The Bible Is Not A Weapon

The Bible is a wonderful book. It is the story of humanity’s search for God and of God’s loving response. It is the record of God’s mercy in the face of human sin, and it shows us how God’s Pic 1grace ultimately overcomes humanity’s greed and lust and hunger for power.

Sadly, however, this wonderful book—whose primary message is one of hope and love and new life—has been, and continues to be, misunderstood and misused by the Christian community. As a result, a text with the capacity to transform lives sometimes causes pain and contributes to the division of the church into sects and factions.

Along these lines, I just read yet another article—one of many with a similar theme, I’m afraid—this time a sermon by a prominent American church leader. In it, he kindly and eloquently refers to his point of view on a particular matter—and that of his congregation—as Pic 2the biblical position.” In another place he defends his viewpoint as “simply standing for what the Bible teaches.”

In response to this brother’s well-meaning but wrongheaded assertions, I have one sincere and earnest request. Please stop saying stuff like that!

Your view—whatever it is, whatever the issue—is not the only “biblical” position. People of good will and charity differ on their interpretation of the Bible. To refer to one’s own view as the biblical position and to one’s particular interpretation as the one which reflects what the Bible really teaches comes dangerously close to disdainful arrogance.

Pic 3It does not matter where you find yourself along the theological spectrum from fundamentalism on the right to extreme liberalism on the left. It does not matter whether or not you agree with me. Disdain for another’s view and absolute certainty of one’s own rightness does not contribute to an environment where unity and harmony can flourish.

We must not use the Bible as a weapon to subdue and defeat those with whom we differ. When our theological interpretation and cultural application of “biblical truth” yields hostility, division, and emotional pain, it is time to reconsider both the character and purpose of our Pic 4sacred text as well as our motives and techniques in using it.

You may hold your convictions with passion and consider other views flawed and inadequate. Still, and for the sake of the kingdom, have the good grace to acknowledge that there are people who value the Bible every bit as much as you do who have come to a different conclusion about what the text means. It’s the courteous—not to mention Christian—thing to do.

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7 thoughts on “The Bible Is Not A Weapon

  1. I agree, to a point.
    I assume that you hold the views you express in this piece with appropriate humility, and charity. In other words, those who hold to a view that would indicate that the Bible actually says something that can be understood and appropriately debated–that there are matters one can be sure about–could be right and you wrong.
    “. . . there are people who value the Bible every bit as much as you do who have come to a different conclusion about what the text means. It’s the courteous—not to mention Christian—thing to do.” As one who strives for a greater measure of certainty than what I see expressed in your article, I acknowledge that those who come to differing conclusions about a whole array of issues related to Bible interpretation, often display a love for scripture and God that exceeds mine. I should treat those with whom I differ with as much courtesy as possible. If your point is that others go to the Bible and come out with interpretations different than mine, and that therefore I shouldn’t say mine is the (emphasize “the”) Bible’s teaching, then of course you are right.
    I’m interested to hear how you see your admonition squaring with Jude’s earnest contention, or Paul’s confrontation of Peter to his face. While I would not think of putting myself on par with Christ when it comes to Bible interpretation, His confrontation of the Sadducees as lacking in understanding of the scriptures would indicate that there is a correct interpretation. The resurrection-denying teaching of the Sadducees was only different, it was wrong.
    I do very much appreciate the reminder that rhetoric matters. Your writing helps me to examine mine–just in case anyone is listening–more carefully.
    Thanks. Praying God’s best for you. Still open to coffee.

    • I’m not suggesting, Howard, that striving for a “measure of certainty,” as you put it, is wrong. My point is that our convictions should not be held with such absoluteness that we are unwilling to acknowledge that we might be wrong. There is far more ambiguity in the NT than most conservatives are usually willing to admit. Jude is addressing those who are intentional and pernicious enemies of the kingdom. He is not outlining a technique for addressing differences of interpretation within the body of Christ. And I’m willing to allow Jesus to address issues with more absoluteness than I think is prudent for the rest of us. Always good to hear from you. –E.

  2. Eric, I would be interested in hearing you expand your thoughts on “When our theological interpretation and cultural application of “biblical truth” yields hostility, division, and emotional pain, it is time to reconsider both the character and purpose of our sacred text…” in juxtaposition with Jesus’ words in Matthew 10: 34-37. Is there any time that speaking what we believe to be the truth is worth hostility, division and/or emotional pain? If so, what metric is appropriate?
    I appreciate the honesty of your perspective on these nuanced topics.
    Dano

    • Thanks for your comments, Dano. You raise some valid and important questions. It is essential to consider differences in context when comparing scripture passages or behavior based on scripture. In Mt. 10, Jesus was making the point that citizenship in the kingdom of God and allegiance to the king changes the hierarchy of loyalty and the nature of community identification for Christians. Kingdom citizens put the interests of the kingdom first, even when that results in views and behavior that conflict with those of members of their human families who do not share their kingdom commitments. My comments in this blog post were directed at kingdom citizens exclusively. My concern is for divisions that develop within the body of Christ when some Christians hold their views adamantly and regard the views of other Christians with disdain. When we refuse to acknowledge that differing viewpoints on biblical interpretation, even views that seem mutually exclusive, can still be equally “biblical,” depending on the assumptions of the persons holding the views, we foster division and treat those with whom we differ as enemies. That can result in unnecessary emotional pain and shows a misunderstanding of the true character of scripture and of the importance of unity in the body of Christ.

  3. Eric,

    I agree wholeheartedly with your article. I feel God in Christ means for us to share the word, Jesus with others, not beat them over the head with Bible passages.

    As for the passage, Dano spoke of, I don’t think that it means that we are to confront people with what we perceive as a “biblical truth” and act as if we are the ultimate authority about it. I do not take it to mean that God intends us to be so demanding about a “biblical truth” that it leaves the recipient of the lecture in tears and feeling emotional pain. I think Matthew 10:34-37 means that when we follow Christ, He is first and foremost. That means that sometimes family members and dearest friends will not understand when you go to feed the homeless and they want you to stay home with them. The natural consequence of choosing Christ over family and friends is that there are times that they may resent the time you spend living your faith and that the situation can cause them pain. Your loved ones may want to be first in your life and when they are not it may be hard to understand. I, too, would love to hear Eric’s take on that passage.

    • Thanks for your comments, Martha. I think you and I view the Matthew 10 passage in essentially the same way. You may want to take a look at my response to Dano, above, which I wrote after your comments were posted here. I wish you well. –EK

      • Eric, thank you so much for responding to my post. I have read your response to Dano and found it very informative. Thanks, again, Martha

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