It’s Biblically Impossible to Be Biblical


There is a holy grail that evangelical Christians have been seeking. It’s a quest that has consumed much time and left many battered believers by the side of the road. I’ve sacrificed my share of time to this pursuit over the years.

This is the holy and righteous pursuit of being the most “biblical.” In the evangelical world, if you aren’t “biblical,” then you are clearly influenced by your sinful desires or our evil culture.

While “biblical” could technically mean “influenced by the Bible,” it has become a code word for “possessing the one and only way to interpret the Bible on a particular issue.” In our zeal to follow the teachings of scripture, we have sought a definitive, once and for all time way to read a book that has always been a work in progress.

In one sense, we all want to be guided and informed by the Bible. However, the pursuit of being biblical more often turns into: “I know God’s definitive and authoritative perspective, you better agree with me, or you’re going to be unbiblical.”

If I don’t agree with the “biblical” perspective being presented, then I’ve rejected God’s truth. The possibility of ambiguity is lost, even if that ambiguity is all over the Bible:

Do you want a biblical approach to conflict resolution?

You could turn the other cheek.

But then, Jesus did tell his followers to buy swords.

And whether or not you’re going to offer a sword or a cheek, the Bible says you can’t let the sun go down on your anger, so if the sun is about to set, you need to make your peace immediately. If the sun is already down, you’re clearly in big trouble.

Or are you? Somehow we don’t lose sleep over those details.

Do you want a biblical marriage?

You could marry your wife’s concubine.

Don’t have a concubine? Better get cracking on that one.

Then again, men could try loving their wives as Christ loved the church. I should add that I mean each individual man should love his individual wife. We need to be specific about these things when we talk about being “biblical.”

Do you want a biblical approach to money?

Sell everything you have and give it to the poor.

Then again, you’re supposed to tithe 10%, so I’m not sure how to manage that if you’ve just sold everything you own.

Do most Christians ever try to do either of these things? For some reason we don’t. We also don’t hear too many Christians having a crisis of faith because they worry about having too much money.

Do you want to look appropriate for church?

Men better keep their hair short and women should wear head coverings. That’s CLEARLY not a culturally limited mandate since Paul cited the precedent of Adam and Eve in his statement in 1 Corinthians 11. He used the same logic when speaking of his ban against women teaching in 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

Or can we just wink at Paul about the hair length/head coverings business? In fact, most of us do just that.

For some reason most Christians don’t have any problem dropping the bonnets and letting our hair down, but we’re divided over permitting women to teach. Ironically, Paul made his strongest statements in relation to head coverings:

“If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.” 1 Corinthians 11:16

There are days when I ponder starting a “Biblical Head Covering” business and marketing it to The Gospel Coalition.

You’re either biblical in all things or you hate the Bible, right?

Arriving at the definitive biblical answer for everything is not quite so easy, especially because the Bible itself was never intended to function like a reference guide.

Same God, Different Settings

If you think of the Bible as a play, the settings and many of the characters change, but the one constant is God at the center of the drama (except for the book of Esther!). As each scene shifts and new characters face challenges, God interacts with them in keeping with the values and standards of each setting.

For example, when God reveals himself to the Israelites, he allows them to marry multiple wives and he mandates sacrifices as central to his worship among many other culturally accepted norms. Back then, being “biblical” looked quite different from today.

After the ministry of Jesus, the notion of being biblical shifted to monogamy and a more spiritual approach to the worship of God.

The point has never been to find a perfect outward way of serving God. The thread woven throughout scripture has been whether God’s people are loving God and loving others.

Even under the abuses and imperfections of patriarchy, the Law contained a number of provisions to protect women. In the case of worship, the only consistent biblical law has been to love the Lord with heart, mind, soul, and strength.

The Place of a “Biblical” Holy Spirit

When you think of how many churches Paul planted, you could say that the amazing thing isn’t how much he wrote. It’s how much he didn’t write. Even if we lost of a few of his letters to the Corinthians (Is anyone else dying to know what the “Painful Letter” said?), Paul did not rely on primarily on his letters.

