The Bible is not a rule book. It says very little about lots of issues which affect us today. If we look hard we may find ‘proof texts’ to support a particular moral stance but they might be reliant on the Old Testament and maybe contradicted elsewhere. Even Jesus contradicted or brought new light on an old saying. (For example ‘eye for an eye’ in Matthew 5.) Here are some examples of current issues in a somewhat random order.
- Slavery – in it’s institutionalised and modern forms
- The death penalty or capital punishment
- Global warming or looking after the earth
… and …
- Homosexual relationships
- Gender changes
- Hitting children as punishment
- Human rights
- Child employment
- Woman in leadership
- The right to an education
- Sexual harassment
- Gender equality
- The minimum wage
- Eating meat or being vegetarian
- Carrying weapons such as guns and knives
Take slavery for example. In the Old Testament law, slavery was legal and even encouraged. Jesus didn’t seem to say anything directly about it and Paul seemed to accept slavery and gave slaves and slave owners advise about how to handle things. But this was not God’s final word. Godly people like William Wilberforce came along and campaigned for it’s abolition realising that slavery was not compatible with biblical principles.
So there is good argument for saying that revelation is progressive and didn’t stop with the law 4,000 years ago or even with New Testament writers 2,000 years ago.
Jesus the final WORD
John describes Jesus as “the Word”. He came to show us what God was really like and we should not look to another for further revelation. When he died for the whole world he did all that was necessary for restoration as God’s sons and daughters. When he ascended to heaven he promised to send us the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:13 NIV)
So it is God himself, in the form of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, who is the final word. He promises, not a set of rules, but guidance into all the truth.
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NIV)
When the book of Hebrews was written, the New Testament was not complete, with the Gospels not all written, and Paul’s letters were at the most 15 years old, and written to churches all over the Roman world. It is doubtful if anybody at that time held a complete set of writings so far, and in any case most people could not read. So when this passage talks about “the word of God” it cannot be interpreted as the Bible as we know it. The “word’ must describe God speaking directly through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Of course the Bible is very important to followers of Jesus, but it is not a rule book. It is more important that we obey the principles of God, shown by Jesus, rather than trying to follow cultural rules, or trying to create our own rules. And we need guidance from the Holy Spirit to provide answers to our questions.
- Is the action just or does it harm or hurt somebody else?
- Does it interfere with our relationship with God?
- Is the action compatible with “loving our neighbour as ourself”?
- Is it just tradition or current culture?
The knowledge of good and evil
I have always been a little puzzled by the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Surely it is a good thing to know what is good and what is evil. But I see too that knowledge of evil leads to legalism and rules and we pay a price for that knowledge. You cannot legislate or create rules about love.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh (Romans 8:1-3 NIV)
I stand by the principles that Jesus taught and I will rely on the Holy Spirit to guide my actions and not automatically obey the rules and interpretations of men.