Reading the Bible- Prescriptive vs Descriptive

I’ve had this post in mind for a while now based on several issues that have sprung up on social media in the past few weeks.

It is important that when we study the Bible, we need to understand whether the verses we are reading are prescriptive or descriptive. What does this mean? Well, as the names imply, a prescriptive passage teaches us about what should happen or better still, what we should do. It is prescribing something to us whereas a descriptive passage is describing something that happened. Knowing the difference is important if we must fully understand scripture and ultimately walk in the ways of God.

One really good example is the story of King Solomon and his many wives and concubines found in 1 Kings 11:3. The passage is descriptive. However, when we take it as prescriptive, we are prone to so many errors. The Bible tells us the story of Solomon for us to know what happened in that time of Israel’s history but we are never commanded to to marry multiple women.

So when someone says, ‘after all Solomon had many wives, God did not prohibit him’, you can clearly see that the person does not have proper understanding of scripture and if you want, you could lovingly explain to the person that the account of Solomon and his wives is purely descriptive though it teaches us how chaotic our lives will be when we do not walk in the ways of God.

A great example of descriptive in the New Testament can be found in Acts 20:20, Colossians 4:15, 1 Corinthians 16:19 all describe early Christians meeting in homes. This is a description of what happened prior to our era and this in no way means that meeting in church buildings is wrong as many believe. None of those verses prescribe meeting in homes as the proper place of worship.

There are many more examples but I will stop here now. If you have any questions, kindly ask.

Also know that your children are not too young to understand this. My five year old knows this as I have often explained to them the proper and improper ways to interpret scripture.

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