Cherry Picking with Scripture

You’ve probably heard of the phrase “cherry picking” before, especially related to making an argument. This term comes from the idea that when someone picks a fruit from a tree (like cherries), they will likely chose the best-looking ones, and leave all the rotten ones behind. When applied to arguments, a cherry picked one is when someone ignores major facts, all while misleading others with other facts that support what he or she is trying to say. A comical example of cherry picking an argument is this:

Water is DEADLY! Did you know that 100% of people who drink water will one day die? Water can also be a byproduct of chemical reactions like burning jet fuel. And if that’s not scary enough, ALL murderers have at one time or another drank water, too! So stay away from water!

In this odd example, it is clear that even though all the facts are technically true, they are presented in such a way that ignores others (like the obvious fact that drinking water is necessary for survival!). We all know that we will each die someday–but that is not to say that drinking water itself will kill you. Just because water can be the result of chemical reactions, that doesn’t mean that those dangerous chemicals are actually in water. And finally, just because someone drinks water, that does not necessarily make that person a murderer. That is cherry picking in a nutshell!

We do this cherry picking practice all the time when we read the bible. It is a strong temptation to simply chose verses that fit our agenda while ignoring others (I called this a “bible buffet” on Sunday!). For example, if we really want something from God, then we will likely focus on verses that talk about God answering the prayers of the faithful–never mind the fact that oftentimes our wishes do not line up with God’s will!

On Sunday we explored a huge issue for Christians today along these lines: how do we make sense of seemingly contradicting verses in scripture?

The big problem I preached on was the role of women in the church. As I noted during my sermon, scripture says a lot of different things, from prohibiting women to even teach in front of people, to the women at Jesus’ tomb literally serving as the first preachers and evangelists. Many Christians throughout recent years have used 1 Timothy 2 as justification for not allowing women to speak in church, or even saying women should only bear children in the home.

So how do we interpret the bible? Do we follow every single verse, or were some commandments just for people way back in ancient times? Do we follow every rule and law found in the Old Testament, or do we just following general rules like the ten commandments? Do we listen to Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jesus, Paul… or some combination of them? How can we avoid cherry picking scripture?

When reading the bible, it is important to consider other books and verses when faced with ethical issues. We cannot make a theology out of just one verse that we happen to find–we must have a bigger perspective. This brings me to three bits of advice for bible reading:

1. Always keep Jesus in mind

Colossians 1:19-20 teaches us that the fullness of God was in Jesus Christ, which essentially means that if we want to know what God looks like, we have to look at the life and actions of God’s son. When faced with an ethical dilemma–whether that be violence, a relationship issue, or any number of social issues–look to see how Jesus himself would have responded. One problem we often overlook when reading the bible is that many of the “heroes” we admire (like Abraham, Moses, and David) still struggled with sinfulness. Jesus alone was blameless in all that he did, so we ought to worship and follow him alone! Give Jesus priority when interpreting scripture.

2. Listen to the Holy Spirit as you discern

When faced with conflicting bible passages, always remember to pray and seek God’s wisdom when trying to figure out what to do. It always helps to talk it over with other fellow believers, too, particularly with a bible study group or close friends. God often uses other people and conversations to help you understand God’s wisdom and will for your life.

3. Avoid tunnel vision

We often like to make the bible fit our agenda. People throughout history have often sought to use scripture to justify one problematic stance over another–perhaps most notably in America has been slavery and racism. My advice is this: never let your entire theology be based off of one verse. Always consider what other parts of the bible have to say. Just because the authors of scripture mentioned slaves in the Old Testament doesn’t mean that is God’s will for our world today. As we talked about on Sunday, the same might also be said for prohibitions against women in leadership.

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