How Do You Decide Which Bible Verses Apply?

canstockphoto0920376I recently did an exercise with my Wednesday Bible class in which I gave them a few dozens verses of Scripture and asked them to mark each one according to whether it is applicable for us today as written, applicable but with some modification according to the underlying principle, or no longer applicable for us today. Here are just a few of the verses:

You shall not let your animals breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials. (Lev. 19:19)

Women should be silent in the churches. (1 Cor. 14:34)

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deut. 6:5)

Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him. (1 Cor. 11:14)

Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. (Matt. 10:8)

The responses were all over the place. There were a few for which there was agreement, but for the most part we differed on which verses were still applicable as is, with some modification, or not at all.

The point wasn’t that we disagreed but that we all had some standard or set of criteria by which we judged the applicability of Scripture. All people do, and the purpose of the exercise was to draw it out so that it wasn’t unspoken but explicit.

In explaining their reasoning the one thing that was never raised was the inspiration of Scripture. No one said, “That verse just obviously wasn’t inspired by God. That sort of thing would never come from the mind of God.”

Whatever understanding people have of inspiration is such that it allows them to make decisions regarding the applicability of Scripture. In fact, when you are making a decision about whether or not a commandment is still in force, you are deciding on its authority. Commands that have authority must be followed; those that don’t can be followed if you are so inclined or ignored if you are not.

This is not just my Bible study class—everyone does it. It’s clear then that in practice we separate the inspiration of Scripture from the authority of Scripture. All Scripture is inspired, but not all Scripture is authoritative. All Scripture is inspired, but some Scripture is more authoritative than others, and some not at all.

Again, this is not something that I’m asserting, it’s my observation of how everyone handles Scripture. I see few Christians who refuse to wear a garment made of two types of cloth or who greet fellow church members with a kiss (1 Cor. 16:20).

It’s not simply a matter of some who believe that the Old Testament is for the Jews while the New Testament is for Christians, because there are OT statements that many Christians regard as fully authoritative and NT statements that they regard as not authoritative at all.

This being so, then a couple of observations are in order. First, the traditional way of linking the inspiration of Scripture with the authority of Scripture is really not very helpful. It sounds good in doctrinal statements and in theology courses but in the real, lived-out world that Bible-believers inhabit it’s unworkable.

Not only is it unworkable, but even worse—and this is the second observation—it can raise the stakes so high that Christians question each other’s commitment to the inspiration of Scripture when they disagree with which verses are authoritative.

Rather than be curious and inquisitive when we disagree, we can often become accusative and defensive, and then relationships are strained or even broken.

With the result that the entire purpose of Scripture is violated. The Bible was written to bring a community of believers together in common cause, common faith, and common love.

The nature of biblical authority is more complicated than most people at first glance realize, and when we allow personal understandings of authority to stand in the way of community, we undermine the purpose and intent of the Bible.

And when we do that, it doesn’t matter what we believe about inspiration, for we’ve allowed ourselves to be inspired by a different sort of spirit than that of Scripture.

Photo by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Klementiev

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