November 12, 2018

Open Mic: “The Bible teaches…?”

Open Mic: “The Bible teaches…?”

Billy Graham was famous for making his preaching points by introducing them with the phrase, “The Bible says…” Every week, pastors and preachers tell their listeners and congregations, “The Bible teaches…” What do they mean by saying that?

I invite you to an open forum discussion today on that question. What does someone mean when he or she says, “The Bible teaches…” and then makes some theological or moral assertion or argument? If you say that in conversations with others or when teaching or preaching, what do you mean?

In essence, we are asking how people think the Bible works.

All yours.

Comments

  1. I’m not sure that I would ever have the confidence to say this, but I’d be more comfortable saying it in the context of something which I feel is present throughout the whole ‘narrative arc’ of the Bible, than taken from a particular verse.

    Do say: “The Bible teaches that it is impossible to do any lasting good using lies or power”.
    Don’t say: “The Bible teaches that the earth is flat”.

    That first point is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.

  2. Iain Lovejoy says:

    You can really only truly say “The Bible says … ” if you are actually quoting, and then only in the sense that the words you just said are in fact written in the book. What people mostly mean when they say “The Bible says … ” is “This is what I think the Bible means … ” Really, “the Bible” as a whole doesn’t say anything: you can say that such-and-such a book says such-and-such a thing in such-and-such a place, but no-one who has actually read much of it is going to be taken in if you claim that what you personally are saying in your soundbite is the one and only and whole Biblical message.

    • “This text says….”

      • Yep. “The text says…” is a good one.

        I often say things like, “Luke’s account says this happened…” or “David, in a psalm, says…” It reminds everyone (self included) that PEOPLE were involved in the documentation of whatever is written in scripture.

  3. Psalm 91:11 For he shall give his angels charge over thee,to keep the e in all the ways.
    Like 4:10,11: For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: And in their hands they shall bear the e up, lest at any time thou dash they foot against a stone.

    The Bible teaches….? Great topic. The Bible teaches a number of things. Helpful to understand the context of the scripture being quoted and the motive of the speaker quoting the Bible.
    Thank you for your work at IMONK. You all held me to think.

    • rhymeswithplague says:

      Mike, you made it seem like the writer of Luke chapter 4 added something Psalm 91:11 didn’t say, but you didn’t include the very next verse, Psalm 91:12 – it’s an exact quote.

  4. I usually think in terms of what a particular text, or group of texts that are part of a book, seems to be saying. And then I may think in terms of how this text or group of texts may or may not be in close agreement with others.

    But, on at least one occasion, I have uttered the phrase, “The Bible teaches!” Specifically, I uttered it in conversation with my capitalism-loving Pentecostal co-worker, when I quoted the Magnificat’s phrase, “the rich shall be sent away empty.” And I only said, “The Bible teaches!”, because that’s what he routinely says to me, and not without a little irony in my voice and mind. Anyway, he was shocked when I mentioned the passage, at first disbelieving that it was from the Bible, much less the New Testament. Apparently his pastor, who is given to 45 minute long sermons, rarely (if ever) has preached from that text, and my colleague had never heard it before.

    • rhymeswithplague says:

      Not “the rich shall be sen empty away” but “the rich he hath sen empty away” (in KJV, anyway). Tenses are important. You misquoted, Robert.

      • Clay Crouch says:

        How would you explain that the substance of this poetic passage is changed by the tense of the verb?

      • Okay, you got me. I’m not one who has memorized a lot of Scripture, and I misquoted as a result. Tenses are often quite important, you’re right, and I was remiss and lazy in not getting it right. Shame on me.

        But in this particular case, as Clay points out, how would using the correct tense have changed the characterization this passage conveys of the position the rich not only had, but presumably still have, in relation to God?

  5. The scriptures are a living being, if you torture it enough, it will say anything.

  6. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    When Joe-Six-Pack says “the Bible teaches” it generally means little more than “someone told me the Bible teaches”; not all that different than a game of telephone, neighborhood rumors, or celebrity gossip – – – and roughly as accurate.

    Sadly, teachers are not much better; repeating whatever they were told the Bible said at their respective seminaries. Mr. Graham is again a good example of this, and gradually developed more of his own understanding as he got older [aka: became somewhat less of a political shill].

    In the worst case “the Bible teaches” means little more than “I Believe [and since I am so obviously correct the Bible must support me]”.

    It is a good phrase to leave on the shelf.

    • why so little formal recognition of sacred Scripture as it is WRITTEN?

      I mean, in a formal Church liturgy, the Gospel will be read aloud, and the reader and the congregation affirm that ‘this is the word of the Lord’

      but what I don’t get is how a person can say ‘the Bible says’ and then give some sort of explanation of what he/she thinks it means from out of their own heads . . . . it is as though they are claiming to ‘interpret’ for Our Lord from His own words

      I remember one time quoting Our Lord’s words from one of the Holy Gospels on a Baptist blog and a person wrote, this “in other words, Jesus said” and proceeded to give his own version of the Scripture . . . . I told him that
      when Our Lord speaks in sacred Scripture, THERE ARE NO ‘IN OTHER WORDS’ . . . .

