A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Problem with Having a John 3:16 Approach to the Bible

When I was growing up watching sports on TV, I would often see the rainbow hair guy either behind the field goal posts or home plate holding up his John 3:16 sign. I remember thinking how cool it was that he was living out his faith in a very bold way by doing this.

John 3:16 is arguably the most memorized verse in the whole bible. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life."

If you were given a giant poster board, some markers, and told to write down one verse that summarizes the entire bible which consists of sixty-six books written by many authors over several centuries representing many different cultures and varying languages, what verse would you pick? Actually, it's an unnecessary exercise because there really isn't just one verse that can possibly include the one grand narrative of the bible. Some verses do a better job than others and some verses can speak to a present situation we may be facing, but without the other 31,101 verses depending on your bible translation, we can easily take one verse out of context.

Just for fun one day, a friend of mine and I decided to look up other 3:16 verses in the bible. Here is a small sampling of the 3:16 verses just to show how easy it is for us to proof text the bible.

Genesis 3:16 - Speaks about the consequences of Adam and Eve's sin and how the husband will rule over the wife. Starting with this verse probably won't win over a lot of the women I know to the Christian faith. Just say'n.

Leviticus 3:16 - Speaks about animal sacrifices and how all the fat belongs to the Lord. What about those of us who prefer a "Five Guys" kind of burger or a really nice juicy steak?

Ecclesiastes 3:16 - This verse speaks of how wickedness is everywhere. Well, that's a downer.

Lamentations 3:16 - "He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes." When was the last time you saw that verse printed on a hallmark card or a coffee mug? Exactly!

Habakkuk 3:16 - This verse tells us that he is waiting quietly for a day of calamity to come upon his enemies. I think Jesus offered an alternative view to this line of thinking.

II Peter 3:16 - In referring to Paul's letters, Peter writes, "There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own desctruction, as they do the other scriptures." Ironically, this verse explains why focusing on only one verse of the bible might give us a very twisted view of the bigger picture presented by the entire Bible.

So, the point in all of this is to guard against a John 3:16 single verse approach to the bible. We need to be careful to not put too much weight on just one verse. Remember, there's a bigger story to tell and the good news of our faith is greater than just one verse of the bible, even though John 3:16 is a pretty cool verse.

FOOTNOTE: I looked up the rainbow hair guy from the 70s and unfortunately, he was convicted of some pretty bad things and is serving time in prison.

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