Trash Talk with Scripture

In my quiet time this morning I was reading a piece of scripture for the New Testament. I found myself lingering around Jesus’ temptation in the desert in Matthew 4.

5Then the Slanderer carries him off into the Holy City, and stood him upon the pinnacle of the Temple, 6And says to him, “If you are God’s Son, cast yourself down; for it has been written that ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and that ‘They will catch you in their hands, that you may not strike your foot against a stone.’” 7“ Conversely,” said Jesus to him, “it has been written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”   New Testament, translation by David Bentley Hart (Bold emphasis mine)

It occurred to me afresh that not everyone who states “The Bible clearly says...” is speaking for God.  We see that the Slanderer, the enemy of our soul, is quite willing to employ scripture to serve its own agenda.  We know the best lies are those that come disguised in a nugget of truth and often in a pious voice.

Sometimes well-meaning people, people of faith, in their zeal for all things God use scripture in ways that it was never intended to be used.  A common example I see these days is using “speaking the truth in love” to justify ignorant judgments, words, and actions.  Another I see used with great zeal is “God is no respecter of persons” as an excuse to run others down and bury them in condemnation, shame, and religious obligation.

There are a number of examples throughout history as to how scripture has been used in

Proof-texting is a very dangerous thing. I think if we were given the scriptures, it was not so we could prove that we’re right about everything. If we were given the scriptures, it was to humble us into realizing that God is right and the rest of us are just guessing. - Rich Mullins

ways that are indeed evil.  Consider our often terrible treatment of women, people of colour, first-nations people, people of different religions, antisemitism, the poor, gender and sexual minorities in the name of God.

Many are now realizing that we need a much higher view of scripture than a flat literal reading and the pick-a-verse proof-texting that have been so prominent.   If we claim to have a high regard for scripture, we must demonstrate that regard in how we handle this ancient book.   We need to stop our violence to our scriptures and allow them to be what they are.  We must respect the contexts in which they are written, their literary style, the history and how language and history were used when these books were written.  Moreover, we need to hold the verses/text in tension of the sweep of the entire arc of scripture and most importantly to the person of Jesus.

We need to carefully consider our motivation for the ways we use scripture because sometimes we start from emotions. Some studies show that we often start with a fear, feeling, emotion and then go to work to build a rationale (pick verses) around it to support it as well as to justify our actions or inaction. In doing so, we can often disguise our fear and hate as faithfulness and orthodoxy.  Tragically, we can do such violence to the scriptures that we hi-jack them to say things they were never intended to say, and in some cases, the exact opposite of what they were intended.

All this to remind us that we need to discern how we are engaging with and using scripture. Are we using scripture to rationalize our own religiously veneered agenda with its fear, prejudice, selfish ambition, and self-righteousness?

Or do we allow the scriptures to speak, trusting that in context of:

  • history
  • language
  • culture
  • the body of scripture
  • the Holy Spirit
  • and the person of Jesus

we can engage others in beautiful ways to encourage, co-create that which is truly life-giving and beautiful.

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