Let’s do some bible study, shall we? I look to do that sort of thing around here, donchano. Today I want to show you something kind of amazing about how both Jesus and Paul used scripture. And if we’re honest, it doesn’t fit with either liberal or conservative preferences for how to use scripture.
First, let’s look at these quotes from the Old Testament:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God. ~ Isaiah 61:1-2Rejoice, you nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people. ~Deuteronomy 32:43
And . . .
I pursued my enemies and overtook them; I did not turn back till they were destroyed. I crushed them so that they could not rise; they fell beneath my feet. You armed me with strength for battle; you humbled my adversaries before me. You made my enemies turn their backs in flight, and I destroyed my foes. They cried for help, but there was no one to save them— to the Lord, but he did not answer. I beat them as fine as windblown dust; I trampled them like mud in the streets. You have delivered me from the attacks of the people; you have made me the head of nations. People I did not know now serve me, foreigners cower before me; as soon as they hear of me, they obey me. They all lose heart; they come trembling from their strongholds.
The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior! He is the God who avenges me, who subdues nations under me, who saves me from my enemies. You exalted me above my foes; from a violent man you rescued me. Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing the praises of your name. ~Psalm 18:37-49
Ok, so pretty typical Old Testament stuff. God’s going to take vengeance, thanks God for helping me kill and enslave my enemies, glad you’re on our side sort of stuff, right? Well, it just so happens (as some of you have already noticed) that each of those verses were quoted by Jesus or Paul in the New Testament:
He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.~ Luke 4:16-20 “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.” ~ Romans 15:9
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” ~Romans 15:10
Now, the reason this won’t make some liberals happy is because what you see Jesus and Paul doing here is called proof-texting. It’s when you pull a sentence of scripture completely out of context and in the process, utterly change its meaning or elevate an obscure passage above the rest of scripture. One of the main liberal critiques of the way conservatives use scripture is the habit of proof-texting scripture to support their arguments. Yet, this is exactly what we see Jesus and Paul doing here.
But the vindication of a beloved method of using scripture should be cold comfort for the sin and wrath oriented conservatives who tend to use scripture like this. Take a look at what Paul and Jesus edited out. Everything having to do with vengeance, condemnation or violence. In fact, the verse which Jesus read, Isaiah 6:1-2 was known, in its entirety, by every Jew present. According to theologian Michael Hardin, Isaiah 6:1-2 was the John 3:16 of Jesus’ day. When you heard the start of it, your brain automatically completed it. So when Jesus put down the scroll without reading the part about God’s vengeance, the words left unsaid rang powerfully in each person’s mind. Leaving off the part about vengeance was quite deliberate.
So the lesson here is that if we are to follow Jesus’ and Paul’s example, proof texting is just fine. In fact, it can be an electrifyingly powerful tool for conveying God’s truth as revealed in scripture. So go ahead. Have fun with it. But make sure that what you’re looking for is the same stuff Jesus and Paul were looking for. The vengeance, condemnation and violence were all right there for them to use for their own purposes. But that’s not God’s way. So it can’t be our way either. If you use scripture which is based on condemnation, vengeance or violence, you are doing it wrong. Look for the love, the peace, the joy, the comfort, the hope, the encouragement instead. That’s where God’s power is found.
BTW, Want to see what proof texting like Jesus and Paul might look like? Check out my post “Let’s All Be Fundamentalists!” in which I propose 15 verses all Christians ought to be able to agree need to be taken literally. If you agree with those 15 verses, let me know and pass it on!
You can read more about these verses and get a more detailed take on them in these two articles: