One of the most annoying things that Christians can do is to quote the bits of the Bible that suit them, often taking them out of context, or relying on an English translation of Greek text which paraphrased something spoken in Aramaic or Hebrew. It’s annoying to other Christians, and I am sure that it is annoying to atheists, agnostics and anyone else who might be unfortunate to be listening.
It struck me though recently, that this habit of “cherry picking” verses is not a modern phenomenon. Jesus himself did it, as did the Peter (just read his first preach at Pentecost, where he stitches together a number of bits from the Old Testament) and the writers of the letters that form a large part of the New Testament.
A couple of other examples…
Jesus in his first public bit of speaking recorded in Luke’s Gospel:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
He;s quoting from Isaiah 61, except the last phrase “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” is only half the verse – the other half is “and the day of vengeance of our God” which doesn’t seem very Jesus-like to me.
In Hebrews 13, the writer advises his audience, quoting Deutoronomy 31v6:
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
But these verses are written in the context of the conquest of the Promised Land by Joshua, where God tells Israel, via Moses, “The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you”. Which doesn’t seem to have much to do about refraining from materialism and is certainly something I find difficult with my pacifist tendencies.
So, perhaps even the best writers, prophets, preachers and teachers take isolated bits of scripture out of context. You quote quote the whole tings and place it all in context, so I guess either one should refrain from making quotes (and let your actions do the talking) or choose your quotes carefully and make sure you know what you are talking about.
As a postscript commentators seem to think that Jesus deliberately left off the last half of Isaiah 61v2, to show that he came along with a message of peace, not vengeance…