Thomas Jefferson is famous for deconstructing the Bible. He carefully arranged his cut-and-pasted verse selections into an 86-page, red leather, handbound book. There’s no Old Testament. No miracles. Nobody is resurrected or ascends to heaven. Only a Jesus that Jefferson liked. He claimed that his efforts proved that he was in fact, a “real Christian,” a true “disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.”
There are a lot of nice stories in the Bible. Jesus heals people. David defeats Goliath. Ruth lives happily ever after. But there are a lot of not-so-nice stories. People drown in Noah’s flood. Judas hangs himself. And Jesus talks about hell. Are only parts of the Good Book good? Penn Jillette thinks “reading the Bible is the fast track to atheism.” I don’t agree. It’s misreading the Bible that makes faith toxic.
If we show “partiality” and cherry-pick our favorite Bible passages while deliberately ignoring others, we will drown out the voice of God in Scripture and eventually “stumble” (Mal 2:8-9). “True instruction” requires us to “listen,” “lay it to heart,” and “guard knowledge” (Mal 2:1-2, 6-7).
If you’re going to deconstruct Scripture, never read one Bible verse. Consider pulling one sentence from Tolstoy’s War and Peace. “Gazing into Napoleon’s eyes, Prince Andrei mused on the unimportance of greatness, the unimportance of life which no one could understand, and the still greater unimportance of death, the meaning of which no one alive could understand or explain.” We can try to interpret this—or look at its context. We’d find that when the wounded Prince Andrei is rescued by Napoleon, he realizes that a single human being (like Napoleon) is incapable of single-handedly moving the course of history. Context is key, isn’t it?
In a similar way, every verse of Scripture is part of a paragraph which is part of flow of thought which is part of a book which is part of the overarching metanarrative of the Bible. Every verse works with the whole of Scripture. It requires thoughtful research and study. Yet even the apostle Paul admitted, “we know in part” (1 Cor 13:9). This does not mean that we can’t trust the Bible; it means that the full revelation of God is reserved for the Age to Come.
If you’re going to deconstruct Scripture, never view the Bible as one book. Consider pulling The Horse and His Boy from the other six volumes of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. The Horse and His Boy is the only book in the series that is not about children from our world who go to Narnia. Instead, it focuses on the native Narnians living during the last chapter of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when the grown-up Pevensies are reigning as kings and queens of Narnia. Reading the entire series is a must!
In a similar way, the Bible is a multi-volume set of sixty-six books. In each book we’ll find real Narnia-like adventures with intriguing characters from rich cultural backgrounds. OK, there’s no talking beaver; but whether you read history or poetry or prophecy or a gospel or an epistle or an apocalyptic-prophecy-epistle, they all work together. In other words, reading the gospel of John without Genesis, or reading Exodus without the gospel of Mark, will paint an incomplete picture of God’s Big Plan. We can only do our best to “rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15)—which does not require a PhD—just a boatload of tenacity and humility.
If you’re going to deconstruct Scripture, never seek to know Scripture. Seek to know the Lord of Scripture.