A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Zeal Without Knowledge: Bible Interpretation that Leads to Mercilessness and Injustice

I have written on this subject and on the following Scriptures in other posts. But they have been on my mind again the last few weeks. I keep seeing them violated by Bible teachers, pastors, and counselors of a certain type. Recently I have seen this “zeal without knowledge” pattern in publications by writers of the NANC (nouthetic counseling) school. In their zealous handling of Scripture and in their desire to be absolutely “biblical,” unswayed by any input outside the Bible, they come to erroneous interpretations and make harmful applications. The same kind of hermeneutic (interpretive method) is rampant in other conservative Christian circles. This approach to God’s Word creates the very thing such folks say they don’t want to create: man-made traditions that trump the Word of God. Read these Scriptures, and then I will try to explain more clearly what I mean.

And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:11-13

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,‘ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:1-8

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Matthew 23:23

Wooden literalism demands a specific proof verse for everything. And it proposes specific proof verses as a basis for a very literal, unbending application. Wooden literalism leads to applications that make no sense at all in real life and that are devoid of mercy. It takes one verse and derives from it an all-inclusive, broad principle which is divorced from the larger context of Scripture that, if considered, would reveal things like the mercy of God. This school of Bible teachers just will not listen unless you can give them chapter and verse. Oh, and that chapter and verse MUST use the exact, literal words on the subject you are discussing.

This approach to interpreting Scripture and applying it to real life is also characterized by an underlying legalism or works-righteousness. One of their underlying assumptions is that if we are to please God and be “perfected” in his sight, our marriage must be preserved at any cost. This is a fundamental plank in these teachers’ agenda, and it is the product of their flawed hermeneutic. The formula, in their eyes, goes like this: Jesus said marriage is forever. Jesus said let no man separate what God has joined together. Jesus said no divorce except for adultery. Boom! That’s it. That’s the rule that governs all cases. Therefore, no matter what kind of terrible abuse a victim might be suffering, Jesus did not use the “abuse” word. No divorce for abuse. You say that makes no sense? Well, my child, God’s ways are higher than your ways. And so it goes.

Let me give an example taken from a small book on abuse, written by a pastor who I believe truly desires to help people. And yet, his method of approaching Scripture leads him to merciless conclusions. Never once, not even by indirect allusion, is divorce mentioned in this booklet. Yet it is the elephant in the room as the abuse victim reads what this pastor has to say. [I say again, the acid test of whether someone is really going to stand with the victim and against her abuser is whether or not they grant that abuse is indeed a biblical grounds for divorce].

Ok then, listen to this excerpt and think about how what this pastor writes is a product of a fundamental, stiff handling of Scripture that leads him to embrace the assumption that there is no divorce for abuse:

God may use your suffering to bring glory to himself. Peter writes that our endurance through suffering proves the genuineness of God’s work in us, which will result in ‘praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.’… We who follow him should not be surprised when we suffer…but instead should realize that all who follow Christ will suffer (2 Tim 3:12). Many preachers, missionaries, and ordinary believers have glorified Christ as they were tortured and killed for the sake of the gospel. Rather than being angry with God over our suffering, we should submit to his sovereign will and count it a privilege to suffer for his Name’s sake (Philippians 1:29; Acts 5:41). The faith of other believers will be strengthened and God will be glorified when, in the midst of your suffering, you declare with Job, ‘Though he slay me, I will hope in him’ (Job 13:15). I have known victims of abuse who glorify God by their ongoing joyful trust in him.

Now, once again (after you get your heart rate back under control), think about how in the world a Christian pastor could be led to such a conclusion. I mean, what he is saying to the abuse victim is that she should be willing to stay in the “marriage” and if it be God’s will, be killed by her abuser and ride off into glory land as an eminent martyr. What is totally confusing is that in a couple of places earlier in the booklet, the author alludes to the fact that perhaps in some cases a victim may need to get to safety. But here in his conclusion we see what he really thinks. The marriage must be preserved at all costs, and that means at ALL costs.

Mercy and Justice, Mr. Pastor. That’s what God desires. Yet you have done what the Pharisees did. You demand sacrifice, and disregard the weightier matters of God’s Word.

32 Comments

  1. joepote01

    An excellent post, Jeff!

    You totally nailed the root issue. In most instances, it’s not that pastors don’t care…it’s that their understanding of scripture so ties their hands that they have nothing useful to offer. So, they fall back on “God’s ways are higher than our ways” and assume they have done the most loving thing by speaking the ‘truth’ of God’s word.

    When our perception of God’s heart is for us to follow a list of rules, we have totally missed the mark.

