It seems like more and more people nowadays are just saying they only do ‘what the Bible says’ because the ‘Bible says so’ and they ‘believe in the Bible’ while the opinion, interpretation and application of what select Biblical texts might mean varies from Christian to Christian, denomination to denomination – most of whom appear to be followers of Christ, or at the very least, dedicated to good works. In light of the burst of moral and intellectual relativism infecting the Western world, why is legalism becoming rampant in the modern church?
It ought to be said that at core every true blue Christian is bound to the axiomatic belief that Jesus Christ died on the cross and resurrected from death in three days followed by a mandatory action of confessing one’s sins in heart and mouth to God, and subsequently, will be saved for eternal life. That proclamation of faith and belief is predicated by the commandment from which all other commandments obtain nourishment: “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31) These beliefs synthesize as a single unit of belief. It is the essential axiom to the Christian paradigm and is commonly shared and understood in most Christian circles as exclusive and non-negotiable to the entire faith in and of itself. But among those thousands, not one of them will have an identical overarching perspective on all things Christian! Thousands of theologians can attest to this, I need not prove it. And it does not necessarily mean they love God any less or more – most are just trying to do what’s right. As primary belief is necessary for secondary and secondary is necessary for tertiary and peripheral belief, the significance in the implications surrounding sufficient subject matter will vary in emotive and cognitive magnitude. In other words, from this point onward beliefs that surround that axiom may vary between persons and denominations (i.e. Eschatology).
Unfortunately, many claim to believe in that axiom, but it is by no means applied. They ‘believe’ it because they’ve read it in a book that reflects them. It has become far too prevalent today to simplify, reduce and even modify what the text means in order to fit our own tolerance of ‘what the Bible says’ from our modern lens rather than applying what the Bible actually says: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2) With that important detail in mind, many in the West have forgotten the heart of the Gospel and have supplanted the Good News with a community centre, which is more often than not followed by taking the Biblical text legalistically. In the first century AD, during the time of Christ, the Pharisees tried to codify and reduce God to just the written word itself (Matthew 12:1-14), which was ultimately against the nature of God. And so it was, when the Messiah came, they didn’t recognize Him – Jesus did not match their understanding of Christ in the text. The heart of the Old Testament was displaced (this seems to be why Jesus Christ quoted from the Book of Deuteronomy so frequently). When it comes to language games, it seems that legalism and subjectivism play the same hand.
Likewise, it seems easy to forget that God is not the Bible. God is bigger than the Bible! All of His creation, properties, features and characteristics cannot be self-contained within a single book. God orchestrated the Bible for us, to help us know Him. That means when we read the Bible and when we don’t we need to listen to God day and night in order to meditate and understand His Word and apply His will! Did Noah cite Genesis before the Flood? Did Abraham meditate on the Torah day and night? – Or did they both have faith and listen to God? Instead, people seem to be reading, say, the Old English from a ‘watchtower’, so to speak, ignoring the concurrent cultures, meanings and implications of the time period it was written in and applying their own modern cultural interpretation, inflection and symbolism into the text as if that is what is objective (i.e. Flat Earth social movement or the King-James-is-the-only-true-version-of-the-Bible folk doctrine). People implement their own meaning into the text and then say ‘it is God’s Word’! This haphazard hermeneutical approach just causes dissonance. It forces a change in the intended meaning of conditions in order to fit self-motivated circumstances. They might read each verse as an absolute even if the verse is not asking to be absolute! For example: “Joseph gathered very much grain, as the sand of the sea, until he stopped counting, for it was immeasurable.” (Genesis 41:49). This, of course, is a hyperbole and is supposed to be taken as such. It is not that the grain was objectively infinite in quantity, it was that Joseph could not keep track anymore; it was virtually immeasurable. We ought to refrain from taking literal out of context. And that’s just it. God designed us to communicate with context and subtext, which includes reading the heart and point of what is being communicated.
Fortunately, scholars attempt to bridge these gaps for us and a lot of the time the dialog is what it is. But regardless of plain reading, the historical context and subtext of select accounts can enlighten our perspective on what a phrase, command, genealogy, parable or story means and how much significance it carries which provides greater understanding of the nature of God. For instance, there is a unique phrasing about light written by Moses in the Book of Genesis that carried more weight in ancient days than it does today: “Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night.” (Genesis 1:16) Nowadays, we just read the greater light is the most powerful and lesser light is weaker, but in fact it was a method implemented by Moses to counter surrounding pagan cultures, to highlight that the sun and moon were not deities but designs!
The Heart of Bible is the Messiah, Jesus Christ. And as such, the Bible is a fusion of both God and man, a design that emulates the nature of Jesus Christ the Word incarnate, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The Bible is also partially substitutive for the lack of a physical Christ, but not fully. As explicitly repeated and established in the New Testament, God desires to have a purposeful relationship with us.
On a concluding note, it is imperative to remember (and rejoice) that God does not save souls based on good works, belief and ethical intent, even if that means some beliefs are a bit weird or off, wrong or right. It ought to go without saying that not one of us has a perfectly coherent belief system. And if it were indeed the case, that God only saved souls on capacity alone, then grace, mercy, faith and love are mere meaningless platitudes. The only person in heaven would just be Jesus Christ, which is surely not the case: Luke 23:39-43. It is only when we try to rip the heart out of the text and remake the nature of God in our image do things become treacherous, which is non-coincidently one of the primary themes that underpins the Book of Job. It misses the mark for why the Bible being written at all. God does promise to transform you through the renewing of your mind, which includes how you think and believe. That is precisely why the Gospel account is unparalleled. The message of salvation through Jesus Christ has no cultural boundaries; it is simple enough to be guarded by the symptomatic effects of language games and complex enough to withstand the test of time. The necessary aspects of the Christian paradigm have been amazingly preserved for every tongue and mind so that it can be heard and understood no matter the culture or creed.
Matlock Bobechko | September 14, 2017 – 9:34 AM EST
 As a side note, there are select cases that I’ve encountered where someone prays to God and He, more or less, reveals an answer to them in Scripture even though the verse chosen may be historically out of context in comparison to the current situation; only the select verse applies. I am not willing to say that this engagement is heretical or improper as it seems to be more so a personal revelation that builds relationship with God than it is dissecting the true nature of biblical inerrancy. And that’s the point I am attempting to get at: prayer actively engages with God and requires us to listen.