As Christians, we all read the Bible with selective lenses. Some folks are willing to admit it, and some folks aren’t. One of the reasons it’s so important not to keep yourself trapped in a bubble is because you don’t want to make the mistake of thinking that the way your group reads the Scriptures is the only way it’s meant to be read. Otherwise you might end up not even being aware of the existence of a number of tantalizing passages:
1. “We are God’s Offspring” (Acts 17:29)
But really, the entirety of Paul’s speech on Mars Hill. The apostle off-handedly quotes a line from a great pagan writer to tell the Athenians that they’re all children of God. He says, “God is not far from each one of us” (v. 27). He says, “In him we live and move and have our being.”
Many teachers try to get around this passage by saying it’s an example of how Paul tried to be “cultural” and “humanistic”—and how he failed miserably.
2. The Fast that God Chooses (Isaiah 58)
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?”
The contemporary American church, having invented a gospel of saving souls from hell, is scandalized by the idea that the Bible might have more to say about this life than the next one. Yet there are countless passages in both Old and New Testaments where God is more concerned about how people treat one another. Fighting for justice is kind of a big thing for him.
3. “Everyone Who Loves is Born of God and Knows God” (1 John 4:7)
You could throw in most of the first letter of John here. But the winner is arguably this passage, where John says that, well, everyone who loves is born of God. Beware of saying this in church unless you make it clear that you’re quoting the Bible.
4. “All Those Who Use the Sword Will Die by the Sword” (Matthew 26:52)
Spoken by Jesus to his disciples on the night of his arrest, this statement epitomizes his ethic of compassion and non-violence even in the face of imminent death. Yet it’s rare to hear these words quoted in many of our contemporary churches where this is the preferred image of Jesus:
5. Paul Wishes That People Would Castrate Themselves (Galatians 5:12), Is Racist (Titus 2:12)
Am I putting words in Paul’s mouth? No, it’s right there in the text:
“I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves.”
I’ve seen King James-only defenders cite this as an example of how all the modern translations are demonic because they quote this verse accurately.
Paul also employs his extensive knowledge of pagan writings to make racist remarks about the Cretans in Titus 2. Oddly, I haven’t heard many people complain about this.
6. Paul Urges the Colossians Not to be Obsessed with Angels, Visions, and Burdensome Regulations (Colossians 2:16-23)
The problem with a lot of the longer passages on this list is that if you read them to someone who’s living in contradiction to the message of the verses, they’re not even likely to hear what you’re reading. I once read this passage from Colossians (and the one below, from Matthew) to a group of people who were obsessed with angels, visions, and making up lists of things they weren’t allowed to do. I thought it might have some effect, but when I finished reading, it was like I hadn’t even spoken. Bizarre.
7. The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25)
This is a fun one. Jesus tells his disciples a story of how he’s going to judge the nations when he returns. He’ll sit on his throne and divide the nations before him “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats”: the sheep on the right hand and the goats on the left.
The sheep ultimately go into eternal glory because they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and imprisoned. The goats are thrown into eternal fire, “prepared for the devil and his angels” because they neglected to do these things.
Notice anything strange? Yes, those are all works. These people are judged solely on the basis of their works. As Keith Green so succinctly put it in an old song, “The only difference between the sheep and the goats, according to the Scriptures, is what they did—and didn’t—do!”
What’s more, many of the sheep didn’t know they were sheep. Many of the goats didn’t know they were goats.
There are going to be some surprises.
8. “Those Who Eat My Flesh and Drink My Blood Have Eternal Life” (John 6:54)
As Peter Kreeft points out, this is one of the very few images in the Scriptures that literalists don’t interpret literally. I knew it was there, but pretty much ignored it until I decided to become Catholic.
9. Ezekiel 23:20
Don’t read this verse to your kids. Don’t read it in church. You will be thrown out.
10. Love is the Fulfillment of the Law (Romans 13, Galatians 5)
Trying to sum up the message of Jesus in a single sentence might be a fool’s errand, but Paul takes a good crack at it near the end of his letter to the Romans:
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8).
Jesus all but stated that this was the core of his message when asked to name the two greatest commandments. Without hesitation, he said, “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:36-40). He expanded on this idea in the story of the prodigal son and the story of the good Samaritan, one showing the super-abundant generosity of God’s love towards us, the other modeling how we should love others, regardless of their race, religion, tribe, or ethnicity.
You might even say the most shocking and offensive aspect of Jesus’ message was this, that he taught us not just to love those who love us, but to embrace all humans as brothers and sisters. As Paul says in Galatians: “In Christ neither circumcision nor un-circumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). Faith, hope, and love. We love to make things more complicated than they have to be, but Jesus, Paul, John, and the other writers of the Bible are there to remind us—these are the things that matter. Do these, and the rest will take care of themselves.