Do you read scripture like a Pharisee or like Jesus?

Way back in college, I took a class on the history of religion in America. One day during a discussion about some Christian evangelist, one of the other students offered this criticism of the man’s work: “it’s like he’s actually trying to be like Jesus.” I sat there a bit bug-eyed. Can you imagine – a Christian who was actually trying to be like Jesus? Whatever could that evangelist have been thinking? (Clearly, not everyone I who attended my college was the best or the brightest.) But the reality is that a lot of people – including a good number of Christians – are as unclear on the concept as this young man back in my college days was. How else to explain the fact that many people read the bible the exact same way that the Pharisees did rather than trying to read it like Jesus did? (For anyone who is really unclear on the concept – the Pharisees were Jesus’ main opponents in the gospel stories. We’re supposed to try to be like Jesus, not like the Pharisees. Just so we’re all on the same page here.)

At the time of Jesus, the Pharisees were experts on the bible. In fact, they had managed to find all the laws in the bible – 613 of them. They had further figured out that there were 365 negative laws – thou shall nots. And 248 positive laws – thou shalls. So they knew all about important rules like thou shalt wash your hands before eating, thou shalt not perform miracle healings on the Sabbath and how long to keep the fringe on their garments. Somehow they had managed to miss those very important rules about card playing, drinking alcohol and dancing. No one’s perfect, I guess. But they had mastered the very important biblical teaching to avoid the appearance of evil. Like they wouldn’t eat with unclean people because if they did, the other biblical rule followers might call them evil. And evil is bad, donchano? (I once attended a church which demanded that members not drink alcohol on the grounds that other church members might be scandalized if they saw you coming out of a liquor store.)

So long before the teaching of sola scripture, the Pharisees were experts in biblical living. If you needed to know the biblical way to weave your cloth was, they could tell you. (Using only one type of fiber is biblical. The Pharisees would not have stood for our unbiblical polyester/cotton blends!) The Pharisees were also very good about setting a good example for other people – praying in public or announcing their contributions to the synagogue loudly. Because it was important to “witness” to those around them so that people would be inspired to honor God the right way, of course.

In short, the Pharisees read the bible just like any good fundamentalist – with an eye towards rules, order, proper moral conduct and principles which everything else could be shoved into. As I said last week in my post about truth, if this is what you’re looking for in the bible, it’s easy enough to find. And since it all comes from the bible, you can call it “biblical”, thus making it clear that anyone who disagrees or doesn’t fall in line is outside God’s will. And just like modern fundamentalists, they were quite good at patrolling the borders of God’s will to make sure people didn’t unwittingly end up on the wrong side of the pearly gates. After all, who better to explain God’s ways than the people who know his rules,order and principles best?

Well, God made flesh might be able to do a better job. Jesus read the same scripture that the Pharisees did. In fact, nearly everything he said echoed some other Jewish biblical or religious text. And he came away with things like “love your enemies”, “forgive the one who wrongs you 7 times 70 times”, “the first shall be last and the last shall be made first” and “it’s what comes out of a man that makes him unclean”. Same text – completely different answers. Not only that, but Jesus was very critical of the biblicism of the Pharisees calling them white washed tombs. He told them that rather than pointing the way to God, they were keeping men out of the Kingdom of God.

The difference between Jesus’ form of biblical and the Pharisees’ biblical came from the fact that they read the bible looking for two different things. The Pharisees treated the bible like a rule book – Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, if you will. Jesus read the bible looking for himself – the God who is love. Both found what they were looking for. Both believed that they were being obedient to God and pointing others to God, but only one was correct. The one who went looking for and found Love.

It would be nice to think that the ways of the Pharisees died out with Jesus’ triumph over death. Rising from the dead would seem to be pretty compelling evidence that he was the one to follow. Especially for people who claim to be following him. But there was a reason that Jesus specifically warned his disciples against allowing the yeast of the Pharisees – it only takes a tiny bit of yeast to leaven bread – and leavened bread is unsuitable for a remembrance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

Both the Pharisees and their modern day children read the bible in a way which emphasizes fear. Fear of breaking the rules, of being sullied, of judgment. But as Paul said, “perfect love casts out fear.” If the way you’re reading the bible creates fear, you’re doing it wrong. If you read the bible with an eye towards staying in God’s good graces rather than with an eye towards discovering God’s love, you’re reading the bible like a Pharisee, not like Jesus. It takes courage to reject all the fear-mongers, rule keepers and boundary patrols. There’s always that little niggling fear of “what if they’re right? What if I’m not pleasing God?” If you get in too deep with them, rejecting their way of thinking can invite attacks and shunning. Following Jesus has never been a risk-free endevour, after all.

