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On the Use and Misuse of the Bible

Last week, I received a comment on YouTube challenging the assertion I made in our Sexual Brokenness series that homosexual behavior was one of the many ways we exhibit sexual brokenness.

Dennis asked: “Why do you focus on that sin and ignore the rest of Leviticus? There are laws in there against gluttony, eating pork and shrimp, and wearing cotton-poly blends.” You know what? He’s right. In the book often quoted to condemn homosexual sin, these other things are condemned also. So what do we do now?

Yesterday we talked about how important it is for Christians to commit themselves to the Scriptures. But it’s not enough that we read and quote the Bible. How we read and quote it matters too. A lot. The basic fact is that we evangelicals often misuse the Bible in ways that can look just silly to the outside world.

We’re often quick to quote verses or moralize stories out of context. For example, we’ll quote Jeremiah 29:11, and claim that the promise found there means God has plans to prosper us and not harm us. But we’re unaware that that particular promise was delivered to Israel, a nation whom God had just punished by sending them to captivity.

The problem here is not that we don’t know what the verse says, but that we don’t really know what the verse means, because we don’t know the rest of Jeremiah 29, or the rest of Jeremiah 1, or where this promise fits in the whole scheme of redemptive history.

This sort of proof-texting reveals our tendency to selectively focus on certain parts of the Scripture, like the promises, while we ignore the other parts, like the curses.

Jewish philosopher and Rabbi Abraham Heschel once remarked to a group of Christians: “It seems puzzling to me how greatly attached to the Bible you seem to be and yet how much like pagans you handle it. The great challenge to those of us who wish to take the Bible seriously is to let it teach us its own essential categories; and then for us to think with them, instead of just about them.”

Ouch! But he has a point. The Bible is not a set of disconnected stories or self-contained phrases. Even the morals and the songs found in the Proverbs and the Psalms are given to us within the context of the history of Israel, which is given to us in the context of the history of everything — from the creation of the heavens and earth to the re-creation of the heavens and earth.

This big picture of the Bible should always be the backdrop whenever we read any part of the Bible. And we should keep in mind what kind of book we are reading: history, theology, poetry, prophecy, proverbs, or letters. A letter shouldn’t be picked apart like a proverb, and history shouldn’t be read as theology. Reading it as it was written, in light of the larger context of redemptive history, will help us learn what God is revealing to us about Himself and the world.

Which takes us back to Dennis’s comment about Leviticus. Leviticus 1 clarified God’s law for the Israelites. Some of these laws were specific to Israel, to set them apart from the other nations. Other laws reflected God’s created order for everybody — such as the the one-man, one-woman sexual love described in Genesis and later endorsed by Jesus and Paul.

Any form of sexual brokenness is harmful precisely because it violates God’s good design which Jesus said was “Matthew 19.” And because Scripture reflects the world as it actually is, the tragic results of sexual brokenness are evident not only in the Bible but throughout human history.

Folks, we must be thoughtful and thorough in our use of the Scriptures, and if you visit Breakpoint.org and click on this commentary, we’ll link you to several terrific resources to help you develop strong study skills.

As the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, John Stonestreet provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: August 8, 2012

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