Is the Bible a Legal Textbook?

Bible

Olga via Compfight

Too much theology treats the Bible as if it were legal textbook. In the following except from Benefit of the Doubt, Greg addresses the problems when we approach theology and Scripture this way.

Incidentally, if you like these excerpts we’ve been posting from Benefit of the Doubt, you’re not going to want to miss tomorrow’s post. We’re going to be giving away some copies of the book as part of a promotion we’re doing. Stay tuned! Also, Frank Viola posted an article yesterday entitled 7 Reasons Why Christians Abandon the Faith, and he recommends Benefit of the Doubt in one of his points. 

_____________

One more thing I’d like us to notice is that when Christians try to answer these sorts of legally framed questions, they typically do so by appealing to particular verses. It is, of course, appropriate and necessary to respond to questions by appealing to Scripture. But when we pose our questions in a legal way, we inevitably end up using the Bible in a legal manner—that is like a legal textbook. …

Not surprisingly, people often find that for every list of verses they’ve compiled to answer a question one way, someone else has compiled a different list to answer the same question a different way. A classic example is the…issue of eternal security. There are about an equal number of verses that people appeal to in order to prove that people can or cannot lose their salvation.

This is why debates that are framed within the legal paradigm of theology are often exercises in futility. Each person cites the list of verses that each think supports their side of the debate. Then, like two lawyers sparring in a courtroom over legal precedents that support or refute their respective cases, each offers alternative interpretations of the other’s verses, followed by a refutation of their opponents alternative interpretations, followed by a refutation of each other’s refutation, and so on.

Done in the right spirit, debates like this can be educational and fun. Unfortunately, the spirit with which they are often conducted is closer to the atmosphere of a courtroom. And far from being fun, in conservative circles this is the standard method used to differentiate orthodoxy from heresy and, on “doctrines necessary for salvation,” to differentiate the saved from the lost. …

One almost gets the impression from this line of questioning and arguing that God’s primarily concern was to form a kingdom of the world’s most competent lawyers. So he inspired the Bible to serve as a textbook of legal conundrums to separate the sharpest legal wits from the incompetent, with the latter group becoming fuel for hell’s fires. (119-120)

Related Reading

How the Bible is Trustworthy

All of God’s communication in the Scriptures are covenantal in nature. Expressing his covenantal love and faithfulness, God stoops to “breath” Scripture as a means of bearing witness to his covenant relationship with Israel, and then with the Church. Ultimately God “breathed” (2 Tim 3:16) the Scriptures in order to bear witness to the One…

What About the Contradictions Found in the Gospels?

It’s quite common for people to question the veracity of the Gospels because there are contradictions between them. In fact, an interaction between Steven Colbert and Bart Erhman, a scholar who makes a big deal of these contradictions, has become quite popular. While Colbert’s comedic response is entertaining, we must say more. And Greg has done…

N.T. Wright on the Whole Sweep of Scripture

Here’s a really fine video message from N.T. Wright on how to read Scripture. So many of the misunderstandings we take away from Scripture happen when we pick out a verse here and there and neglect the whole story. We hope this will bless you and encourage you to “press your nose against the window.”

When Repentance is No Longer Possible

A concerned follower of ReKnew recently asked me to explain a puzzling passage, and since I am asked this question with some regularity, I thought I’d share with all of you. Here is the passage in question: Hebrews 6:4-6. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have…

The Twist that Reframes the Whole Story

Many people read the Bible as if everything written within it is equally authoritative. As a result, people read it along the lines of a cookbook. Like a recipe, the meaning and authority of a passage aren’t much affected by where the passage is located within the overall book. The truth, however, is that the…

Jesus is the Center of the Story

The previous post addressed how the revelation of Christ is the surprising twist that reframes how we must read all that precedes it. Today we’ll look briefly at five supports to this claim. Jesus said, “I have a testimony greater than that of John” (John 5:36). Jesus elsewhere claims that “among those born of women…