The Bible is Not a Catalog of Moral Advice

All too often we hear preachers and teachers recount a Bible story and end it with a call to be like . . .  Abraham, David, Paul etc. The moral characteristics of these people are held up as examples for us to follow. Their mishaps are offered as mistakes to avoid and to show the consequences of sin. Is this the right focus?  I was refreshed in reading Michael Horton’s book Pilgrim Theology when he wrote,

“Still others turn to Scripture expecting to find a catalog of moral advice for practical living, and they turn parables of the kingdom into quarries for defending capitalism or socialism, managing personal finances and family life, and so forth. When we rifle through the Old Testament narratives for moral examples (‘Dare to be a Daniel’), as if they were Aesop’s Fables, we miss the point. In most cases, the lives of ‘Bible heroes’ are quite mixed, morally speaking. Above all else, in these narratives, God is the real hero. David slays Goliath because the Spirit comes upon him, in contrast to Saul, whom the Spirit has abandoned. In each instance, the purpose is not to provide life lessons that we may apply directly to ourselves, but to see how God is fulfilling his purposes, which lead history to Jesus Christ. It is certainly true that the Bible includes wisdom for daily living (especially in Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and Song of Solomon), but even these books direct us ultimately to Jesus Christ, ‘who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.’ (1Co 1:30).” (60-61)

Next time you’re teaching an Old Testament narrative instead of focusing on, say, what David did and trying to emulate or avoid some behavior focus on what God is doing through David and say “Look what God did.”

Pilgrim Theology


About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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One Response to The Bible is Not a Catalog of Moral Advice

  1. I think I agree about the way stories are told. They become just stories to the listener and if the idea is that the listeneers will follow the example then that must be a forlorn hope. It seems to me to be the wrong way to teach the Bible.
    Might it not be better to prepare a list of questions for discussion, or perhaps better, ask the listeners to ask thier own questions. We are, after all designed as questioners but Home and School so often stop questioning. “Shut up and eat your dinner!” must be one of the most misused phrases in the English language. Actually the Bible itself encourages questioning. First in O.T. Deuteronomy chapter six encourages discussion and questioning. Then in the Acts the Bereans are commended as ‘more noble’, not for agreeing with the Apostle but for ‘searching the Scriptures to see if these things were so’.


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