Jan 22, 2012  •  In Christianity, Personal, Reverent Sundays

Reverent Sundays: Cherry-Picking Bible Verses

Welcome to the very first installment of Reverent Sundays, where I write about an aspect of my faith. This can deal with recent books I have read on Christianity, my thoughts on religion and current issues, as well as particular messages I find touching and/or powerful. I am aware that most of my readers are not religious, and that is fine — you are more than welcome to not read these posts if they make you uncomfortable, enrage you, or bore you to tears. I am open to debates and discussions in the comments section as long as everyone remains respectful. Enjoy!


One of my biggest annoyances is when people — Christians and non-Christians alike — take certain Bible verses out of context, usually for their own gains.

The Christian Bible is history, philosophy, sociology, and theology all rolled into one. It is one of the most studied texts in human history — and yet I doubt no one human has ever completely understood it.

So why do so many people, even those claiming to be Christian, cherry-pick verses, quoting them to get their agenda across? If anything, we should treat each verse of the Bible with as much respect — and probably even more reverence — than any other scholarly, religious, and/or ancient work.


Yep, I’ve heard them all. (image source)

When reading the Bible, it is important to consider two things. The first is that we should interpret the Bible according to “progressive revelation.” This means that although God is unchanging, the way that He has chosen to deal with humanity has changed throughout history, as He has gone through different covenants/agreements with mankind.

For example, much of the rituals we read about it in the Old Testament have been fulfilled by Christ. Colossians 2:17 is referring to these rituals when it says “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (NIV). This is why we are no longer practicing the Old Testament sacrificial system: because Christ fulfilled our need to atone, once and for all.

And this is why I get tempted to roll my eyes whenever someone tries to challenge my faith by saying something along the lines of, “Your Bible also tells you that you are ‘unclean’ when you are having your period and you should be isolated. Why don’t you follow that rule?”

Because it is an Old Testament law that has been fulfilled by Jesus. Because these laws were designed to protect and provide for the purity of the Jews until the Messiah came, and when Christ tore down the barrier between Jew and Gentile — the Old Testament laws being a huge part of that barrier — the laws became no longer necessary.

(It should be noted that moral laws, such as what we find in the Ten Commandments, will never pass away because they are rooted in the very character of God.)


I found this image at this now-defunct Tumblr blog whose aim was to post the “most atrocious
bible verses” he could find. I agree with the author of the blog that Christians should know
what’s there in the Bible, including the ugly stuff.

Secondly, we must always remember to interpret a passage in light of the context and history of the passage. What else is being said before and after this passage? Who was the original audience of the passage? What sorts of things were going on at that specific time and place?

For example, in 1 Corinthians 11:6, Paul says it is a disgrace for a woman to pray with her head uncovered, and that she “might as well have her hair shaved off.” (NIV). The historical context for this passage is that Corinth was a very raw city — as a port city, it was the center of action and was very focused on hedonism, sex, money, and such. 

Also, in ancient culture, for these particular people at this particular time and place, wearing head coverings was the cultural norm. The only women who didn’t wear head coverings were prostitutes, who advertised themselves by walking around with shaved, uncovered heads.

The Christian women in Corinth were enjoying their freedom in Christ, that they didn’t have to wear head coverings anymore…but they were getting confused by others for temple prostitutes. So here, Paul is pleading with them to sacrifice their freedom in order to protect their witness/the witness of the church.

You could read the passage at face value and think it’s telling you to wear a head covering, but if you delve into the historical situation, you take away an even greater theological truth and the real spirit of the passage: the idea that sometimes it’s better for sacrifice your freedom rather than flaunt it, for others’ sakes.

And the same goes for all the other contested passages in the Bible. :-)  It may be a Levitical Law that no longer pertains to those who believe that Christ died for their sins. It may be part of a historical record of things that have passed. It may be pointed specifically at the people for whom the passage was written. Whatever the reasons for the existence of these passages, they are always included as a part of a larger story and message. 

10 Responses to “Reverent Sundays: Cherry-Picking Bible Verses”

  1. Amen!! Thank you for this post!

  2. Susan:

    GREAT post. I like how you explain the cultural context for 1 Corinthians 11:6. I’ve had similar discussions regarding verses where apostle Paul talks about the role of women in the church. Some people might interpret these verses as chauvinism. But I think it’s helpful to study the context that he was writing in. And when you read apostle Paul’s writings (rather than cherry-picking), you can see his overall point and message (Gal 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”)

    Thanks for this post. :)

  3. Carol:

    I’m so glad you’re doing Reverent Sundays! (You can tell I just read all of your blogs in 1 sitting huh?) I wish you were closer to me & Angela (above commenter) who’s one of my closest friends and is another person who I see eye to eye with on the views of the REAL Gospel. It’s so hard to find good gospel chemistry friends like that! :)

    All in all, there are soooo many times I want to say this very same thing about out of context bible verses being thrown about. It’s so hard to be able to explain it… but you did it so well! I will link to this post now :)

  4. I recently read a comment on a Mormon friend’s post about her faith that made my blood boil because the entire comment was a woman identifying herself as a Christian who was, as you would call it, cherry picking. It truly embarrassed me as a Christian.

  5. Meghan:

    Super awesome post! I hate it when people cherry pick. It drives me nuts. Especially because I went to a bible college and they taught me to understand verses as you stated, in context, both culturally and with the verses around it. Amen!

  6. Yep, exactly! This was well-said and is an important point for anyone reading the Bible. A conference at E’s seminary/my workplace last weekend was on this very topic (understanding the unfolding mystery of scripture) and it was SO helpful!

  7. M:

    Thank you for that explanation about the head covering. Some women continue to abide by that, but for those who don’t, they’re seen as terrible people who must not be true Christians and it couldn’t be further from the truth. Thank you for explaining it in a way that I can explain my feelings on it in a more logical and historical way!

  8. Such an excellent post! We’re studying Old Testament characters in our small group currently and it always amazes me how easy it is for individuals to apply their ideas to God’s character rather than letting the words on the page mean what they say.

  9. Stephen:

    I just received the dream of cherries and during my search I found your site. I have been teaching on pulling words of convenience out of text and “pow” here you have to too. I live in Tennessee and far too many people back there hold onto “once saved always saved” and “saved by grace” like a get out of jail free card. They use these passages to keep from going to church, reading their bibles, or even knowing if they are saved or not. This message really struck a cord for me. Thanks for sharing.

  10. I just wanted to let you know I posted a link to this wonderful post on my page on Facebook. Here is what I wrote:
    It is so amazing so many of our religious leaders still do this from the pulpit today. I believe this is why the Word of the Lord says we should pray for those in authority (this includes our Spiritual Leaders). Check out this article by a wonderful Sister in Christ Jesus, http://www.geekinheels.com/2012/01/22/reverent-sundays-cherry-picking-bible-verses.html

    My page is http://www.facebook.com/prayerwarriorsforyou if you want to see it.

    Keep up the great work!!
    David

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