Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert joined Sean Hannity on Thursday to discuss President Obama’s speech announcing his executive action on immigration. Rep. Gohmert took issue with Obama’s use of a verse from Exodus to defend his actions:
“Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too,” Obama read in his prime time speech, quoting Exodus 22:21.
Gohmert said that people here illegally are not legally allowed to work. He said the president is flaunting the law, which is an offense to the Constitution and to African Americans and Hispanic Americans who have an enormously high unemployment rate. Gohmert said Obama is “going to leave five million people out in the cold” when their jobs are taken by illegal aliens who now have the ability to work here.
Gohmert then pulled out his own well-worn Bible. “But I also want to point out he quoted Exodus 22:1 here. But if you just go over to the next column,” Gohmert pointed to a page heavily highlighted in in yellow, “maybe he hasn’t seen these verses, Sean.”
You must not spread a false report. Do not join the wicked to be a malicious witness. You must not follow a crowd in wrongdoing. Do not testify in a lawsuit or go along with the crowd to pervert justice. Do not show favoritism to a poor person in his lawsuit. (Exodus 23:1-3)
“This man is showing favoritism and he is lying about Congress,” Gohmert said. “And I’ve seen this in another politician that I went up against who would call you everything in the book and would say, ‘Now we’re going to be gentlemen. We’re not going to talk bad about each other.’ Try to keep you from defending yourself. But we’re going to defend ourselves.”
Now, obviously Gohmert engaged in the same kind of cherry-picking that Obama did when he cited a verse that he liked from that same passage of Exodus. I suspect that Gohmert was trying to point out the absurdity of taking one verse out of context (though I wish he had taken a few seconds to explain that).
The truth is, there are 12,143 different English words in the Bible, all of which can be taken out of context and made to say something the authors and the Holy Spirit never intended them to say. It is a grave mistake to try to find Bible verses to match your preconceived ideology or political beliefs. Apart from the context of the whole counsel of God — all of the Bible — the individual parts cannot be understood or properly applied. In fact, the Bible says that God’s redemptive story throughout history and His plan and desire for mankind cannot be fully understood without the help of the Holy Spirit.
When you start cherry-picking verses, you are in danger of ending up like the man who was in despair and trying to find God’s will for his life, who flipped open his Bible, hoping to find out what God wanted him to do.
He first opened to Matthew 27:5. “And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, [Judas] departed, and he went and hanged himself.”
Thinking that perhaps he had made a mistake, he tried again.
“And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise,’” he read when he flipped his Bible open to Luke 10:37.
Terrified, the man tried one last time to find some help from his Bible. He closed his eyes and opened to John 13:27. “Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’”
Very dangerous, that cherry-picking business!
Theologian D.A. Carson suggests that a proper reading and understanding of the Bible that includes the whole counsel of God should pay special attention to the following:
- God’s purposes in the history of redemption
- An unpacking of human origin, fall, redemption, and destiny
- The conduct expected of God’s people and
- The pledges of transforming power both in this life and in the life to come (promises to be trusted and hope to be anticipated).
There is a danger if any of these become a singular or unbalanced focus, to the exclusion of the others. Once we begin cherry-picking verses and passages that we like or that make us feel good (and we leave out the uncomfortable or unpleasant bits), we turn the Bible into a living, evolving document — devoid of authority — which it was never intended to be.