I love the Bible. I have come to have little patience with biblicism.
The most “biblical” Jews in Jesus’ day were the Pharisees. We commonly criticize them for their hypocrisy, for exalting human traditions over God’s Word, or for adding a multitude of rules in their attempt to interpret scripture for religious practice.
I think their real problem was that they were too “biblical.”
The Pharisees formed the group that valued Torah above all and saw meticulous keeping of Torah as the way to rescue Israel from exile and usher in the messianic age.
Ironically, it was the fact that they had their “noses stuck in the text” that caused them to miss Jesus the Messiah and the way of redemption.
You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 8:39-40)
Jesus also criticized them for a biblicism that placed ideas and doctrines above seeing other human beings through eyes of mercy and understanding their own connection with them in a common humanity. I think this is one point of Luke’s story about Jesus in Luke 14:
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?’ But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?’ And they could not reply to this.
Their concern was for the sanctity of the Sabbath. They couldn’t see the poor man in need of healing right before their eyes. They were incapable of rejoicing when Jesus healed him. And, worst of all, they couldn’t even answer a simple, common sense question about natural human concern that Jesus asked them.
Biblically correct, they were bankrupt when it came to real life. Everything had to be filtered through the Book. Every move had to be justified by chapter and verse. It paralyzed them from acting as normal human beings and seeing others with eyes of love.
I read an example of this the other day on the Mere Orthodoxy blog.
It was an article about how the #METOO movement has come to the Southern Baptist Church. Thankfully, the author offered a critique of the stupid pharisaical counsel Paige Patterson gave an abused woman when he was a pastor. This has been raising quite a stink among the Southern Baptists, and it should. And Brian Mesimer at Mere Orthodoxy correctly takes Patterson to task, suggesting that his comments were “at best unwise, and at worst, reckless.” Furthermore, he offers some pretty good counsel a couple of times in the piece, saying that, in such a case, a church should help a person suffering abuse to get to a place of safety in the short term.
However, then comes the biblicist move — Mesimer writes: And yet can he [i.e. Patterson] be proved wrong using Scripture?
What follows is theological analysis using Bible verses. What does the Bible teach about divorce? Is there a difference in the counsel we should give if both spouses are believers? What steps should be taken, according to Biblical teaching, to engage the abuser in a process of church discipline? In fact, Mesimer turns the whole thing into an argument for a more robust, “biblical” program of discipline by the church as a means of helping abusers change.
Herein lies the biblicist priority: not what’s actually happening to people and how we can help them, but what right ideas should we be thinking about, based on scripture.
The more I read, the more I cringed. The entire situation had been turned into a pharisaical debate about biblical teaching and how to most appropriately apply Bible verses to people’s lives.
Sorry, I don’t want any part of this approach any more. I don’t need the Bible to tell me what to do when a woman shows up at church with blackened eyes. I’m suggesting we get our noses out of the Book, forget “biblical principles,” show mercy, and advocate for the person in need. Jesus did not ask himself the question, “Can I prove these Pharisees wrong using Scripture?” Instead, he asked the Pharisees questions about common sense humanitarian concern. And they could not answer.
If a child falls into a well on the Sabbath, pull him out and get him the medical help he needs. Immediately.
If an ox falls into a well, get the neighbors to help you, rescue the poor beast, and call the vet. Right now.
If a woman comes to you and her husband has been beating her, tell her to get the heck out of there. Help her do it, if she’ll let you. Find her a safe place to stay. Contact the authorities and advocate for her. Help her heal. Help her get a divorce if she needs one to protect herself and/or her children. Stay with her over the long haul. Let the chips fall where they may and seek wisdom for how to deal with the abuser. Keep things case by case — don’t force everybody through your “biblical” program.
Act like a human being and help another human being.
You just might see more Jesus in that than in a thousand Bible verses.