Judging What the Bible Should Have Said

My wife and I didn’t kiss each other until the week of our wedding. It wasn’t that we were scared of physical intimacy (far from it!). It was based on a desire to avoid temptation and pursue purity (2 Tim. 2:22).

We know not every Christian couple has followed the same practice. That’s because God hasn’t laid out all the specifics regarding how we are to pursue romance and marriage. Where Scripture is unclear or silent, we need to exercise wisdom and discernment in our choices. In such cases, if our desire is to glorify God—and not to get as close to the line of compromise without actually crossing it—God will, I think, be honored in our differing practices.

Some proponents of purity seem to disagree. I recently read an article about an upcoming documentary on virginity. The film’s protagonists appear to elevate certain extra-biblical practices to the status of universal Christian principles. These practices include no kissing between a man and woman until their wedding day and no college degrees for women who desire to be wives (since the money spent would be a waste).

Now, I’m all for waiting until engagement or marriage before kissing. I’m all for stay-at-home moms. Depending on the circumstances, these pursuits can be wise and honorable.

What’s troubling is the idea that these things are required. When we think that way, we’ve added something to Scripture that wasn’t originally there. Suddenly, kissing outside marriage is equated with sex outside marriage. College degrees for would-be moms equal a waste of time and money. With these pronouncements, we presume to put our words in God’s very mouth.

I’m reminded of the sober warning in Revelation 22:18-19:

If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

The reference is to the book of Revelation itself, but I think there is a principle here that applies to all of Scripture. That principle is summed up well in the words of Bible commentator Albert Barnes: “it is obvious that no one has a right to change any part of a revelation which God makes to man; to presume to add to it, or to take from it, or in any way to modify it.” (God says as much in Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32.)

As with the documentary example above, I’ve noticed a particular tendency in some conservative circles—to turn certain practices into mandatory principles. In order to ensure God’s Word is followed closely, we fill in the gaps where Scripture is inconveniently silent. The practice is tantamount to Phariseeism. It creates a burden no one was meant to bear. It leads easily to legalism and self-righteousness.

Similarly, I’ve noticed a tendency in some liberal circles to take away from Scripture, particularly in the areas of sexuality and gender. Ironically enough, this is also tantamount to Phariseeism—of a different kind. The Pharisees may (rightly) have a reputation for adding to the Word of God, but they also ignored aspects of God’s law they found inconvenient (Mark 7:9-13). They treated part of God’s revelation as burdensome and unnecessary.

Both of these errors are serious. Both should give us cause to check our own hearts. In the words of Bible commentator Justin Edwards, “To attempt to require of men what God does not require, or to absolve them from what he does require, is a great sin.” It is sinful to add to the Word of God, as if His revelation was insufficient. It is equally sinful to take away from the Word of God and to shirk principles and practices He has addressed.

I’m aware that I’ve made some generalizations in the above paragraphs. To be clear, I realize that embellishing Scripture is not unique to conservative Christians, and liberal Christians don’t hold a monopoly on gutting Scripture. The tendencies I have noticed may not be universal. Conservatives and liberals can’t be so neatly fitted in a box.

I understand something else as well: God Himself cannot be placed in a box of our own personal leanings. If His ways and thoughts are far beyond ours (Isa. 55:9), and if He alone knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10), and if His gospel is for all cultures of the world (thus addressing the fallacies that exist in all cultures of the world) (Rev. 5:9)—if all these things are true, then it stands to reason that His Word would have omissions that some of us find uncomfortable and inclusions that some of us find distasteful.

The God who called us out of darkness and into His glorious light is not a product of any one culture or time period. If we had a Bible that fit perfectly within one particular culture or subculture, we would have a God of mankind’s making. Such a God is not the glorious God we serve. Let us not make the mistake of thinking He is just like us (Ps. 50:21). He is far better and far greater.