Don't Bury Treasure: Why "How Do You Justify That With The Bible?" Is The Wrong Question

Saturday, April 25, 2015

I deal a lot with difficult passages in the Bible. There's lots of them. But beyond finding ways to deal with these passages is a bigger and more important question: How can we read the Bible in a way that helps us to grow to be more loving, more like Jesus? How do we take what the Bible says and live that out in a way that is live-giving and good? Jesus says on the Sermon on the Mount that our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees. So how do we allow the teaching of Jesus to take us beyond basic religious morality to the cutting edge?

A while back I did a post on forgiveness, discussing how to understand it in a deep way, and contrasting this with hurtful ways of understanding forgiveness. One person commented saying, "Good post and I agree with it, but how do you justify it from Scripture?" I hear that a lot. People will recognize that what you are saying is good, it will resonate with their own experience as deep and true... but is it biblical? What is the Scriptural justification for this?

So let me tell you a parable. Maybe you've heard it before...

One person was given a single Bible verse. They took that Bible verse and planted it in their lives, and it grew and expanded. As they lived it out they learned how it worked, and they were able from that deep understanding to multiply their understanding.

Another person also read that same single Bible verse, but they thought, "I am afraid of God, for I know that God is harsh and punishing. I better not go beyond what this says, but instead stick to the letter so I don't get in trouble." So he buried it in the ground so he wouldn't lose it.

Which one did the right thing in the eyes of Jesus?

Consider that when Jesus approaches Scripture his goal is not to simply find a way to interpret Moses or the law. He is constantly offering new, creative, original ideas of how to be more loving. "Hey, you know about an eye for an eye? Try showing love to those you hate instead." That's not an interpretation, it's a brand new and better way. 

So why would Jesus want us to take the "gold talent" he gives us and bury it in the ground? When we apply the Bible like that, only being able to apply what we can justify from the letter of the text, the result is, we place a low ceiling on how much we can grow morally. That means that there is a certain point where there will be nothing more for the Bible to say to us, and we will either stay stuck there permanently, or feel we have morally outgrown the Bible (and to the extent that our faith is rooted in the Bible,  even feel we have outgrown our faith altogether).

I want to say that there is a better way to read that does not tether us down or stunt our growth, but allows us to continually grow. That happens when we are able to read the Bible and apply it to our lives -- learning from this how to make it walk, learning things in the act of living it out that we never could from book-study alone. We need to take what we read in Scripture and connect it to our lives, to live it out. That's the way it can grow.

That may feel scary because it means we need to trust in our own moral judgment, and many of us have been indoctrinated into thinking we can't and that we instead need to stick to the text, burying our gold in the ground for fear. I want to submit that this results in a shallow underdeveloped morality. 

You can do better.  It's really not hard. We just need to overcome our fear (because fear paralyzes) and take a risk of investing that gold by applying it in our lives, and watching how it grows bigger and deeper and wider as we do. This will sometimes result in success, but we will also get it wrong sometimes. That's okay because even in that failure we will learn how it works, and how it doesn't. We will from this be able to go beyond doing something because Jesus says to (although that can be an okay place to start when done from a place of trust) to really getting and deeply understanding why Jesus says it is good. 

That comes from living it out, and it is simply not something that you can learn from understanding the Greek or any other exegetical tools out there. You need to get up, and go out, and put it into practice. If you can learn to do that, you'll find that the New Testament opens up, and life opens up, too. 

The ceiling is gone. The sky is the limit.

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At 9:22 PM, Blogger Joel Kessler said...

Love the parable!

At 8:48 PM, Blogger Joel Kessler said...

Are you going to be apart of 'A Dialogue with Derek Flood: Is the Bible Infallible?' At Gregory Boyd's Is he right about this, "es, Jesus placed his authority over Scripture and thus declared some Scripture to be rendered obsolete with his coming (e.g. Mt 5:38-9, 43-5). And yes, Jesus rejected the legalistic and harmful way some of his contemporaries interpreted and applied Scripture. But while Derek often says Jesus and/or Paul rejected harmful interpretations of Scripture, he also often claims that Jesus and/or Paul rejected passages of Scripture that they deemed harmful (e.g. 42-4, 69) and that we should do the same.[2] I grant the former, but cannot grant the latter." and this, "Paul (as well as other NT authors) make it clear that they shared the general view of their Jewish contemporaries that every word of Scripture was “breathed by God."' And this, "And, perhaps most significantly, Jesus references passages that contain divine violence with the same confidence he references other Scripture (e.g. Mt 10:15; 11:23-4; 24:37-8)." I would just like to point out that he is claiming that you reject the whole book of Genesis, not specific passages. And Jesus in Matthew 5 is talking about promises in the Old Testament not the EVERY VERSE in the Old Testament. I know you don't need my help, but if this does encourage you to this dialogue, I would love it. You got this.

At 7:50 PM, Blogger Christine Smith said...

I understood Jesus saying that our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees *if* that's basis on which we expect God to judge our "worthiness" to enter the kingdom of heaven. I understood this to be a hyperbolic contrast to the new and living way that He ushered in. This is in the middle of a discourse where He is demonstrating that the old way is a lesser way and that a new way is at hand. Why take this one section to mean YES, we need to ourselves attain righteousness exceeding the Pharisees? If this is true, we are all without hope. And if perfect righteousness were possible, why would a new covenant be needed? Your commentary is appreciated.

At 10:51 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


I'd humbly suggest that you are reading this with the eyes of "Martin Luther" and that dear Martin was wrong about that. Poor Martin was so worried about earning love.

In contrast to Martin Luther, (and to Niebuhr who also got this wrong) I think that Jesus did not intend the sermon on the mount to be an impossible task, but on the contrary fully intended for it to be lived out by his followers. The way of enemy love does entail being "more righteous" than the traditional religion of the Pharisees. That's because forgiving is hard. Reconciling is hard. The old way is a lesser way. The new way is harder.

But is is also life-giving. So Jesus can say "my yoke is easy, my burden is light." It's not impossible.

Also I would stress that this is not about earning God's love thru perfect performance, it not about our being "worthy" enough for God to love us. Love is not earned, it is a gift. God "first loves us" and we out of that love respond by loving others as Jesus loves us. That is his command "love as I have loved you, this command I give you."

At 8:47 AM, Anonymous Derek said...


As you can imagine I disagree with a number of things in Greg's rejoinder. However, rather than engaging in a tit-for-tat debate online that would be seemingly endless, I thought it would be more productive for Greg and I to talk together offline first. That way hopefully with a "face to face" interaction we can get to a place were we can't in the "faceless" internet. So the plan is to work on relationship first (building trust, etc), and then our doctrine can grow out of that, rather than the other way around.

That said, I don't want to stop interacting with you guys of course. So feel free to bring up any subject you want :)

At 12:35 PM, Blogger Joel Kessler said...

Like always, you are a badass. You make me happy Mr. Flood. Will be following your work. God bless.

At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

LOL Joel, that made my day :)

At 7:47 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 9:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Forgive my rambling but I think this is connected; the point from the parable of the talents lies in the third person's faulty perception of who God is and what He is like; "you are a hard man."
God is not hard-far from it, God is love.
Man deals in rights & wrongs-The fruit of eating from the wrong tree. He wants to do right by himself independent of God. God says trust me instead.To trust we need to know Him. We know Him best when through the Spirit we meditate on the Bible and hear Him through this vehicle. When we hear Him we become more like Him loving everyone more.We become less concerned about policing His holiness as we become it. Grace spills out of us. God is not judging us. We can never exaggerate His love for the world.Blessings. Lewis.


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