People get pretty serious about anyone picking which Bible verses they want to affirm or not. They get all fiery and tangled up about it. There was even a time when people tried to kill Jesus – before the crucifixion! – and you know why?
Because he was cherry-picking Bible verses.
Let me explain. For context, here are two stories from the Old Testament that Jesus will mention when He does:
The first is of a widow woman in the land of Sidon (1 Kings 17).
Elijah, a prophet of Israel, was sent to her, and he told her to make him some dinner. She replied that she was poor, with only a little meal left, and that she was preparing to eat it and die. Elijah told her, “Yeah, make it for me, anyway.”
Regardless of the audacity, she did it. And so, for as long as there was a drought, her oil and flour never ran out.
Christians today read that text and likely don’t catch the subtext. Understand, this was a story about God sending His prophet to go bless and care for a Gentile woman during a natural disaster! This idea of that was insulting and absurd enough to Jews, because He was their God. And inflicting natural disasters upon their enemies was supposed to be His shtick, right? Even some televangelists today well know that. But the second story goes even further.
The second story is of Naaman (2 Kings 5). Naaman is a general, who has leprosy and has to dip seven times in the Jordan river. Now, when you were taught the story of Naaman in the Bible, you might have missed the fact that he’s “the bad guy.” This would be because the text surprisingly humanizes him (and we are so very terrible at seeing “the bad guys” in our stories as human – but that’s another blog!)
So Naaman is a Gentile, but he’s more than that; he’s the enemy, but he isn’t just that! He’s an enemy soldier, a general, even! And he has taken a Hebrew girl, (likely having slaughtered her Hebrew family,) and this slave girl tells him of her Hebrew prophet, Elisha, who could heal his leprosy.
He does some diplomacy with the enemy nation, and finally meets Elisha. He’s first insulted by this prophet, but eventually does what he says, and the God of the persecuted, oppressed Hebrew people heals their oppressor, Naaman…. crazy.
The soldier who has plundered the people of Yahweh is audaciously healed by Yahweh, Himself.
You might think, “Shouldn’t he be struck by lightning? Or his entire nation leveled by earthquakes?! Isn’t that what God does?”
Fast forward to a synagogue in Nazareth. The Hebrew people are still oppressed and weathered by their enemies.
Jesus has returned to his hometown, and He has made quite a name for himself. The temple elders hand him the scroll of Isaiah, probably thinking, “He’s our homegrown boy come back. He done good for us. Made a name for Nazareth!”
Jesus stands, opens the scroll to the part we know as Isaiah 61, and begins to read aloud:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives,and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…”
And He suddenly stops reading.
He closes the text. Hands it back to the attendant. And sits down.
Now, all of these Jews, they know the rest of the text. They’re practically mumbling it along with Him. But when He reaches the part they really like, Jesus stops short. He just …stops.
It’s the part about vengeance! For all the oppression and persecution and evil done to them! And He just.. sits… down.
“..to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor …aaaand??!“
They must have been screaming it in their minds.
But He sits.
He effectively scribbles out the rest of the sentence.
“…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…
and the day of vengeance of our God”
Now, you might be thinking, “Oh you’re just reading into it,” and I would have to concede if Jesus hadn’t continued so intentionally, to be sure they didn’t miss the point of His cherry-picked reading.
And so He continues, something like:
“Certainly there were widows in our nation during the drought, but catch it: Elijah was sent to none of them, but instead to the foreign widow of Sidon. And certainly there were lepers in our nation, but catch it: none of them were healed – only Naaman, the enemy general. Surprise! God has always been merciful, not vengeful.”
You see, Jesus cherry-picks the Bible, because preaching good news to the poor, mending the broken-hearted, giving liberty to captives would be fulfilled in Him. He’s all about that. But that vengeance upon your enemies stuff, not so much.
And so they mobbed Him and forced Him to a cliff, intending to throw Him off. Maybe it upsets you to hear me saying that Jesus picks and chooses the Bible verses He’ll endorse, but it’s the Truth.
Because Jesus is the only perfect theology. Not John Calvin. Not Augustine. Not your pastor. Or even me.
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature..” (Hebrews 1:3)
“He is the image of the invisible God…” (I Colossians 1:15)
John 1 tells us, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side (Jesus Christ), he has made him known.”
Surely John knew about Moses “seeing” God when He makes this statement. He most certainly does, and says pointedly, no one has truly seen God, because they had yet to see Jesus.
And if Jesus edits Scripture, He does so for a very good reason! Because for all anybody had to say about God before Jesus, they hadn’t seen Him!
Jesus cherry-picks Scripture because He can, and because He wants to set you straight on the nature of God. And for sure, He ain’t about all that vengeance stuff!
Even the Father looks down from Heaven and says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him!”
Not Isaiah. Not Moses. Not even Elijah.
These guys were great, and they did the best they could, inspired of the Spirit. But they aren’t Jesus! And Jesus, He’s pretty selective about Scriptures He affirms.
So cherry-picking the Scripture isn’t the question. It’s “which ones, and why?”
Don’t throw me off a cliff for saying it.