But if you learn to read the bible the way Jesus did – to discover Love – you will discover a funny thing. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Odds are pretty much 100% that you frequently won’t please God. But when Jesus offers forgiveness – he means it. Seven times seventy he means it. If you’re not pleasing God, it’s not the end of the world – he’s already provided grace for that. Just keep running the race. That’s all he’s asked of us. Not that we keep all the rules straight or keep ourselves unsullied. But just that we run after Love with all we have. That we do the sort of good works which actually do point people to God. That we keep doing it even when it might cost us everything. It’s really just that simple.

So . . . how do you read the bible – like a Pharisee or like Jesus?

Christians have always tended to transform the Christian Revelation into a Christian religion. Christianity is said to be a religion like any other or, conversely, some Christians try to show that it is a better religion than the others. People attempt to take possession of God. Theology claims to explain everything, including the being of God. People tend to transform Christianity into a religion because the Christian faith obviously places people in an extremely uncomfortable position that of freedom guided only by love and all in the context of God’s radical demand that we be holy. –Jacques Ellul

46 thoughts on “Do you read scripture like a Pharisee or like Jesus?

  1. I found this blog after seeing you comment on a Peter Enns blog, and so Far I’ve really been impressed and liked it.I subscribed to your blog on Reader

    “I once attended a church which demanded that members not drink alcohol on the grounds that other church members might be scandalized if they saw you coming out of a liquor store”
    Um…My church exactly. I decided I wouldn’t concern myself with petty things though and purchased a beer anyway when I ran into the church group at Applebees last night.

    “The Pharisees treated the bible like a rule book – Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, if you will. Jesus read the bible looking for himself – the God who is love”
    Good point, I couldn’t have said it any better

    I think this translates into some modern day evangelicals looking for science in the text, rather than God

    “If you get in too deep with them, rejecting their way of thinking can invite attacks and shunning. Following Jesus has never been a risk-free endevour, after all.”

    That’s a good point, I get backlash sometimes for my views on stuff (like evolution, drinking, etc.), and its hard to let it slide.

    1. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the blog. I hope it continues to impress. By nature, I’m not a joiner – I wish I was. But the upside is that it’s probably easier for me to step outside the group and brush off their criticisms. But even for someone like me, it’s hard to deal with the backlash sometimes. I really admire people who can stand in the middle of things and go against the current when called for. It’s not easy.

  2. Interesting article. I would point out that a lot of modern Christians including ministers and televangelists seem to ignore the New Testament even more; they are happy to treat the church/temple as a proper place for wealth, they talk about how Christian it is to get rich, they support war, they favour talk of self-sufficiency over any talk of helping the poor or sick. So few Christians seem to incorporate the teachings of Christ into their lives, I wonder if the Pharasees have won out after all, by the back door. Or are both approaches just irrelevant to most people?

  3. I think I get the gist of what you’re trying to say and I agree. However, I think that your characterization of the Pharisees and your juxtaposition of them with Jesus is way off the mark.
    For starters, the Pharisees were not Biblical literalists. In fact, the two clearly distinguishing features of the Pharisees and their Rabbinical Jewish (99% of modern Jews) descendants are first the adherence to what is called the Oral Torah “traditions of the elders” in Gospels terminology, which was an orally transmitted body of custom surrounding religious practice that was later codified in the Mishnah. The second is the belief in the resurrection of the dead. Neither a belief in the Oral Torah nor in the Resurrection of the Dead are conducive to Biblical literalism since neither is explicit in the Hebrew scriptures. The closest thing one finds in the Gospels to Biblical literalism are the Sadduccees.
    Also, it is also difficult to find a historically reliable basis in the Gospel for a conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees on religious grounds. People, such as yourself, often point to the issue of miraculous healings on the Sabbath. The problem with this is that there is no basis for this outside of the Gospels. The Mishnah and the Talmud (written by the Pharisee’s descendants), while later than Gospels, make a point that an act of mercy on the Sabbath is not sinful. Suggesting that the evangelist, who wrote that Pharisees thought otherwise, either was mistaken or misunderstood what the Pharisees actually thought.
    Another example, this time from Mark 7. In the discussion of clean and unclean, Jesus actually takes the more conservative (and straightforwardly Biblical) position than do the Pharisees. The same is true on the issue of divorce, where Jesus actually takes a more rigid position. I could also add that the fact that Jesus debated with the Pharisees could actually be seen as a sign of inclusion.
    I’ll end this with a few quotes from one of the most revered of the Pharisees, Hillel the Elder, a scholar and saint of the first century B.C, whose grandson, Gamaliel defended the apostles in the Sanhedrin. Ask yourself, if these words reflect a literalist or someone whose biblical understanding is rooted in “fear”.
    1). “What you yourself hate, don’t do to your neighbor. This is the whole law; the rest is commentary. Go and study.”
    2). “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”
    3). “In a place where there are no humans One must strive to be human”
    4). “Judge not thy friend until thou standest in his place.”

