Micah J. Murray

Beware of Thinking Biblically

March 5, 2013 79 Comments

If you took all the Bibles in American homes and made one big stack, your tower of Bibles would dwarf Mount Everest a thousand times over.

That would be a pretty cool stack, for sure, but it would make it pretty hard to actually read the Bibles. If you took all the Google results for “thinking Biblically” and made a stack, you’d have nearly a million web pages but not a very big stack because web pages don’t occupy physical space.

thinking biblically

We talk of “Biblical Manhood” and “Biblical Womanhood”. We talk of “Biblical Marriage” and “Biblical Science” and “Biblical Politics.” I’m pretty sure I took more than one class in college all about developing “a Biblical Worldview”.

But the problem with words is that they mean things, and so we use them and misuse them until they’ve nearly lost their meaning, and still we cling to them. Words are important. And “thinking Biblically” is very important. But all my life I’ve been told lies carefully footnoted with stacks of Bible verses, mistakes and opinions and dangerous words all cloaked in the sacred garb of “Biblical thinking”. And now I find myself recalling these words one by one and carefully examining them, deconstructing my religion brick by brick until all that’s left is Jesus.

And so I’m very cautious about that phrase, about “thinking Biblically”.

Not of thinking Biblically, but of using that phrase to legitimatize teachings and opinions that are sometimes terribly wrong. In the Scriptures, the Apostle Paul writes about those who pervert the Gospel, who twist and mangle the beautiful truth of Jesus and bring bondage and fear and confusion and shame into the Church. These people weren’t trying to add secular ideas to the Gospel. They weren’t denying the authority of Scripture. They were applying Biblical ideas found all throughout the Scriptures, but they were completely missing the point.

It didn’t end in the first century.

Our Christian heritage, while beautiful and deep and full of hope, is also marred with “Biblical thinking” that is thouroughly, absolutely broken. Looking back through history we see over and over again those who loved God sincerely, followed Him faithfully, studied the Bible diligently, and arrived at terrible conclusions:

Thinking “Biblically” about science:

“People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens … This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.” -Martin Luther

“Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?” -Abraham Calovius, Lutheran Theologian (c. 1650)

Thinking “Biblically” about genocide:

“Sometimes Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents…We had sufficient light from the Word of God for our proceedings…” -American Colonist, speaking of the slaughter of Native American tribes

Thinking “Biblically” about slavery:

“The evidence that there were both slaves and masters of slaves in the churches founded and directed by the apostles, cannot be got rid of without resorting to methods of interpretation which will get rid of everything”…. [the well-intentioned souls who] “torture the Scriptures into saying that which the anti-slavery theory requires them to say” [do great damage to the Scriptures themselves.] – Leonard Bacon, Congregationalist Pastor (1846)

Thinking “Biblically” about race issues:

“The university had a policy, based on its understanding of the Bible, that forbade interracial dating and marriage among its students. In order to make that policy easier to enforce, the university did not admit blacks… [We hold] the doctrine that interracial marriage is contrary to principles set forth in God’s Word. … Our right to be Bible-believing is the issue. This is religious freedom in a nutshell….” -Bob Jones University (1983)

Some people have made a hobby of criticizing the Church, through history and today. Please understand that this is not my goal. I love the Church more and more every day, but the more I love her the more I hate seeing her pulpit used as a platform for lies. I’ve heard a lot of lies in my life. We all have. And now we’re all struggling to break free from those lies, slowly and painfully and bravely, whispering desperate words of hope to one another along the way.

In the early days of the Church, its enemies were not liberals, pagans, secularists, or atheists. The antagonists in the New Testament storyline are those who knew the Scriptures inside and out, who had studied and memorized and dedicated themselves to the applications of its teachings.

But they failed, terribly, because they missed the point.

These were the people who attempted to execute a woman caught in adultery, which was “Biblical”.

These were the people who taught that Christians must be circumcised and keep the whole law, which was “Biblical”.

These were the people who condemned Jesus for breaking the Sabbath, which was “Biblical”.

These were the people who Jesus was talking about when he said, “You search the Scriptures, because you think they give you eternal life. But they are all testifying of me!”

This is what’s so radical about Jesus.

He is “the Word made flesh“. Jesus the very message of God – alive with blood and skin and breath and tears. And when we see him for the first time, we realize that we’ve been reading the Holy Words wrong all along. We MUST allow all of our reading of the Bible to begin and end with the words and life of Jesus. Otherwise we will most certainly get it wrong and miss the point completely.

The Bible is God’s word to us; it is true and trustworthy and beautiful and full of life. But all too often, we are very, very wrong about it. We must never underestimate our own ability to think Biblically to terrible conclusions.

