You can’t understand the Bible in bits and pieces

So apparently I made the news the other night. A nice gal with a giant microphone and a camera guy at her heels stopped me on the sidewalk and wanted to ask me some questions from the US citizenship test. I got two out of three right (the perfectionist in me wants to make sure folks know I realized immediately when I got the one answer wrong). And then she had some questions for me regarding a local educational issue.

I have a journalism degree. I write articles for a living. So I know how difficult it is to get a good quote that’s phrased in a way that it can be useful, so I forced myself to be a little more verbose than I normally would have with a camera and a light stuck in my face. And I certainly didn’t say anything inappropriate. I answered her questions in a way that was complete, grammatically correct, and snappy. A good quote.

And in the article and the news report, what I said was used to make a slightly different point than the question I answered. It’s not a hugely different point, but it’s a subtle enough to make me grumbly. If she’d asked the question about the issue my quote was used to support, I might have given her a different answer. But to a certain extent, I understand her position.

If nothing else, it was a really wonderful reminder for me on the importance of context. Because you really can’t just jump into a conversation and expect to understand all the bits and pieces. You can’t take a sentence out of a paragraph and expect to grasp the point of an essay.

food-cherriesToday’s verses are Proverbs 30:4-6.

Who but God goes up to heaven and comes back down?
Who holds the wind in his fists?
Who wraps up the oceans in his cloak?
Who has created the whole wide world?
What is his name—and his son’s name?
Tell me if you know!
Every word of God proves true.
He is a shield to all who come to him for protection.
Do not add to his words,
or he may rebuke you and expose you as a liar.

Cherry-picking is dangerous. Jumping to conclusions or making assumptions about half a conversation has ended friendships. So what do you think it’s done to the family of God?

God is God, and His Word is true. And He’s made it pretty plain throughout the Bible that anyone who adds to the Word (or takes away from it) will be in serious hot water.

I love the Bible more than any other Book in the world, but you absolutely can’t just take one fragment of it and plant your flag there. It’s either all true, 100%, or it’s not. Scripture has to support Scripture. You can’t believe that salvation is free by grace through faith and then also believe that you have to earn your salvation. Those two concepts are totally contrary.

You can’t just cling to a Bible verse because it sounds good or because it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. Read it. Study it. Understand it. Where did it come from? Who said it? Who heard it?

There’s a verse in the Bible that says “Eat, drink, and be merry.” Yes, that’s in the Bible. And if you just take that verse as it is, you’d think that God is telling you to live it up. Indulge yourself. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Just do what feels good right now! Right?

That verse is part of a larger story. It’s what a certain man says to himself after he’s accumulated wealth. He proclaims that he can “eat, drink, and be merry” and you know what happens next? God calls him a fool, because he is going to die that night and walk into eternity with none of his worldly treasures.

Without context, you can twist any statement to suit your purposes. Satan himself doesn’t hesitate to quote the Bible when it suits him. But the Bible will never contradict itself. God will never go against Himself.

So the next time you hear a Bible verse–whether you hear it at church or from a friend or off social media or wherever–don’t just accept it. Look at it. Try to understand it. And compare it to other Bible verses you know. Does it match up with other things the Bible says? Don’t just take it for granted that every Bible verse you hear is used in the correct context.

The rest of the story

I think a lot of Christians pick and choose what they want to read/believe out of the Bible. But if the Bible really is the Word of God, we should believe all of it. And if it isn’t, we should believe none of it. There’s no middle ground with Scripture. If even one part of it isn’t true, the whole thing goes down the drain.

There are so many people I know who read the Bible and only remember the verses they like, skimming over the verses (and the books) they don’t like. I was the same way when I was younger. You would have never caught me reading Habakkuk or any of the other Minor Prophet Books of the Old Testament; and you sure wouldn’t have seen me anywhere near Deuteronomy or Leviticus. They didn’t seem to make any sense.

But one day I guess I just got to thinking that avoiding those books was like picking and choosing what I believed about the Bible. And that’s not right. The Bible is whole and real and full and never lies, and the more you get to know it, the better you will get to know God and who He is and what He wants for your life.