    Thanks for sharing! I’m posting a link on my FB page.

    • yes…
      and yes, but…

      “Yes…” because these kinds of people may have a deficient understanding of scripture.

      “Yes, but…” because once you challenge / point out / seek to correct their deficient understandings of scripture, the typically resist you and try to squash you, because they are too proud to be open to correction.

      When it becomes apparent that someone resists correction, I think it is reasonable to conclude that they DON’T care (enough) about the plight of the abused.

      • joepote01

        Yes, I completely agree, Barbara! The critical word being ‘enough.’

        In most cases, they do care. They do love people and they do want to do the right thing. In most cases, this is exactly why they got involved in Christian ministry to being with, because they love God, love people, and want to help people.

        I say most cases because there are exceptions. I have known pastors who, I have become convinced, are in the ministry for the sole purpose of boosting their own ego. These egomaniacs have no real desire to help people…rather they use people to further their own agenda. However, thankfully, most pastors are not like this.

        But back to the ‘most’ who do actually care and want to help. They are so blinded by their own misinterpretation of scripture that they honestly believe they are doing the best and most loving thing in their extremely poor advice to abuse victims. In fact, they probably view the whole abuse situation thru a skewed false perspective that is filtered thru a combination of their own life experiences and their false wooden understanding of scripture.

        These are the blind guides who Jesus spoke of…and of whom he said, “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:14)

        And when you try to correct them…or when confronted with an obvious abuse case desperately calling for justice and mercy…if they STILL refuse to change their perspective…at some point it becomes a willful choice whereby they allowed themselves to remain blind. They cared…but they did not care ENOUGH to re-evaluate their entire doctrine of marriage and divorce…clinging to the dogma they had been taught was MORE IMPORTANT that justice and mercy…more important than seeking God’s true heart for the abused and downtrodden.

        They can’t see that. They’re still blinded by their own misguided doctrine. They believe they are doing the right thing. Yet…somewhere, deep down…if they’ve ever refused justice and mercy to one in need…deep down they know they didn’t care ENOUGH.

      • Sasanka

        Thank you, Barbara,
        I felt immediately that they DON’T care, as well. My own pastor ‘cared’ originally enough to acknowledge in an email that my kids and I have been horrendously abused spiritually and in so many other ways. But it stopped at that. When I shared about you and Pastor Jeff and this web excitedly, I got a total cold shoulder! I did not understand why, I naively thought he would be thrilled and glad to find such an amazing resource…he must have encountered marital abuse many times as a pastor, right?….But he completely ignored my emails. I was shocked. And hurt. Then I realized that ego and pride is the problem. He is not going to accept ‘correction or guidance’ from another pastor, you see, we are from another ‘denomination.’

        This is a pentecostal evangelical church….I noticed my pastor came across very ‘complementarian’ with his wife. I was invited with my children to his home for lunch after the initial disclosure once. I really thought it would be to minister or comfort us, I needed it badly back then. But it was just to eat the pizza and please don’t talk about the unmentionable and negative here. It felt like the bare minimum for appearance sake. It was very formal and completely non cordial. It felt so awkward and fake…..I noticed he practically did not talk, was very stern and serious. Only the wife tried to be nice and cordial and make a conversation. He was like the classic king of the castle. At least that was my impression. He was completely opposite than the jokey, excessively humble, friendly guy at the pulpit! Weird experience.

        Also I figured it would be too costly for him to acknowledge the abuse openly. It was like opening a Pandora box and he would have to do something about it. He would have to counsel me/hear me out. He would have to face the abuser and not smile and chat friendly with him, as if nothing happened, let alone ask him to leave our church…etc. The abuser gave money (we could not afford) to church to appear saintly, so that would make it more uncomfortable for the pastor to discipline him, I’m guessing. I was not worth it. So he turned a cold shoulder.

        But amazingly enough, after the humiliation of ignoring me completely on the issue, in person, he would smile his saccharine sweet smile, and give me an awkward big hug, as if nothing ever happened! He would avoid anything beyond a few seconds of superficial small talk. I started going less and less soon after that. He seemed so anointed when we came to the church, and so humble compared to the obviously ‘pompous’ pastors we see sometimes. But only when something happened, I saw. I cannot sit there and pretend I respect the man.

