Quoting the Non-Quotes of Scripture

CNN ran on article titled “Actually, that’s not in the Bible” on their Belief Blog on June 5.  The blog talks about how the Bible is “the most revered book in America” but is also the most misquoted.

The blog is on target–except when the writer quotes Kevin Dunn (Tufts University) and Sidnie White Crawford, one of my former professors at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Regarding the popular thought that “Satan in the guise of a serpent tempts Eve to pick the forbidden apple from the Tree of Life,” Dunn says, “Genesis mentions nothing but a serpent…Not only does the text not mention Satan, the very idea of Satan as a devilish tempter postdates the composition of the Garden of Eden story by at least 500 years.”

The problem Dunn has is that he is not reading Scripture through a lens of redemption. He reads it merely as literature (in fact, his most recent academic paper delivered was titled “Reading the Bible as Literature,” in 2004).

Who else could the serpent have been? God spoke to the serpent and said in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The Church has traditionally called this the protoevangelium–Latin for “first gospel.” God is the one who first preaches the gospel through a prophetic proclamation. Christ (notice how God says, “he” and “his”) is the offspring of the woman (Gal. 4:4), and he has been ordained by God the Father to be bruised and crushed to physical death (Isa. 53:4-5). However, this death will liberate the souls of sinful men (which began with Adam and Eve, Rom. 5). Christ stamps his defeat of Satan with his resurrection from the dead. Thus Christ delivers a fatal spiritual blow as he conquers sin, death, and hell (Col. 2:151 John 3:8Heb. 2:14).

Regarding the age-old phrase, “God helps those who help themselves,” the writer seeks Crawford’s opinion. He writes:

It’s another phantom scripture that appears nowhere in the Bible, but many people think it does. It’s actually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, one of the nation’s founding fathers.

The passage is popular in part because it is a reflection of cherished American values: individual liberty and self-reliance, says Sidnie White Crawford, a religious studies scholar at the University of Nebraska.

Yet passage contradicts the biblical definition of goodness: defining one’s worth by what one does for others, like the poor and the outcast, Crawford says.

Crawford cites a scripture from Leviticus that tells people that when they harvest the land, they should leave some “for the poor and the alien” (Leviticus 19:9-10), and another passage from Deuteronomy that declares that people should not be “tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.”

“We often infect the Bible with our own values and morals, not asking what the Bible’s values and morals really are,” Crawford says.

The problem Crawford has is that she fails, like all secular biblical scholars, to see that the Bible is not a book that aims at moral reform, but a book that speaks of a perfect Hero who came to save bad people who don’t have the ability to reform.

This Franklin-invented phrase does not contradict “the biblical definition of goodness,” as Crawford confidently says.  It contradicts the biblical theme of grace: that Jesus came to save his enemies (Rom. 5:8-10), people who were not worthy of salvation (1 Tim. 1:15-16), and could not do anything on their own to have spiritual life (Eph. 2:1-9).  God helps only those who come to Jesus, by grace, forsaking any merit of their own to say, “I am completely unable to help myself.”

I commend the CNN post to you, but read it with a discerning mind. Remember, the Bible is God’s story and it cannot be emphasized enough that each mini-story is either a gentle whisper or a booming shout that speaks of Jesus Christ.