“Not … But…” Passages in the Bible

The inspired writers of the Bible, especially those writers of the New Testament books, included several passages sometimes called “NOT..BUT..” verses to make a point. These verses typically say not this, but that; making contrasts between two things and emphasizing one of them while not condemning the other one. This sounds a little complicated but we do this exact same thing on a regular basis in normal conversations and especially in giving instructions to others.

Before I ever knew much about this concept from the Bible my Dad taught me a valuable lesson by the NOT/BUT method. One cold morning the two of us headed into the woods on our Lamar County farm to cut firewood. It was Dad, myself and a long two-man crosscut saw. My father picked the biggest oak tree around for us to fell, and this was my first attempt at crosscut sawing. We both got down on one knee on either side of the tree and began to run the saw blade back and forth through its trunk. After about 2 minutes, Dad halted the proceedings and looked at me, “Son, we will be here all day cutting this tree if you try to use that herkyjerky, rapid fire method of sawing. The best way to fell a tree is NOT with yanks and jerks BUT with smooth, steady strokes”. I tried his way and it was amazing how soon that big oak hit the ground. A young boy had learned a lifetime lesson. I was feeling pretty proud until I found out we had to saw that entire tree and every limb down to fireplace and fire stove size.

The idea of the NOT/BUT contrast with emphasis has been used in writing, speaking, and all communication since man was given these abilities by God in the beginning. Let us notice a few examples from the Word of God, to illustrate and better understand the point here.

I Pet 3:20-21 – “When God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, NOT as a removal of dirt from the body, BUT as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. Are these verses teaching that daily showers and personal hygiene are not important? NOT at all, BUT the EMPHASIS is on water baptism for the remission of our sins made possible by Jesus being raised from the dead. In no way do these words eliminate the necessity of baptism for salvation as some would teach. Please continue to remember your Saturday bath.

Matt 10:28 – “And do NOT fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, BUT RATHER fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell”. Are heads of households being told here that they should NOT plan for their family’s safety against accidents or those evildoers who would do them harm? Of course not! But the EMPHASIS is on the spiritual and a fear for our family’s eternal salvation. Eternity with God is more important than any fear or tragedy here in this life.

HEB 2:8-9 – “You have put all things in subjection under his feet. For in subjecting all things to him, He left NOTHING that is Not subject to him. But now we do NOT see all things subjected to him. BUT we DO SEE HIM who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone”. This is certainly not an easy passage to understand but the main point is fairly clear. Sin entered the world early in man’s history and a solution was needed. At the appropriate time, God appeared in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ, for our salvation. The focus of this passage is NOT what we CANNOT SEE, BUT what we CAN SEE. What we can all SEE is the fact that The Savior came to the earth to die for us, and that by His life, death, and glory we can be His saved people.

Eph 5:3-4 – “But immorality or any impurity or greed must NOT even be named among you as is proper among saints; and there must be NO filthiness and foolish talk, or coarse jesting, which are NOT fitting, BUT RATHER giving of thanks”. Is Paul saying that it is impossible for true believers to be guilty of sexual immorality, covetousness, or indecent speech? Not so. However, many religious people believe this verse teaches the Calvinistic principle of Perseverance of the Saints, and a REAL Christian will not be guilty of these sins. However, Gal 5:4; Heb 12:15; II Pet 3:17; III John 9; and other verses discuss the definite possibility of apostasy for saints. Therefore, that idea is NOT being taught here, BUT Paul is emphasizing thanksgiving and a sense of what we all owe God.

Rom 14:10,13 – “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God..Therefore let us NOT pass judgment on one another any longer, BUT RATHER decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother”. Again, we must ask, Is Paul teaching that we cannot go to an unfaithful brother or sister to point out their sin, pray with them, and beg them to return to the Lord? Of course not because Matt 18:15-17, Luke 17:3, and Gal 6:1 tell Christians that is exactly what we are supposed to do. Romans 14 is all about principles of conscience, Christian liberty, and how to handle a situation when brethren disagree. The emphasis in these two verses is “BUT RATHER” avoid anything that would cause a brother to stumble.

I Pet 3:3-4 – “DO NOT let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – BUT let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious”. This one is the classic NOT/ BUT Bible passage. Some Christians and non Christians use these verses as authority on how a woman should or should not dress. Is Peter, who had a wife, saying that women should not wear nice clothes, wear makeup, fix their hair and present themselves attractively? Obviously not for these reasons: Esther, Rachel, and Sarah were said to be beautiful women. Rebekah was not only beautiful, but wore lots of gold and silver jewelry, and wore nice clothing. The worthy woman of Proverbs was dressed in scarlet, purple, and fine linen. The CONTRAST Peter is making is NOT about dresses or lipstick, BUT RATHER a hidden heart of gold and INNER BEAUTY. That is the beauty God is concerned with.

All these verses have one thing in common. They make CONTRASTS that DEEMPHAZE one thing and EMPHAZE another. Scriptures use NOT/BUT passages to teach us valuable lessons and principles just like Jesus used parables, Paul gave examples, and Peter wrote and spoke God’s commandments. Let us not be afraid of these verses and others like them, BUT RATHER learn from them.