An Invitation: The Idolatry of Scripture
“Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
— Matthew 12.1-8
This passage of Scripture has been on my mind since mid-May. It always stands out to me when Jesus contradicts the Scriptures and traditions. Jesus is declaring people innocent who are breaking clear Scriptural laws mandated by God. What a shocking thing for him to do! And he makes contradictory statements elsewhere. For instance, Jesus quotes Exodus and Leviticus where God is quoted as saying:
Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. … I am the Lord your God.
— God, Leviticus 24.20 & Exodus 21.24
But Jesus contradicts this direct quote from God in Scripture in Matthew 5:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
— Jesus, Matthew 5.38-45
Now, I don’t see this as a reason to throw out the Scriptures, and neither did Jesus (while tempted in the desert, it was Scripture that he quoted in the face of each temptation). I see it as an invitation. If my faith was in the Bible, it would be a catastrophic blow to my religion. But, thankfully, my faith is in God. Jesus addressed this differentiation while speaking to the Pharisees:
You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.
— Jesus, John 5.39/40
I remember hearing a pastor say to a protestant congregation, “We don’t worship the Bible, but we get about [pinching his fingers close together] thaaaat close.” My heart sank when I heard this. I realized he was under-exaggerating. The idolatry of the Scriptures is the cause of so much division and condemnation. A.W. Tozer called people “Textualists" who “magnify the Scriptures so much that they block the very Light they are meant to reveal.” That may be a more proper name for contemporary Christianity than “Christian” (which means “little Christs”).
Scriptural contradictions and inconsistencies are an invitation to dive deep within ourselves to find what the Spirit is bringing about in our lives. They can also be things we just happily read over and move past. We don’t need to burden ourselves with information, when the invitation is to relationship. We can remain focused on that relationship.
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
— Jesus, Matthew 22.37-40
And there it is.
Some read this and see no use for Scripture. Consequently, those folks tend to be inclined toward emotionalism and self-centeredness (I know this from experience, of course). The other side reads this and obsesses with the Law and the Prophets for a more in-depth understanding, but tend to get lost in a religion that draws and defines lines between people and God, a deceptive and destructive form of self-centeredness (I know this from experience, of course).
There is a middle path though. And Jesus incarnates it.
Scripture helps us incalculably in learning to live out those two commandments with pure hearts, unstained by ego and self-centeredness (self-centered kindness is possibly the most destructive of sins). If something in Scripture brings out the opposite of what Jesus describes in Matthew 22, let’s do what Jesus did, humbly and happily contradict it while moving along in relationship.