How to Apply the Bible Verses that No Longer Apply

A Timeless Truth Hides Behind Every Oddball Command

If we’re honest, reading the Bible sometimes seems like reading a TV Guide from 1975. Amusing and nostalgic, sure—but out-of-date. And woefully inept as a guide for today. So why apply the Bible?

How to Apply Bible Verses that No Longer Apply

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After all, any book that commands us not to eat shellfish or to refrain from mowing the yard on Saturday seems archaic. No wonder the world reads the Bible with a shrug. (Some Christians do as well.)

But it’s too easy to pigeonhole the Scriptures as irrelevant just because its principles often hide in the context of yesteryear. Behind every oddball command sits a timeless principle that helps us apply the Bible today.

Our challenge? How to find it.

Feel Free to Keep Your Brain

Today’s intellectuals point to the shellfish and Sabbath commands that no longer apply and promptly toss out the baby with the bathwater. Other out-of-date commands also conveniently hit the editing floor. (You know, like morality and sexuality.) Our society has, we’re told, advanced beyond the sociological naiveté of biblical times. It seems applying the Bible is unnecessary.

But we don’t have to check our brains at the door when reading the Bible. On the contrary, we need to engage our minds. But rather than sit as judge on whether or not God has the right to say what He does, we need to use our intellects to understand what God means by what He says.

Admittedly, this begins with one’s worldview.

  • Whether or not the Bible is true is another issue altogether. (And it’s an essential one.)
  • But if we can begin by believing what the Bible says is true, then our challenge is how we can understand—and ultimately, apply—that truth.

It’s the Principle of the Thing

Living in a Google world of instant answers doesn’t help us cultivate good study habits. Like any worthy subject, the Bible sometimes requires we slow down in order to understand the Bible. We need to look below the surface.

reading the Bible

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Every command of God has a timeless truth behind it that applies in every age.

  • Some of these timeless truths, by their very nature, will express themselves differently in different ages. But in no age may we ignore them. That’s why they’re timeless.
  • Some truths remain unchanged in their application.
  • If a command seems out-of-date, ask yourself, What is the timeless principle behind this command that must be applied today?

Look at these verses from the oft-dismissed book of Leviticus:

You shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth. For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy. — Lev. 11:44–45

Clear as mud, right? Now think, What’s the principle?

Kosher laws may strike Christians as strange today, but these laws served a vital, practical purpose.

  • Acquired tastes protected God’s people. If the Israelites didn’t like the foods of nearby godless cultures, they would be more likely to avoid them and escape their influence.
  • Put simply, we spend more time with those who share our tastes. And the more time we spend with a specific group, the greater their influence on us.

Point? It was never about food. It was always about influence (and holy living).

Even though Jesus would later put bacon back on the menu, the timeless principle still applies today. Jesus understood that kosher foods illustrated the higher principle of holy living (Mark 7:18–23).

The principle? We’re still called to imitate God’s holiness in all aspects of life—even eating (1 Cor. 10:31; 1 Tim. 4:4).

Apply the Bible in Every Age (Including This Week)

Timeless truths hide beneath every biblical command and remain applicable today, even though the specific command may no longer apply. We obey God not simply because He says so—though that would be enough—but because we understand that every commandment reflects God’s holy character (1 Peter 1:14–16).

Of course, our biggest challenge isn’t trying to understand the Bible. All that requires is a disciplined mind.

Our hurdle is to apply the Bible once understanding shines its light.

Insight’s Bible Application GuideIf you’d like a good book that boils down a timeless principle from every chapter of the Bible, check out the series Insight’s Bible Application Guide.

In the first volume (Genesis-Deuteronomy), I wrote the chapters on Leviticus.

Question: How do you apply those verses that no longer apply? To leave a comment, just click here.

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