I started to title this “How Do You Read The Bible” but something, actually Someone, prompted me to change that word “read” to “see”. I think this change came about because it is how we SEE the Bible that we READ the Bible. Among the many things that has created conflict and chaos within the Body of Christ, the Bible, particularly how one sees the Bible, ranks near if not at the very top of that list.
We all bring a perspective, a point of view to everything we think, say or even read. This perspective brings an influence into our lives especially as we read something, and even more so as we read the Bible. For centuries people have debated the meaning of The Book and as a result, many today blindly accept these interpretations as immovable facts. For example, many believe that a leader in the church, be they called elder or pastor, is someone who has never been divorced. To back up their assertion they quote Paul in Titus 1:5-6 (KJV)—“5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: 6 if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.”
Where does it say “He cannot be divorced.”? Other work on translating the Greek phrase in verse 6 like this: “An elder must live a blameless life. He must be faithful to his wife.” (NLT) Instead of meaning “He can’t be divorced” could it not mean that he should not be a polygamist or have a mistress? But most of my fellow disciples would disagree with me, and why? Because we’ve always been taught way. I hear someone already thinking, “Now hold your horses, Preacher! Jesus said (Matthew 5:30-32) ‘31 You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ 32 But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.’ What about that verse?”
But what if the context of His words was their “Law”? This is in the middle of a section where Jesus has been challenging their view of the Law. Their Law wasn’t just the tablets Moses brought down from Sinai, but centuries of their interpretations, 613 laws to be exact. Jesus was using their “Law” to show how inconsistent and how far off the mark they were from God’s heart. Could it be that what Jesus meant was “Look, divorce was never a part of God’s design and you cannot justify it legally.” What if Jesus was simply saying, “Divorce is a sin, but through God’s mercy and grace all sin can be forgiven”? And what does God do with the memory of our sin? Try this: “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12 NLT) and “I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.” (Isaiah 43:25 NLT)
Since divorce was never a part of God’s intended design, what should I do? How can I respond to both the rule of God and His forgiveness of my sin? I can stop doing that thing that was wrong, as in this discussion and in my own life, I should never divorce again. And in fact, that is exactly what I am doing. My wife Debbie and I have a prenuptial agreement to never divorce. If I try to run she shoots me and if she tries to run, I shoot her. OK, folks, don’t get your panties in a wad. That’s a joke. What we are saying is that we will treat each other like we should—as God’s gift to each other.
I’ve said all this (and it’s been a lot) to come back to my original question: How Do We See The Bible? What is our perspective when it comes to the Sacred Writ? What I am about to say, I am not asking you to agree with it, but hopefully you will do some deep self-examination to discover your own perspective in how you read the Bible. My perspective is rather simple; I call it The Genesis 3 Perspective. And here is how it works.
For the first 2 chapters in Genesis, everything is really clear. God created us to live in a relationship with Him, and in this relationship, to participate with Him in what He has just created. Everything was, as they say in that Liberty Mutual® commercial, “PERFECT!” There was no fear and no shame at all. It is all so very simple, live in relationship with God and join Him in the unfolding of creation. In other words, to start discovering all that God put in place for our enjoyment.
We don’t know exactly how long this lasted, but Genesis 3 happens. In case you forgot, Genesis 3 is the story of The Fall. Now that we have messed it up by using the precious gift of free will for our own self-will, how does God respond? He seeks the fallen in order to restore us back to our original and intended design. I have come to understand that the rest of the Bible, from Genesis 3 all the way to Revelation 22, is the story of God redeeming us and helping us find our way back to our original design and His intended purpose. In fact, Revelation 22 is God’s promise and assurance that a moment will come when the process of restoration becomes complete.
For me, this means I cannot afford to take one single passage out of context, nor place a single story outside the Main Story of Scripture, which is God seeking to restore us to our original purpose and His intended design. This is how I see the Bible, and because this is how I see the Bible, it is how I read the Bible. There has been so much, too much controversy over how people see the Bible. I think it is at the root of our current controversy in the United Methodist Church around human sexuality. Some want to point out the abomination of same gender sex and others want to say that the Bible is wrong because it doesn’t match up with how one feels and that Jesus said all we have to do is love.
Listen people, we are all messed up inside. All of us are born with the genetic predisposition to some sin. Think about a toddler who doesn’t want to share their toys with another toddler. Often they cry out, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” Where did that come from? And where do disasters and diseases come from? The act of Adam and Eve brought all of this into God’s creation, including whatever preference of sin that exists inside each and every one of us.