        This is the same pastor who made a whole ‘sermon’ (with a major indignation), about how ‘a lady’ came to ‘interview’ him to see if this would be a church for her. He was furious at the ‘disrespect of the man of God’!!! She was polite but how dare she??? I was floored. What is wrong with visiting the pastor for a chat to see that the church is safe and led by a genuine person. She was probably hurt elsewhere and took her search for a new church seriously to avoid further pain. Nothing wrong! Why was he so offended as to throw her out? He went on to describe how he politely with a smile (sarcastically) told her not to worry for she will never attend this church and the church down the street will certainly meet her needs and walked her out his office. I thought to myself that must have been so hurtful to her, but he did give her what she came to find out after all, and she did not end up in the wrong place. I looked around if anyone else is shocked at his admission and attitude but people just clapped. I knew then that something was terribly off.

        And I saw this shepherd would not really fight the wolf for a sheep. I’m sort of without a church now. But your web is the first thing I read each morning to keep me connected to the truth and encouraged. Thank you Pastor Jeff and Barbara. I miss the genuine fellow believers from my church, and am in contact. They do not know what happened. They are genuine and love their pastor and would see this as a gossip possibly. And the associate youth pastor was very good to us and is real. I am so torn as what to do. I will probably need to find a new place of worship, but my older kids love to come there and have lots of friends, so I did not make any move and go only rarely myself. Thank you for the great post.

      • Lea

        Wow! What a story. I think the lady who interviewed your pastor got the information she was looking for and may have even been glad of it as it seems like that was not a safe church.

  2. Donna

    Missionaries who suffered for Christ did so preaching the gospel, spreading the good news…staying in an abusive marriage doesnt further the gospel, it is not the same.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Exactly. It isn’t the same. And leaving such a non-marriage does model God’s justice and redemption.

    • Kay

      You are right, Donna! It isn’t the same. Knowing that you are suffering so that others may have eternal life is different than a suffering that enables someone to continue in a destructive and sinful pattern. This kind of suffering is very destructive to the soul. Saying no to abuse gives the perpetrator the opportunity to change.

      When I knew that I could not survive anymore spiritually, I finally said no to abuse. Abuse didn’t make me a better person. It prevented me from developing fully as a human being because my entire focus was always on my husband. It was only after I said no more and began to experience freedom from abuse that I began to grow by leaps and bounds. Abuse robbed me of more than twenty-five years of my life.

      • Toiler

        I think I’m beginning to see this too. I’ve made some boundaries and I see myself growing for the first time in a few years since the abuse took on full steam. Besides, loving someone is more about what is good for them rather than pleasant for them.

    • Hi Donna, welcome to the blog 🙂

      We always like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      I changed your screen name somewhat, as a precaution. If you want us to change your screen name to something completely different, for your safety, just email The woman behind the curtain: twbtc.acfj@gmail.com — she will be more than happy to assist. 🙂

  3. Loren Haas

    Thank you Jeff!
    I pray that these words will be an antidote to the heartless venom that others attempt to inject into the vulnerable.

  4. IamMyBeloved's

    Wow. This is so excellent and spot on. We are under grace, not law. Mercy, not sacrifice is what is pleasing to God. Wooden interpretation leads to law and works righteousness. Following God’s Word means tempering it with grace.

    Loving how you worded all of this!

  5. jesusfollowingishard

    My reasoning when reading the scripture “except adultery” was adultery is abusive so anything that hurts like that is covered. I’ve heard adultery is actually easier for a marriage to recover from than emotional abuse. Plus if someone is emotionally abusive it’s not a stretch to think they are most likely messing around in one way or another, porn or an affair.

  6. H

    You’re so right about them needing a “proof text” with the exact words to be convinced about something. There’s nothing about “abuse,” but there’s a lot about suffering, so these unsubtle thinkers take anything related to suffering and apply it to abuse. Even though the Bible talks about many different types of suffering, and different reasons for suffering, and different responses to suffering.

    The only kind of suffering that is embraced in Scripture is suffering for God’s name and suffering in service of spreading the gospel. The rest of it, we are to flee. Jesus died so that we can avoid suffering for our sins as we deserve. Jesus died to save us from suffering under oppression and captivity.

    If they were to take the “submit to suffering and count it all joy because it gives glory to God,” and apply it to ALL forms of suffering, then not only should women submit to abusive husbands, but people should just accept that they have cancer and refuse treatment for it, dying for the glory of God. And when our children are in danger, we should allow them to be harmed, and give glory to God. We should keep all our doors unlocked, don’t buy insurance, don’t install alarm systems, don’t fix up our houses when the water main breaks or something like that. Let it all rot. Just be robbed and harmed and suffer under preventable circumstances, and allow those we care about to suffer, and give glory to God. Which is of course utter nonsense. And the most Pharisaical teachers on marriage right now would never submit to suffering in these ways. But someone seeking relief and rescue from a cruel marriage… Suffer!

