BodEquip Ministries - Equipping the Body of Christ to Live Abundantly.

Two Ways to View the Bible

(By Christopher Long, BodEquip Ministries)

Some years back, I was sent a message containing a pastor's response to a precursor article of "Homosexuality, Gay Marriage, & The Church". Below is the central part of that (I've made it anonymous) to showcase by example the thought process that many within our churches have, and the real root issue that is involved (it's about much more than homosexuality!). My response/comments then follow.

Here is the quote from the pastor:

It seems to me the primary issue in this question is whether or not homosexuality is a sin - and that is still a matter of biblical interpretation. Long denies these arguments - refuses to hear them - explaining them away as a rationalization of sin. I think that is naive - There are many other situations in which we use biblical interpretation to better understand what the texts say to our lives today. We (at least in our Methodist church) allow women to be ordained ministers and to lead churches. If we take the biblical writings at face value, as Long insists we must with homosexuality, then we must also refuse to allow women in the pulpit - and we must allow for slavery - and we cannot eat shrimp ... you get the idea. There is a place for thoughtful, careful Biblical scholarship and interpretation, in order to seek the truth of scripture for our day. I think this issue is one of those places.

There are many Biblical scholars who will make the arguments Long dismisses in his article - about the usage of words that do not translate directly into English, about practices that were different in the 1st century than today, about understandings about biology that were unknown to 1st century people, and about context and world view that have changed.

I also recognize that there are issues about which even the most learned Biblical scholars do not agree. How do we decide what is true for ourselves? Our tradition teaches we have Scripture as a primary guide, but are also given our intellect, the teaching of the wisdom of the ages, and our own experience of God. This is not the same as saying truth is relative - but there are ways in which some truths can belong to some people or some times. In any case, I am well aware that there are differing opinions on this subject - all of which are faithfully held - which is why you will not likely hear me preaching on this subject from the pulpit. I know what I am supposed to do with MY life - beyond that, it is up to God. (Another statement Long rejects, but I will not judge.)

It is my hope that we, the church, can continue to be in conversation about what it means to be faithful people in this time and place - and recognize that it is not just this issue, nor the issue of abortion, the primarily define our faithfulness - but rather our seeking to live in the fullness of God's call upon our lives.

My comments in response to this:

This pastor in my view has a major structural theological problem in her thinking, which goes far beyond issues like homosexuality or abortion. Views on issues like homosexuality or abortion often are merely symptoms of this deeper theological issue.

When you get down to it, there are 2 main types of people when it comes to how we view the Bible:

1) Those that believe the Bible is a "guide book" - it gives us some truth, but truth also must take into account - as this pastor stated - things like "the wisdom of the ages", "our own experiences with God", "our own intellect", etc. Therefore, when the Bible says "x", if the "wisdom of the ages" (i.e. man's wisdom) or our own supposed "experiences with God" say different, then we can reject "x". Our culture today (what we think we know now) can dictate what parts of the Bible we want to believe as true and what parts we don't. What parts we want to agree with and what parts we don't.

2) Those that believe the Bible is not just a "guide book", but THE book that contains Truth as embodied in the Word of God. This truth does not change. Truth is truth. Now, that doesn't mean that some truth is not understood in the light of what was going on in Biblical times (i.e. the "context") - certainly we can look to the context of Scripture to understand the truth. But it doesn't negate the truth, it helps explain it. Now this doesn't mean that every word in the Bible is "correct doctrine" - for instance, there's lots of foolish statements uttered by Job's friends in the Book of Job and they are shown as such. But the Bible is a book of truth that tells us key things such as telling us about God, about humanity, about right and wrong, about our need for salvation, about Jesus and faith in Him and how to live as followers of Him, and about both the start and end of the world. It's a book of truth that tells us very important things.

Obviously #2 would be my camp. I believe God says what He means and means what He says. Now, I do believe that the Bible ultimately has to be read through the lens of the cross and that can affect how certain passages (particularly in the Old Testament) are understood or applied. But I don't like to spend my time trying to explain away portions of Scripture because "modern man's wisdom" or what *I* think in my brain disagree with God's Word. The Bible tells us that man is sinful from birth, it tells us that the heart is deceitfully wicked above all things, it tells us that none are righteous in ourselves - that our minds and consciences can be seared....If I'm relying on MY anything to tell me things of truth, I am in deep trouble because I in myself am fundamentally flawed! I need something outside of me, and outside of all these other flawed human beings walking around, to determine what is true and what is not. God has given us His Word for this very purpose!

