And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book. [Revelation 22:18-19 (NLT)]
There is much in Scripture, such as the subjugation of women, that I find troubling and would just as soon skip reading . For example, there’s no mention of their handmaid slaves’ consent when Sarah, Rachel or Leah offer them as surrogates to their husbands! Scripture may call them righteous because of their faith but Lot readily offered up his virgin daughters to a crowd of lustful men and Abraham twice gave Sarah to another man to save his own skin and benefitted financially both times he did it! There’s a word for a man who does that and it isn’t usually righteous. Then there was the Levite who pushed his concubine out the door to be raped by a gang of men. Many would consider David’s tryst with Bathsheba to be rape and even he tolerated the rape of his own daughter!
The amount of blood shed throughout the Old Testament is disturbing as well; picture the Levites killing 3,000 of their fellow Israelites at God’s command or Simeon and Levi killing all the men in Shechem because of one man’s crime and then plundering the city and taking the women and children captives. It’s difficult to read about Israelites killing everyone in Jabesh-gilead (except for 400 virgins) just to provide wives for the tribe of Benjamin or of the wholesale slaughter of people in places like Jericho and Amalek. Nevertheless, as much as I’d like to skip over these and other troubling passages, they are part of Jewish history and our faith’s roots.
Apparently, one of our nation’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, found parts of the New Testament equally disconcerting. Instead of struggling to understand and praying to believe, he simply eliminated anything he found “contrary to reason.” Believing the gospels’ authors to be untrustworthy reporters, Jefferson wrote his own gospel by taking a penknife to his Bible, cutting up passages, and then pasting them together with other ones on a blank piece of paper. Leaving behind the parts he didn’t believe or like in mutilated Bibles, Jefferson created his own version of Christ’s life and philosophy. By including Christ’s death and burial but omitting His resurrection, rather than the Son of God, Jesus became little more than an altruistic philosopher. Titling it The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, Jefferson believed his version of the New Testament collected “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” Boston University professor Stephen Prothero has a more accurate description of Jefferson’s Bible: “scripture by subtraction.”
Unlike Jefferson, we must never make the mistake of subtracting those parts of Scripture we don’t like and yet nearly all of us do. We tend to read only those parts we find comforting, believable, or easy to understand. I certainly prefer reading Psalms or John to the carnage of Judges or deciphering the cryptic visions in books like Revelation, Ezekiel, and Daniel. While we don’t take a scissors and glue to our Bibles, we do read selectively which, in actuality, is not much different than what Thomas Jefferson did with his penknife and paste.
Echoing the warning found in Deuteronomy, the book of Revelation has some pretty stern words about adding to or subtracting from Scripture’s words. Every word in the Bible is there for a purpose: to explain, convict, correct, and train. Let’s treat them all with the respect they deserve and never use either literal or figurative scissors on God’s holy word.
We must not select a few favorite Bible passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian. [A. W. Tozer]