“The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it” is a popular saying amongst some Christians. The problem is: does the Bible say it? It is quite possible for such Christians to take a verse of Scripture out of context and then dogmatise that “the Bible says” what in fact the context shows it doesn’t say! It is vital that we modify passages by comparing Scripture with Scripture or by looking at the historical context in which the Scriptural statement was made.
The Christian who doesn’t do this will be led into some strange ways. Firstly, he will be mutilated because he will cut off his hand or foot or gouge his eye out (Matt 5:29-30; 18:8-9). Similarly he will not resist anyone with evil intent against him (Matt 5:39, 41).
Secondly, he will be bankrupt because he will give money or possessions – including his clothes – to anyone who asks them of him (Matt 5:40, 42) or even takes them (Luke 6:27-30). So I ask any Christian who disagrees with this article to send me a thousand pounds. If he doesn’t I won’t believe he is sincere (joke)! In fact he will give away all his possessions (Matt 19:22; Luke 14:33). He will lend money or possessions to anyone without expecting repayment (Luke 6:35).
Thirdly, he will be terrified of condemnation on the day of judgment because he has been angry or certain he is going to hell because he called someone a fool (Matt 5:22), despite the fact that Jesus called the Pharisees fools.
Fourthly, he will be quite a character in the local church because he will preach from the nearest roof top (Matt 10:27) but only to Jewish people (Matt 10:5). He will however have no contact with unbelievers (2 Cor 6:14-18). He will never pray in public (Matt 6:6) but he will put oil on his head when he is fasting (Matt 6:17). He won’t have a bank account (Matt 6:19) nor will he give by covenant (Matt 6:1-4). He will, however, speak in tongues (1 Cor 14:5) and raise the dead (Matt 10:6). He will confess his sins publicly (James 5:16) and greet his Christian brothers with a kiss (1 Thess 5:25). He won’t attend sermons or Bible studies because he already knows it all (1 John 2:27).
Fifthly, he won’t be popular with his family because he will hate them (Luke 14:26). He won’t arrange or attend his father’s funeral (Luke 9:59-60) or even say goodbye to his family when he goes away on a ministry trip, taking neither money nor clothes (Luke 9:61-62; Matt 10:9). Ideally he will remain single because marriage is second best (1 Cor 7:1, 7-8, 27-28, 39-40). If he is married he will live like a single man (1 Cor 7:29). He will forbid his wife to wear gold or pearls or expensive clothes (1 Tim 2:9) but insist on her wearing a hat in church (1 Cor 11:5).
Sixthly, his views on society will be controversial. He will be a manual labourer (1 Thess 4:11) but will support unjust wages policy (Matt 20:1-16) and the reintroduction of slavery (Eph 6:14-18; Col 4:1).
Finally, he will probably be dead because he will handle deadly snakes and drink poison (Mark 16:18). I have written all this to show that not all Scripture is to be read in a literal way and it should not be taken out of context.
All Christians do modify statements made by Scripture by taking the context seriously. But some then inconsistently do not take the context seriously in approaching controversial issues such as Baptism, church government, women’s ministry; patterns of worship; divorce and remarriage.
So, for example, I’ve heard Christians recently say the Lord doesn’t allow divorce (Mark 10:2-12), despite the fact that he does (Matt 5:31-32; 19:9). Then they say that adultery is the only exception in all circumstances despite the fact that he was addressing the contemporary Jewish practice of divorce for superficial reasons (“for any and every reason” Matt 19:3), even because a wife burnt the food! They also ignore the fact that Paul feels free to extend it (1 Cor 7:15) to meet different circumstances Jesus wasn’t addressing. We must prayerfully do the same: Jesus’ statement was clearly for specific historical circumstances. He does not, for example, address the situation of a husband cruelly abusing his wife.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction