The Bible Says It, I Believe It, That Settles It... Said Jesus Never

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Deuteronomy 23:12-14 & 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

If there is one thing I have learned in this life it is this - there are certain things you should not say to certain people. 

If you are not a doctor you do not offer medical advice to a doctor. Just because you can access WebMD does not give you the same medical training as a doctor who graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown. Even with my first aid merit badge, I am not offering tips to my doctor during a physical or while they read the x-rays from my latest knee injury. 

During our ongoing construction project, Pastor Ed is not offering engineering tips to the structural engineer who worked with the architects to do the design of the renovation and addition just outside those doors. Yes, Pastor Ed is handy, after all, he fixed a leaky pipe in my basement a few weeks ago, but he knows where his expertise ends and the professionals' begin.

If you are a first-year seminary student you do not say to you Hebrew Bible professor, “No Dr. Bridgeman, the Bible says this, not that.” 

It was the fall of 2011, the third week of a new academic year, with my notebook was full of blank pages ready to absorb the ink from the frantic notes I was taking as I wrote down everything Dr. Valarie Bridgeman said during her lectures. If I missed anything I could go back to the recording I had made and fill in the blanks. 

One of the first things I remember writing down was this, “Leave your Sunday school theology at the door.” Leave your 45 minute, craft time understanding of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) at the door because if you do not bad things will happen. OK, I added that last part.

Week 1 - introductions, expectations, assignments, and Genesis 1 & 2: creation.

Week 2 - the serpent and Adam and Eve.

Week 3 - Noah and the flood.

We talked about animals walking two-by-two, rainbows, and doves. But the story, the story that every kid in our Sunday school can tell you about, continues beyond Genesis chapter 8 and that is where the trouble began.

Our saying this morning in …Said Jesus Never is “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” When planning the preaching schedule for the summer Pastor Jeff thought it was funny that two weeks in a row I would have the “opportunity” to preach on two not so easy topics: last week politics and Jesus, and this week the inerrancy of scripture.

Of all the sayings we are tackling this summer, this saying is the one I have heard most at previous churches I have served along with here at Mount Olivet. Perhaps not as definitive as “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it,” but I have heard many of you say, “The Bible says…”

“Pastor Teer, the Bible says to rest on the Sabbath, so can I clean my apartment today when I get home from church?”

"Pastor Teer, the Bible says to love one another but my brother has hurt me so badly and I do not think I can do it.”

"Pastor Teer, the Bible says X is prohibited by G-d but I don’t see it that way.”

The Bible says a lot of things. It is a collection of books telling the story of the people of G-d. It is a book of covenant, heartache, promise, lament, renew, and hope. 39 Old and 27 New Testament books give us a glimpse into what G-d promised and fulfilled to Israel through Jesus Christ. But the absolute, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it,” or more simply, “the Bible says,” creates a problem.

“The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it,” is an oversimplification of scripture because it ignores a host of historical and cultural considerations we must take into account when we study scripture because there were historical and cultural circumstances that directly influenced the writing of the Bible.

The Bible says a lot of things.

Got a witch living next to you? Exodus 22:18 has you covered. 

"You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live."

Parents, is your kid cursing you? Leviticus 20:9: 

"All who curse father or mother shall be put to death; having cursed father or mother, their blood is upon them."

Deuteronomy 23.

“You shall have a designated area outside the camp to which you shall go. With your utensils you shall have a trowel; when you relieve yourself outside, you shall dig a hole with it and then cover up your excrement. Because the Lord your God travels along with your camp, to save you and to hand over your enemies to you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you.”

Sorry, but we have to add the removal of all the bathrooms in the church to the ongoing construction.

Leviticus 19:27 and 21:5: 

“You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.” 

"They shall not make bald spots upon their heads, or shave off the edges of their beards.”

I guess my trips to see my barber Spud are no more. 

1 Corinthians 14:

“women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says.”

The first half of Exodus 21 along with 1 Peter 2:18 set forth the rules and regulations around owning slaves.

To flat out say “the Bible says it,” does not work.

Dr. Bridgeman finished her lecture on the flood narrative and moved onto Genesis 9. Genesis 9 is in the Bible but more than likely you never read it in Sunday school as a kid. In class, we talked about covenant and the sons of Noah, and that’s when it happened.

“But this isn’t in the Bible! The Bible says there was a rainbow in the sky and a dove.”

I don’t remember his name, I wish I did, but when he interrupted Dr. Bridgeman with his outburst this student settled it, in his mind at least, that the Bible said something and that was the end of it.

“That settles it,” is the end of a conversation. There is nothing further to discuss so our time together is no over. But to read a verse of the Bible, even a chapter or entire book, and then move to “That settles it,” skips the work we must do in 2018 as we read stories that in many cases began as an oral tradition passed from generation to generation. 

Think about the family lore that has been passed down to you, something your great-great-great grandmother did. How much of that story has changed from the original events? If you were to write the story down would the events of the story look the same as they did when they first occurred? Since these oral stories were finally written down they have been translated from language to language because they were originally recorded in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. English is dramatically different from Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. English today is even dramatically different depending on where you are in the world.

To say something in the Bible is settled without first working through the text, looking at the cultural and historical influences, considering the inconsistencies between translations, and what the stories meant to the original audience is again an oversimplification that misses the Spirit breathed inspiration that created the text in the first place and that still lives within the text.

What is the Bible? Rob Bell recalls when his “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it,” mentality became problematic after a friend called him out after a sermon. Rob missed out on the fact that Jesus was Jewish. He knew that Jesus was a Jew but Rob missed that richness of Jewish culture that would have influenced Jesus as he was raised by his parents and during his ministry. He missed the cultural circumstances that influenced the laws recorded in Leviticus and the structure of the Temple system. He missed the “political commentary, subversive poetry, and discrepancies” within the texts that were intentionally placed by the authors because the authors themselves were going beneath the surface of that text. He recalls thinking, “How did I miss this?” time and time again as he began to reread the texts thought he knew.

Because of “The Bible said it, he believed it, and that settled it,” my classmate missed out on an opportunity to have the same divine breath that was breathed into the original author’s words and the original audience breathed into him. 

The same spirit that swept across the dark waters is the same spirit that breathed life into the words we give thanks to God for every week. Jesus never said, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it,” because he, along with the Apostles were reading and interpreting the Holy Scriptures inspired by the breath of the Holy Spirit. 

When we read these text the only thing that is settled is that what was written was ultimately fulfilled by the Word Made Flesh. The Bible is an invitation and resource to a life of faith made possible by Jesus Christ. It isn’t settled yet because the Spirit is still at work in those words and in us.

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