  7. StandsWithAFist

    Thank you Ps. Jeff.

    I’ve been ruminating on Barbara’s recent post and how she wisely noted these many “zealots” are truly “preoccupied with authority”.

    Then I remembered a wise Jewish man who said that what we usually call the 1st Commandment, “Thou shalt not have any other gods before Me” was actually preceded by, “I am the Lord thy God, who led you out of Egypt/slavery/bondage”.

    Legalism can be slavery.
    Marriage can be bondage.
    And BOTH legalism & marriage (“authority”) can become “another God”.

    But God wants to lead us out of Egypt into freedom.
    And Jesus came to set the captives free.

    I guess these zealots can’t connect the dots.

  8. Un-Tangled

    I have many Jewish friends who deeply love Jesus. Several of them are Biblical scholars. They have taught me that the Bible is filled with paradoxes–seemingly opposite truths that are both true. Such as God is sovereign and yet we have freewill, the Bible is penned by man and yet “God-breathed,” God is both just and merciful, and so on. They have a saying about these “opposite” truths: “These also are the words of God.”

    I have no problem with people having Biblical proof of what they believe. The problem is that many Christians take one “truth” or one verse that “supports” their personal beliefs and they ignore everything else. For example, they will point to a verse about “forgiveness” and teach that we are supposed to forgive everyone, no matter what they do, “even if they don’t say they are sorry,” but they totally ignore that the Bible also says that we are to forgive IF A PERSON REPENTS. Or they will point to a verse about suffering, and use it to teach that a person must submit to an abuser but they ignore all the verses about God delivering people from the wicked who oppress them.

    I’ve shown people verses that “are also the words of God” and have actually heard them say, “Even though the Bible says this, I STILL BELIEVE THAT…..” In other words, they place their own beliefs higher than the Scripture and they only use Scriptures that seem to support their own beliefs. This is a mishandling, misuse, and twisting of God’s words. If they do this to God’s Words, it’s not surprising then that they only listen to people who agree with them, and ignore those who don’t.

  9. Song of Joy

    Yes! Legalistic marriage rules reverse scripture into “sacrifice, not mercy”.

    Christians have had to face torture and execution through the centuries because they were prisoners! They were arrested, incarcerated, condemned, had no way of escape! They faced death with dignity and courage because there was no other recourse!

    This pastor is basically saying that women in abusive marriages are to consider themselves as CONDEMNED PRISONERS that must face torture and even a potential death sentence because they believe in Jesus Christ.

    Solemn marriage vows, even though flouted and smashed by the abusive husband, are to be treated as still binding on the woman…as one-sided chains of doom.

    Where is the application of the scripture involving the apostle Paul, who escaped certain death by being lowered in a basket at night out of the city? (Acts 9:24-25) Paul himself, as we all know was a most godly and devoted follower of Jesus Christ…yet he availed himself of all means to avoid harm at the hands of his persecutors whenever possible. He even resorted to legal strategies when necessary (i.e. his appeal to Caesar, Acts 25:11). And he was eventually martyred, when no escape was possible, so it can’t be claimed that he wasn’t willing to die for Christ. Why can’t a woman take steps to escape persecution and violence at the hands of her spouse?

  10. kind of anonymous

    I would think that if suffering meant unendlessly enduring abuse for the glory of God,then Jesus wouldn`t have had a problem with the Pharisees devouring widows houses, wouldn`t have commented favorably on the woman who wore out the unjust judge with her pursuit of justice, and wouldn`t have had threatening things to say about those who move ancient boundary stones or attempt to hurt widows or the fatherless.

    • Estelle

      Well said, KOA.

    • AMEN!

    • AW

      Exactly! That’s exactly what popped into my mind… that by their interpretation, the persistent widow was way out of line for demanding justice from the judge.

      And despite the woodenly literal interpretation of scripture, these people usually backpedal with all kinds of rationalizations about why what Jesus said about even looking at a woman with lust in your heart being adultery can’t possibly be ‘literal’ because then everyone would be divorcing their spouse because of such a ‘little’ issue as porn.

      Double standard, AND completely missing the character of God Who will eventually avenge the oppressed and judge the wicked.

  11. Lea

    >I have known victims of abuse who glorify God by their ongoing joyful trust in him.

    I’m pretty sure you can still trust God from across town.

    • yeah and you can pray for your abuser from across town too…

      • Karen

        Amen Barbara.