Just because culture in the last 30 years has been moving towards a posture of homosexuality not being a sin and being "ok" does not mean it is. The Bible says different and for a very very long time, the church has held to that Biblical standard. It is only recently as our culture has left God in the dust more and more, that this has begun really changing. And unfortunately, large parts of the Methodist denomination is one of several which has caved in and "changed their perception of truth". If what is a sin and what is not can change every time culture shifts this way or another, we are in deep trouble. If God can call something an abomination to Him at one point in history, but a few thousand years later, it's all OK because WE know so much more now - and culture dictates truth to US (rather than God's Word dictating truth to culture), then we have no sure footing. We can never know what's true and what's not. We're like Pilate exclaiming "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38) when confronted with God's truth, which if you read this pastor's response carefully, I believe you will see as an underpinning in what she says.

Now, this pastor mentions some of the common arguments. People that want to pick and choose often take a posture of saying things like "well, the Bible also talks about slavery, laws regarding not eating certain things, the role of women", etc. which we know as "different" now.

Let's take slavery. The Bible never condones slavery that I can see. First of all, when we think of slavery today we are often thinking in terms of race-based forced slavery. In Biblical times though, often it was more an economics-based voluntary servitude to choose to submit oneself to another for whatever period of time (think Jacob agreeing to serve Laban for so many years). This is why many recent Bible translations have wrestled with how best to represent the related Hebrew and Greek words ("'ebed" and "doulos" respectively) as while many translations have traditionally rendered them as "slave", some now render them as "servant" or "bond-servant" in various passages.

With that said, I don't see anything in the Bible that would lead one to believe that forced-slavery of anyone is a good thing. What the Bible does do though is ASSUME that slavery (of whatever form) exists in this world we live in and writes to people given that assumption. And I would agree that the advice given to slaves (or servants or bondservants) is sound advice, though it can perhaps be hard to swallow.

For instance, I just read this in 1 Peter the other day:

"Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. ... When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly." (1 Peter 2:18-21,23 ESV)

This is hard, right? Because it flies against what we would think. We would think that a person in that situation should NOT endure it, right? But the goal of what Peter is getting at is that if you suffer for doing right, it's credited to your account because God sees the injustice - and not only that, but it serves as a powerful witness to the one doing the is a powerful testimony of sorts AGAINST them - precisely BECAUSE we don't respond in the way most people would - it shows LOVE - rather than the retaliation and anger that most people would show.

This type of passage could potentially be applied in a variety of situations where one person is exerting dominance over another. Although it's a bit of a stretch, as an extreme for-instance: a domestic violence situation where say a woman is a "slave" of sorts to a man that is beating her (a "master" of sorts). There's a woman I know of in the area where I live that was beaten regularly for a long time by her husband. She was a believer and he was not. Although human wisdom would have dictated that she leave and I believe she would have been perfectly justified to separate herself from him, she stayed because she really felt she was supposed to. Eventually, the testimony of her continual love is what helped bring her husband to Christ - and he now has a large ministry where he has ministered to probably hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people and has helped lead untold amounts of people to Christ. In that situation, had she left and said "see you sucker!" it's at least somewhat in doubt whether the greater picture that exists today would have come to pass.

Now, does this mean that a person in that situation should always endure such wrong beatings? I'm definitely NOT going to go that far and as far as I can see, I don't see the Scripture saying that either. In fact, for a woman in such a situation, my advice would most definitely likely be "show love and clear boundaries by separating from them" for which I also believe a case can be made from Scripture. I would NEVER EVER tell a woman she should just put up with being beaten.

But the point is that it doesn't negate the truth as taught above in Scripture. See, someone reads that passage about slavery, and the natural inclination is to say that "that doesn't apply any more" because now we have "evolved" (another problem often underlying "don't take the Bible literally" people) and we know slavery is wrong and thus the Bible was wrong to say such things. But that isn't true. Truth is truth. The context of the slavery at the time explains the truth, but it doesn't negate it. Incidentally, the slavery passages are often very applicable in an employer-employee relationship of today or any other relationship where one person has dominance over another. The truth does not change!

As for the arguments that these people love to use regarding the OT law, again context is key, but it doesn't negate the truth.

