Zeal Without Knowledge: Bible Interpretation that Leads to Mercilessness and Injustice

I have written on this subject and on the following Scriptures in other posts. But they have been on my mind again the last few weeks. I keep seeing them violated by Bible teachers, pastors, and counselors of a certain type. Recently I have seen this “zeal without knowledge” pattern in publications by writers of the NANC (nouthetic counseling) school. In their zealous handling of Scripture and in their desire to be absolutely “biblical,” unswayed by any input outside the Bible, they come to erroneous interpretations and make harmful applications. The same kind of hermeneutic (interpretive method) is rampant in other conservative Christian circles. This approach to God’s Word creates the very thing such folks say they don’t want to create: man-made traditions that trump the Word of God. Read these Scriptures, and then I will try to explain more clearly what I mean.

And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:11-13

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,‘ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:1-8

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Matthew 23:23

Wooden literalism demands a specific proof verse for everything. And it proposes specific proof verses as a basis for a very literal, unbending application. Wooden literalism leads to applications that make no sense at all in real life and that are devoid of mercy. It takes one verse and derives from it an all-inclusive, broad principle which is divorced from the larger context of Scripture that, if considered, would reveal things like the mercy of God. This school of Bible teachers just will not listen unless you can give them chapter and verse. Oh, and that chapter and verse MUST use the exact, literal words on the subject you are discussing.

This approach to interpreting Scripture and applying it to real life is also characterized by an underlying legalism or works-righteousness. One of their underlying assumptions is that if we are to please God and be “perfected” in his sight, our marriage must be preserved at any cost. This is a fundamental plank in these teachers’ agenda, and it is the product of their flawed hermeneutic. The formula, in their eyes, goes like this: Jesus said marriage is forever. Jesus said let no man separate what God has joined together. Jesus said no divorce except for adultery. Boom! That’s it. That’s the rule that governs all cases. Therefore, no matter what kind of terrible abuse a victim might be suffering, Jesus did not use the “abuse” word. No divorce for abuse. You say that makes no sense? Well, my child, God’s ways are higher than your ways. And so it goes.

Let me give an example taken from a small book on abuse, written by a pastor who I believe truly desires to help people. And yet, his method of approaching Scripture leads him to merciless conclusions. Never once, not even by indirect allusion, is divorce mentioned in this booklet. Yet it is the elephant in the room as the abuse victim reads what this pastor has to say. [I say again, the acid test of whether someone is really going to stand with the victim and against her abuser is whether or not they grant that abuse is indeed a biblical grounds for divorce].

Ok then, listen to this excerpt and think about how what this pastor writes is a product of a fundamental, stiff handling of Scripture that leads him to embrace the assumption that there is no divorce for abuse:

God may use your suffering to bring glory to himself. Peter writes that our endurance through suffering proves the genuineness of God’s work in us, which will result in ‘praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.’… We who follow him should not be surprised when we suffer…but instead should realize that all who follow Christ will suffer (2 Tim 3:12). Many preachers, missionaries, and ordinary believers have glorified Christ as they were tortured and killed for the sake of the gospel. Rather than being angry with God over our suffering, we should submit to his sovereign will and count it a privilege to suffer for his Name’s sake (Philippians 1:29; Acts 5:41). The faith of other believers will be strengthened and God will be glorified when, in the midst of your suffering, you declare with Job, ‘Though he slay me, I will hope in him’ (Job 13:15). I have known victims of abuse who glorify God by their ongoing joyful trust in him.

Now, once again (after you get your heart rate back under control), think about how in the world a Christian pastor could be led to such a conclusion. I mean, what he is saying to the abuse victim is that she should be willing to stay in the “marriage” and if it be God’s will, be killed by her abuser and ride off into glory land as an eminent martyr. What is totally confusing is that in a couple of places earlier in the booklet, the author alludes to the fact that perhaps in some cases a victim may need to get to safety. But here in his conclusion we see what he really thinks. The marriage must be preserved at all costs, and that means at ALL costs.

Mercy and Justice, Mr. Pastor. That’s what God desires. Yet you have done what the Pharisees did. You demand sacrifice, and disregard the weightier matters of God’s Word.