  7. I think what most conservative preacher/teachers mean is what the Statement on Social Justice mentioned on Saturday says:

    “WE AFFIRM that the Bible is God’s Word, breathed out by him. It is inerrant, infallible, and the final authority for determining what is true (what we must believe) and what is right (how we must live). All truth claims and ethical standards must be tested by God’s final Word, which is Scripture alone.”

    It is taken as a timeless (not bound to, addressed to, or influenced in any way by any culture – ancient or modern), easily understood, and unquestionable word from God. What God said to people who lived in the bronze age (about economics, family structures, etc.) is directly applicable (and binding) today. Unfortunately many who see and use the Bible in this way are completely oblivious to even their own baggage (their culture, personal experiences, religious traditions, etc.) they bring to it when they read it.

    But what is ironic is that people who would strongly support the statement, and proclaim ‘the Bible teaches’ can’t seem to agree on what it actually teaches on any number of issues critical to the faith! I spent decades in that religious ‘world’ (and would have fully agreed with the statement) and never could get my mind around that problem. What good is an ‘inerrant’ Bible if we can’t inerrantly interpret it?

    • Well said.

    • If course, the problem is NOT your interpretation – its EVERYBODY ELSE who’s getting it wrong. And since the True reading of the Bible is clear and obvious, anybody who IS wrong must only have moral and/or intellectual flaws.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The True Reading like Revelation’s Plague of Demon Locusts having the Clear and Obvious meaning of helicopter gunships armed with chemical weapon “stingers” and piloted by long-haired bearded hippies?

    • –> “It is taken as a timeless (not bound to, addressed to, or influenced in any way by any culture – ancient or modern), easily understood, and unquestionable word from God.”

      My sister-in-law once gave me a lengthy piece (several chapters from a book) on dispensationalism. In the intro to the piece, the author stressed that the only way to read the Bible was as inerrant and literal, as literalism was the simplest and most easily understood and not open to flawed interpretations.

      She (and the author of the piece) apparently failed to see the irony in prefacing a multi-chapter document filled with difficult concepts and lengthy interpretations of scripture with a “literalism is the easiest to understand and not open to flawed interpretations.”

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        I can’t hear ““literalism” and “dispensationalism” in the same paragraph without scoffing.

        The great metaphorical leaps required to get to dispensationalism . . . There is almost no better example of working backwards from a conclusion. And what motivates someone to work so hard at it? Which is a question I, in all seriousness, want an answer to. I. just. don’t. get. it. If the end times are going to work a certain way – so?

        • I was in a meeting about a discipleship program in a church once and the resident dispensationalist ‘scholar’ wanted to set the ‘ground rules’ for how we approach the Bible – taking it only literally (which would naturally lead to a dispensational approach as opposed to the way he had heard me teach). Another person in the meeting, a retired pastor, asked this person, ‘Is Jesus literally a grape vine?’. His wise question changed the direction of the meeting, for the better, 🙂

          I have often noted (with a slight tinge of irony, or is it sarcasm?) that the literal part of Revelation (the letters to the seven churches) gets allegorized or treated as symbolic while the symbolic part (chapters 4-22) gets ‘literalized’. It takes a big metaphorical leap to get it exactly wrong.

  8. rhymeswithplague says:

    For those who think the Bible doesn’t contradict itself, I present Proverbs 26:4-5:

    4 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.

    5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      That is not a contradiction.

      It is an accurate representation of how reality works; which is why “the bible says” is so darn hard.

  9. In my circles people who begin this way mean to make a universal, trans-cultural, God perspective statement which is to be believed and taken as TRUTH. They also seems to be the assumption of a strong unity in the Bible.

    I begin from the assumption that the Bible is historically, culturally, philosophically, and religiously distant from myself and which may or may not contain some kind of unity. The hard work of interpretation therefore has to be put in to understanding the Bible, preferably in the context of a community.

    I don’t use “the Bible teaches” statement but take a more “that was then, this is now” approach, asking how it all carries forward to our present reality? All this with a lot of humility, but which doesn’t automatically rule out the possibility of a God perspective statement.

    • I am more and more of the opinion that the only True God-Perspective Statement is Jesus. And “the Bible says” that too. 😉

    • –> “I don’t use ‘the Bible teaches’ statement but take a more ‘that was then, this is now’ approach…”

      Nice! I like that!

      –> “I am more and more of the opinion that the only True God-Perspective Statement is Jesus. And ‘the Bible says’ that too.”

      Bingo, Eeyore!

  10. edithcrawley says:

    People that say “The Bible teaches xyz” remind me of the scene in “Fiddler on the Roof” where Perchik is explaining the story of Jacob to the younger girls.

    He says “The Bible clearly teaches us you can never trust an employer”, one of the girls says “so that is what the bible teaches us?”, and he responds “That is the lesson of the story of Jacob, if you INTERPRET IT CORRECTLY” (emphasis mine).

