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Don't chew so quickly on Scripture!

"Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God."

A dear friend sent me the Scripture passage from John 3:18 and asked me what I thought. To address this question I invite you to participate in an exercise with me.


If I intercepted a letter you wrote to a friend about your vacation last year, how much of the letter would I understand? Probably I could understand most of the letter. I might miss some of the details I am not familiar with but I would know what the letter was about. Now suppose the letter was from your great great grandmother; now, how much of the letter would I understand? Just to make it interesting let’s say the letter was written in Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish but I have a good Spanish/English dictionary…. do you think I would fully understand the letter? What if the letter was written over 2000 years ago? Hopefully, you can see that reading Scripture without taking into account the historical, cultural and literary implications will likely distort the lesson.


Very likely the passage from John 3:18 and many other passages reflects the teaching style Jesus used to invite his listeners to view their lives from a different perspective. By using extreme examples Jesus got his listener’s attention. His teaching style reflects his passion. I had a priest friend who lamented that celebrating Mass felt he was celebrating Mass for the dead and with the dead! A tad harsh but my friend was making a good point. Where is the passion in our faith response? Read the following well known passages of Scripture and note the call to passion in each one.

“And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell” (Mark 9:45). “And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell”(Matthew 18:9).

If these passages were meant to be interpreted literally I would likely be blind and in a wheel chair! Jesus was passionate about his mission and inviting his listeners to be passionate about their faith.


Keep in mind there are multiple levels of meaning in Scripture. We need to be guided by the Spirit and the wisdom and traditions of the Christian community when we read Scripture. Be very suspicious if someone interprets Scripture to support their cause or ideological position. Think twice if someone’s interpretation of Scripture is in contradiction with other teachings of Christ. Be open. Approach Scripture as a journey rather than a destination. Savour the words, they are meant to feed our soul.


What are some passages of Scripture you struggle to interpret?

When have you witnessed Scripture being used in a way that caused hurt or confusion?

Are we always supposed to be comforted by Scripture? Can we be challenged in a good way by the Word of God? When was the last time you felt challenged in a positive way by something you read in Scripture?

Send your comments below!


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