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Emily Timbol Headshot

Stop Quoting Bible Verses at Me

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One of my favorite scenes from the movie "Saved!" is when Hilary Faye, the "star"
Christian, gets angry and attempts to confront her former friend Mary. When Mary doesn't listen and accuses Hilary of not knowing anything about the love of Jesus, Hilary throws a Bible at her. "I am filled with Christ's love!" she shouts, without any sense of irony.

I've felt like Mary a lot.

There have been quite a few Hilary Fayes in my life. Only instead of throwing actual physical Bibles at me, I usually get verses tossed my way instead. Oftentimes, though, the effect feels the same.

Last May, I applied and was accepted to be a participant of The Reformation Project, a Bible-based, Christian nonprofit organization that seeks to reform church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity. From the application, I knew that to be a reformer meant I'd be spending a lot of time in Scripture. This shouldn't have been difficult for me, someone who grew up in the church, has read the entire Bible multiple times, and had most of the "big" verses memorized. But my relationship with Scripture had become complicated, as it was used more often to rebuke my beliefs, than to encourage me.

What I didn't realize was how deep I was going to go into Scripture, and how it would change my entire view of the Bible.

I, and the 50 other participants of the project, spent three months pouring over Genesis 19:1-11, Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13, Romans 1:26-28, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10. We read commentaries from the top theologians on both sides, including Robert Gagnon, John Boswell, Richard Hays, Dale Martin, William Webb, Phyllis Bird, and Robin Scroggs, to name a few. We read Wesley Hill's influential memoir, Washed and Waiting, and Dr. James Brownson's incredible book, Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church's Debate on Same-Sex Relationships.

Reading, absorbing, and commenting on more than 1,000 pages of academic literature in just three months was exhausting. But it was also life-changing. For the first time in my almost three decades of being a Christian, I was taking the time not just to read the Scriptures, but to ask what I was reading and why. Instead of just reading the words on the page, we read about the history and the culture during the time it was written, and what the language meant. Instead of taking the English-translated words at face value, I spent months learning the original Greek and Hebrew that the English was translated from, and looking up the other places those same words had been used, elsewhere.

I learned the importance of context.

Before embarking on this journey, I always just viewed the Bible as something you weren't supposed to question. Even if the question wasn't, "is this really true?" but "who was this written for?," to question the Bible was the same as not believing in it. What I learned from The Reformation Project, though, was that the real danger was in not asking questions.

The Bible is not just a book, anymore than Jesus was just a man. So when we use it without fully understanding it, we run the risk of doing more harm than good. When someone is hurting and we quote a verse at them, and that verse in no way applies to what they're going through, instead of comforting them we make them feel unloved.

When Paul sat down to write letters to the churches he was ministering to, he had no idea that what he was writing would be used as instructions by Christians thousands of years later. What he was writing was specific to certain people in a certain situation at a certain time. That doesn't mean we can't learn from his wisdom and teaching, but it does mean that in order for us to do that we have to go below the surface. To quote Dr. Jim Brownson, we have to find the moral logic in every story. Moral logic is determining not just what is being said, but why.

When you ask, "why?" was the sin of inhospitality back in Lot's day so horrible, you learn that to be a traveler without a shelter for the night, meant almost certain death and harm. When you ask, "why?" would Lot be thought honorable by offering his virgin daughters to a mob of angry men, wanting to rape his visitor's, you learn all about the hierarchy of ancient peoples and how men held honor while women embodied shame. To rape a woman was wrong, but to rape a man, treating him like a dishonorable woman? That was unforgivable.

The more you ask these questions, the more you learn not just about Scripture, but the character of God. Most importantly, you learn that simply quoting a verse, without explaining or making sure the person you're quoting it to understands the full story, does little good.

If we keep quoting Jeremiah 29:11 at people who are hurting or struggling, yet don't tell them about the 70 years of exile the people who this verse was given to suffered through, we're not giving the truth. We're telling a lie.

What should be most important to us, is not having a handy verse ready to quote, but the character of Christ within us, shining through. We need to read and know the Bible, in order to honor and obey God. To share the gospel, we have to know the gospel. But what should be more important to us is not knowing just exactly what verse to use, or what words to say, but what is best for the person with whom we're face-to-face.

Too often, quoting the Bible to someone serves as the easy way out. The way to either end a conversation, trump whatever else the other person has to say, or provide a quick "comfort" so we can then move along. The Bible should not be used this way.

There's nothing wrong with knowing, memorizing, or quoting Bible verses. But there is something wrong if instead of taking the time to really try and talk to or understand someone, we just quote a verse to them instead.

As Christians, we should be more concerned with living the Word, than quoting it.