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It’s not biblical

Yesterday’s blog described a power encounter that our team in Peru had with a demonic presence a few days ago. Afterwards, they were understandably jazzed. Having been raised in our cynical American culture, they’d read about Jesus doing miracles, had read about him telling his disciples that the…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Yesterday’s blog described a power encounter that our team in Peru had with a demonic presence a few days ago. Afterwards, they were understandably jazzed. Having been raised in our cynical American culture, they’d read about Jesus doing miracles, had read about him telling his disciples that they’d do even greater things, but had never personally experienced what it was like to wield his delegated authority and power. They were tired of believing one thing and living another – they felt like hypocrites (actually, I think their whole generation feels this way).

We had told them to sit tight, that they would get “to do the stuff.” So after their experience, having seen the power of God with their own eyes, they were buzzing with excitement. That night, as a team, they pressed into God. They praised him, they prayed for one another, they yelled out to God, did some deliverance on one another, and experienced what they felt was the presence of Almighty God. All in all, a good night I’d say (here’s a blog from one of our team members describing it).

The team had never experienced anything like this. Those who didn’t understand it and were disturbed by it did the right thing by looking in the Bible to see what it had to say (can I just disarm a few of you would-be critics by saying, “Yes! Please, we need to check our experience against the Bible”). But then they took it too far by standing up to say, “It’s not biblical.” Even if the person saying this is right, it makes them appear as a superior interpreter of Scripture than others and is a subtle put-down. You could make a case for saying “it’s not biblical” is itself not biblical because it violates Romans 15:1-2, 7, inviting a tit-for-tat argument instead of promoting unity.

Jesus was never a fan of appeals to Scripture to undermine what he was doing. The devil did it at the beginning of his ministry, and the Pharisees were forever missing God and using Scripture to back up their unbelief. Jesus’ response to them in Matt. 22:29 was typical: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”

When Christians say something “is not biblical,” they often are treating the Bible as though it were not open to interpretation. The problem is, while the book of Leviticus, for example, may be written in a way that requires little interpretation, most of the rest of the Bible is not. It requires the reader to go through at least these three questions to figure out how to live his or her life:

1. What does the Bible actually say?

2. What does it mean?

3. What is it saying to me today?

Reasonable people who love Jesus disagree violently about how to answer these three questions on almost any given passage. You’ll often hear Bible scholars talk about how important context is to discover what is “biblical.” And while it’s true, it still doesn’t make the Bible any more self-evident or less subject to interpretation.

Whole denominations have sprung up in response to the phrase, “it’s not biblical.” The Amish don’t find any evidence of electricity or technology in the Bible, and so, they’ve mandated a lifestyle that avoids such “un-biblical” things. The Mennonites agreed, but felt they were taking it too far (and didn’t like the way they did Sunday School, which is something else that is un-biblical), and modified their strictures.

Think of all the debatable things that people say either are or are not un-biblical:

  • War
  • Capital punishment
  • Socialized medicine
  • Ostentatious lifestyles
  • Buffet lines in a pre-diabetic nation
  • Outrageous behavior after encountering God (like falling down)

I want to join Rodney King in asking, “Can’t we just all get along?” Yes, we have to be discerning. But before you go declaring “that’s not biblical,” can you please take a look in the mirror and realize that you’re just a flawed interpreter of Scripture like the rest of us?

As the result of a power encounter in a refugee camp of an earthquake zone, our Peru team got zapped by God a few days ago. You can see a video of where they were, above. It’s a powerful video, take a minute to watch it.

Afterwards, they spent about three hours on their faces before him. Because of the turbo-charged atmosphere and some of the strange things that happened, a few team members wondered whether any of it was in fact of God. Now, I believe this is a good thing. Scripture tells us that we’re to test things and we know we have an enemy who counterfeits experience. I also believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, without error in its original form. So, let me distinguish between an appeal to the Bible as a source of truth and a polemical short-circuiting of that process by declaring something unbiblical.

The problem came when someone uttered the following phrase as a means of justifying their perspective: “this isn’t biblical.” As though there is always some unarguable standard of what is acceptable behavior. The fact is that, while the Bible gives us the Ten Commandments and a number of precepts that are incontrovertible, it also leaves a lot that is open to interpretation.

Take for example the most famous thing Jesus said – John 3:16. Let’s look at the context, that is, the verses that precede it: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the son of man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3: 14 – 15)

 Here are some things we could interpret as biblical or not biblical based on this passage about what it means to “believe”: 

  • Unless you say a prayer and ask Jesus into your heart, you don’t really believe and you’re not saved.
  • Belief must always be backed by action.
  • Belief is evidenced by what a person says.
  • Unless our belief is tested as was Moses and Jesus we don’t really believe.
  • Unless God performs a miracle (as he did with Moses) as a result of your belief you don’t really believe.
  • Unless you have a track record of faithfulness, you never really believed in the first place.

 I could keep going with this list. What are we to make of Moses and the snake? Hyper-literalists somewhere have no doubt built one of the 30,000+ Christian denominations on this. After all, one sees snake handlers in West Virginia because the Bible says that snakes won’t hurt believers.

 If experts like Charles Ryrie and John McArthur, who have given their life to properly interpret the Bible, can write whole books contradicting one another on the subject of what Jesus meant by “believe,” what are the rest of us no-account interpreters of Scripture to think? 

