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Jesus picking and choosing from the Bible

Filed under: God's movement — 9:52 am

It seems to me that the most important question we can ask right now is “What is the bible?”

Most of the current debates in Christianity appear to have this question at their root. We’re rarely talking about the issue. Most of the debates center around disagreements with how to read and apply the bible.

As someone who takes the Holy Scriptures incredibly seriously but worries that we’ve made them into something they were never meant to be, I am desperate to find a deeper, more nuanced, more historic, more truthful, more beautiful understanding of what the scriptures actually are. Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible is a wonderful place to start. And today, let’s look at Fr Richard Rohr‘s perspective on how Jesus approached the bible. This is wonderful…and uncomfortable…and stretching…and so beautiful…

What Jesus Says about God

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Jesus teaches about the God he knows. He offers a kind of “soul language” that makes sense to as many people as possible. Many of the citations he uses are from extra-biblical sources, aphorisms, legends, and stories. He takes wisdom from wherever it comes. When he does quote scripture, the only Hebrew Scriptures that he quotes are those that move toward mercy and justice and inclusivity. There are scriptures that present God as punitive, imperialistic, or exclusionary, but Jesus never quotes them in his teaching. In fact, he speaks against them.

The longest single citation of Jesus according to the Gospels is in Luke 4. He went into the synagogue and unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and “found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’ And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down” (Luke 4:17-20). Wait a minute! Jesus stopped reading before he finished the text! Isaiah 61:2 actually says: “to proclaim a day of vengeance from our God.” Jesus skips the last line because he isn’t here to announce vengeance. He has a completely different message, and thus critiques his own scriptures. This is quite telling.

Jesus creates stories to communicate that God is good, faithful, and merciful (i.e. the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the Publican and the Pharisee). Jesus exemplifies biblical faith, which is not trust in ideas; it’s trust in a person—God, his Father, whom he trusts so much he calls him Abba, Daddy, Papa. Jesus knows that God is always with him and in a caring way.

Jesus was not changing the Father’s mind about us; he was changing our mind about God—and thus about one another. If God and Jesus are not hateful, violent, punitive, torturing, or vindictive, then our excuse for the same is forever taken away from us. Maybe we do not really want such a God?

Adapted from Hierarchy of Truths: Jesus’ Use of Scripture
(CDMP3 download


  1. Hi Aaron

    I read your blog and I have a quick question. you say …”As someone who takes the Holy Scriptures incredibly seriously but worries that we’ve made them into something they were never meant to be” Are you suggesting that the scriptures are not the inspired Word of God (θεόπνευστος) , infallible, and inerrant? Is that something that they were never meant to be?


    Comment by Mike — July 16, 2014 @ 7:36 pm

  2. Hi Mike. Thanks for the question. My first response would be: I’m not 100% sure. There is plenty of holy mystery to how God gave us the scriptures, and rather than always pretending to be certain about things, I’m trying to be a humble learner. So I’m on a bit of a journey. But here are a couple things I believe…

    (1) The bible is inspired (God-breathed) and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
    (2) Jesus took the scriptures incredibly seriously, and so I do too.
    (3) My faith is not in the bible; my faith is in Jesus. In the beginning was THE WORD, not the bible, and so I’m trying to not let the written word become bigger and more authoritative in my life than the Living Word, Jesus.

    Does that help? Have you read pastor Hamilton’s book? It’s challenging and great.

