As a recovering fundamentalist, the centrality of the Bible will dominate my psyche until the remaining glowing synapse fires one last time, flickers, and dies. Even as I have weaned myself from slavish dependence on the Bible, I have used the Bible itself to achieve the independence of a Son of God, following the example of the Greatest Apostle, Jesus himself, as well as the lesser Apostle, Paul of Tarsus.
I was raised strictly Sola Scriptura. Unfortunately for my teachers, Il Scriptura points in numerous directions, away from itself, to other sources of reliable guidance, most of which are inside us.
(It’s funny. I just turned 57. Most of my teachers left this mortal coil long ago, yet their ghosts haunt the dendrons, axons, and synapses of my soul.)
Last night I began a linguistic sampling, and did a simple statistical comparison of five words used by Paul. Some words he uses frequently, some infrequently. The differing magnitudes of occurrence give us a rough idea of the relative weight Paul gave to each element in living out our lives.
- 182 times — spirit and spiritual
- 182 times — faith
- 139 times — love
- 114 times — law
- 70 times — scripture or it is written
Based on sheer frequency, we should devote 2.6 times more time and energy to walking in the Spirit than to thinking about scripture. As it happens, we should also devote 2.6 times more time and energy to walking by faith than to scripture. And we should devote roughly twice as much of ourselves to loving the people around us than to scripture.
We don’t have an either/or proposition here. It’s a matter of what we are concerned about.
It’s like this. Once you know that walking in the Spirit was more than twice as important to Paul than scripture, that active trust in God was more than twice as important to Paul as the Bible, that loving the people around you was twice as important to Paul than studying ancient texts, then you pretty much know the important stuff already. It really is possible to overstudy for a test.
Paul uses “law” 114 times, 98 of which are in Galatians and Romans where Paul is busy cancelling the law, using every argument at his disposal. This is the flip side of his message. Paul’s message was, “Walk in the Spirit, in faith, and in love, and you won’t need to measure yourself–or anyone else–by a written code.”
Are these quantitative ratios simplistic? What a question. Of course they are.
Nevertheless, do not be intimidated by scribes and Pharisees (Bible experts and pastors) who delight in the ministry of condemnation, who condemn you or condemn your actions. Walk in the Spirit, walk by faith, walk in love, and live with a clear conscience. You are not answerable to people for whom the Bible is an absorbing hobby, who seem to live for the opportunity to measure other people’s behavior and doctrine by the rod of the Letter.
Those voices from your past, they live on. Part of that is normal. We learn what is acceptable and unacceptable from those around us, but only for so long. Jesus told us about blind guides leading other blind people into a ditch. Your old teachers weren’t necessarily blind–it’s possible they only had cataracts. But a ditch is a ditch all the same. It’s time to move on, time to crawl out of the ditch. Urge the others to follow you out of the ditch if you must, but take care lest they drag you back down. “Once I thought like a child, I spoke like a child, I acted like a child. When I became an adult, I put away childish things.”
Take it from someone who knows: devotion to the Bible is often a terrible distraction from people who need your love and acceptance in the hear and now. Your active care, concern, and presence are more important to people than you know. It’s time to move on.
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One of my favorite online Bible resources is Biblegateway.com. It has thirty English Bible translations as well as 55 other languages, including Greek and Hebrew. There are many other online Bible resources, including Bible Study Tools (NRSV plus extras) and Scripture4All (Gk. & Heb. Interlinear and other extras).
Friends, as I review what I’ve written here I see my own flaws, fears, and regrets. I write to myself. I see that I can minister condemnation as good as the next guy, and do it with Biblical justification. So remember what Paul encouraged us to do, to test everything, and hold fast to what is good. Don’t take anything to heart unless the Spirit says it belongs there.