Have you ever heard two people on opposite sides both quote the Bible for support? If so, then this is why it is important to get what the Bible says right.
Using the Bible without understanding the character of God and the context of the Scripture will create problems which lead us astray by creating pretexts of misunderstandings and poor application to our lives.
Therefore Bible schools or seminaries require students to take a class regarding “textual criticism” on the Bible. This allows the study of the original wording and meaning tied to the culture within the time it was written. So criticism isn’t about harshly condemning, but bringing discernment and clarity into our study and use of God’s Word.
However, for some Christians, anything perceived as criticism of the Bible is immediately denounced and thrust aside. It’s as if they quote the Bible without a willingness to see if it is within the context of the meaning and the character of God.
Author and apologist Josh McDowell said, “Almost all Christian kids and adults I meet say they know what is wrong and what is right, but I almost never find anyone, including pastors, who can explain to me why it is wrong or right.” McDowell shared these and other thoughts in this article.
Instead, it becomes their divine rulebook without a connection to its Author. That is, they believe that “the Bible says” can be the answer for any dilemma, for moral guidance, and for Christian living.
McDowell warns, “If your only answer [to moral questions] is ‘the Bible says,’ or ‘the Bible says thou shall not,’ you’re teaching legalism.”
Instead, the Bible is meant not to lay down the law on its own authority, but to lead us to know God, His will, and Him as the author of those laws.
“Absolutely nothing is right or wrong because of the Bible, but because of the God of the Bible. The Bible was given that we might know God. We learn morality to understand the character of God,” McDowell says.
Without knowing the Creator who authored the Bible, we come dangerously close to being like the Pharisees and Scribes who Jesus condemns.
Without a solid understanding of the character of God, to which the interpretation of the whole Bible points and by which it can be held together, it is easy to take the words of the Bible out of context with the belief that they support the view you want to see supported.
For example, McDowell described, faithfulness is moral because God is moral. Justice is moral because God is just. Lying is immoral because God is truth. The Bible reveals these attributes of God and the morality of practicing them in Christian living.
The fact of the matter is, simply quoting words from the Bible does not make anything true or false, just or unjust, Christian or non-Christian.
As Ravi Zacharias said in a sermon at Woodstock Baptist Church in July, “Quoting Scripture doesn’t make your argument right. Even Satan quoted scripture trying to tempt Jesus...[a]nytime you take a text out of context you will use it as a pretext. As an excuse rather than a legitimate entailment of what it is you actually believe.”
Instead, the Bible comprehensively teaches us about the nature of God as a whole. Our arguments and beliefs, drawing on the Bible, must always support the overall equation that the Bible teaches us about Who is the God of the Bible and what He is like.
Therefore start with properly understanding Scripture so a proper understanding of God can be formed.
“If someone gets the text of Scripture wrong, it definitely impacts the view of God or salvation, and the way of doing evangelism and living the Christian life,” said New Testament scholar David Croteau, author of Urban Legends of the New Testament. His book shares common misinterpretations of Scriptural passages and adds pointers on how to better understand and study the Bible.
For instance, Croteau advises simple steps to ensure reading the Bible in a way that properly applies context:
▶ “Never read a single Bible verse; always read the paragraph, chapter, or section under each heading.
▶ “Don’t read the section just once or twice; read four or five times, over and over, day after day.
▶ “Don’t read everything the same way; rules for interpreting the Gospels are different than rules for epistles or Old Testament narratives.
▶ “Use excellent resources and study tools; Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary is free at mywsb.com, bible.org has free study tools, and Journey into God’s Word instructs on biblical interpretation.”
“I hope people take misconceptions about what the Bible says – their ‘I thought the Bible said this or that’ – and come to the conviction that the Bible is clear and can’t be made to mean anything you want,” Croteau told AFA Journal in a January 2016 article.
“But you can get it right and have high confidence in understanding the Bible.”
When you add this to your study you will be applying Scripture to your life with discernment (2 Timothy 2:15, 3:16) so we may better hear as in the parable (Matthew 25:14-30), “Well done my good and faithful servant!” and you will know what Jesus said in John 5:39 in that all of Scripture bears witness about Him.