    All the best and Happy blogging.

    1. Actually, I am well aware that the actuality of the Pharisees is more complicated than I portray here. It’s a bit like talking about “protestants” or even “baptists”. I’m not foolish enough to think that Jesus showed up here with a full understanding of his mission and his teachings – no doubt his ideas didn’t develop in a vacuum. Almost certainly he was influenced by teachers like Rabbi Hillel.

      But it’s also quite clear from scripture that there were factions of the religious rulers of the day who Jesus was in conflict with. Also, in the Christian vernacular, Pharisee is an easily recognized and understood short-hand word for that group and their mindset. It’s unfair to the other Pharisees who were more like Hillel than the men who brought the adulterous woman to Jesus, I admit. It is the way it works, I am afraid. The essays I write are distillations of a large amount of information and I have to be pretty brutal about what gets included and what gets left out in order to keep them readable and engaging for a wider, non-scholarly audience.

      1. Question: Who is this “Rabbi Hillel” you refer to, who supposedly “influenced” Jesus? The only person by this name in the Bible I know of is in Judges 12:13 and 15 (and he is referred to as a “Pirathonite”). And why would you think that Jesus’s teachings were formed by a human rabbi, rather than by His own Father, from Whom He came?

      2. Rabbi Hillel is a well known historical figure from the time of Christ. His writings are part of the Midrashic tradition which the Jews keep and use to this day and can provide us with insight about the understanding of various religious thinkers through out Hebrew history going back millennia. Because of Rabbi Hillel’s high profile during Jesus’ time, it is nearly impossible that Jesus would not have been familiar with his teachings. There is a lot of similarity between Jesus’ teachings and those of Rabbi Hillel. Jesus placed more emphasis on devotion to God alongside love for neighbor than Rabbi Hillel, imo.

        If Jesus was both fully God and fully man, he would have had to learn. And just like us, this would no doubt have included hearing other’s ideas and figuring out what of them was true and what was not. If we deny that Jesus needed time to think, learn and figure things out, then we are denying that he shared fully in our humanity. If he did not share fully in our humanity, then we do not, as the bible says, have a high priest who is able to “empathize with our weakness” (Hebrews 4:15).

      3. I have to, again, disagree. Though I’m sure Jesus would have known of this rabbi if he was famous during Jesus’s earthly lifetime, the Bible makes it clear that Jesus learned the truth through the Holy Spirit, Who led Him out into the wilderness for 40 days and taught Him Who He was and what God’s truth is. As a man He did not learn God’s truth from any earthly rabbi. He never quoted Rabbi Hillel or any other earthly teacher to anyone; He quoted the Scriptures exclusively. Over and over again in the New Testament we are told that people were “amazed at Jesus’s teaching” (Matthew 7:28) and how He taught things that “had never been taught before” (John 7:46), and how He taught “with authority” (Matt. 7:29). He did not learn any of these things from an earthly rabbi. That’s what made Him different from any other teacher.

      4. Kirk, perhaps you have not been blessed to learn from the Holy Spirit yourself and do not know this, but learning from the Holy Spirit often includes recognizing truth spoken by others. It’s only sometimes a direct “dictation” received in one’s spirit. Obviously, Jesus didn’t simply adopt other’s teachings as his own – no one has claimed such a thing. But if he truly was man and had to learn the way that we all have to learn – being fully human – then part of learning from the Spirit would include recognizing when he heard it.

      5. Yes, I know we humans often learn from other humans with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. But Jesus was not just a man. He did not learn God’s truth as we learn it. After all, Jesus didn’t say He “knew” the truth. He said “I AM the Truth!” (John 14:6) He was led by the Spirit in a way that no one else is, because they are both God.