The law was given for the nation of Israel as God's chosen nation and He wanted them to be "set apart" (holy) for Him. He wanted all the other nations to see a distinction with them. There are thus many regulations relating to them. It is true that we are not under "the law". It is true that Christ came to fulfill the law. However, that doesn't mean the law is to be discarded and nor does it mean that it doesn't give us great insight into God's heart. They are laws from God and they tell us things about Him and what He thinks. Much of the law if followed today would STILL actually be wise. For instance, most of the stuff relating to uncleanness and having to wait till evening or several days before you were "clean" again was important on a practical level as it helped keep diseases from running rampant with the Israelites. Many of the laws taught spiritual concepts as well as served a practical purpose.

There are several parts to the law including the moral code that governs behavior. The mistake that people make is they want to throw out everything because they think they can point to some things and say "well, that doesn't apply any more" or "we don't need to do that" anymore. They thus dismiss its entire value at telling us what God thinks about things.

And certainly just as the nation of Israel is to be "set apart" (holy) so those who are believers in Jesus Christ are to be "set apart" (holy). We are exhorted along these lines numerous times in the New Testament! The world may do what the world does but believers are to be "set apart" so most definitely those that are in Christ's family need to pay close attention to His heart on things as He has revealed them.

For instance, God's heart as revealed in the law shows us that He doesn't like parents taking their children and sacrificing them to idols. He doesn't like the killing of innocent children. This does not change. God shows us He doesn't like beastiality - that people are not to have sex with animals. Again, His heart on these things are not going to change. Forever and ever and ever God's heart is that men and women don't have sex with animals. It isn't going to change. Likewise, when God says that homosexuality is an abomination to Him and the penalty for the Israelites practicing it is death, this tells us God takes homosexuality very seriously too. It tells us what God thinks of homosexuality. God isn't going to change His mind - ever. It's not like He thinks "Oh well homosexuality is an abomination to me now for the people of Israel, but 2000 years from now I won't care if people commit homosexuality." God's standards do not change.

He has shown us His heart on things and we would be wise to not dismiss it. We are not bound to the law because Christ fulfilled the law and thus everything in the law was fulfilled in Christ (incidentally just as a side-note that also means Christ wasn't a homosexual either and agreed that it was an abomination or else He couldn't have fulfilled the law as the Scriptures teach!!) So the rules and regulations about cleanness/uncleanness (food, bodily discharges, etc.), Sabbath, everything, have been fulfilled in Christ. When God told Peter, "What God has made clean, do not call common." (Acts 10:15b) in regards to Peter now being able to eat animals that had previously been forbidden, He was clearly showing that Christ had fulfilled the law. We're not bound to it anymore. So we can eat meat that was forbidden in the dietary law, etc.

But just because Christ fulfilled the law and we're not under its yoke does not mean that God's heart on things has changed. This is the big big big mistake that many make. The law gives much insight into the character of God. And incidentally, many of the things that are in the moral law that showcase God's heart are reiterated in the New Testament as well. This includes homosexuality, the Sabbath, taking the Lord's name in vain, lying, cheating, and on and on and on this goes...

See, it's not a matter of "picking and choosing" which laws apply and which one's don't. It is a matter of looking at the laws and saying "what is God's heart" on such and such and looking at the reasons behind the laws. Honestly, this whole argument against the law often results from views on homosexuality, which is ironic because it actually is one of the best examples of a law that God laid down that we can clearly see His heart on because He specifically said it!

The other mistake that goes right along with this is people trying to compare the parts of the law governing moral behavior with those related to food, worship, etc. They do this to try to dismiss the entire law's value because since obviously the worship or food provisions don't apply, we should just dismiss everything and not look at God's moral instructions and take him seriously when, for instance, he calls a particular sin an "abomination".

The whole "the law doesn't apply any more so we can dismiss it" is often nothing more than an excuse by people wanting to rationalize sin! It is true that we are not bound to it but we most certainly should not dismiss it either!

OK, next up is probably the "cream of the crop" for the "pick and choosers": the role of women in the church. This would require me writing a major article on this alone to do the topic justice so I'm not going to get into this on a detailed level. But suffice it to say that, again, context plays a very important role here. For many of the NT passages, particularly the Corinthian ones, we do indeed need to look at what was going on within their church to make sense out of what the Scripture is saying. But again, it doesn't negate the truth. When it starts talking about the head coverings and women staying silent, I do believe the cultural context explains this truth. Our context today (i.e. we don't even culturally have head coverings) does seem to indicate that while the Scripture is true, our context doesn't really match that Scriptural truth. However, this is a FAR cry from say, homosexuality, which existed culturally then, and still exists culturally now. Homosexuality is homosexuality...