When Jesus left his disciples behind, he didn’t rely on written words to keep them close to him.

Isn’t that strange? Jesus just made a little old thing called Pentecost happen and left it at that.

I don’t mean to be flip about the Bible. I read it every day. The main point here is that the Bible alone is not going to get the job done apart from the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Jesus trusted the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth, to keep us after he had gone. And while we should not neglect the teachings of scripture, an air tight system of theology does not replace the work of the Spirit among us.

There is no “biblical” way of doing things. There is only a biblically informed and Spirit-led way of doing things. And that information and leading may evolve and shift over time.

That doesn’t leave us with a simple phrase we can tack onto a book title or blog post. That doesn’t give us clear standards we can set up for our churches and denominations.

If I may be so bold to suggest, without such clear standards, those with power and authority will find it much harder to exercise their influence over others.

I’m all for using the words of scripture to guide and inform us, but turning the words of an ancient book into a once and for all time authoritative guide is another matter. We’ll end up frustrated and divided over our interpretations.

Even worse than that, the words of Jesus may prove hauntingly true, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” John 5:39-40

Note to Readers: Today’s post is the first of a 3-part series covering 3 things that are impossible for evangelicals.

26 thoughts on “It’s Biblically Impossible to Be Biblical

  1. Anne

    Did you happen to see the FB post of a school highway billboard asking people to “Think Biblically. About Everything.” Who is their target audience and what are they actually hoping to accomplish?!
    Good thoughts on this today. We get told we have all these rules to live up to when time spent reading the Bible ourselves would be time better spent!

    1. Melissa

      Haha Anne! That sign is my alma mater! That cracked me up! I am so thankful for this discussion happening on message boards… not billboards.

  2. MIchael Smarte

    Forgive me for playing devil’s advocate, but doesn’t this simply prove that the Bible cannot be reduced to systematic theology as it is laden with contradictions and inconsistencies?

    Better, surely, to accept that it is nothing more than a collection of ancient texts that bear little internal correspondence to each other, in and of themselves. Much like the Viking Sagas or other ancient mythologies?

    1. Melissa

      Hi Michael, I have a couple question, and I am only asking because I am personally working through it. What if the Bible ISN’T much different than Viking Sagas or ancient mythologies? How is the Bible different than Viking Sagas or ancient mythologies? What is wrong with it if it isn’t? What is suddenly falser or truer about it if it is or isn’t?

      Wold love your thoughts.

  3. Boyd C. Purcell, Ph.D.

    This article is right on target. A “Biblical Worldview” and a “Christian Worldview” are synonymous terms which I addressed in chapter nine in my recently-published book, “Christianity Without Insanity: For Optimal Mental/Emotional/Physical Health,” on I have stated that such terms are code or buzz words for the religious right’s political agenda. Well-intentioned evangelicals do use these terms in the sense this author says, if others have a different interpretation of the Bible than they do, it is an unbiblical view while the “evangelical” view is biblical.

  4. Sara

    I figure the purpose of the Bible is to read and study so that we know the kinds of things God says. Then we’ll know when a thought is from Him, from our own mind, or from the world or devil.

  5. Kristi Scott

    Yep, context is often ignored in order to create rules to control people; especially women. I just wrote about female pastors and touched on 1 Timothy 2:11-15. The responses on Facebook were the best; one guy from the church I mention in the post just kept saying the verse is God breathed and its Scripture so we should follow it. Never gave me an explanation as to why it said women can’t braid their hair in the same chapter. It’s sad that we equate following doctrine to godliness. Good post!

  6. Jim Fisher

    “an air tight system of theology does not replace the work of the Spirit among us. ”

    I often wonder if the Bible is intentionally vague, drawing us closer to the Spirit-filled white-spaces between the words than the words themselves. Forcing us there, in a way.

    Immersing ourselves in the mysteries of the Spirit is not easy. We want answers, not constant questions — and how often did Jesus respond to his questioners with another question?

    We would rather carve the Bible up into little proof-texted hard-and-fast pieces and place the resulting idol it on a pedestal above. Right?