      6. There is no basis for your claim. If he did not have to learn the way that we did, he did not share in our experience of being human. That’s extremely unscriptural. He didn’t have advantages we don’t share – that would grossly diminish the scriptural claim to being both “fully God and fully man”. The only advantage he had was that he was not dealing with the distorting effects of sin which make it hard for us to receive the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, his experience was either no different from our own in terms of having to learn the way we learn – otherwise scripture is false and he can’t actually ’empathize with our weaknesses”.

      7. But Jesus wasn’t completely like us. He was God manifested as a man. How could He have to “learn” the Truth when He WAS the Truth from the get-go? You’re focusing on his human side and ignoring the fact that He was God as well (which is why He had no sin nature, like we do). The fact that He shared our humanness doesn’t negate His God-side. He could never live long enough as a man to “learn” everything that God knows.

      8. If he didn’t enter fully into being human – including having to learn – then he was not fully human. Being fully human doesn’t diminish being fully God. The Eastern Orthodox church holds that the effect of sin is to distort what is most true in us – the image of God we carry imprinted on our being. The result is that we seek after what does not become us as image bearers and behave in ways which are out of alignment with who we are designed to be. The process of redemption is the process of undoing that distortion so we can be who we were always intended to be. Jesus did not share in this distortion, and therefor did not need to go through this process of redemption, nor did he seek after what did not become him or behave in ways which were not in alignment with who he was in actuality. But none of that has anything to do with how we learn, come to know God and understand his truths. Jesus would have walked through life being drawn to whatever manifestations of Himself he came across – not being prone to miss or misunderstand them as we are. But if he was fully human to the point of empathizing with all of our weaknesses, he would have had to struggle. He couldn’t have just known what he needed to learn – part of being human is learning. He would have had to deal with paradigms which were commonly held but wrong – that is to say he would have been taught to think a particular way, but perhaps not actually have, although that’s entirely different from knowing what was the correct ways of thinking and viewing the world. If he just knew these things and didn’t have to learn and struggle with them, he wouldn’t have been fully human, But if he did have to learn and struggle with things, this would in no way diminish his God nature as well. Scripture says that he willingly gave up the privileges of heaven to become man – knowing rather than learning is most certainly a privilege of heaven. He became as we are – an image bearer (the real image in actuality) who enters into physical existence with all of its limitations, darkness and separation from the dwelling place of God. Again, to claim that Jesus was a man but different simply doesn’t line up with scriptures. To claim that Jesus was fully man doesn’t diminish him in any way – the fact that he had to deal with many of the same challenges we all have to face and was able to do it without falling into sin simply magnifies the glory of what he did for us.

  4. I was just forwarded your essay here by a well-meaning Christian who seems to think that I am too “judgmental” of atheists, secularists, and antitheists. He apparently thinks I don’t show enough of the kind of “love” that you describe in your essay (the “turn-the-other-cheek” kind of love) toward these people. I think your essay is fine as far as it goes. But I also think it ignores a whole other side of God’s character: His absolute Holiness and His justice. I would like you to see my reply to my commentor:

    “So you think I’m being too “judgmental” with this page? Or that I’m wrong in holding rude, obnoxious atheists accountable for their bad behavior? Are you another person saying I should just “turn the other cheek” toward these people? I believe that’s why our society is in the moral and theological sewer it is in now — because we Christians have been allowing evolutionists, atheists, antitheists and secularists who literally hate God and Christianity to roll over us and get their own way all the time for decades now. … Do you think Jesus was wrong to get angry and throw the money changers out of the temple? Do you think Jesus was wrong to call the Pharisees “hypocrites” and “vipers” because they opposed the Gospel? Do you think police officers should “turn the other cheek” and just “love” criminals, and allow them to do what they want? Do you believe parents should just “love” their children and allow them to behave any way they want? Should judges just “love” everybody and let them off the hook for their illegal behavior? What kind of society would we have if they all did that? I think your concern here is somewhat misplaced. Sometimes REAL love involves being honest and straightforward with people, and holding them accountable for what they do. At Judgment Day God’s love and mercy is eventually going to come to an end too, and everyone who hates Him and everything that is good will be judged. This is called “justice”, and God tells us to “uphold justice” (Micah 6:8). Loving people does not mean being a wimpy sap and letting them do whatever they want to do all the time, no matter how evil or wrong it might be. You and the writer of the article you linked to seem to misunderstand this.”

