Kids who grew up hearing Bible stories, and even many who did not, are familiar with Daniel and the den of lions (Daniel 6). A rabble of conspirators, threatened by Daniel’s rising influence, failed to find any corruption or negligence in his service. He made Teflon look like the sticky side of Duct Tape.
So, they reasoned, the only way to undermine this upstanding rival was to use his faith against him. They duped King Darius of Babylon into signing a law making the king Deity of the Month. All prayers were to be routed to and through Darius. Then, they simply watched to see what Daniel would do.
Which was what he had always done. Three times a day, like clockwork, he opened his windows and prayed toward Jerusalem. Daniel was arrested, convicted and, though Darius tried to save him, was tossed into a pit of lions. What the king was unable to do, however, God did. Daniel survived the night and emerged the next morning without a scratch.
That’s the narrative our parents and Sunday school teachers told us and the one we ourselves tell our own children. But, as with many other Bible stories, we leave out some of the gory details. Like the fact that after Daniel was delivered, Darius condemned the conspirators to the same fate. They, their wives and children were thrown to the lions, “and before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones,” (Daniel 6:24).
Not exactly the last thing you want your kids to hear before you tuck them in at night.
There are lots of stories like that. We hold our little ones in rapt attention as we tell about the time little boy David stopped off at the brook to collect five smooth stones, one of which he used to sling-shot the mean old giant. We leave out the decapitation part.
Going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing you’ve never built a family devotional around Jael dispatching Sisera by driving a tent peg through his temple. Or Jezebel’s eunuchs tossing her out of a third story window whereupon she was trampled by horses and eaten by dogs. (“Mommy, what’s a eunuch?”) I will, confess, however, that our boys loved, loved, loved the story of Ehud the left-handed judge knifing the amply upholstered Eglon.
I get why we leave out some of the more R-rated parts of these beloved stories. And why, until our kids are old enough to handle it, we steer clear of some others altogether. It’s kind of hard to edit the Judah/Tamar saga for content suitable for children.
Here’s what worries me: Are there parts of the Bible that you and I, as adults, have conveniently skipped?
We wouldn’t be the first. A second century figure named Marcion condensed much of the New Testament and eliminated all of the Old Testament to reflect his rather narrow theology. Thomas Jefferson famously scissored out the parts of the Gospels that reported the supernatural or claimed that Jesus was the Son of God. Basically, he reduced the Gospels to the sayings of Jesus. More recently, The Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars and seminarians, voted with colored beads on which sayings and acts of Jesus they thought were authentic. Many of your favorites did not make their cut.
I doubt that you have taken an Exacto knife to your Bible or blacked out huge sections with a Sharpie. But if you are like me, there are probably parts of it that you don’t consider very often – or maybe even completely ignore. I don’t mean the tedious genealogies. The first four chapters of 1 Chronicles are perfect if you can’t sleep and don’t want to take another Ibuprofen P.M. I’m talking about those parts of the Bible that challenge you with truths you don’t want to deal with.
Most of us have what Canadian theologian D. A. Carson called a “canon within the canon;” a Bible within the Bible. We have a certain, limited set of verses we turn to again and again because they affirm things we already believe and practice.
For example, some folks are quite fond of those parts of scripture that call for moral purity, that condemn sexual sin and engender a high view of marriage. (Matthew 19:1 – 9; Romans 1:18 – 32; Ephesians 5:21 – 33; Colossians 3:5 – 7).
Others favor passages that promote social justice, concern for the poor and compassion for the hurting. (James 1:27 – 2:9; Micah 6:8; Psalm 82:3; Isaiah 1:17).
Whether you are a moral crusader, a social justice warrior, a doctrinal purist, a prophecy pundit or a just-give-me-Jesus Christian, Paul’s counsel to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:27 is more than just good advice: “For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God,” (emphasis mine.) He warned Timothy that there would come a time when people would “gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear,” (2 Timothy 4:4).
Are there some passages that are, in terms of their focus on the central themes of scripture, more important than others? Sure. In Matthew 22, when asked which the most important command was, Jesus answered that loving God and loving neighbor were the greatest. Reading about Christ’s sacrifice on the cross will certainly yield greater spiritual benefit than delving into the mold and mildew regulations of Leviticus. But ignoring any part of scripture is sort of like a body builder who works only one muscle group – he ends up with massive biceps and toothpick legs.
So how can we avoid shrinking the Bible? A systematic reading plan is a good place to start. You can find dozens of them with a simple web search, but BibleGateway has a good selection here. Though not common in my tribe (Churches of Christ), many Christians follow the Revised Common Lectionary. Each week, it guides you toward an Old Testament passage, a Psalm, a New Testament passage and a reading from one of the gospels. With the New Year fast approaching, it’s not too early to get a jump on one of those resolutions.
Perhaps the best way to expand your Bible, though, is to read and study it in the company of others. Especially people you don’t agree with. When I study or read with folks who come from a Reformed or Calvinist position, I am amazed at how much of the Bible affirms God’s sovereignty. When I open a Bible with the more charismatically inclined, I am exposed to more passages about the person and work of the Spirit. Plus, I get to correct their many false doctrines and failed interpretations. It’s win/win! (Kidding, I’m kidding. Relax!)
One of the all-star verses in my particular tradition is 2 Timothy 3:16 – 17. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Notice the first word in that passage: All. Everything from “In the beginning God . . . ,” to the final “Amen,” in Revelation is God’s word. And all of it is useful. If you shrink your Bible, you’ll end up with a shriveled faith.