And I will tell you that getting a modern translation (like the New Living Translation or the Message) helped immensely. The laws written in some of these books are peculiar enough to read without having to sort through 400-year-old English.

And while I love getting a daily Bible verse, sometimes I need to get deeper into a chapter or even a Book to understand the meaning of it. It’s never a good idea to pick a verse out of the Bible and think you can understand what it means without understanding its context.

The verse this morning is a good example:

Deuteronomy 7:9

9 Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.

Yes! That’s an awesome verse about God’s faithfulness. And I can tell you right now I need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness. I’m kind of in a valley right now. I’m learning how to deal with the stuff going on in my life and to maintain my positive, joyful outlook on things. But most of the time I still feel like the time we went camping in Colorado and ended up in a valley, and we had to wait until nearly 10:00 am before we could see the sun over the tops of the mountains. I know God is out there and I know He’s working, but I can’t see Him yet. So remembering that God is faithful to me (and to everyone else) and loves me unfailingly is a great thing to remember.

But . . . is that ALL this verse is saying? Why is it there? What spurred the writer (Moses) to write this down? Well, obviously God told him to write it down, but what is the purpose for it?

This is one of those verses that I like to see and understand the context for the verse. Deuteronomy is especially important to make sure you have the right context for anything you take out.

So . . . . this is the whole paragraph:

Deuteronomy 7:7-11

 7 “The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! 8 Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. 9 Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. 10 But he does not hesitate to punish and destroy those who reject him. 11 Therefore, you must obey all these commands, decrees, and regulations I am giving you today.

To really understand, you’d need to read the whole chapter (it’s a good read, actually; Deuteronomy is honestly a fun book), but God is warning the people of Israel not to marry the pagan people they are conquering on their journey to the Promised Land. God told them that He was going to deliver seven nations that were bigger and stronger than they were to the people of Israel, and He commanded them to destroy those nations entirely and not to intermarry with them. Because by intermarrying with them, the people who didn’t follow God would turn Israel’s heart away from God. (Sound familiar?)

This paragraph goes into why God is helping them. God didn’t save the people of Israel because they were so much better than everyone else. He saved the people of Israel because of the promise He made to Abraham, the Father of the Jewish Nation. Then, comes our single verse that we read above. However, it’s followed by a word that can mean something really great or something really scary: but.

God loves you, but . . .

Read Deuteronomy 7:9 and you get the idea that God is a God of faithful enduring love and nothing you can do would ever separate you from His love. And that’s true. Nothing will ever separate us from God’s love.


The verse next verse reminds us that, even though God loves us, He won’t hesitate “to punish and destroy those who reject Him.”

Why? He’s God. He is Sovereign. He has the right to punish and destroy whatever He wants because He made it all. We’re all blessed that He hasn’t punished and destroyed all of us simply for breathing, after everything that we’ve done to wreck the world He entrusted to us.

That’s something Christians like to forget about God. We want everyone to see that God is Love. And He is. God is synonymous with Love. But (there’s that word again) He is also a God of wrath. He is a God of justice. He is a God of perfection. And anyone who isn’t perfect (or that isn’t covered by the blood of His Perfect Son) can’t have anything to do with Him. And that person can’t say they are without excuse. Romans tells us that even nature itself screams that it was created by God. And those of us living in 21st Century America are inundated with the truth of Scripture; it’s just our pride that keeps us from accepting it.

God is indeed God.

He is faithful. He is loving. He is enduring. He will never give up on you or me. But He is constant and unshakable and He will not be anything less than He is, and that is a quality we all appreciate while it’s positive in our favor. Unshakably faithful. Unshakably loving. But what about Unshakable Perfection? Unshakable Justice? Unshakable Wrath? We don’t much care for that side of Him because when it’s aimed at us, we don’t feel like we deserve it.

See what I mean?

The Bible is an amazing Book, and we should never take it for granted. Don’t just take a verse someone gives you and assume they know what they’re talking about. Don’t just take a single verse out of Scripture and assume you can get everything you need to know from it. Read it. Read the whole chapter. Read the whole Book. It’s your responsibility to work out what you believe and why.

It’s worth it.

No ifs, ands, or buts.