    Yes, we are to love people like Jesus loved people. But we are also to hold them accountable for bad, evil, and destructive behavior, and protect the innocent from these kinds of people whenever possible. And tell them the TRUTH — even if they don’t like it, or don’t want to hear it. This can often be unpleasant, but it is nevertheless often necessary and right. Being overjudgmental and legalistic is not a good thing — but going to the other extreme and being a wimpy sap and letting people get away with whatever behavior they want to is not “good” either. As Christians we must rely on God to continually show us the fine line between these two extremes, as it is often tricky to find it. But going one way or the other all the time, and making the answer overly simplistic, is not the solution either.

    1. If you could just point me to chapter and verse where YOU or I have been commanded to behave as God towards other people, that would be awesome. Particularly those parts where God tells us to hold people who are rude or obnoxious accountable. If they set up shop in the lobby your church and are telling people they need to buy holy water or relics in order to worship there, then I certainly hope you will go all angry Jesus on them, but otherwise, Jesus really didn’t have a word to spare for the pagan Romans practicing their dark arts in his land and oppressing his people. And the idea that loving people and enforcing laws are incompatible betrays a gross lack of moral imagination. I did prison ministry with kids who I loved dearly and a few of whom I dearly hope never walked free on the streets again.

      God has given us a very specific description of love (1 Corinthians 13). It is not wimpy at all – rather it is the most difficult thing in the world for us to do for people who we would rather judge, reject, speak against, etc. What IS wimpy is deciding that God’s way of loving isn’t good enough or won’t work and substituting our own which allows us to engage in behaviors which haven’t actually been commanded by God. Justice is for the oppressed – not against the obnoxious.

      God does not need us to defend him. Jesus did not tell us to go to battle for him. We’ve each been called to pick up our own cross and walk our own narrow way. Your insistence on “holding people accountable” is self-indulgent and show a lack of faith that God’s ways will actually work.

      1. What? Are you now saying that we shouldn’t try to treat other people as God does, after writing a whole essay about how Jesus would treat people and how we should do the same? Am I missing something here? You seem to be contradicting yourself all over the place. Do you really think Jesus “approved” of how the pagan Romans behaved, just because He didn’t go out and immediately destroy them all? (He will on Judgment Day.) Are we as Christians not supposed to fight against evil, but just let it have its own way and destroy innocent people and cause untold suffering and lead people away from salvation through Christ? And how do you define “moral imagination”? Isn’t that the same as saying you’re making up morality in your own head, instead of obeying the laws that God in His authority has already set down for us in the Bible? Do you really seriously think that any society can long exist if we do not hold wrongdoers accountable for their actions? God has said “I will in no way leave the guilty unpunished”. (Exodus 34:7; Nahum 1:3). Shouldn’t we do the same? Isn’t that why we have policemen, courts, jails, and judges? Are you saying we should do away with all these institutions and just let God somehow do all the clean-up work Himself? I’m sorry, but I see no rationality in your positions, only self-indulgence of your own “touchy-feely” emotions. I think this is why we have rampant immorality and violence and crime (and so much suffering) today, because people like you think we should all just sit back and “love” everybody, and let God fix all the problems Himself. He doesn’t work that way; He works through us. He left us as stewards of His creation, and if we refuse to take proper care of what He has made we will be held accountable.

      2. No, Kirk, I do not think that we should do the same as God says that he one day will. We have been given very specific instructions. The working of law and order are human issues, not Christian issues. “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, give unto God what is God.” If you go back to the OT, God begged his people not to have a king and relented and appointed Samuel at the insistence of the Israelites. (1 Samuel 8) These games of power and governance come from the desires of man – not from God. They are our concern as citizens of our country, but not as Christians. As Christians, our job is to walk the way of the cross. To be humble, Not to resist abuse. To love. To serve. It is blasphemy to attempt to claim God’s righteous voice of judgment as our own.

        You can come up with excuses from now until judgment day, but on that day, Jesus says we will be recognized by our love and service to each other (Matthew 25). There’s not a single verse which says we will be held to account for countering the rude and obnoxious.

        The only people who have been commanded to proclaim judgment over anyone are the prophets. A prophet has been given a specific call, a specific message and specific instructions for how to preach that message. Those instructions arrive through angels. The role of the prophet is not to be taken on by any Tom, Dick or Harry who doesn’t like what’s going on around him. And the prophet almost always speaks against the rulers of God’s people – the goings on of the pagans and blasphemers surrounding them are not their concern. In the last days, the saints will be given the authority to proclaim judgment, but until we’ve been specifically instructed that (a.) it’s the last days and (b.) that we’re one of the saints given that authority, it is presumptuous to take on that role for one’s self. Our attempts to play the role of prophet in this world without being specifically commissioned for such a role are self-indulgent and faithless.

