Thomas Jefferson spent the latter years of his life constructing his own version of the New Testament. He took a razor in one hand and glue in the other and carefully cut out the bits of the Bible he didn’t like and pasted together one of his own choosing. He cut out all the miracles of Jesus and any mention of the supernatural. He omitted any reference to the flood, the second coming, heaven, hell, and even the resurrection of Jesus. In the end Jefferson bound his creation in beautiful, red leather and reduced the New Testament to a mere 84 pages.
For years this story illustrated the arrogance of a man to slice up the Bible into a form which suits his own wants and beliefs. Yet, I have come to believe that selective acceptance of the Bible is the standard approach of most people in our culture. People open up their Bibles like a menu at Applebee’s and select the parts they like and carefully ignore or openly ridicule the parts they don’t and happily call themselves “Christians.”
A Jeffersonian like carving of the Bible is gaining ground on the American religious landscape. At the forefront is Adam Hamilton. He is the senior pastor of the 20,000 member United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. Mr. Hamilton has recently written a book entitled, “Making Sense of the Bible” in which he questions the integrity and nature of the Bible. He summarizes his claim with the following words,
“While affirming that the Bible is inspired by God, a key premise of this book is that the Bible’s authors were inspired by the Spirit in the same way and to the same degree as many contemporary preachers and prophets and even ordinary Christians have been inspired by the Spirit in every age. You’ve likely felt moved by the Spirit, and you’ve likely heard God speak to you as you listened to a sermon or a song, or read an inspirational book. I believe the inspiration experienced by the biblical authors was not different from our own experience of inspiration.” (Hamilton, Adam. Making Sense of the Bible, HarperOne, 2014, pg. 294; emphasis original)
In part, this conclusion is based upon a faulty understanding of Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit in John 14 through 16 (see John 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:13). Some people believe these promises are normative for all believers. Yet, contextually Jesus was speaking to the eleven apostles (Judas, already removed himself). The content of the promises make it clear that supernatural and infallible information is under consideration. This is why the early church “continually devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching” (Acts 2:42), because it was uniquely authoritative.
Yet, this textual squabble is not what threatens to burn away our understanding of the divine inspiration of the Bible. No, these current flames are not feed by canonical concerns, but by moral ones. For example, Mr. Hamilton recently suggested that the Bible can be cut up and dropped into one of three buckets. One bucket he labeled, “Scriptures that never fully expressed the heart, character or will of God.” In this bucket he drops those teachings which offend the values of our current culture like homosexuality, the role of women, judgment, and creationism, to just name a few. Of course, he is the one who gets to select which verses get dropped into the, “Oops, the Bible got that one wrong!” bucket.
I’m not shocked the Bible is coming under attack. It confronts the sins of our day. There are some people who want to hold on to Jesus and their sins at the same time. To do that they have to change the nature of the Bible so they can cut out the bits they don’t like. They stand over the Scripture like modern day Jehoiakim’s and slice off the parts that offend them and throw them into the fire (Jer. 36).
For one thing, it does away with any sense of genuine unity. After all, no two people will piece together the Bible alike. As a result the ship of Biblical interpretation will be driven by the winds of cultural trends (in contrast to the Holy Spirit, 2 Peter 2:20-21). Doctrinal anchors can be cut loose, and each person can sail out in his own direction. The message of the gospel will be obscured by the sound of a thousand different definitions. Satan will then have successfully divided and conquered!
In addition, when believers abandon the accuracy of the Bible it will increase the possibility of persecution. We may be accustomed to having the expression of our faith limited by a secular society. However, when fellow believers say, “You can’t trust what the Bible says about the moral issues of our day,” it gives unbelievers more ammunition to describe faithful Christians as extremists, radicals, dangerous and in need of censor or removal.
But most of all, when the authority and accuracy of the Bible is forsaken it steals away our hope! If you can’t trust what the Bible says about everything, how can you trust what it says about anything? If it got homosexuality wrong, who’s to say it got heaven right? How do we know if the cross of Jesus is even necessary? Perhaps the writers of the New Testament were simply biased by their own culture’s blood-thirsty concept of atonement. When the precision of the Bible is discarded the resulting faith provides little comfort and absolutely no certainty.
Thankfully, the Bible is not unclear about its origin or nature. It plainly affirms, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). The writings of the New Testament do not contain the prejudices of ignorant people, they reveal “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). Paul is highly criticized today for the things he wrote and yet he claimed they did not originate from him. He told the Thessalonians, “When you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13).
Despite these current attacks against the Bible we can take great comfort in the promise, “All flesh is like grass and all its glory is like the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:24-25). God is quite capable of preserving His word, and it is only His word—in all its purity—which can preserve us.
“Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Cor. 16:14)
When people sit in judgment of the Bible it reminds me of a story they tell of an old country boy who visited the famous Louvre museum in Paris. He took the tour and saw all the great paintings and sculptures which are lauded throughout the ages as masterpieces. At the end of the tour the country boy passed by the curator and said, “I’m not too impressed with your old pictures.” And the curator said, “Sir, I would remind you that the pictures are not on trial, you are!”
We may criticize the parts of the Bible we think are ugly, and we can ignore its testimony, but in the end Jesus said, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (John 12:48)