The Whole Bible for the Whole Christian
We must not read Scripture cafeteria style:
God did not give us just some books of the Bible, or parts of some books. He gave us 66 entire books and he expects us to take them all seriously and see them all as authoritative. Sure, we must interpret Scripture rightly, and Paul commands us to ‘rightly divide the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2:15).
For example, we understand that some things from the Old Testament do not carry over into the New Testament. The sacrificial system in the OT is one such thing. Not only is it now fully fulfilled in Christ and his work at the cross, but even if Christians today wanted to get into those OT sacrifices, there is no temple in Jerusalem to do them in!
Other things come to mind. Physical circumcision – a requirement for male Jews in the OT – is NOT binding on Christians today. Indeed, we run with what it signified: the circumcision of the heart. So to say we need the whole Bible does not mean we are careless and reckless as to how we understand and interpret and apply the whole Bible.
What I mean by being a ‘whole Bible Christian’ is that we are not to pick and choose those bits which we like and simply ignore those bits that we find to be not so appealing. That works fine in a cafeteria for lunch, but it does not work for the Christian when he approaches God’s word.
A. W. Tozer put it this way in his book Of God and Men: “The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. And we must not select a few favorite passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”
Yet the problem is not just believers picking those bits they want to believe and obey. Far too many Christians hardly even read the entire Bible. How many for example have ever read the whole Bible – cover to cover? How many regularly read the Old Testament? How many even regularly read the New?
But assuming some do read the whole Bible, it is still rather easy to be quite selective in what we run with. Or we can fail two of the major rules of biblical interpretation: one, every text has a context and must be read in that context; and two, we must compare Scripture with Scripture.
Since I am now reading through the book of Deuteronomy once again, let me share a few examples of how selective reading or poor hermeneutics (interpretation) can skew how we understand the Bible. The first one comes from Deut. 26. Verse 15 offers this prayer to God: “Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
That text sounds really neat, and many Christians today might want to ‘name and claim’ it – at least in a spiritual sense. But one simply has to read the verses before and after verse 15 to see the full context – and that is obedience. As we read in verse 16: “This day the Lord your God commands you to do these statutes and rules. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul.”
In other words, these wonderful promises of blessing to ancient Israel were conditional. IF Israel fully obeys all that God commanded them to do, THEN these blessings would follow. But they certainly should NOT expect such blessings if they refused to fully obey Yahweh.
We find the same in chapter 27. Verse 3 says this: “when you cross over to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you.” That too sounds great. Who does not want a land (even spiritually speaking) flowing with milk and honey?
But verse 1 gives us the important context: “Now Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, ‘Keep the whole commandment that I command you today’.” Once again, the promised blessings of God are fully dependent upon the obedience of the Israelites. No obedience, no blessings.
Indeed, simply read the rest of the chapter. In verses 9-26 we read about all the curses that will come upon the people if they choose to disobey. And Deut. 28 gives us more of the same. While verses 1-14 talk about the blessings that go with obedience, verses 15-68 are devoted to all the curses for disobedience! See more on this here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2015/01/03/misappropriating-old-testament-blessings-and-curses/
Consider two more cases of believers running with a truncated or incorrect view of God and his word, with examples also coming from Deuteronomy. As to the first, many will claim that God loves and forgives us all unconditionally. Well, normally we do rejoice in a merciful God who forgives. But that forgiveness is not always guaranteed, and is usually conditional on our repentance. Just a few – of many – New Testament texts make this clear:
Mark 1:4-5 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
Acts 2:37-38 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
But what we find in Deut. 29:18-20 tells us clearly that sometimes we do not have a God who is always fully ready to forgive. It says:
Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. The Lord will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven.
And as to the second case, how often do believers run with the teachings of men over the clear teachings of Scripture? As an example, many of those into the health and wealth gospel will insist that sickness is always of the devil, and God would never make someone sick.
Well, they actually need to start reading their Bibles instead of blindly following whatever their fave H&W teachers are saying. Throughout the Bible we find God using and/or sending sickness. This is often clearly stated in Deuteronomy as well. Consider these passages:
Deut. 28: 20-22 The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. The Lord will make the pestilence stick to you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. The Lord will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish.
Deut. 28:27-29 The Lord will strike you with the boils of Egypt, and with tumors and scabs and itch, of which you cannot be healed. The Lord will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind, and you shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness, and you shall not prosper in your ways.
Deut. 28:35 The Lord will strike you on the knees and on the legs with grievous boils of which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head.
Deut. 28:59-61 then the Lord will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting. And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you. Every sickness also and every affliction that is not recorded in the book of this law, the Lord will bring upon you, until you are destroyed.
Deut. 29:22-23 And the next generation, your children who rise up after you, and the foreigner who comes from a far land, will say, when they see the afflictions of that land and the sicknesses with which the Lord has made it sick—the whole land burned out with brimstone and salt, nothing sown and nothing growing, where no plant can sprout, an overthrow like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, which the Lord overthrew in his anger and wrath.
Deut. 32:23-24 And I will heap disasters upon them;
I will spend my arrows on them;
they shall be wasted with hunger,
and devoured by plague
and poisonous pestilence;
So the lessons for us are these: we must consider ALL of Scripture, and we must learn the basics of biblical interpretation. The cults and heretics are involved in twisting truth and skewing Scripture. We must do otherwise. We must accept all that the Bible teaches, but properly understood and interpreted.
5 Replies to “The Whole Bible for the Whole Christian”
Well said again Bill. In our comfortable Western culture, we would rather not rock the boat, so we would rather ignore those uncomfortable passages of scripture. The Bible is clear, God punishes sin. He is not mocked and we will reap what we sow.
Well done sir, as we are also faced with the self-serving issue of “believing too much is too little” and “speculative theology” that make good doctrine less than responsible dogmas that further divide His Church and His Created Order.
Your call to read Scripture responsibly is reasoned and reasonable. As a result of your sharings, I read Scripture ever more responsibly…well done sir.
Many thanks Anthony.
True. I often say a Christian should know what he being saved from, the sins primarily but also the wrath, not just that he is saved. What good is it to know you are saved if you don’t know what you are saved from??? Without sin we are perfect and have no need of a savior so the OT if vital because it teaches us we have, and do, sin. Jesus only had the OT yet brought people to salvation. Likewise the apostles mostly had the OT but also the words of Jesus. Do we think we are better than they simply because we have a full NT?? A person can go ANYWHERE in the secular world for the happy happy joy joy and Barney the purple dinosaur type message we are called OUT of the world thus different than the world and so our message is different too yes we too off great hope and great joy and happiness BUT we first have you acknowledge the most uncomfortable thing a human can….. that you are a sinner in rebellion to God.
Like a wild colt you must be broken first before you get to the good part. You wouldn’t take a wild colt from the plains DIRECTLY to the show arena… unless you wanted to humiliate yourself. You have to break them and train them. A person coming to Christianity or a Christian finally coming to Christ on CHRIST’S terms would simply be brought from the world or comprised church to the throne of God for approval or worse sent on missions NO first he needs to know that sin exists he/she has sinned and till Christ’s return or their death they will continue to sin. Then you give them the good news of the gospel. Then they are ready provide they accept everything.