        If you are concerned that the atheists, secularists, etc are running roughshod over us, perhaps this is because as God has always done, he is releasing those around his people to rule over us as punishment for our faithless refusal to take on the yoke of humility, service and trust that when God instructs us to love he really, really means it. The fact that you believe love is some weak, mushy, self-indulgent, insufficient thing is an excellent example of why this judgment would come down on us – love is the very definition which God claims for himself. If love’s not enough for you, then neither is God.

        Odds are very good that we will not agree. I have said my piece.

      3. You misunderstand; I never said that I believe REAL love is “weak, mushy, self-indulgent, insufficient”. I believe REAL love is the kind that God displays: the kind that holds the loved one accountable, that disciplines and corrects. That kind of love is MORE than sufficient in today’s world, or ANY world. But too many Christians today misinterpret verses like “judge not lest you be judged” and “turn the other cheek” to mean “don’t judge ANYBODY for ANYTHING” and “don’t make ANY attempt to fight evil or protect the weak”. Those verses do not say that (other verses in the Bible make that clear). Furthermore, living like that is impossible. We make moral judgments because we are made in God’s image, and HE makes moral judgments. And we hate evil and fight it because God hates it and fights it. (And will one day destroy it, when He judges all of creation.) One does not have to be a “prophet” (in the Old Testament sense) to simply speak the truth based on God’s Word. ANYBODY who speaks God’s truth is a “prophet” of sorts.

        If you really believe that “The only people who have been commanded to proclaim judgment over anyone are the prophets”, then you DO believe that all policemen, courts, jails and judges should be done away with. They proclaim “judgment” all the time! So do we all in our daily lives. It’s the only way we have to discern between right and wrong. Further, judging evil behavior and punishing it is ITSELF an act of love; it seeks not only justice (because God is just), but the correction of the wrongdoer. We do rude and obnoxious people no favors by leaving them the way they are. Parents that refuse to ever punish and/or correct their children will end up with a bunch of self-centered spoiled brats who will ultimately destroy themselves (and probably many people around them). This is a reflection of a LACK of love, not true self-sacrifice. “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (Hebrews 12:6-17).

      4. Law enforcement and judgment are two utterly different issues. God judges people’s hearts. The law judges the legality of people’s actions. To conflate the two is absurd. As for love, I live by the biblical description of love:
        “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

        Therefor, I do my best not to indulge in anger – even in the face of extreme provocation. I do not keep track of wrongs – even grave wrongs, but leave them for God to deal with. Since there’s nothing there about fighting enemies or marking off people’s actions into right/wrong columns, I do not consider those actions to be part of a proper definition of love.

        God knows what we do not and sees what we cannot. For us to say that because God judges and is also love, we can override the instructions we’ve been given and judge as part of loving is presume power, authority and knowledge which is not ours. It is elevating our ways over the ways we have been instructed to follow.

        To the extent that we have been told to confront those who err, it is within our own communities – not outside of our churches and against people we don’t actually know. To think that the ultimate well being of others is our responsibility is to claim a role which only God can fill. If we truly wish to point people away from sin and towards God, we will do it the way we have been instructed to do it – by our good works. Once again, when we presume to correct others – particularly those who do not claim to be Christians, who are not part of our own faith community and who we don’t actually know well enough to sit down face-to-face with or bring in others who also know them to talk to them face-to-face, we are substituting our own preferences for God’s actual instructions.

        A while ago, I decided to take that instruction very literally and what I learned was that we’ve been told not to judge because we don’t actually know how to do it properly – we just think we do. You can’t fill a full cup. Until we’re willing to stop judging, God cannot teach us how to judge properly. Again, it is presumptuous to think that simply by reading the bible and saying true things, one is engaging in proper judgment. The devil can do as much. This instruction is very much in line with the way God almost always leads and teaches his people – “leave your home and your people and go to a place I will show you”. First do this thing that makes no sense whatsoever and by all human reckoning is a recipe for disaster and failure and THEN I will instruct you in the way you should go.

        Why not just trust that God knows what he’s talking about when he says to love, lay down your life, not judge, be humble towards all – including enemies – and a servant to all? Why continue to twist everything into knots trying to justify doing it your own way as if you fear that God’s ways won’t actually work?