    Every single verse is open for interpretation, and the interpretation varies depending on who is giving it.

  11. seneca griggs says:

    Based upon my observations: I-monkers believe that God Word to us was limited by the culture and by the humanity of the authors.

    I-monkers see these as obstacles GOD COULD NOT OVERCOME.

    So we have a nice book that needs to be de-constructed to be truly understood.
    _________

    I would disagree: God’s arm has never been short. He was not limited by the culture nor by the humanity of the men he chose to give us His written Word. Our problem, we don’t like what it says so we continually search for a by-pass

    [ One of the big problems for the current culture – God used only men to give us His Word. What was He thinking – dryly. ]

    As I mentioned before, most I-monkers tend to prefer “Sportin’ Life’s theology, “It ain’t necessarily so.”

    • “I-monkers believe that God Word to us was limited by the culture and by the humanity of the authors.”

      Or, God worked through and within cultures rather than bulldozing over them. If God was so interested in transcendent eternal truth why did He give us a book so embedded and contingent on the cultures and stories of a particular time and place? Why didn’t He just give us a systematic theology textbook?

      “God’s arm has never been short.”

      God’s power is not the issue here. His *priorities and methods* are.

      “We don’t like what it says so we continually search for a by-pass”

      Kinda like a certain recent evangelical statement on “social justice”?

      • You can’t be against “social justice” and believe in the Jesus of the Sermon of the Mount.

        Period. End of line.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          You can if you’ve limited your Gospel to Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation.

          “It’s All Gonna Burn….”
          “This World Is Not My Home — I’m Just Passin’ Thru…”

    • Pellicano Solitudinis says:

      Used only men?

      The Song of Miriam

      The Song of Deborah

      The Song of Hannah

      The Song of Mary

      The sayings of Lemuel’s mother.

    • –> “Our problem, we don’t like what it says so we continually search for a by-pass…”

      I don’t use the potential non-inerrancy, non-literalness, “written by flawed people” as a by-pass. I just use it to avoid unhealthy religion pressures by fundamentalists who INSIST on those things.

      • Those fundamentalists are always really trying to get us to submit to what THEY say the Bible says. I for one am not interested in submitting to them or their interpretations; they don’t have my best interests are heart. But Jesus does.

        • Funny how what fundamentalists want others to submit to is always far more costly to others than it is to them. They LOVE consigning others to a life of difficulty & misery.

    • Seneca, I wish I could help you understand how off-base your perspective is on “what i-Monkers believe.”

      And by the way, unless I’m wrong, it might be considered a little bit rude to tell others what they believe in a conversation rather than listening and trying to understand. Not saying you ever have to agree, that’s not the point. A bit of humble listening, maybe a question or two from a truly interested friend — these would be appreciated.

      • Since this post is on what the Bible teaches, the Bible teaches quite a bit on fools and those who have a spirit of dissension, or rather, like to stir up trouble (including those who stir up trouble for the sole purpose of making themselves look superior). Here’s just a sample:

        Proverbs 18:2 (ESV) – A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

        Proverbs 18:6 (ESV) – A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating.

        Proverbs 6:12-19 (ESV) – A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with wicked speech, winks with his eyes, signals with his feet, points with his finger, with a perverted heart devises evil, continually sowing discord, therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly…

        Titus 3:10 (ESV) – As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him.

    • Hello Senecagriggs,

      I remember hearing about how a ‘culture’ read the Bible in a way that encouraged and promoted ‘slavery’ in our country. And later, the descendants of this culture fell into promoting misogyny, racism, and in time, took also to expressing Islamophobia and homophobia. In particular, the most recent display of ‘cultural’ application of God’s Word was to have mounted a terrible persecution of people who are trans.

      So, I wonder about all of us that we bring TO the Bible who we really are, warts and all, and for those of us who use the Bible to justify our sins, what are we doing? And why? And are WE not also altered when we bring down hatred on others? Or maybe, unbeknownst to ourselves, does the Bible plant a seed in our consciences that, in time, will awaken us from our sleeping so that we will see beyond our fears into a better way of being?

      I’m betting on the latter case. There IS something in Scripture about how when God sends His Word forth into the world, it does not return to Him until it’s work is accomplished.

      So, maybe the great work of sacred Scripture is to plow up our fallow ground. And to render us . . . to tear us away from that which keeps us from the love of God . . . . ? How many thousands, millions, have read the Holy Gospel of St. John and come away in a situation where they are experiencing ‘conviction’ and with broken hearts are seeking God’s forgiveness and His peace?

      I think the real work of sacred Scripture is to take us down to the bone yard (Thomas Merton’s phrase) and then in time to lead us by the still waters. . . . . a massive journey towards the light

  12. Wayne Essel says:

    I don’t see the bible as “teaching”. I see it as a record of experience, musings, prophesy (intuition or revelations regarding the future) where God is the inspiration, the subject. The authors of the bible may have wanted to teach, through their writings, but in my perspective the bible doesn’t teach.