Which parts of the Bible do you believe?
As good Evangelicals, we like to say, “All of it!” We believe the Bible to be the inerrant, holy word of God, and we “take it literally”—it means what it says. How often do we hear someone say something along the lines of, “We can’t be picking and choosing which verses God really meant.”
Yet, we do that all the time.
You’ve probably heard of A.J. Jacobs’ book, The Year of Living Biblically. (If you haven’t read it, please do—it’s a fun book and I recommend it.) Then there’s Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I have not yet read that one yet, although I intend to. Both of these authors point out that we don’t really do everything God says to do in the Bible. Most of the time, we don’t even try.
- Do you have tassels on the four corners of the cloak you wear? (Deut. 22:12)
- Do you have a tattoo? (Lev. 19:28)
- If you’re a man, do you shave your beard (we’ll assume that rule doesn’t apply to women!)? (Lev. 19:27)
- Women, do you wear jeans—or your husband’s t-shirts? (Deut. 22:5)
Wait a moment, you say. Those are all Old Testament rules that don’t apply to us anymore. Didn’t the early church decide that it was enough for the Gentiles to “abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:29, Acts 21:25)?
Jesus also said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17) But for the sake of argument, let’s ignore the Old Testament and focus solely on the New. We obey all the things in the New Testament, don’t we?
In fact, we tend to focus on some verses at the exclusion of others. Most churches against gay marriage base their view on verses such as Romans 1: 26-27 (discussing same-gender sexual relations). On the other hand, we no longer expect women to cover their heads when praying (1 Corinthians 11:2-14), explaining it was “only for that culture.”
Some churches have reinterpreted all those pesky comments Paul made about women, such as “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says” (1 Corinthians 14:34), and “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet” (1 Timothy 2:12). Other churches bar women from any teaching or leadership role. (I’m not aware of any congregations that forbid women to talk at all.)
(It gets more confusing when you realize that Paul also gave directions for the proper behavior of women who are prophesying during a church service (see 1 Corinthians 12:5). Maybe they had to mime what God was speaking through them.)
How about hair styles?
Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. (Corinthians 11:14-15)
How about couples living together without being married? Living together is now the cultural norm, not just among unbelievers, but in the church. Yet, the Bible expressly forbids it:
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. (Hebrews 13:4).
(I also found 30 additional verses just in the New Testament dealing with heterosexual immorality.) Apparently, this is now a controversial issue. Seems pretty clear to me. I’ll be blogging on this topic in more detail once I have my thoughts organized.
How about divorce?
I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.—Jesus (Matthew 19:9)
To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:10-11)
This used to be a Big Deal in the church. Not so any more. The Bible hasn’t changed, but our culture has. We now emphasize forgiveness, grace, and mercy rather than holiness and obedience.
How do we know which verses to apply, and which verses to dismiss as irrelevant in our day and age? As our culture drifts from a Biblical foundation, there is a great tendency to re-interpret the Bible to accommodate our changing perspective. But are we becoming more accurate? Or are we looking for a way to excuse ungodly behavior? Since it’s almost impossible to be unbiased under these circumstances, we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to give us clarity and a desire to please God more than ourselves.