It’s important that we look at Jesus’ words and try to interpret them. But beware of people who say, “that’s not biblical.” What they really mean is, “that’s not how I interpret Scripture.”

Ultimately it is the Holy Spirit, the Bible says, who will lead us into all truth. Truth is absolute, but we see thru a glass darkly and would do well to declare our understanding of it with humility.

Comments (9)

  • Nice post – what a great subject to address!

    There’s a church near my house that’s put up small yard signs in front of their entrance that say:

    “We sing old songs” and
    “We use the old Bible”

    Neither of which I can figure out what they mean. I’m assuming they mean hymns from the 1800’s and the King James Bible translation.

    Legalism is still alive!

    I was thinking the other day about this subject, and it occured to me that there are plenty of current events not directly addressed by the Bible because they didn’t exist when it was written:

    – Abortion
    – Drug abuse
    – Gay marriage

    I find it hard to believe that our eternal, creative God would cause man to write approx 1,000 pages of instructions 3,500 to 2,000 years ago and then go off and do something else while we squirm.

    Jesus sent the Holy Spirit back to comfort and guide us in our actions.

    The Bible isn’t a “rule book” – Jesus himself destroyed that ideology by establishing himself as the fulfillment of the law. Shouldn’t we keep this in mind when trying to find an A=B Bible answer?

  • Thank you for writing this… I’m encouraging every member of our team to visit. The Spirit fell heavy here, and I know we have only scratched the surface. We’re ready to learn.

  • Seth, while I agree 100% with what you say, as well as Mike’s point, we cannot forget that there are those who call themselves Christains and even evanganelicals who reject, in whole or in part the Word of God as true. I have sat in large arenas where thousands of church leaders have appear to urge the position that portions of the Bible are not really true. While the arguements can sometimes be clothed cleverly as an issue of interpretation the real question being posed is whether the Bible in its entirety is true or whether it just contains truth. Of course, equally troubling are those who take the postion that the Bibble is truth but interpret away many things such as God working miracles and demonic battles and God speaking to people through the Holy Spirit and Christians new life in Christ as things that are just in the past or just for the futture. I guess my point here is that there is a balance.

  • Keith,

    I couldn’t agree more. Balance! In fact, earlier today, realizing that this blog could swing the pendulum went too far in the direction you point out, I went back and inserted the one parenthesis: (can I just disarm a few of you would-be critics by saying, “yes! please – we need to check our experience against the Bible”)

    That’s why I like the blogosphere – more of a discussion than a definitive treatise.


  • Without being too complicated, we all agree we need balance. It’s just that we want to decide what balance looks like.

    Here is a thought I’ve been tossing around. Balance is defined by Jesus; He stated that we should “worship in Spirit and Truth” (John 4:24). The problem then has to be us! The part of the body that is Baptist balances too strongly in the direction of the truth (word). The part of the body that is Charismatic balances too strongly in the direction of the Spirit (experience).

    I guess we have to agree with Paul’s insight – “we only know in part and prophecy in part”.

  • I wonder if Paul felt pressure when he told Peter and Barnabas they were unbiblical (Galatians 2:11).

    I imagine they didn’t feel like they were doing anything incorrectly – but their actions didn’t square with the teachings of Scripture, so Paul pointed that out.

    When someone questions whether casting out demons from a believer is a biblical principle or not, that is a legitimate issue.

    When someone questions whether speaking in tongues without an interpreter present is a biblical principal or not, that is a legitamate issue.

    Do we always love each other? Yes.

    Do we always agree with each other? No.

    Is it Biblical? “…as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”.

    I’m praying that unity will be maintained in the group while things are sorted out!

  • “You could make a case for saying “it’s not biblical” is itself not biblical because it violates Romans 15:1-2, 7, inviting a tit-for-tat argument instead of promoting unity.”

    That is so wise and funny at the same time. Thank you for that.

    Was just having a discussion with a 19 year old yesterday about no where in Scripture does it say to brush your teeth, so some would interpret brushing their teeth as unbiblical. It is crazy what people will say is unbiblical just because they are afraid of it or have no experience with it. God is so much bigger than we think. The bottom line is that God wants to know what is in your heart. Is your heart open to being enlarged? Or do you have to control things (in the name of God, of course) to feel safe in your comfort zone? We don’t have to be afraid of the unknown as believers…He has given us a heart and He has given us discernment. Just don’t ‘discern’ out of fear or lack of time with Him.

    Consider this, when Scripture says we are to worship in Spirit and Truth, that does not mean they are polar opposites and ‘Spirit’ falls on one end of a linear line, with Truth on the other. ‘Truth’ is not limited to the Word found in the Bible or hundreds of millions of illiterate people are doomed by God. The ‘Truth’ is found in the Spirit as well, so rather than describing Baptists leaning towards ‘Truth’ and charismatics leaning towards ‘Spirit’, so that ‘balance’ gets defined as moving back to the middle, how about this:

    Let’s fully embrace Spirit and Truth so much that they are superimposed on one another, intertwined….so we have full-on Spirit and full-on Truth and not just watered-down tame versions of the two meeting in a middle. Spirit and Truth don’t belong on a linear grid…they belong to One so much bigger than that. We can’t flowchart God!

    Bottom line, examine your heart, because God’s already given us that Cliff Note clue for succeeding in His Kingdom. Our ‘biblical understanding’ is not to be confining and condemning, but to be growing and expanding as He stretches us to look more like Him.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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