So do we give up on “thinking Biblically” altogether? Certainly not. But we must approach our own conversations with the constant awareness that we might be wrong. That we don’t have all the answers. That someday, five hundred or a hundred or thirty years from now our brothers and sisters may look back and wonder how we could have missed the point. We must be open minded, willing to read its pages over and over again and change our minds as our hearts are opened to the truth.

And always, always, we must cling to Jesus.

Let us read the Gospels a dozen times, until their words echo in our heads no matter where we wander in the pages of Scripture. Let us speak to Jesus every day, and quietly wait until he speaks to us. Let us search the Scriptures, hoping that in them we will find life, knowing that we’ll only find life more abundantly when we find Jesus.

[ image: Daniel Iggers ]

  • Loved this, Micah.

  • Yes. This is what I want to say, too. Bless you for putting it into words for me. Passing it along.

    • Thank you.

      • Anonymous

        Can’t say I disagree with what you say but I would like to see scriptures referenced.

        • Click on all the links in the post and they’ll take you to specific verses.

  • I love this post. I used to get asked all the time why I didn’t back up my posts with all kinds of scripture and I told the people that I can find a verse for whatever I want and make someone a prisoner; but I care so much more about the context. What is the whole thing saying? And most importantly how would Christ handle it?

    Thanks for the thoughtful post! Blessings on your journey.

    • awesome!check out my blog at footstepsdot org.wordpress.com

      • You’re just starting out? Keep it up…blogging is so much fun. Good luck!

        • i saw you looked at my blog i like yours. Awesome, could you post a comment!?

  • Anonymous

    So… do you think we have it right? It seems unlikely, huh? What will our kids look back on and be sure we had wrong?

    • I certainly don’t think we have it all right. If I’d venture a guess, our kids might say we’re getting it wrong on environmentalism, Capitalism, and some gender issues. And nationalism.

      • Anonymous

        You have some good points. I think you got it just about right!


    • Yeahhhhh… I’m pretty sure you can’t stop racism with a petition.

      • There’s always awareness and hope! :)

        • I remember the very moment – where I was sitting, the time of day, even my posture – when I realized the “other” Christians with all of their “other” theologies and doctrinal statements thought themselves just as Biblically correct as we did. They had studied it out, too, and had, shockingly, come to a different Biblical conclusion. And here I’d always thought they were just willfully ignorant and chose to disobey God’s clear commands because it was fun. Psh.

        • Simple Man

          In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in everything love.

        • MissionaryJames

          Please be more specific… WHAT THEOLOGIES and DOCTRINAL STATEMENTS did they believe that YOU did not?

  • Great post. Have you read N.T. Wright’s Scripture and the Authority of God? You would love it!

    • I have not, but you’re the second one who has recommended it to me recently. I think I’m gonna start reading some Wright for the first time here soon.

  • Glad I took the time read this on WordPress :) Very timely as the post I have scheduled for tomorrow is talking about how the Pharisees created so many rules so that people wouldn’t disobey God’s law– or act “Biblically” as we would say now. I wonder how much of that we do today, specifically of course as it relates to issues of sexuality.

  • Great post! Thank you for this Micah.

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    • Thom Davenport

      Interesting take on all this. Is there a difference between “The Word of God” and the bible that we hold so dear? One retired pastor in my church usually likes to point out to me, following the reading of scripture “This is the Word of God for the People of God”, (thanks be to God…) that the scriptural record of the people of God (the bible) is not the same thing as the “Word of God made Flesh” which is Jesus.
      Just thinking… because you had me all along until you said “The Bible is God’s word to us; it is true and trustworthy and beautiful and full of life. The Bible is never, ever wrong. But all too often, we are very, very wrong about it. We must never underestimate our own ability to think Biblically to terrible conclusions”.
      It seemed inconsistant with your other statements supporting the idea that it is Jesus, who is the Word.

      • I think it’s accurate to refer to both Jesus and the Bible as “The Word of God.” I think when understood correctly, the both tell the same story.

        • Thom Davenport

          Here is my struggle. The Torah was about the only organized collection of writings that was considered “the Bible” by Jesus and his contemporaries. Jesus also would have used the Psalms, and a few of the prophetic writings, but as far as a Bible, this was an unknown entity. It was also much later in the Christian history that the canon was agreed upon, and which books of the NT were to be included (and excluded). So when Jesus was talking about being the “Word of God” this was not to indicate a collection of our experience written down, but the very experience of God intersecting with humanity. Jesus understood that most people were illiterate, and the idea of “Word” was not written but rather spoken. Equating our modern translations of these ancient texts with the Jesus, who is the very embodiment of God is a modern idea. Probably before Gutenberg and the movable text printing press, most priests would have treasured the bible, but could not read it! But they lived the Gospel through preaching, service and the sacraments. So, that is my struggle, just thought I would put my two cents in.
          Grace and Peace,

        • This Reply also pertains to Thom Davenport below:

          I’d also thought of it as “word” as in “I give you my word.” eg: God fulfilling his promise. (2 Corinthians 5:19 – “…it was God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself”).

