so many rules?

The Bible, and Other Books…

The Bible is an amazing book. It is THE book: ancient, influential, powerful. But…not the ONLY book. And not the best book for some things.
Like mechanics. The Bible really doesn’t have a lot to say about fixing a rear differential.
…or cooking. The Bible isn’t the best recipe book (except for “Ezekiel bread,” I guess! lol)
You won’t learn much about chemistry in the Bible.
The botany and anatomy and cosmological statements are true to the time, but outdated by today’s standards.
The Bible is a tremendous book for what it is. But it is not the only book. We need to use other books as well.
…and so…someone who is an expert in reading the Bible…is not necessarily going to be an expert on every topic every, anywhere in the world.
This is just an important point to make.
A Bible teacher MAY have studied political theory, infectious disease theory, medicine, sociology, psychology, cosmology, archeology, palaeontology, chemistry, and a host of other disciplines. They MAY know what they are talking about. Or…they may just have their own private opinions on matters that really have nothing to do with the Bible. Because being a Bible teacher gives them a platform, sometimes these speakers feel the need to also share their private opinions on a host of other non-Bible-related topics.
…and that is fine. Sure. Go ahead!
But let’s just keep in mind: the Bible is one book among many. It is amazing, it is inspired, it is the Word of God (if you believe that, as I do). But…it’s a terrible manual for fixing your car, or making cinnamon rolls.
Listen to the Word, and listen to your pastor when he is explaining the Bible. But when he veers off into topics that really have nothing to do wth theology, it is just helpful to remember that these may just be private opinions, and disagreeing with him on these points is not a Bible issue: it is a personal disagreement like you would have with anyone at the coffee shop. Especially in these times, we need to let the experts be the experts, and remember the being an expert in one domain does not necessarily make you an expert in other domains. That is my opinion: apply it as you see fit! ✌️

The Dangers of “Biblicism”

Reading the Bible, all by yourself, with no commentaries and no input from others is the ultimate in confirmation bias. A person can conveniently ignore or explain away anything that challenges them, while finding “biblical support” for all of their personal prejudices and ideas. If no support is given directly from scriptures, the person can simply say, “the Holy Spirit told me…” and put some very outlandish spin on a verse. It happens all the time!
“Bible teachers” like this can be very attractive. “Wow, he only quotes the Bible!” “Wow, he is self-taught! He wasn’t corrupted by some dirty seminary!” “Wow, God seems to speak to him so much!” …but the person isn’t really speaking to them about Gods way, but their own private ideas, wrapped in Biblical language. The effects of such teachers can be devastating: among other things, it can make it seem like anybody can make the Bible say anything that they want. Which of course, they can. So how can we avoid this confirmation bias? We cannot. We are only human. That is why we need one another. “Let one or two speak, and the rest pass judgment.” “But the Bereans were more noble, because after Paul spoke, they searched the Scriptures, to see if these things were so.” “*Study* to show yourself as a workman approved, able to *accurately* handle the word if God.” “You Pharisees…teach as doctrines the ideas of men…” “see to it that no one takes you captive through the…basic principles of men…”
The believing community is:
1) A local church of people who can respond in some way to the “teacher.” If the teacher is never told that they were wrong, and never revises their views, they have no such community
2) Commentaries and other pastors. You don’t know it all! The Bible wasn’t written in your language — or your millennia! You need help understanding some things! Be humble enough to ask for and receive help!
3) The wider faith community. Not every good Christian agrees with you. Some have very good Biblical reasons for what they believe. Learn from them! Learn to sit with the fact that there are more than one way to see many issues. Gradually, you will begin to see that while *some* issues in the Bible are black and white, many are grey. And some things you were taught to believe aren’t even in the Bible at all!
…as you emerge from under the dictatorial cloud of one narrow minded teacher, into the light and colour of the family of God, you may begin to find that the Bible is more like a grand story, where we can all find meaning and purpose and direction for our own lives. It is less like an instruction manual, telling us how to conform to the ideas and biases of one narrow minded “Bible teacher.”