    Grace and peace,

    Comment by aaronieq — July 16, 2014 @ 8:15 pm

  3. Hi Aaron,
    First let me say I think your desire to seek out truth is admirable.
    But help me understand something, if you would. You say your faith is not in the Bible but rather in Jesus. Yet virtually all we know about Jesus we learn from the Bible. In fact the central theem of the Bible is Jesus the Christ. So then if, as you say, you, don’t want to pretend to be certian about things (by things you must be referring to the Bible based on your response above) how then can you have faith in Jesus and the “things” the Bible tells us about Him? What then is your faith built on? Do you believe the things the the Bible says about Jesus to be true but not other things that it says? Do you believe what it says about Him as Loving God but not Rightious and Holy Judge? Do you believe only some things the Bible says about Jesus but not all and if so how do you know what to believe and what not to? And how do you on the one hand say you believe the Bible is inspired and useful as described but yet it’s not to be trusted as God’s Word to the point of building one’s faith on? And what is the difference between the written Word and the living Word? Will it be emotions or feelings or popular acceptance that tells you when you hear what you refer to as the living word?
    Please, brother, don’t take my questions as an attack or an accusation. I love you in Christ and I sincerely desire to understand. My fear is that while it’s good to search Scripture and to seek fresh revelation of Truth from the Word through the Holy Spirit, it is very dangerous when we discount and doubt God’s revealed Truth in His inspired Word in order to seek truth from inside ourselves or from experience and the words of others.
    Please help me understand your reasoning and your thought process in this? Many people are looking to you right now as you lead this effort, including me. The written Word tells us that those who teach will bear a greater accountability. I, no, we, look forward to your response.

    Comment by Earl — August 6, 2014 @ 12:24 am

  4. Thanks for your question, Earl. I know that you, Charles, and a number in your group have some questions about my theology. And I look forward to the meeting we have set up to talk it through. Let me just give a basic response here, and then we can flesh it out in person.

    The core of what I’m trying to say is this: When I read, study, and immerse myself in the scriptures (as I do daily), I am always asking God to speak to me through these words. The bible is the central text of the Christian life, critically important and powerful in a billion ways, but my faith is not in the bible. I follow God as he leads me/us – primarily through the bible, but also through prayer, community, etc. And so my faith is ultimately in the Living God. Or as the great hymn says “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but whole lean on Jesus’ name.”

    Does that help a little? I have an incredibly high view of scripture, but hopefully an even higher view of God.

    Can I ask for a favor? Before we meet, will you read the book I recommended on my blog: “Making Sense of the Bible” by Adam Hamilton? He is masterfully articulating a number of the questions I’ve been engaging and asking for a while. It may give our conversation a great context. Thanks!


    Comment by aaronieq — August 6, 2014 @ 9:13 am

  5. Thank you for your thoughtful response. I meant it when I said I admire your desire to seek out truth. As you know Jesus Himself in a prayer to the Father in Jn. 17 said, “they are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth”
    I look forward to our meeting as well and yes I will agree to read this book. I’ll also encourage the other two men who will be with me to read it. In fact I’ll order it this afternoon.
    My prayer for you, for me, and for all who truly seek Him is that God will continue to fan the flames of desire in our hearts to grow more like Christ and that His Holy Spirit will lead us to know Him more every day.

    Your brother in Christ,


    Comment by Earl — August 6, 2014 @ 10:51 am

  6. Willow Creek’s Core Beliefs state regarding The Bible “We hold that the Scriptures, in their original manuscripts, are infallible and inerrant;”. In your response to Mike you are not 100% sure if the scriptures are the inspired Word of God.

    As a 19 year attender of Willow Creek and longtime Member I am confused and a bit disturbed by your statements.

    If you are not 100% sure if scriptures are not the inspired Word of God, how could you start up and lead your ministry?

    Why is Willow supporting a ministry when its leader does not 100% believe in the churches own Core Bible Beliefs?

    One more question, why do you not use a capital B when you spell Bible?


    Comment by Ron — August 23, 2014 @ 11:55 pm

  7. Dear Ron,

    As you can see from my response to Mike above, I absolutely believe that the scriptures are inspired (God-breathed) and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. I believe that the bible is inspired.

    I would prefer to continue this conversation in person. Have we landed on a date for our meeting yet?

    Grace and peace,

    Comment by aaronieq — August 24, 2014 @ 1:33 am

  8. Hi Aaron

    Thanks for your response back in July. I see Ron needed clarification on your response to me. Not that I need any clarification but I did want to point out, you say “My faith is not in the Bible but in Jesus” I would ask who is Jesus and how can you know about Him? I have never seen him nor have I heard him speak. The ONLY way I can know anything about Jesus and be sure that it is correct is through God’s Word. How can you know anything about Him outside of the Scriptures.

    Comment by Mike — October 13, 2014 @ 4:18 pm

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