What the Bible is Not [Primarily]


The Bible is not primarily a book of do’s and don’ts.

This view of Scripture rightly recognizes that commands, exhortations, and prohibitions are throughout the Bible. Obedience matters, and that obedience has very specific contours. Several problems arise with using the Bible principally as a kind of “rule book” for life. Much of the Bible seems to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. And an exclusive focus on commands paradoxically may minimize the God who graciously redeems us.

The Bible is not primarily a book of timeless principles for the problems of life.

First, there is a continues tendency to overlook historical, cultural, and social aspects of the Bible. Rather than draw out principles from texts, it is all too east to read principles into a text to support a cherished belief especially when a text is detached from its particular place in God’s redemptive history. Second, the Bible leans towards the triumph of the principle over the person.

The Bible is not primarily casebook of characters to imitate or avoid.

It’s natural to empathize with the people God has placed in your life. A character or example oriented approach can highlight that God reveals Himself to people who have the same basic problems we do. However, it does;t necessarily help us understand the overall plot [Jesus and His redemptive work] that incorporates all of these characters, praiseworthy or not.

The Bible is not primarily a system of doctrines.

This can minimize the depth and breadth of biblical wisdom. And if you’re a hammer-everything’s-a-nail syndrome, you will have a tendency to approach texts expecting [and perhaps seeking] to support certain theological beliefs.

Adapted from the book, CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet, Michael R. Emlet. New Growth Press, Greensboro, NC. 2009. 25-36.

Read the Introduction and Chapter 1 (PDF)

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