    Then the Bible becomes a clearly defined rule-book: a destination, rather than a signpost directing us to something much greater than itself; a signpost in a journey.

    Idolatry. It’s mentioned in nearly every book of the Bible. It is Law One in both the Old and New Covenant. And yet, it never really made it into the list of the seven deadlies. Hmmm. I wonder why.

    But, what do I know? I’m just wandering around in the cloud of unknowing, not really trying to figure anything out. Christian mystics are like that. I hope you don’t mind.

  7. Jim Kane

    A very good article Ed. It brings to light some of the challenges we have today in “getting at” what God through Scripture is saying to us.

  8. Melinda Viergever Inman

    I agreed with everything you said until I got to this one sentence near the end: “I’m all for using the words of scripture to guide and inform us, but turning the words of an ancient book into a once and for all time authoritative guide is another matter.” Your wording on that one made me uncomfortable.

    Though it is an ancient book, when interpreted according to context, while keeping in mind ancient historical norms and cultural differences and while being Holy Spirit led, the bible is to guide and inform us in an authoritative way. This is what I believe and how I interpret.

    Maybe your emphasis was on the once and for all time aspect, the thought that cultural norms should never change, just because they’re discussed in the bible (read: head coverings and concubines). Cultural norms do change, but the principles contained in the bible can be applied cross-culturally and across time. We don’t have to morph back into the customs of the ancient world, as if that, and not the word itself, were normative.

  9. Jareth Caelum

    The gospel is so much more than a path to heaven. We can’t just sit on our laurels and proclaim victory. Just look at the beatitudes. We are to stand up, or at least speak up, for peace and justice. We are expected to feed the poor, take care of the widow and orphan, (anyone outside the system) and expect to be persecuted for it. Jesus warns us about being praised, He says that’s how the false prophets were treated. To live the gospel is be a rebel. You will be called unpatriotic as you try to make peace in the face of war. You will be called a liberal when you fight for the poor. You will be called a bleeding heart when you show compassion and visit the prisoner. “He has pulled princes from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.” The gospel was preached to the lowly, those at the bottom, or outside, of society. The gospel is much more about social justice than calling homosexuals sinners. The gospel is about mercy and forgiveness. Not just us being forgiven by God, but us forgiving those who who have trespassed against us. Forgiveness, mercy, compassion, and love. Forget about being comfortable and pick up you cross and rejoice!

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  11. Ford1968

    I look forward to your follow up post – the one about self-proclaimed, bible-believing churches (and bible-believing Christians). Because…you know…some Christian churches evidently don’t believe the bible.

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  14. Sara

    Thank you for writing this. I’m having a major crisis of faith right now and it mostly relates to the authority of the Bible. This is absolutely the most helpful thing I have read about how to read the Bible.

    I wish you knew how much concise little piece has put words to my previously vague sense that the Bible isn’t a roadmap, but is still essential to the faith. I feel so very relieved.

  15. Not Just A Blonde

    This is SO true & for me an example of how incredible this God of ours really is! As I remembered the children’s song I’ve sang countless times “Jesus loves me this I know…for the Bible tells me so….” just last Friday I started to reflect on that thought… is that why I believe He loves me? My personal answer was no… and I posted a not-so-eloquent thought about that on my blog as well! This post is incredible… I’ve shared it in my FB wall… mostly I think so I can read it and re-read it time and again! :) When God answers prayer He does it WELL! This was an answer to prayer!! Thank you!! :)

    Here’s my blog entry for those who would like… a quick read totally in line with this topic:

    1. ed Post author

      Your use of Proverbs 3:5 was very enlightening in your blog post. Yes, we don’t just rely on the Bible alone. God speaks to us!

  16. Not Just A Blonde

    Thank you for this answer to prayer… seems you wrote this before I even asked! :) Just read this tonight & am smiling because I just posted a blog entry about the “Jesus Loves Me” song… and how it says Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so!” and I wondered… Is that why most people think Jesus loves them? Because it’s written in the Bible?! Love love love your blog post! Thank you!!

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