Bringing all of the rabbit trails back to how I started:

This all comes down to how we view God's Word and whether we're going to take God at face value. There are some issues in the Bible where at least to me, I'm not so sure that things are "clear", but the vast majority, including homosexuality, ARE clear. We don't throw out what IS clear because there are some things that might be unclear (to us anyway - often as we grow in the Lord, things become clearer!) People with views such as this pastor (and some of the "theologians" she mentions) seem to like to make the Bible have far more "gray areas" than it really allows for.

People that adopt the type of view as this pastor believe they are being more loving and understanding toward their fellow man, and that people such as myself are actually condemning and judging others (in part of the pastor's comments that I did not share above for brevity's sake, the pastor even references me in this way stating: "Long claims he is not condemning anyone ... though I question that.") They adopt an attitude of truth is whatever *I* believe is right for my life. Note this pastor references this as well when she says "I know what I am supposed to do with MY life - beyond that, it is up to God." In other words, let me deal with me, and you deal with you, and don't you dare tell me that what I'm doing or not doing is wrong - because then you're judging and condemning me. See how it works?

The problem with this is that people that believe this way have it exactly backwards! The MOST loving thing that I can do is point someone to what God says - not to condemn them - but out of LOVE - so that they will see the truth, repent if need be, and align themselves to God's Word. The motivation AND goal is LOVE! It is NOT loving to ignore or explain away what God says and leave people in a state where they are living blatantly unrepentant or even just ignorant to God's Word. It isn't about what *I* think or what *I* feel or what culture says is right or wrong, it is about what God thinks, what God feels, what God says is right or wrong. God is the standard!

There is a broad way, and there is a narrow way...I'm pretty sure the broad way involves human wisdom and thinking and feelings, and the narrow way involves God's wisdom and thinking and feelings.

It is true that I am primarily responsible for my own life and I certainly shouldn't be going out of my way to be meddling in others' business in a critical manner. I do believe there can be a fine line and some people in the name of Christianity have definitely just plain come across as arrogant, condemning jerks. And I even acknowledge that for me personally some of the ways I have framed things in the past hasn't always been as gracious as it probably should have been (my writing tone as proven in this article tends to be very "straight-forward" and I tend to not sugarcoat much). But merely pointing out in love that something is sin according to the Bible isn't being hateful or trying to play judge over others. It's just not.

Like this pastor, my goal for my life is to be the person that God wants me to be - to fulfill the calling God has on my life. But I'm quite certain that I'm not going to get there by disregarding or explaining away His book to mankind. As I said at the beginning, the type of position this pastor is taking is indicative of a deeper underlying structural issue that quite honestly likely affects most all areas of ministry & teaching - far beyond specific issues such as homosexuality & abortion.

Unfortunately, there are many churches that either have, or are in process of, caving in to the cultural pressure around them. There are churches that have really downplayed the notion of sin and the reality of hell and the true import of the Gospel to people's lives and have morphed instead into just kind of a social-justice-warring social club. Once the Biblical foundations of a church get shaken and the church allows culture to dictate truth to them rather than dictating truth (via the Word of God) to the culture, then things can go downhill fast.

There are too many people floating around who love God (or at least say they do), but don't really love or value His Word.

My prayer for the Body of Christ is that we would be unified in being loving and welcoming towards all and known for our love, while at the same time not compromising on the Biblical standard. There are too many churches in my opinion that have swung to extremes on both sides where they either are so serious about maintaining Biblical standards that they lose sight of love OR they swing the other way and in the name of "loving people" they ignore or explain away what the Bible says about things. There's a place in the middle where we as a Church love on people like nobody's business but also maintain Biblical fidelity and that is what I advocate and what I believe Jesus modeled for us.

This article is Copyright by Christopher Long 2020. All rights reserved. You may quote/reprint this article for any non-commercial purpose without obtaining permission as long as you use the entire text and that all text, including this and all following notices, is not modified or removed in any fashion. For any other usage, you must obtain written permission from the author.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is version 1.0 of this document (April 11, 2020). Any personal references relating to timing or specific events are likely from when the article was first written for the first version and may or may not currently be accurate.
Previous versions: N/A
This document was based on an earlier article.
This document is provided as a ministry outreach of BodEquip Ministries.

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