reason for living

Scripture of description and scripture of doctrine

Adultery is OK with God — it says so in the Bible.  When the nature of a particular portion of scripture is not appreciated then foolish and evil ideas naturally follow.

It is common for Christians and others to attempt to “prove” a particular point by referring to some passage in the Bible that, they claim, supports their point.  Of course, if the passage in question has been properly understood then this can be a constructive technique to adopt but if the passage in question has not been properly understood then the consequences are foolishness.

One important distinction that needs to be kept in mind when reading the Bible (or any other text) is the distinction between descriptive passages and doctrinal passages, so what are these things?

Put simplistically a descriptive passage tells us what actually happened in a particular situation, while a doctrinal passage tells us what ought to happen as a general rule.  Descriptive passages and doctrinal passages can both be used as teaching or informative passages but they teach us different things or, put differently, they give us different kinds of information.

A descriptive passage teaches us about things that have already occurred and informs us what happened in a particular time and place.  A doctrinal passage teaches us general truths or rules or guidelines that we should apply to our own lives or beliefs.

However the foregoing definitions are an oversimplification:  Sometimes a descriptive passage might contain both descriptive elements and doctrinal elements.  Furthermore even when a doctrine is clearly stated it is not necessarily universally applicable because some doctrines will only apply to particular places or occassions.

Confusion and problems can occur when somebody attempts to extract a doctrine from a descriptive passage that has no doctrinal content or, alternatively, when somebody takes a doctrine that was applicable only to a particular time and place and attempts to apply it as a general rule.

Let us just try and consolidate this idea with a brief example:  According to the Bible it is acceptable for a man to commit adultery ... yes or no?  Well King David was a good servant of God, and a great king and he committed adultery and he is respected as a person who God described as “a man after my own heart”.  So if this man, whose heart was like God's, committed adultery then adultery must be acceptable.  Of course anybody who has read the whole story will know that actually God was not at all pleased about what King David did and punished him for his misconduct.  The story about King David, Bathsheba and Uriah is a story about what they actually did, not what they ought to have done.  In this particular incident we know that God was displeased with King David because the story continues to tell us so but in other cases we are not necessarily told what God thought about a particular person's actions.  The Bible accepted by Christians is not a particularly long book and it does not attempt to tell us every detail of every situation, nor would that even be possible.  Instead we have been given the essential parts of a big story from which we must try to extract the general rules which we can then apply to our own lives.  In some cases we have also been given specific instructions.

When we study the bible it is important therefore to recognise which passages have some doctrinal content and which passages are purely descriptive.

Some related articles that you might like to read

Christian Jargon ... Oh, how we hate it!
When you clear the jargon out of the way, the Christian message starts to make a lot more sense.
Mediums & Spiritists
Many people consult mediums and spirit guides; what can they do for you?
Predestination — does it exclude free-will?
If God really controls the universe than what choices do I actually have?
Gaining knowledge
Understanding how we gained some information might help us decide what that information is worth.
What does God want me to do?  Knowing the will of God.
Feeling lost and unsure what to do?  Well, by all means, ask God for direction, but take care not to overlook the obvious ...
What really happened on that cross?
This article gets past the popular misconceptions about the death of Jesus and shows why, for humans who want to be right with God, the death of Jesus was, quite simply, the most important thing that has happened since the planet began.
Believing “on trust”.
We all have some sort of beliefs or personal philosophies; but WHY do we believe what we believe and how do we know that it is true?
Learning about money.
Many preachers tell us that God wants to bless us financially and they make it sound so good.  Now find out what God actually said.
Take care!  Do not be deceived.
Every author in the New Testament warned their readers about the proliferation of false teachers in the church.  So, how come we never meet any?
Morality, legality, tolerance and compromise
Tolerance is not always a good thing and compromise is often a cloak for cowardice.  No amount of legislation will ever make wrong into right.
Index of articles, listed by number
Index of articles, listed by topic
Home page
Contact R4L by e-mail
Site locator: reasonforlivingdotcom
W3C HTML validator    W3C CSS validator

R4L logo