“Bible Reading 101”
Text: 2 Timothy 3:16
All scripture is inspired by God and is[a] useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
I want to introduce you to a member of our family that a few of you have met, but most of you have not. This is Nugget, and he is a Chihuahua-Dachshund mix and he is now about 12 years old. One of the things we like to do with Nugget is to take a walk through Modie Park. It is close to where we live, sometimes we see some interesting wildlife, we all get some exercise and Nugget seems to really enjoy it.
While we are walking, however, sometimes it gets a little annoying because you never know when Nugget is going to want to stop and sniff something. It seems like any vertical surface, a fence post, a fire hydrant, a tall weed, even a piece of lawn edging that has been clipped by the lawn mower and is now torn and lifted up above the rest of the grass qualifies as a point of interest for Nugget. He will want to at least stop and sniff, and then if it is really interesting, he leaves a little evidence of his visit and then he is ready to move on.
What I find interesting is that it isn’t consistent. Not every tall weed or every sign post is necessarily a candidate. Sometimes he walks by and seems to not even notice. What is really a surprise is that sometimes Nugget has been walking along, pretty much ignoring everything, and you forget that he likes to stop, until he does. When he doesn’t want to move, his impression of a concrete block is pretty good. If you don’t notice and you are walking along at a pretty good pace, it can pull your arm right out of the socket. You wouldn’t think such a little dog could put on the brakes so effectively, but he does and it gets your attention!
Of course this behavior is not unique to Nugget; if you have ever walked a dog of almost any kind, you know what I’m talking about. Dogs like to sniff and check things out as they walk; it is just what they do.
I bring this up for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I want to make sure everyone understands that this is absolutely normal. A dog is walking along and not everything along the path is compelling, but then there comes a special smell. The dog stops and checks it out. Sniffing carefully they are able to determine who was there last, how long ago and whether they may recognize the scent or not. Sometimes the sniff is so compelling that it warrants a response!
The second reason I bring this up is I think it is a great analogy to how I read the Bible. You see, I can casually stroll through the scriptures and just every once in awhile something will jump out at me that warrants a little further investigation. Sometimes it is so compelling that it even warrants a response, or a sermon! This is what I do.
Not everyone thinks this is a good idea. I have been criticized for only taking the parts of the Bible seriously that I happen to agree with or those parts of the Bible that I find interesting or those parts of the Bible that I think are relevant to life today. When I protest and say that some things in the Bible just are no longer appropriate, one response that comes up quite frequently is the text I read a few minutes ago; All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
Really? All scripture?
It seems to me those who complain about how I read and interpret the Bible, are also choosing their favorite parts, it is just that their favorite parts are different than my favorite parts. And it’s crazy to think we should all have the same favorite parts.
Imagine two dogs walking through Modie Park. Do you think that each dog will stop at exactly the same place every time? Probably not. There will be some agreement; as a matter of fact I have witnessed this. One dog will stop and sniff, perhaps even leave a response, and then the second dog will follow right behind and leave a response of his own. There is always some agreement; but not exact duplication by any means.
The fact that everyone is not in lock step and exact agreement as to what is important or interesting in the Bible is not what bothers me. What bothers me is when a portion of the scripture is seized upon as being the most important thing ever written and it must be upheld, even at great personal cost. The human carnage that is a result of this practice is almost incalculable. If we look to history as a teacher, there are plenty of examples of this practice.
The human carnage of the Inquisition and the Crusades were both based on a scriptural interpretation that allowed a mindset to prevail that it was God’s will that these people who thought differently should die.
The human carnage of the Salem witch trials is the same story.
The human carnage of the Civil War in this country, not that long ago, was in part, based on a scriptural belief that it was within the acceptable parameters of Christianity to own slaves and that those slaves should obey their masters without question.
For centuries women have been excluded and ostracized from the church because someone decided that a portion of scripture was more important than some other part.
If you think we have moved past this practice; think again. In the wake of the Orlando massacre last week, I have heard more than one comment from so-called Christian ministers that expressed a certain level of joy that those killed were mostly gay or lesbian. One minister even quoted Leviticus that stated God’s perfect law demanded that homosexuals be put to death.
When we read the Bible, we absolutely must read carefully. There is not anything wrong with ignoring one part and finding hope or enlightenment in another part. This is normal and I think also healthy-it means you are thinking and analyzing and paying attention. As for our text this morning, I’m sorry, but it simply is not true. All scripture is not appropriate; only some of it is. History has taught us this and it cannot be argued otherwise. The only question that remains is what portion of scripture will some consider being more important than anything else?
I am currently reading a book called “Things I Wish Jesus Said”. The first chapter is titled “Don’t Believe Everything You Read”. The author laments the fact that Jesus didn’t say anything about this problem; the author wishes Jesus had said “don’t believe everything you read”.
Well, I’ve been thinking about that, and actually, I think that Jesus did say that. By my count, in the four Gospels, Jesus is reported to have said something very close to that very thing a total of 14 times. 14 times Jesus repeated these words; “it is written…” “but I say to you…” In other words, Jesus challenged what had been written before, he said “don’t believe everything you read, because it can be misleading, it can be misinterpreted, sometimes it is just wrong.” Then Jesus would offer a new interpretation – things like loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you instead of violence and revenge. Jesus did say “don’t believe everything you read.” And I think it is still good advice.
We must be willing to let go of certain elements of scripture that no longer serve the common good. We have let go of slavery. We have let go women being silent in our churches. We have let go of first born sacrifice and the mixing of two crops in the same field. We have let go of ceremonious cleansing of food and body. We have let go of a prohibition against eating certain meats or wearing two types of fabric. We have let go a lot of things that were once considered central and important and were perhaps relevant in their day. But they are relevant and appropriate no longer.
Picking and choosing what we are interested in and what makes sense for us when we read the Bible is the only logical way to work your way through. To pretend that you are not picking and choosing simply makes a mockery of the rational thought process. All scripture is not suitable for teaching or correction and I’m certain that all scripture is not inspired by God.
And that is food for thought.