TELLS ME SO . . . OR DOES IT?
As kids, some of us sang,
"How do I know? The Bible tells me
so." I was excited to hear that the
Bible did indeed tell me much of what I
needed to know. Later I saw that it
contains a wealth of wisdom about God,
about us, and about how we are to live.
I often heard "the
Bible says" before a pronouncement
that called for divine authority. The
preacher wanted to convince the audience
that what he believed or wanted us to
believe was Gods will. So he backed
his belief with the Bibles
But do any of us who
claim such authority really know what we
are saying? Are we actually hearing and
sharing the heart of God? Or are we using
the Bible to support our preferred views
about God and conduct?
We sometimes forget
that when we use the word Bible we
are referring to an amazingly varied
library of 66 books written over some
1500 years. Each book was written for a
specific purpose, in a unique style, at a
particular time in history when its
message seemed most relevant.
The oldest stories were
orally shared before writing was used,
which raises questions about their
historical accuracy. In seminary I
learned that biblical literature includes
poetry, metaphor, romance, legend,
proverbs, visions, parables, allegories,
prayers, apocalyptic and prophetic parts,
historical sections, doctrinal letters,
I enjoyed noting that
Jesus used the humor of hyperbole in some
of his teachings: "If your right eye
causes you to sin, tear it out . . . and
if your right hand causes you to sin, cut
it off" (Matt. 5:29-30). Dont
take that literally!
Many of the teachings
of the apostle Paul we might take
literally, but some, such as his
reference to women forbidden to teach or
have authority over a man, many of us
would omit from that list. And it is
probably best to leave many of the
instructions from Leviticus to a past
era. Shrimp and ostrich meat can be good
for you, although forbidden in Leviticus
11:10-17. Leviticus also commands that
adulterers, homosexuals, and those who
curse God be stoned. Exodus includes
those who work on the Sabbath in the list
of persons to be executed.
There are about a
thousand verses in the Old Testament
which advocate violence against an enemy.
Those do not sound like the
"Father" in Jesus parable
of the prodigal son.
Jesus helps us here by
saying several times, "You have
heard it said . . . but I say to you. . .
." He upgrades the ethical
standards, as in Matthew 5:43-44:
"You have heard that it is said,
you shall love your neighbor and
hate your enemy, but I say to you,
"love your enemies." A major
New Testament theme has to do with
overcoming evil with good, but since that
is indeed difficult, some people retreat
to the Old Testament passages to gain
biblical justification for killing the
enemy. Then they can claim that "the
Bible says so" even though Jesus
rejected violence as an option for
Part of our problem, I believe,
is a misunderstanding of, "all
Scripture is inspired by God" (2
Tim. 3:16-17). We think that if God
inspired it, the Bible must be flawless.
I thought that until I recognized that
all of the New Testament was not even
written or included in what is called
"all Scripture" in this
More important was my
failure to recognize the purpose of
Gods inspiration, which was to make
the Scriptures "useful for teaching,
for reproof, for correction and for
training in righteousness so that
everyone who belongs to God may be
proficient, equipped for every good
work." To be trained in
righteousness so that we are a people of
good works is the emphasis here.
Inspiration did not
keep Scriptures from grammatical errors.
Mark, who made a few, is grateful. Or
from numerical inconsistencies. The
writers of Kings and Chronicles thank
you. Or from occasional nasty comments,
such as "Happy shall they be who
take your little ones and dash them
against the rock" (Ps. 137:9).
David, if he wrote that, might ponder
what to do with this in light of Christ.
Or from prejudicial
generalizations, "Cretans are always
liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons. . .
" (Titus 1:12-13). With apologies to
the citizens of Crete. Or a male
chauvinistic comment like, "Adam was
not deceived, but the woman was deceived
and became a transgressor, yet she will
be saved through childbearing" (1
Tim. 2:13-14). Could the apostle of
salvation by Gods grace granted
equally to men and women have written
those lines? I wonder. Many scholars do.
Yet this text is still used to
The fact is, the books
in this library were written by fallible
men who reflected the hopes or fears of
their particular time and place. Their
expressions were colored by struggles
with God and those whom they were
addressing. These writings call us,
centuries later, to wrestle with an
understanding of what God intended to say
to them and now to us. This calls for
humble reliance on both sound scholarship
and the Holy Spirit to recognize and
apply what God is saying to us through
this amazing collection.
Ultimately, we believe
God has spoken most clearly in Jesus
Christ, so we want to acknowledge his
lordship over the Scriptures as well as
over our lives. Then the purpose of God's
inspiration will be fulfilled.
The wonder is that
through these fallible writers,
Gods Spirit inspired them to say
what we needed to hear to bring us
salvation in Christ Jesus and enable us
to become saved people.
Maybe that is why
references to "love" appear
over 400 times in this library we call
our Bible. Jesus affirmed that love for
God and love for neighbor ranked number
one and two of all Gods commands.
Paul caught that when he said, "The
only thing that counts is faith working
through love." (Gal. 5:6).
Thats it! It may be difficult to
put into practice, but I cannot but be
impressed by this repetition of the love
The Bible tells me so,
or maybe, as Christians we ought to say,
"Jesus tells me so." After all,
for the Christian, Jesus and not a
bookeven if the best one
everis "The Word of God"
(John 1:14). We need to avoid idolizing
it. Unthinkingly applying to the Bible
terms like infallibility or inerrancy
can amount to "bibliolatry," as
Karl Barth called it.
The Word of God is a
dynamic revelation of divine truth, not
simply scribal inscriptions on paper. We
believe that God has spoken in the past
through the prophets and can still do so
today, if we listen carefully. But
Gods clearest and most profound
revelation is in and through Jesus
Christ. Therefore it is best for me to
give my attention to the One I call Lord
and, hearing his words, follow where the
living Word of God leads me.
Walla Walla, Washington, is retired
pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church
and author of Jesus Word,
Jesus Way, What Does the Bible
Really Say About Hell, and, with his
wife Joyce, of the forthcoming Loving