      5. Again, I must disagree. I think law enforcement and judging ARE related. Law enforcement is based on judging people’s actions, which is directly tied to judging their hearts (for people usually act in accordance with where their hearts are). And that one verse that you quote is not the ONLY definition of love in the Bible; there are MANY other verses which describe what God defines love to be. I greatly admire the fact that you claim to refuse to ever get angry about anything or at anyone — but I must confess that I’m not sure I believe that. Anyone who can do that all the time would have to be something MORE than human. I’m sure you make the attempt, and you may even do it a good deal of the time. But always? If you were THAT good, you wouldn’t need a Savior! You may feel that you are being “loving” by refusing to judge anyone, but I would say that 1) as a sinner NEVER judging anyone would be impossible, and 2) if you never judge anyone then you must not really care about anyone, for righteous judgment (based on God’s standards, which He tells us in the Bible) is a GOOD thing, not a “bad” thing. After all, God judges! And is He not perfect? Judging rightly is also a tough business, especially for us humans — but when did God ever tell us that being a Christian would be easy? My experience is that anyone who doesn’t struggle on a daily basis with what it means to be a Christian either isn’t one, or simply is refusing to deal with the real-life consequences of being one. The point of the Christian life is not to be comfortable or have an easy life or be at perfect peace all the time; it is to become more like Christ. But for us humans, that is a daily struggle!

      6. I said I do my best. And to the extent that I am able to succeed, it is due to the redemptive work of Christ in me. You can argue all you want. I know what I know and it has all been learned through many HARD years of submitting to God’s instructions even when they didn’t make sense. I have learned things I could not have learned had I not done so and I share many of those things here. Not judging was one of those things that I had to learn to do out of obedience so that I could be instructed. I shared what I learned in the process with you. If you prefer your own way of doing it, that’s between you and God. I trust him to deal rightly with all of us without needing my assistance.

        “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” I am a mere sheep with little to offer other than my own experience of following and sometimes getting stuck and having to be rescued by my Savior and the understanding gained therein. There is perfect freedom in Christ and you are free to take it or leave it as you see fit.

  5. Hi Rebecca, thanks a lot for your post, which resonates with me a lot, and which I find extremely helpful. I also admire you for your patience and wisdom in your replies to Mr. Hastings, which were fascinating. May you continue to show the true spirit of Jesus.

  6. I’d do a follow up or supplement titled “Do you read the scripture like a fundamentalist or like Paul? Then I’d include elements of a discussion from a recent book review of mine on McLaren’s new book:

    Christological hermeneutics. Given Evangelicalism’s emphasis on the Bible, it is appropriate to begin a doctrinal interaction with McLaren as it relates to Scripture. Here the author addresses the pressing issue of hostility and violence in the biblical text (198-199), often ignored by Evangelicals in a process that Philip Jenkins has called “holy amnesia.” McLaren draws upon a Christological hermeneutic demonstrated by Paul’s writings where the Old Testament is quoted but edited in such a way as to reject the violent content. McLaren provides an example through Romans 15:8-18 where Paul quotes and edits Psalm 18:41-49 and Deuteronomy 32:43. McLaren then cites Derek Flood for a description of Pauline hermeneutical methods, where Flood states that, “This is not a case of careless out-of-context proof-texting, it is an artful and deliberate reshaping of these verses…from their original cry for divine violence into a confession of universal culpability that highlights our need for mercy” (201-202). McLaren notes that this is a pattern in Paul’s letters, and he concludes that due to Paul’s experience of Christ, the Old Testament texts are “artfully and deliberately reshaped according to ‘the way of peace,’ which is the way of Christ” (202). McLaren’s recognition of the phenomenon of Scripture, and the way in which Jesus and Paul used the sacred text, is significant. For too long Evangelicals have not delved deeply enough into the phenomenon of Scripture, and as a result have built a foundation for interreligious interactions based upon the wrong texts. This includes hostile texts such as Elijah and his confrontation with the prophets of Baal, Jesus’ rebuke of the Jewish religious leaders, and Paul’s stern warnings against false teachings in the church. In the first instance,

    …we can’t tell the story about Elijah (1 Kings 18) calling down fire on the prophets of Baal without hearing Jesus’ rebuke of his disciples for recommending the same violent response to the ‘religiously other’ (Luke 9)….We can’t tell the story of the slaughter of the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 7) without telling Matthew’s masterful reversal of that story in Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15). (194)

    McLaren reminds us that “[t]he Bible itself, it seems, has built-in reconciling stories to counteract and disarm the hostile ones, but people who want to justify hostility pick up the hostile ones and choose to minimize the reconciling ones” (195).

