“A word in season.” In favour of cherry-picking Bible verses

I was once coaching a preacher, and together we were critiquing another person’s sermon, in an effort to learn more about our craft. My friend commented that the sermon simply consisted of ‘cherry-picking Bible verses, and smashing them together’ to which I replied, ‘sounds like a great recipe for cherry jam!’

I was being flippant, of course, because,

  1. I care a great deal about responsible exegesis and hermeneutics, and rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim 2.15). And,
  2. I know there’s a lot more than goes into the art of jam-making than smashing together fruit!

What was interesting was that the preacher we were critiquing was none other than the Apostle Paul who, being far more learned than either of us, and having been inspired by the Holy Spirit to write Scripture, presumably knew what he was doing!

My friend’s observation led to a great conversation about hermeneutics, and how the Apostles understood, interpreted and applied the Scriptures, and also about how we should be clear to our listeners why we are handling the Scriptures the way we do. But it also illustrated that what may look to the untrained eye like cherry-picking-and-smashing may actually be based on a very good hermeneutical foundation!

I’ve recently begun reading Dan Kimball’s How (Not) to Read the Bible: Making Sense of the Anti-women, Anti-science, Pro-violence, Pro-slavery and Other Crazy-Sounding Parts of Scripture, and I enjoyed this quote below.

In response to the (sometimes-justified) accusation that Christians just cherry-pick verses from the Bible that they like and ignore the ones they don’t, Kimball writes,

‘Cherry-picking from the Bible is not good if we are affirming only the things we like. However, we need to do some strategic cherry-picking. The truth is that there are good reasons – not just our personal preferences – why some Bible verses should be followed while others should not be. Proper cherry-picking is required when you follow good Bible-study methods.

If you had an actual cherry tree, you would want to learn how to be a good cherry picker. You would pay attention to the entire tree and the season of the year. When it’s time for cherry-picking, you would pay attention to the color of the fruit. If the cherries aren’t dark enough, they aren’t ripe. If you pick them too soon, they won’t have the sugar that sweetens them. Some might be old and have bugs, so you don’t want to eat those. Knowing when to pick and what to look for it important when harvesting cherries. You “cherry-pick” some and leave others on the branches that aren’t meant to be picked yet. There’s nothing wrong with this since you want to get cherries that are good to eat.

Yes, there is bad Bible cherry-picking, ignoring verses because of a personal preference. Done right, you determine which “cherries” (verses) are for consumption today and which ones aren’t.’

Dan Kimball, How (not) to read the Bible

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Photo by Roma Kaiuk on Unsplash

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