How to Read Scripture.

Lately, I’ve noticed a slight disconnect when dealing with certain people.  They seem to have a few mistaken ideas  when it comes to what the Bible says.  I hope to help straighten some of it out.

All too often, people of the Christian faith are accused of intolerance and bigotry when we speak out against Sin. They try to tell us, among other things, that we’re presenting the wrong image, we’re being regressive, that we’re on the wrong side of history and that we’re hypocrites because we speak out against Sin, in spite of being sinners ourselves. I intend to clear the air on this, so that maybe people will understand us better.

To begin, there are a few New Testament verses that people like to throw at us, when we speak out. What follows is my answer to their arguments, in the hopes that I can foster understanding.

We’ll begin with a few fundamentals. No matter which book you are reading, the single most important factor is context. The wrong context will cause misinterpretation of the Scripture being used. It goes without saying that this is a bad thing.

To the end of preventing such an occurrence, it’s best to look at the surrounding passage, or even the full chapter. If you don’t, you could end up missing the forest for the trees.

An example would be Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” It seems pretty clear, right? If you judge others, you will also be judged, so don’t pass judgement on others. The problem is, that isn’t what it actually means.

For a clear picture of what Jesus was saying, look at verses 1-6,

1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. Mk. 4.24
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
6 ¶ Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

It’s clear from the passage that He’s saying we can judge others, but only after we’ve seen to our own problems, responsibilities and failings. Once we’ve taken care of our own messes, we’re better able to help others out of theirs.

He even includes the warning that we’ll be judged according to the same standard we apply to others. In other words, one had better be right when passing judgement. The only way to be right is to take care of our stuff first.

The next item on the list is perspective. No matter what, it’s important to always have the right points of view and/or reference. For example, We have John 8:2-11,

2At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They were using this question as a trap,in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Now, most are familiar with the line in verse 7, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”, though it’s more often quoted as, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

The common interpretation of this line is best summed up as, “Why would I hate someone for sinning differently than me?”. This is actually the wrong interpretation, because there is a problem with perspective.

Of all the people present, there was only one person who was utterly without Sin, and that was Jesus. He was using that moment as an opportunity to take a shot at all of them, for their Sin, while alluding to His own divine nature and origin. He was telling them that He was the only one qualified to mete out her punishment. It’s telling, for all of us, that He chose to show her grace and mercy, forgiving her of her sin, and setting her free.

Similarly, many seem to take this to mean that He was accepting and tolerant of all people, no matter what. What they fail to realize is that He was very much intolerant of Sin, even as He was kind to those who came to Him for healing and guidance.

The next point to consider is cultural frame of reference. This is important, because there are things He did, that most don’t recognize. For example, Matthew 10:14, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.”

Now, if you leave that verse standing alone it seems rather innocuous, completing the image of Jesus as this pacifistic hippy. However, most people who use this verse fail to do two things.

First, they fail to consider culture in their interpretation. In Iraq, for example, showing someone the bottom of your foot is insulting, because you’re telling them that you consider them beneath you.

Similarly, in ancient Hebrew culture, the act of knocking the dust of someone’s house or town off your feet is also insulting. It’s a sign of contempt, in that you’re announcing that even the dirt someone has walked upon is unworthy of you.

Second, there’s verse 15 to consider. “Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” In the space of two verses, He has advised His Disciples to show silent contempt for those who reject His message, and has made a statement of righteous condemnation regarding those who will reject Him. That’s why cultural frame of reference is so important. So many miss that, and go about with the wrong idea of how we are supposed to move through this world.

That’s all I have for now. This is actually going to be the first post in a series. I’m not yet sure how many I’ll post in this series, but I’ll keep posting as long as God says I need to. Y’all have a blessed evening, and I look forward to people’s comments, arguments and input.

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