  12. What about stepping back and looking at God’s view of the wicked and the multitudes of scriptures that deal with those who consistently choose to do evil. It is like being fixated on one tree stump in the forest when we need to notice there is a whole forest there that is better seen from an airplane and not to get stuck on one verse or 2 or 3 verses and devise a whole new doctrine that is not even biblical. When wickedness in a marriage is being done to a spouse by their partner systematically and comprehensively – is your pastor willing to put his money where his mouth is and be the support for the woman who “has to stay no matter what?”
    Leslie Vernick on her weekly blog had some good things for those pastors to consnider –
    “In saying this, I don’t think most pastors think through the implications of their advice. If they truly did, then I would expect these pastors who tell a woman she is not Biblically permitted to divorce to also stand behind their strong convictions. For example, if they believe no divorce, then as a church body they would reassure her, “We will be your safety net. No worries. If he drains all of your assets or refuses to pay child support or racks up a huge debt that you are partially responsible for, we will fill in the gap. We will not abandon you financially if we ask you not to divorce.” I have never heard of a church that has these strong convictions, to back a woman financially long term. She’s supposed to just “Trust God.”
    Sadly the church wants to tie your legal hands but then offers no other protection or financial support if your spouse should choose to spend his retirement savings or rack up huge credit card debt or refuse to pay child support. That’s why God has implemented the civil law to protect the “innocent” from evildoers.”

  13. Even Jesus escaped from the Jews and their evil many times (where it says and they looked for him but he could not be found.) when the Pharisees wanted to get their hands on him, because his time had not yet come. He knew their hearts and did not submit himself. Only once, when it was God’s appointed time and then he did so only because it was the Father’s will.

  14. freeatlast8

    Your responses are straight on, friends. Wow. I need to bookmark this one page for future reference. Such great stuff here. Thank you all for chiming in!!!

  15. Toiler

    I love this! I find it very interesting that Jesus called to the Pharisees to remember that rules were broken for something like a physical hunger (food). He went on to say that MERCY was present in that situation. Hunger? Really? The Jesus that fasted for forty days and said MERCY for hunger? What? Yet there is not MERCY for something like abuse. I find this type of logic something like straining out the gnat only to swallow the camel. The whole point of the gospel is to show mercy and grace to sinful people. Keep the picture BIG!

  16. Anonymous

    Matthew 21:28-31, ““What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

    “ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

    “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

    “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

    “The first,” they answered.”

    I thank God for this parable. It’s me in a nut shell. Due to severe abuse and neglect by (supposed) God’s people, I try to hide and I run from any strife or stress. I never willingly invite in evil or controversy–nevertheless–it manages to find me. So most times, my initial response to a prompting from God is, “NO!” But He always nudges me along, usually by leaving me little choice but to simply plod ahead (it ain’t pretty most of the time). My response is NOT due to a hardness of heart or hatred of God, but rather, because I’ve been forced to and lied to by people like the one quoted in this post, and this abuse has scarred me. Evil ones threw me to the wolves over and over and when I managed to survive and came crawling back seeking shelter and solace, they kicked me back out to the wolves. This is EVIL!

    I’ve known MANY evil people who act like they are agreeable and willing to love others but the reality is that they are like the other son in this parable. They SAY, “Yes!” but they are actually against the father and their words are meaningless. Whereas, the first son adamantly said, “NO!” but ended up doing the right thing. .

    You will not find me at the front of the line or willingly providing entertainment to the troops. If you notice me at all it will be as just one of the crowd (I consistently pray that I am invisible) and I will not publically volunteer unless there are many who are doing so, so that I can blend in. And even though my knee jerk reaction to most things God wants me to do is “NO!” I end up doing His will and I do this with a loving heart and a mind and soul to please the Lord, but also while trying to ensure that nobody will know it’s me.

    If I listened to preachers like the one Jeff quoted above, I would (and did in the past) think I was evil, disobedient and rebellious. No. I was a tender-hearted child of Jesus who was used as bait and tossed out with the trash. But God knew me and He saw what was done and HE sheltered me and gave me solace while showing me the truth about Himself as well as the truth about evil. And he has shown me (and CONTINUES to show me) that He loves me dearly and that He understands me too. He is not the one yelling at me to jump off the cliff and plunge into abuse. That comes from erroneous teaching and misinterpretation of scripture, oftentimes by people who want to be worshiped themselves. He tells me to read His word and seek His face, and I do this always–and He knows my name.

Trackbacks

  1. Zeal Without Knowledge: Bible Interpretation that Leads to Mercilessness and Injustice — A Cry For Justice – GBFSV SPIRITUAL ABUSE VICTIMS' RECOVERY

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: