“Don’t believe everything you read” Is a statement that can be applied to more than just the news on TV. Although news channels could perhaps be the best candidates for an explanation of this statement, as they seem to blatantly lie to their readers and listeners without regard on a regular basis. However, I want to encourage you to keep this statement in mind as well whenever you are reading a book, or listening to someone giving you their understanding of what the Bible is saying. One of the reasons this is so important, in my opinion, is that from my experience, false ideas or misunderstandings about God can often hold us back from getting to know Him personally. If I just read the book of Judges, or only portions of scripture that emphasize God’s anger, it would be easy to start believing that God is mostly angry at me. I’m no less of a human being than any of the Israelites, and God seemed to get angry at them a lot for messing up. So if I buy into this unbalanced view of who God is and what He is like it can hold me back from spending time with Him, because I don’t want to be around someone who is always angry at me and makes me feel like a complete failure and disappointment. So I thought I would write out a few of the keys that I think are important to remember whenever reading, or listening to someone else’s interpretation of scripture:
1: SCRIPTURE INTERPETS SCRIPTURE
If we find something in the Bible that rings true, that truth will be evident in other parts of scripture. And the overall understanding of that truth will come from other passages that correlate with that/those verse/verses. If we claim to find truth that is only evident in one small portion of scripture, and it is found nowhere else in the Bible, in my opinion that should raise some red flags. It doesn’t necessarily negate it, but it definitely brings it into question and requires much scrutiny.
2: CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT:
The Bible isn’t just one book; it is 66 books, with over 40 different authors, writing from different time periods. This is an amazing fact about the Bible that I think a lot of people don’t know, or don’t realize maybe how amazing it is. Along with it being an amazing truth and an amazing display of God’s sovereignty, it also means that we have to read it in that light. The original authors didn’t have their writings separated into chapters like our Bibles do today. This was done later to help with referencing. So a lot of chapters are actually connected to the chapter before, after or both. There are some verses in the Bible that seem to make very ‘case closed’ statements. These statements refer to a wide range of issues. When read on their own it can seem like their is no other way to take the verse. However, the context can often bring clarity to what the verse is really meaning. Sometimes the verse is referring to Jewish people, and speaking to their culture and without knowing that it could be easy to misread, or misinterpret the verse.
3: A REAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST AND THE REVEALING POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT:
Without this key we are all lost. For one, without a real relationship with Jesus Christ there is no eternal value in understanding scriptures and what the Bible is saying. I’m not saying the truth in the Bible isn’t valuable to non-believers; there are many people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ but still follow many of the instructions that are given in the Bible, i.e. the Ten Commandments, because it makes their lives more enjoyable. What I am saying is that the most valuable reward that comes from understanding the Bible is a relationship with Jesus Christ; it is after all the point of the Bible, to bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ here in this world, and one day forever in eternity. So many people I know, including myself at one point, get caught up becoming so knowledgeable about what the Bible says, and yet miss out on having a close relationship with Jesus Christ. The Pharisees were a good example of this; they studied and knew the scriptures more than anyone else in their day. They were much respected for their ‘knowledge’ of scripture and yet, when the Messiah the scriptures foretold about came, they didn’t recognize him “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me,”(John 5:39NIV) Along with a developing a close relationship with Jesus Christ comes the ability to listen to and discern His voice when the Holy Spirit speaks to you. Over time this ability grows stronger and we recognize His voice better and better. Without the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth in scripture to us we have to rely on ourselves. To actually believe that sinful human beings could interpret the scriptures accurately without revelation from the Holy Spirit is dangerous ground to walk on.
I want to end this post with an example of a verse that when read alone, and without context can easily be interpreted in such a way that has huge implications if interpreted wrong. “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”(John 5:24) Now I am not making this up. I have actually heard many good, God loving people, who, I don’t doubt, love Jesus and mean well, use this verse to prove the ‘once saved always saved’ doctrine. Now I don’t want to get into a debate with anyone over whether that doctrine is true or not, maybe in a later post I will share my opinion. But I just want to show how using just one verse isn’t sufficient to defend such a doctrine. The verse does say that “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged”. Now initially it seems fairly straight forward that, based on this verse, if you a)hear Jesus Christ’s words and, b) believe in God(the one who sent Jesus) you have eternal life and will not be judged. So far we agree on that, but to go from that, to, once you have heard and believed you can never lose your salvation is a huge leap in logic and un-defendable with this verse alone. If this verse really is saying that once you hear and believe you can never lose your salvation, what is the meaning of this verse? “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6 and who have fallen[a] away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”(Hebrews 6:4-6NIV). This verse clearly implies that people who have “tasted the heavenly gift” can “fall away”. And how do we make sense of this verse? “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”(2 Corinthians 13:5). Why do we have to test ourselves to determine whether we are in the faith? If all you have to do is hear the words of Jesus Christ and believe God who sent Him, what test can we fail? Maybe we are missing something right? Maybe it’s not just “saying” that you believe in God that grants you eternal life. Maybe you actually have to believe. How can you tell if you believe in God though? Maybe there is some sort of proof that will show that you really do believe. Proof called “fruit” maybe?
As I was proof reading this post I felt like it was important that I added a caveat here at the end, or a clarification. I am NOT SAYING that you have to be really smart to understand the meaning of scripture, or that you have to have lots of training to guard yourself from false doctrine etc. Not at all. I believe that God’s word was a gift to all of mankind, and that one of the amazing things about scripture is that it was made to speak to everyone. But when we truly accept the Bible as God’s Word there is a deep respect that accompanies that. And out of respect for God’s word it is important that we are not flippant about how we interpret it. On Core issues we must each wrestle personally with what the Bible says. We need develop a strong and deep relationship with Jesus Christ so that we can go to Him for guidance when we don’t understand something in His Word. The keys that I listed are not rules written in stone, they are just guidelines that have helped me a lot in my walk with Jesus Christ and so I want to share them with you so that maybe they will help you get closer to Jesus Christ.
Anyways, I hope this post will at least help you understand that it is extremely important to not just take someone else’s strong convictions and adopt them. Wrestle with them yourself. Some of them will be easier than others to discern. But I think the reason why God designed the Bible the way He did was, not so that we would avoid Him, but rather so that we would have to spend more and more time with Him.
As always, with love…