          Also, “God SAID let there be light…” The literal “words of God” are what formed the universe. This same “word” became flesh and dwelt among us. Before a word is written or spoken, it is an idea.

          A promise to fulfil, a method of expressing an idea into a creation, written, spoken – it all adds up to this: God is his word (John 1:1-3, 14)!

        • Greg Flowers

          Post #1 to Thom: With regard to the Old Testament, by the time of Christ all of the Old Testament had been written and accepted in the Jewish community. The last book, Malachi, had been completed about 430 b.c.

          Also, By Christ’s time, the Old Testament canon had been divided up into two lists of 22 or 24 books respectively, each of which contained all the same material as the 39 books of our modern versions. In the 22 book canon, Jeremiah and
          Lamentations were considered as one, as were Judges and Ruth. There is a table available which shows how the 24 book format was divided if interested.

        • Greg Flowers

          Post#2 to Thom: The Bible speaks for itself. It claims to be God’s word. Over 2,000 times in the Old Testament alone, the Bible asserts that God spoke what is written within its pages. From the beginning (Gen. 1:3) to the end (Mal.4:3) and continually throughout, this is what Scripture claims.

          The phrase “the word of God” occurs over 40 times in the New Testament. It is equated with the Old Testament (Mark 7:13 where Jesus said “thus making void the word of God by your
          tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

        • Greg Flowers

          Post #3 to Thom: Scripture,the person of God and the word of God are everywhere interrelated, so much sothat whatever is true about the character of God is true about the nature of
          God’s word. God is true, impeccable, and reliable; therefore,so is his word.What a person thinks about God’sword, in reality, reflects what a personthinks about God.

          Thus, the Scripture can make these demands on its readers.

          “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna,which you did not know, nor did your fathers know,
          that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Deuteronomy 8:3

          I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
          I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food. Job 23:12

        • Greg Flowers

          Post# 4 to Thom: Three key Bible passages affirming the authority of scripture. The first is 2 Tim 2:15.
          “Study or be diligent to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.” (Now that’s a very important statement about Scripture, it is called the Word of truth. It is the Word of God and in this verse it is called the Word of truth. The Bible
          is true.

          John 17:17 “Thy Word is true”. That is very basic, and yet very essential to our view of holy Scripture, as it is the truth.

          2 Timothy 3:16. It says here why… the Bible is true. “All Scripture is God breathed, (breathed out by God) and
          is thus profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and training inrighteousness.

          So, the first Bible passage was Paul saing that the Bible is the Word of truth. Jesus said it is the Word of truth. And then Paul tells us that the reason… it is true is because it isGod breathed. Now that is the priority claim that the Bible makes for itself. It is true, and it is God breathed.

          Just to identify one other essential passage on this subject that you’d want to have in your preliminary thinking, and that is 2 Peter. It says in chapter 1 verse 20, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private origin, (that’s really what it means rather than interpretation). Scripture is not from private
          origin, that is, it isn’t the result of some individual dreaming it up, or postulating it, or whatever. So 2 Peter says that Scripture does not come out of a private origination.

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    • Well said :)
      I appreciate that you gave examples because I was a little curious as to what kinds of misinterpretations you were referring to. Well said indeed.

      • Aren’t those examples crazy? Who knew?

        • Anonymous

          So people don’t get the wrong idea about Bob Jones not allowing interracial-dating back in 1983 … that no longer applies. They dropped that rule. Interracial-dating doesn’t exist anyways if you have the mindset that there is only one race … human!

  • And by Switzerland you mean neutral, or loaded with chocolate and laundered money?

  • LOVED this post.

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    • Wow… those quotes you included… The bible being used to justify genocide, only a few hundred years ago? Wow… oh man. I had no idea. I knew that using “biblical” to make rules was a problem, but wow, genocide.

      • Yeah, crazy stuff.

        • Dswank

          “And now I find myself recalling these words one by one and carefully examining them, deconstructing my religion brick by brick until all that’s left is Jesus.”
          Yes. Exactly where I am right now. Thank you.

          • It’s a difficult place to be, but good.