    For the whole review visit

    1. This looks interesting. I’m going to have to check it out. Many years ago, I came to understand that the bible represents a story of progressive redemption. I think there’s very good evidence that God met people where they were at in order to move them forward closer to where he is at. Many times we tend to think that works (or should work) by fiat, but pretty clearly for us to participate in the redemptive process, we have to choose to let go of what we know to embrace a better reality. And the reality is that any one human being’s ability to change is limited. Even today when change is so ingrained into our daily lives, people struggle to shift paradigms. I think that a lot of the Old Testament is the story of one people’s struggle to let go of their understanding of what is normal, good and proper in order to embrace this new God who claimed all allegiance and power for himself. And then to understand just who this God is and how he is different from their understanding of the demands and character of the gods they were already familiar with. I think that Jesus, Paul and the other writers of the NT were playing their part in this process of shifting our paradigm – in good part by focusing our attention on to what is most vitally important – that being love. I think that most evangelicals in particular have to ignore the violence and clear immorality which is obvious in the OT because they don’t have a hermetic which can account for it. In a way, I guess you could say that they have been trying to pour new wine into old skins – it just doesn’t work. Things leak out and out of necessity have to be overlooked or ignored. Unfortunately, this is one of those paradigm shifts which is so hard for us humans to make – letting go of our own understanding to embrace a better understanding. Anyhow, I’m rambling, but thanks for the link – I’ll check it out!

      1. I disagree. In an Aramaic speaking environment, they would have been using a Hebrew text (probably closer to the Qumran manuscripts than to the Masoretic text), which would have been heavily supplemented by the Targums ( which were Aramaic paraphrases and summaries.

      2. No text — but like Jesus’ followers in the first decades after his death, what they collectively remembered of Torah from liturgical practice and continual discussion. Not, by the way, necessarily a less conservative way of maintaining a tradition — because these people had a long practice of keeping the core and the structure of a text in their heads, written scrolls being neither common nor easily referred to, and what people agreed on being much harder to change than the words of a hand-copied manuscript.

  7. A good read, but according to Jesus, the Pharisees only acted like they cared about the written law. They were not lawful, but rather lawless, like their father the Devil. Satan misquoted Scripture just as the Pharisses did. Even so, Jesus told the people to do what they said, but not as they did, why? Because of hypocrissy. They took away, and added to Scripture as they saw fit, making it of no effect. They didn’t love God, and so they were void of the spirit of the law, which was revealed by the letter. Jesus rightly called them hypocrites, or actors because of their syncretism, blending their commandments with his. To love God, according to Jesus, is to obey his commandments, not just on the surface, but with a heart that loves God, as you pointed out. Truly, love willfully obeys. Jesus focused all of the OT commandments into two. Thank the LORD for that; I don’t think I’d be able to memorize 613 laws. Just as not all Pharisees or Scribes were subject to Jesus’ scathing rebukes (Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and others not named), not all fundamentalist are guilty of the Pharisaical brand of hypocrisy. As for the alcohol thing, Jesus drank wine, not Welches grape juice. Nor did he knock back Wild Turkey shooters.

  8. Whoever says “I abide in Him”, ought to walk just as He walked.”-
    1 John 2:6
    I can think of no prayer more effective than this: “I want to be like Jesus.”
    The Holy Spirit responds to a prayer like this and will surely show us how to be like Jesus. If we listen to the Holy Spirit and let Him guide us, soon we will “KNOW” Jesus.
    1 John 2:3 “Now by this we may be sure that we know Him, if we obey His commandments.”

    We teach the children the 10 commandments. This sets the compass dial to true north but does nothing to help us to know Jesus. What obeying “His” commandments means in this context, is obeying the Holy Spirit as He is helping answer our prayer to be like Jesus.
    When I have a choice in how I will respond to people, I want to be like Jesus. Obeying the Holy Spirit’s command will make me respond to people more like Jesus would. This is how we get to know Jesus.
    1 John 2:4 “Whoever says, “I have come to know Him”, but does not obey His commandments, is a liar.”

    Understanding God as a trinity is hard. God showed us Jesus. We want to be like Jesus. The Holy Spirit wants to show us how to be like Jesus.
    Whoever says, I have come to know Jesus, but does not obey the Holy Spirit’s commands, is a liar.

    Jesus loved people.
    1 John 2:9 “Whoever says, “I am in the light”, while hating a brother or sister, is still in darkness.”

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