Hezekiah’s Prayer as a Model for Us

Our friend Lynn, who has experienced intense abuse at the hands of those who should have loved her, tailored the prayer of Hezekiah [2 Kings 19:14-19] for her situation and thought it might also be a good help for others to fit to their own experience. You will notice that it is a prayer that many if not most pastors and church members would reject as being “harsh, unforgiving, unkind, bitter….” yada, yada. But here’s what trips those people up – it is drawn right from Scripture.

So, here it is:

“Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see the great [physical, psychological, sexual, mental, emotional, financial, and spiritual] burden placed upon me by the words and actions of these wicked men and/or women – [insert name or names of those who abused you] – all who profess know you, follow you, and speak for you; listen to the vile, manipulative, fraudulent words they have spoken to me in your name. Their words and abusive actions continually profane your holy name making it a mockery in the world. Let the stench of their sin intensify in your presence to the point where your anger is kindled and you take action against them.

Repay each one of them for the evil they have inflicted upon me and bring about their swift destruction, so that no one else may be harmed in the way they’ve harmed me. Strike fear into their hearts so that they are paralyzed by it. Torment their minds to the point where the only way they will get relief is to restore all that they have stolen and destroyed in my life. Let their relationships crumble and have no one trust them, not even family. Place an unseen mark on them that others will sense and know to stay away from. Have their resources dry up so that they have to struggle and toil to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Inflict their bodies and minds with diseases that will mimic all the physical and emotional pain they’ve inflicted on me and their other victims that doctors cannot provide relief for or healing for. Let them experience the [list the specific ailments you have or are experiencing. E.g. PTSD, anxiety, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chronic inflammation and fatigue, brain fog, and poor quality sleep] every day of their lives until they genuinely repent of their sin to you and make full restitution to me. 

Withhold your blessing from them and magnify the curses their actions deserve until they genuinely repent of their wickedness and they are willing to offer full restitution to me for the [say the specific harm inflicted on you – E.g. physical, mental, emotional, psychological, sexual, financial and/or spiritual] harm they have inflicted on me. If they will not repent, then continue to inflict the punishment their wickedness requires until you bring about their just end O Lord. 

Now, Lord my God, deliver me from the after effects of their wickedness. I humbly ask that you restore to me all that was stolen, damaged or destroyed – be it [ insert what you lost or was destroyed here.  E.g. finances, property, relationships, self-confidence, payment for past work, health, everything…] – as a sign of your faithful love to me, like you did with your servant Job, and so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God. To You be all the glory, honor and praise.

Amen.

The Haughty Evil of the Wicked and Their Just End

There are those who are clean in their own eyes but are not washed of their filth. There are those–how lofty are their eyes, how high their eyelids lift! There are those whose teeth are swords, whose fangs are knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, the needy from among mankind. (Proverbs 30:12-14)

The wicked, the narcissist, the sociopath, the abuser, is clean in his own eyes. He is covered with the filth of his evil, but he sees himself as spotless. Justified. Yes, he raged and threatened last night, but he had a right to it. He had to do it. Any guilt lies elsewhere. Like the Pharisees whom Jesus rebuked, this fellow sees himself as white and clean, all the while inside he is filthy, filthy, filthy with the corrupt evil of his own heart.

Look at him. See how lofty his eyes are? He is proud of himself and even boasts of his evil to those whom he oppresses. He is never wrong. Never guilty. Always right. Blame never rests upon him.

But when he speaks, his sword and fangs go to work. His words are uttered with the purpose of destroying and devouring his victims off the face of the earth. He is a bully, picking on the weak. And even if you were to record his words, the slashes of his sword-tongue, and play them back to him, he would admit no wrong. “You made me. I had to do it. You deserved to be punished.”

He is clean in his own eyes, yet dripping with his own moral filth. One Day. One Day, finally, his mouth will be shut. No excuses possible. Because the One Who charges him on that Day is pure truth whose Word cuts far more deeply and cleanly than any sword the wicked might have used. And everyone will see it. Everyone. To the glory of God.