          • Tragedy101

            Interesting post, however, who made you arbiter of all truth to claim other’s beliefs have no validity, and are lies? God is the arbiter of all truth. When you accuse other’s of lying, who are you to judge your fellows? I find your post revolting, and your position perverted (as in twisted or polluted, not as in deviating from normal. It is very normal.)

          • It seems like you’re saying that I’m not allowed to say that anything is a lie.

          • MissionaryJames

            We are called to EXPOSE the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph 5:11)

  • Tania

    Excellent post Micah. I have come to the same conclusions in my ministry teaching people how to recognise God’s voice today. Part of my teaching was to ‘test the message against the Scriptures…’ a common guideline. However in the back of my mind was always that if you literally did this, you could actually justify terrorist acts of genocide as being from God – “God told me to kill these evil people” and you could be ‘biblical’. I have now come to amend my teaching to say we should test those messages against the nature and character of God as revealed in Jesus, the image of the invisible God (as described in the Scriptures). Subtle but really important difference.

    I have a question for you – do you think there is a distinction between the actual words God spoke and the words that were written down of the him speaking? After all, the Scriptures were spoken by (an infallible) God before they were written (by an infallible people).

    • MissionaryJames

      Tania? You study the Word for yourself and Pray, Pray, Pray and Read, Read, Read until you get an answer to your question. If you are doubting God’s ability to KEEP HIS WORD for ALL Generations to know, you are then believing that MAN has somehow, outsmarted God Almighty! If man has done that to His Word, then WE can not believe ONE WORD of the whole Bible. But…. we can believe ALL the Scriptures because of its PROPHECY, INTERNAL MATHEMATICAL BIBLE CODE, ACCURATE HISTORY and GEOGRAPHY, the THOUSANDS of ANCIENT MANUSCRIPTS dating from 300-400bc that PROVE we have the SAME SCRIPTURES TODAY and the SAME WORDS that THEY HAD back then, the EARLY CHURCH FATHERS LETTERS to each other, where ALL there quotes of the Bible found within their letter, the whole Bible can be replicated, except 11-verses and ALL ARCHAEOLOGICAL FINDS of Biblical peoples, places and things, prove the Bible correct, every time!

      You have the very Word of God with you. Jesus said the SCRIPTURES CAN NOT BE BROKEN and that Heaven and Earth would pass away, before one JOT or TITTLE would pass from scriptures. Jesus said, THY WORD IS TRUTH… believe Him and in WHAT HE HAS DONE and CAN DO, rather than in what Men have done and can do! God can catch the crafty in their own craftiness!

      Psalm 118:8
      It is better to trust in the Lord than to put thy trust in man

      • generation4Him

        I’m really wary of people who have to scream in all caps to get their point across.

        • generation4Him

          ah good, the all caps comment is no longer here :)

  • Actually, the men who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery, were not doing anything Biblical. In the OT it says that both the woman *and the man* must be stoned to death. Since the woman was caught ‘in the very act’ of adultery, they could not plead that they did not know the man. Clearly he must have been a friend of theirs! Jesus was not just attacking being biblical in the wrong way, but attacking patriarchy, which punishes women for the sins of men. Maybe the man involved was actually among the stoners?

    However, your main point is spot on.

    • MissionaryJames

      Correct Veronica! But be weary of these type of Shock Jock Text Preachers. I can see right thru these charlatans who always spew Text Sermons with Shock Titles whose Articles arouse suspicion and doubt of the Bible, God, True Christians and True Churches of God. It seems that TANIA below, is one of THEM as well…

  • Tiro Lynn

    Excellent approach to an ancient problem.

  • To my mind, the errors you cite are the result of approaching the Scriptures looking for justification for not changing the status quo we are used to. In every one of them, an unloving and unfair thing is being done except in the case of Copernicus, who was simply going against the grain of the established view. I’d the say error is in the hermeneutic applied to the Scriptures, not in the attitude that we’ll read the Bible and believe what it tells us to believe. If I look to Scripture to tell me that I’m right and don’t need to change, I can find justification for that. But if instead I look to it to tell me what I am supposed to be regardless of where I stand now, I come out with a very different set of results.

    • MissionaryJames

      Yes Brother Paul…. exactly! These SHOCK JOCK PREACHERS are really purveyors, proselytes and propagandists of doubt whose fruit always leads Christians into NEUTRAL SURRENDER and Political Liberal correctness. Jesus called the the CHURCH OF LAODECIA who are LUKEWARM and whom the Lord will SPEW out of His mouth…

    • Keith

      Well said!

  • Simple Man

    Everything in scripture must be viewed through the lens of Jesus –

    Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

  • MissionaryJames

    Micah, do you believe that ALL MEN will be saved and that there is NO HELL?

