Christians often say, “The Bible says,” and then quote a verse or passage of scripture. But then we often followup with something like, “What this means is” or “What Paul was saying is” or “To understand this, we need to consider the existing culture.” I have to chuckle when I catch myself doing this. Why not allow the Bible to speak for itself? If the Bible says something, why do we need to explain it?
Because it’s not always clear. Because it has to be read in the context of a much longer passage of scripture. Because it’s necessary to know something about the times in which it was written. Because human beings can’t possibly read every passage of scripture the same way.
American Christians have the perfect example: the Civil War. In his second inaugural address, President Lincoln summed it up this way: “Both [Northerners and Southerners] read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.” Preachers in the South and slave owners relied on more than 100 verses in the Old and New Testaments that seemed to support the institution of slavery. Abolitionist preachers and slavery opponents contended that this scripture had to be read in the context of the times in which the Bible was written and could not possibly be read as God’s endorsement of slavery. They preached that there were weightier scriptures on mercy, love, and justice that superseded the scriptures relied on by Southerners.
Does some scripture carry more weight than other scripture? Scripture (quoting Jesus) says yes. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness…” (Matthew 23:23, NASB)
And we shouldn’t forget that when the Pharisees asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment in the law (meaning, one would assume, there were lesser commandments), he responded: “‘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.”
There’s “love” again. You would think that love would reign supreme–that it would prevent all the Christian infighting. You would think.