“The Bible makes it abundantly clear…”

If you dare, complete the sentence: “The Bible makes it abundantly clear that __________.”

Rachel Held Evans’ tweet last night preceded a series of conversations about Reformed megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll’s contention that pacifists misinterpret Exodus 20:13 (I’ll link to the ESV here, since that’s what Driscoll uses in the post; here it is in NRSV, NIV, and King James — one of these is not quite like the others…):

Mark Driscoll
Mark Driscoll – Mars Hill Church

The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God’s prohibition against murder in the sixth commandment is not intended to apply to lawful taking of life, such as self-defense, capital punishment, and just war. At the same time, these decisions are complicated and painful, in part because courts, governments, and any system that includes sinners will have flaws. The answer, however, is not to reject a biblical framework of justice in favor of blind pacifism, but to work within the authority God has ordained and the means God has allowed to prayerfully and carefully align our imperfect efforts with the perfect will of God.

Now, on the one hand, I basically agree with Rachel Held Evans: I think we ought to be highly leery of claiming complete clarity when reading the Bible. (“Hermeneutics in a nutshell,” agreed one of my former students, now in seminary.) And I like RHE.

I dislike Mark Driscoll (not least because, in the same post, he felt the need to make abundantly clear that “Jesus is not a pansy”). But while I wouldn’t use the word “abundantly” in this regard, I do think the Bible makes it relatively clear that the commandment here does not pertain to all forms of killing.

Opened Bible with pen
Licensed by Creative Commons (Ryk Neethling)

But this isn’t really a post about pacifism and just war, or why Mark Driscoll is wearing out his welcome with posts like this, books like this, and antics like this.

Rather, I want to know if my readers think the Bible is “abundantly clear” on any point. Perhaps the oldest hermeneutic principle in the Christian tradition is that you interpret what’s opaque from what’s clear… While there’s much more of the former, there’s some of the latter, no?

So in the Comments section, please complete the sentence:

The Bible makes it abundantly clear that _________________.

And why is the phrase you wrote so abundantly clear, while others aren’t?

  • Is sheer number of verses a useful standard — as in Jim Wallis’ frequent argument that “there are more than 2,000 Bible verses that speak to God’s justice for the poor and vulnerable” — or is it possible for Scripture to speak once on a subject and still leave it clear?
  • Do you feel like Scripture is occasionally written, as the apostle Paul told the Galatian church, with “such large letters” that it can’t but be clear?
  • Like Martin Luther, do you think there’s a canon within a canon? It’s all inspired, authoritative, useful, etc., but some of it more so than others.
  • Has Christian tradition given us clarity on certain points? Is there a rule of faith that has been believed “everywhere, always, and by all“?

8 thoughts on ““The Bible makes it abundantly clear…”

  1. “The Bible makes it abundantly clear that there’s more thinking and teaching to do.” In the meantime we can and should live faithfully, as best we know how, but there’s a reason that the homily has been part of Christian life as long as it has: the Bible requires interpretation, and the community’s practices, to the extent that they ignore that need, neglect the complexity of the Biblical witness.

    If the Bible is so blamed clear, then Driscoll and others who find it so transparent should volunteer to be the first to stop talking about it so often, as if it needed clarification.

  2. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that the Gospel is the good news that Jesus died so that our sins could be forgiven and that we could be reconciled to God, that the response to the Gospel must be faith in Jesus, and that we must live Christlike lives that glorify God in gratitude to God for our salvation.

  3. Psalm 14:1- The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
    there is none who does good.”

    The Bible makes it abundantly clear that there is a God. Of course, whether we should trust the Bible’s assertion is another question. There are probably dozens more I couldlist, but one is enough to break the rule.

    Once again Rachel Held Evans makes a splash simply by telling us not to be so sure. That’s valauble, but sometimes it seems like that’s the breadth of her rhetoric. Furthermore, I’m convinced that none of us would know who Rachel Held Evans is if she hadn’t built her blogging career off taking pot shots at Driscoll. Not that he’s beyond reproach. That’s all I’ll say on that right now.

    I for one agree that the sixth commandment leaves wide room for capital punishment–just look back at Genesis 9:6. I would say that Driscoll criminally ignores Jesus’ teachings (Luke 6). If Jesus’ greatest act was letting his killers get off scot-free, I can’t find it in me to advocate captial punishment. At the same time, I have much patience with a people raised in America, land of electric chairs and M-16’s, who think differently from the way I do do now and similarly to the way I used to. “We shouldn’t kill bin Laden” is a tough sell, I agree. Doesn’t mean we stop teaching what we think is true, what we think the Bible “maybe-not-so-clearly” teaches.

  4. Well OK Chris, I’ll give it a shot.

    The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God wishes for us to desire him… to seek His will… to let our thoughts start with Him first, and then let that drive our actions.
    I can assert so based on an explicit verse or two (perhaps because my own name is David, David always comes to mind), something like “But now your kingdom [Saul’s] will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.” from Sam 13… or “[Martha] you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” from Luke 10; but I can also do so based on it being a broad, reoccurring theme, demonstrated implicitly again and again in situations like where Christ expressed delight that a healed leper or children want to be near Him.

    If after reading through the Bible that point is not clear to you, oh boy…

    We sorta suck when it comes to the execution of His rules, be it mosaic or any era… but the point of those rules and other tools (such as prayer, Scripture, fellowship…) is to please Him.
    (and when we do so, good stuff happens… but that would be a whole other entry).

    There. Take that.

  5. (I thought I already posted on this but it seems to have disappeared when I logged in, so if this is a duplicate, feel free to delete the one you like less 🙂 ) Also, I NEVER weigh in on this stuff, so you must have really gotten to me with this question.

    I think this is an important conversation. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately and not just because of this whole Driscoll thing. We were talking about atonement theory at my church last night and one interesting question raised was whether or not the Bible is “flat.” Does all Scripture “matter” or “count” equally? Or, as you asked, does the frequency (or context) of a topic make it more or less important to us? Most Christians are willing (or happy) to essentially disregard certain Scripture as “cultural” or “contextual” but there isn’t always a lot of agreement on which words we can ignore and which are still relevant today.

    More and more I believe that faith (and Biblical interpretation and prayer) are incredibly personal. I don’t only mean this in the Christianese “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” way. I mean it in that I believe we are responsible to our own reading of Scripture, our own understanding of God, and how those things compel us to live our lives. Evangelicalism as a whole is far too comfortable telling us what the Bible says and dictating to Christians how we ought to read it and interpret it (and, as an extension, how we ought to vote and who we ought to condemn and how we ought to live). I feel that there are too many strong voices out there trying to control the conversation. I don’t think we should do away with the clergy or with Bible teaching, clearly there is good that comes from both. But I think our leaders (or those who presume to speak loudly on our behalf, whether we want them to or not) should be less comfortable claiming to have the market cornered on absolute truth and more comfortable asking, “What do you think this means?” What are they afraid of? Many of them teach that the Bible is God-breathed and that the Holy Spirit allows us to interpret it….so why do they seem so afraid to let us do that?

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