    2Timothy 2:15
    Study the word to show yourselves approved of God, that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

  • Andrew Webber

    As much as I appreciate this post and why it was written, I can’t help but feel a little like it is somewhat unfair to “Biblical” ideas. The examples you give of where “Thinking Biblically” goes awry are, in my mind, simply examples unbiblical error. In fact, I think most, if not all of your examples were societal beliefs or norms at that time, not Biblical standards.

    The other examples you state of Jesus combating the legalism of the Old Testament law as it was being applied are also not good examples of “Biblical Thinking” because they simply weren’t. They were erroneous applications of the legalism of the law, which was never intended for that purpose in the first place, but to show our need for Jesus. Paul points this out in Hebrews, Romans, Ephesians, etc. It was not “Biblical Thinking” at all.

    To me, it is similar to the unbeliever who looks at Christians behaving badly and saying “See! Christianity must be wrong because they are not living up to it!”. Similarly you are saying “See! These people are supporting their arguments with Scripture, so “Thinking Biblically” can be bad.” When in actuality, the first are prime examples of why we need Christ, and the second are prime examples of where unbiblical thinking can get you.

    I think you are ultimately driving at saying we need to be reasonable and open-minded. Which I would completely agree with on one hand, and be cautious of on the other. I absolutely believe we should read our Bibles reasonably and evaluating in context. Which is why I think your promoting “open-mindedness” is something of which to be wary, and not very Biblical. If by “open-minded” you mean open to better, more biblical interpretations of Scripture, then I agree. However, if by open-minded, you mean interpreting Scripture in a way that better fits our current societal or cultural beliefs, then I emphatically disagree. The Gospel and Bible in general can be very offensive. Trying to bend the Bible to fit scientific or societal standards is always a bad idea. Instead we ought to understand science, society, and the world in general through “Biblical Thinking”.

    Please pardon my lack of writing skill or lack of clarity. But I wanted to express a different point of view in hopefully a more gracious way than some others I’ve seen.

    • Ken Peters

      Very good

  • MrPete

    I agree strongly with Andrew W. Perhaps the post could be better titled: Are You *Really* Thinking Biblically?

    In every one of your examples, it is not that the Bible provided a bad principle, but that it was badly read / badly interpreted. Remember the old saw about the guy who flipped his Bible open and pointed to “Judas hanged himself”… disconcerted he did it again, ending at “Go thou and do likewise.” Clearly not a good way to study the scriptures!

    I’ll add one more quote, and a high quality link for those who want to go deep on difficult topics:

    I appreciate the perspective of Sir Francis Bacon from long ago, a man recognized as bringing some of the key foundational principles to the scientific method. (Translating from early to modern English :) ) he wrote that there are two books God has given us to know Him better: the book of His Word, which is the Bible, and the book of His Works, which is nature… and that people cannot study either of them too much, but must understand them with humility.

    We do pretty well at the “study” part but not so much on the “humility” part.

    Finally, check out http://www.christian-thinktank.com — he does a GREAT job going deep on hard topics, such as slavery and women in scripture.

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  • Elizabeth

    Came here from RHE’s twitter link. Such a great post…thank you.

  • Great post, Micah.

  • Erik Merksamer

    Just stumbled into this post Micah, and I am grateful for it. “Biblical womanhood” had my wife in shameful tears for too long, and “Biblical parenting” made me feel like I shouldn’t be so accessible to my children. I love how you emphasize Jesus as “The Word”. A friend of mine often says that many Christians worship the trinity of “Father, Son, Holy Bible”. Instead of knowing Jesus, who is ever-present and able to be known, we stop at the arrows throughout the Bible pointing us to Him. “I want to know Him…” as Paul wrote. I don’t want to know impersonal knowledge, no matter how holy that knowledge may be.

    • th3hbomb

      “Father, Son and Holy Bible”. That right there is a post unto itself. Get on it. 😉

  • Dana Cruikshank

    Thanks for writing this. It amazes me how many people are so intent on being “Biblical” that they cease to be “Christian”. I think Jesus’s interactions with Pharisees gave us the tools to recognize that as a possibility, a possibility to be avoided.

  • Amy

    This is a timely post that inspired me to write one of my own. Too often the Bible has us talking and debating – which is where we miss the point perhaps most tragically of all. But if we chose to start looking at Jesus, choosing to make him both the means and the goal of our exegesis, I think we would be motivated to act more rather than quarrel and blab. :)

  • Syl

    Amen, amen and AMEN !!! Thank you, Micah, for sharing that. Such a help for me in my actual spiritual journey!!!