But remember the rest of Genesis 3: What is God’s response? He wants to redeem us from our sin, and He also wants to restore us to our original design. Listen again from this Genesis 3 Perspective to Luke 19:1-10 (The Message):
1-4 Then Jesus entered and walked through Jericho. There was a man there, his name Zacchaeus, the head tax man and quite rich. He wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way—he was a short man and couldn’t see over the crowd. So he ran on ahead and climbed up in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus when he came by.
5-7 When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down. Today is my day to be a guest in your home.” Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his good luck, delighted to take Jesus home with him. Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, “What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?”
8 Zacchaeus just stood there, a little stunned. He stammered apologetically, “Master, I give away half my income to the poor—and if I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damages.”
9-10 Jesus said, “Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is: Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.”
When viewed from the Genesis 3 Perspective, this encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus has only one purpose. To redeem Zacchaeus from his sin and to restore Zacchaeus to his original purpose and God’s intended design. Greed, power, in short, selfishness, was consuming and destroying Zach and Jesus knew it. So what does Jesus do? He invades Zach’s space by inviting Himself to his home. And Zach’s response? “I’m going to stop doing what I’ve been doing and start living the way God designed me to live.” And notice, it’s a life that is centered around others, not self.
The Bible doesn’t exist to prove our views, and truth be known, one can twist any verse in the Bible to justify their view. How? Because we tend to read the Bible to justify ourselves rather than to discover the God who loves us so deeply that He and He alone, will justify us in order to restore us to our original purpose and His intended design. At the risk of sounding like Nick Saban (like that would be a horrible thing), this is a process.
We think we are instantly justified when we can take a few verses (maybe many verses) out of the context of God seeking to redeem and restore us to our original purpose and His intended design to prove our point. I want to encourage you to “retool” the way you read the Bible by changing the way you see the Bible. See the Bible for what it is: the mission of God to redeem and restore us and how we should respond to this extraordinary mercy and grace from God.
I am not saying I have it all figured out and that my understanding of the Sacred Writ is 100% accurate. What I am saying is that because I now read this wonderful Book from the Genesis 3 perspective I am discovering that some of what I learned about the Bible is wrong. I have also learned that much I feel about the Bible is also wrong. Nearly 2,000 years of listening to what others have said about the Bible has tainted us, perhaps even more than our own preference of sin, and blinded us to what God really wants.
And what God really wants is seen in His response to Adam and Eve. Yes, there were consequences to their wrong exercise of their free will as it is with ours. But remember that God is also there to redeem and take them on a journey to full restoration of their original purpose and His intended design. I believe that the Bible, though penned and re-penned by human hands, is preserved for us to discover the God of redemption and restoration. I believe that even though human minds and hearts determined this Canon for us, I also believe that my God is big enough to make sure that this Canon accurately tells the story of His desire for us to be redeemed and restored to Eden. If your god can’t do that, could it be you are serving a way too weak god?
I furthermore believe that because this Canon is the story of God’s search to redeem and restore us, it is completely sufficient for faith, life and order. The Bible has authority over me because it is the story of God’s search to redeem and restore me. Do I absolutely understand everything about the Bible? Who are you kidding? Do I agree with everything I currently understand about the Bible? No, but I am on a journey with Him who has both a purpose and design that comes out of Eden to become the person created for Eden. Am I there yet? Emphatically and absolutely NO! How do I get there? I go back to the Book, the one Book that God has persevered for me so that I can fully become who He made me to be.
I leave you with these words of John Wesley, whom God used to help redeem and restore a culture in a time of spiritual blindness:
“I have thought, I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing,—the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. For this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri. Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone; only God is here. In His presence I open, I read His book; for this end, to find the way to heaven. Is there a doubt concerning the meaning of what I read? Does anything appear dark or intricate? I lift up my heart to the Father of Lights:—“Lord, is it not Thy word, ‘if any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God?’ Thou givest liberally, and upbraidest not. Thou hast said, ‘if any be willing to do Thy will, he shall know.’ I am willing to do, let me know Thy will.” I then search after and consider parallel passages of Scripture, “comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” I meditate thereon with all the attention and earnestness of which my mind is capable. If any doubt still remains, I consult those who are experienced in the things of God: and then the writings whereby, being dead, they yet speak. And what I thus learn, that I teach.”