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Hands off the Bible!

The Bible is God’s Word. He doesn’t want us to pick and choose what we believe. 

There are few acts in the Bible more brazen than this one by Jehoiakim, the king of Judah: “Whenever Jehudi had read three or four columns of the scroll, the king cut them off with a scribe’s knife and threw them into the firepot, until the entire scroll was burned in the fire” (Jeremiah 36:23). Coolly and methodically, the king of God’s chosen people sliced up the prophet Jeremiah’s message from the Lord and tossed the pieces into a fire.

Centuries later, United States President Thomas Jefferson took a similar but less dramatic approach toward the pages of the New Testament. With razor blade in hand, Jefferson excised from the New Testament anything that smacked of the supernatural. What remained was a little volume titled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Sadly, the book ends with these words: “There laid they Jesus: and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre and departed.” No resurrection. No ascension. Those events did not agree with Jefferson’s idea of God, so the president excluded them from his edition of the Bible.

Mishandling Scripture

People today, even self-identified Christians, are not likely to remove paragraphs or pages from their Bibles because they object to their message. What they do instead is keep their Bibles intact while rejecting some of the content. For example, some leave “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day” (Exodus 20:11) in their Bibles, but they reject the Bible’s teaching of creation. “You can’t ignore the science,” they say. “Evolution explains how this world came about.” Others do not physically remove the passage, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5) from their Bibles, but they reject the Bible’s teaching of original sin. “It’s not fair,” they argue, “that somebody should be considered guilty before God without any wrongdoing on his or her part.”

Still others who belong to Christian congregations do not delete a passage like Matthew 25:46 (“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”), but they deny the Bible’s teaching of hell. “The God I believe in would never send anyone to hell forever,” they contend, pointing to 1 John 4:8, “God is love.”

In our world today some Christians do not cut out the words, “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9,10), yet they dismiss what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. “Times are different,” they maintain. “What people do in their own lives is up to them. Who am I to judge?”

Most keep Bible passages such as, “No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Romans 3:20) in their Bibles, but they still set aside the Bible’s teaching of salvation by grace through faith. “It seems to me,” people say, “that what I do in life should matter to God and that the good things I do should count for something.”

The truthfulness of God’s Word means that any problem with the content of the Bible lies with
the reader not the Author.

You can probably think of other verses that remain in people’s Bibles but whose truths they reject. If we are honest, we can likely come up with a list of passages and teachings that we struggle to accept.

None of this mishandling of Scripture can be justified. It’s wrong when people claim faith in Jesus and then discard biblical teachings. God explicitly forbids people from tampering with his Word. “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it” (Deuteronomy 4:2). God even attaches a warning to the directive not to mishandle his Word (Revelation 22:18,19). A God who is concerned about the truth speaks like that.

Handing down truth

It was to a group of Jews who wanted to stone him to death on a winter day in the temple courts in Jerusalem that Jesus said, “Scripture cannot be set aside” (John 10:35). People can try to ignore or reject what God says in the Bible, but their words and attitudes do not negate the Bible’s truthfulness. God’s Word remains true. How true? In a prayer to his heavenly Father, Jesus said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). You notice that the Lord did not qualify or quantify the truthfulness of God’s Word by saying, “Most of your word is true” or “The great majority of your word is true.” No, “Your word—all of it—is truth.” The truthfulness of God’s Word means that any problem with the content of the Bible lies with the reader not the Author.

The truth of God’s Word is that all people are sinners deserving God’s eternal punishment. The truth of God’s Word is that all people are the objects of God’s forgiving love in Christ. The truthfulness of God’s Word is not, however, limited to those two main teachings of the Bible. God’s Word is truthful in everything it says.

Properly handling the truth

Lay evangelist Dwight Moody was well known for his revival services and his simple faith. One day a person approached Moody with a difficult section of Scripture and asked him for an explanation. Moody responded, “I can’t explain it.” That response elicited a follow-up question, “Well, how do you understand it?” To that, the evangelist replied, “I don’t understand it.” Trying again, the inquirer asked, “Well, what do you make of it?” Moody answered, “I don’t make anything of it.” Finally, the person asked with an air of exasperation, “What do you do with it?” “I simply believe it,” came the reply.

Because the Bible is the Word of our God whose thoughts are not our thoughts and whose ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8,9), we can expect it to contain content that is challenging to our minds. The question is, what do we do with such content? God’s will is that we have a “hands-off” approach: We do not change his Word or reject it. More than that, God’s will is that we have a “hands-on” approach: We hold his Word in our hands, reading it and believing it all through the power of the Holy Spirit.

“Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to the scribe Baruch son of Neriah, and as Jeremiah dictated, Baruch wrote on it all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them” (Jeremiah 36:32). Incinerating the Word of God was not a problem for Jeremiah or the Lord; God directed the prophet to draft a replacement scroll.

“By pow’rs of empire banned and burned, . . . The Word still stands, the Christian’s trust” (Christian Worship 291:2).

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 108, Number 6
Issue: June 2021

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  • James F. Pope

    James Pope brings a variety of experiences to his ministry at Forward in Christ, including serving parishes in Wisconsin and Florida; teaching history, theology, and staff ministry courses at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn.; serving as the “Light for our path” columnist for FIC from 2014–2019; and answering theological questions submitted to the WELS website from 2014–2021.

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