Reading Scripture How Scripture Reads Scripture

Day 10/30

We’re addicted to simple answers. School curriculums teach for the test. Pundits reduce meaningful debate into soundbites. What’s the bottom line? In the words of Derek Webb: “Don’t teach me about moderation and liberty. I prefer a shot of grape juice.”

Certainty is comforting.

The problem, of course, is life is uncertain. Especially anything in life that’s meaningful, things like politics, faith, or the Oxford comma. Don’t believe me? Try flipping back and forth between Fox News and MSNBC tonight to get their takes on the day’s events. Intelligent, well-intentioned people can disagree on meaningful topics. And that doesn’t make either of them the Devil.

This dynamic is at play throughout scripture. And it should be. Very little of the Bible was written during peaceful times of happiness and prosperity. Most of it was written during exile or exodus, taking on topics like why God seems so distant or why the Northern Kingdom fell.

You can read about Hezekiah, one of Judah’s last kings, in 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and Isaiah. And they don’t tell the same story. Because the Bible was written by different people at different times viewing history through different lenses.

Before I read it for myself, I believed those confident preachers who threw around words like inerrant and infallible. Then I read the text and feared the atheist arguments that the contradictions are evidence of falsity. They’re actually pretty similar, over-confident preachers and atheists. Both would say if any part of is isn’t historically accurate then none of it is.


Could you imagine treating life that way? How bout your marriage? If she didn’t tell me what she bought for Christmas, what else isn’t she telling me? Imagine walking into a library and thinking if all of these history books on the Civil War don’t line up, I can’t believe it ever happened at all. And I certainly can’t learn anything from it.

Some will accuse me of picking and choosing. Fine. It if has to be that simple then let’s pick and choose as scripture itself does. Ezekiel named the sins of Sodom: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.” Strangely missing is anything you might have heard that story’s about.

There are tons of these examples. But for time’s sake let’s jump straight to Jesus to see how he read scripture. Jesus never quoted Joshua or Judges, two of the most genocidal and xenophobic books in the Bible. When Jesus told his hometown his mission he quoted Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” But that’s not the whole passage. Jesus edited out the last half of the line: “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Jesus only quoted Leviticus once. In a book full of laws against what NOT to do. Jesus cherry-picked what TO do: Love your neighbor as yourself.

In fact, when Jesus was asked what scripture is most important he didn’t say all of it is inerrant and infallible or equally inspired. He didn’t hesitate to say love. Love God and love your neighbor.

You can read scripture a lot of different ways. It’s probably why we have so many Protestant denominations. Anyone who says things like “Just preach the word” is selling snake oil. Scripture is complicated because life is complicated. And God is too big for our feeble words.

As you read scripture from cover to cover you’ll see later writers of scripture interpret earlier. And you’ll see a direction emerge. That direction is toward love, grace, and inclusion. If it helps you to consider it picking and choosing, choose that.

Blessings friends.

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