I constantly hear things about God and the Bible that are absurd. While you may not be asking, “Does God want me to commit adultery?” there are many similar questions. People think because David, or the disciples, or Esther did x, therefore, we should be able to do x or others may think they have found some inconsistency, and attempt to disprove the Bible. If God says y is wrong they argue, and this lauded hero of the faith did y, therefore I have found an inconsistency in the Bible. I have unearthed an inconsistency in the Bible, therefore God cannot be true and His Word cannot be trusted. This confusion often comes from people who do not understand how to interpret the Bible.
Now the skeptic might be saying, “Here the Christians go again, changing the rules to prove their own point.” While some Christians do this, that is not what I’m advocating for. I’m contending for a consistent interpretation. One thing you may not be aware of is the difference between prescriptive and descriptive text. If you are new to the art of interpreting the Bible (called hermeneutics), I would like you to think through this difference.
Sometimes it seems persons in the Bible have sinned and God punishes those sins. Other times it seems that there are those, even heroes of the Bible, that commit a sin, maybe even “a big one” and God seems to ignore it. So I can understand the potential conundrum. If God is calling one thing a sin for one person and not for another person, this can seem irregular and untrustworthy.
The error often comes from not understanding the difference between prescriptive and descriptive text. Prescriptive means that you have been prescribed something. It’s like your doctor prescribing you medication because you are ill. Your doctor tells you the problem, gives you pills, tells you to exercise, or maybe even recommends a surgery in order to fix that problem. He is prescribing something for your ailment, and asking you to do something about it in order to fix it. For example, when God gives the Ten Commandments, He is prescribing them to all people. He is giving us a prescription of how to live. It is a prescriptive text telling us what is best for us.
Descriptive text is much different from prescriptive text. Descriptive text simply means that something is being described. It is telling you what happened. It is a historical account of how something played out in someone’s life, describing how someone handled a certain situation. For example, we all know that it was Judas who betrays Jesus. The Bible is just describing a scenario between Judas and Jesus. It shows us how Jesus was betrayed by Judas. In no way is the Bible telling us that this is how we are supposed to act, that we too should betray Jesus. The passage of the betrayal is just a description of what happened.
Therefore, when I get to a passage in the Old Testament and read about King David, one of the people God loved, it may appear confusing from the outset.He committed adultery with Bathsheba. One may think, “I guess this was alright for David to do since the Bible lists David as one of God’s favorites. I suppose that adultery is not a sin. I guess it is alright to commit adultery, and that is what God wants me to do.” While I have never heard anyone use that passage as an excuse, I have heard other people use similar thinking throughout Scripture.
Again, some use passages to convince themselves that the sin they are doing is not sin. “Well, Job did x, and God seems to consider him a great person of faith.” We need to be careful how we read and understand the heroes of the Bible.
Others believe that they have found discrepancies in Scripture between what God calls sin and what people of faith in Scripture have done. Those who know Scripture realize the consequences that David would later face because of the sin of his adultery. Therefore this might not be a troubling passage for you. There are many though, that take passages like these as if God is fine with certain sins committed in the Bible. This is the error of not understanding the difference between prescriptive and descriptive text. God is not giving permission or passing over certain sins because they are done by certain persons; these sins are just being described.
We also need to remember that we don’t see the consequences or chastisement of God given for every sin. Just because the consequence isn’t recorded in Scripture, doesn’t mean that one was not given. It doesn’t say after every trespass, “and God again wasn’t happy with David.” A sin committed by those in the Bible is not a sin excused.
We are not given details about every sin that someone commits or the punishment to follow. We would need a tractor trailer to tote the Bible around if that were the case. If we don’t see the consequences, it doesn’t mean that God approved it. It is a philosophical fallacy to think that just because a great person of faith in the Bible sinned and we don’t see the immediate correction, condemnation, or ramification of that sin, that God now may be disproved.
God does not need to show us the punishment of every sin in the Bible to prove that they are sins with which He disapproves. If you find a “hero of the faith” doing something that is or appears to be sin, it does not give one license to follow that example. The details might not be to show us how to live, but to show us the struggle that some of the great characters of the Bible went through; that they too struggled in their journey of faith.
Descriptive text often shows us that, while there are times that we mess things up on Earth, God is still in control in Heaven. His overarching eternal plan doesn’t change or fail because one person, or even many people of faith, committed sin. He will make things right again despite our shortcoming. Stories of failures in Scripture should remind us that salvation and perfection do not depend on us, but the perfect work of Christ on the cross to save us because we will fail. It reminds us that all, even David, Ruth, Joseph, Moses and others need a Savior: Jesus Christ is the only one who is perfect. So next time you read a story in the Bible, ask yourself, if something is being described or prescribed. It may be the difference between a correct or erroneous interpretation of what God is trying to tell us.
Thanks for taking time to read this Maddening Theology post. If you enjoyed this content you can find Pastor Tim’s sermons at www.cornerstoneforestcity.org. You can also join us at 520 Marion St. Browndale, Pa 18421 on Sundays at 10:45 AM. To make following the blog easier you can also register. You can also join us on Facebook at Cornerstone Forest City. Also, don’t forget to download our APP on iTunes or Googleplay.