Could you be making one of these classic mistakes? Here’s 3 ways we can all get stupid answers from sacred Scripture

“Just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t make it biblical.”  (Iain W. Provan,  from my personal notes taken during Regent College lectures, Vancouver, Canada, 2002.)


 

Yep. That’s just so true.

How many times have people used Scripture to assert their stupid ideas? From the past nonsense of propping up slavery to the ultra-modern bias for supporting lavish lifestyles, we’re adept at claiming Bible support for crazy ideas.

How do we do this? By making these classic mistakes.

1. Ignore the context.

If you just narrow your focus and ignore everything else, you can make the Bible say pretty much anything you want.

Need a verse to support your idea for the future? You’ll find it.

lady-covering-ears
You can shut out everything else and hear only what you want.

Would Scripture be helpful in an argument with your boyfriend? Got that, too.

Need something to make you feel better about your resistance to change? Easy.

All you need to do is eliminate the larger story, ignore what’s going on around the chosen verse and you’re away to the races. People do it every day.

2. Make it all about you.

It’s not, you know. Not all about you, that is. We aren’t the main subject of the Bible. God is.

Narcissus-Caravaggio_(1594-96)_edited
Narcissus loses himself in his own image. We can, too. (Image from Wikipedia.)

Don’t get me wrong. The Bible has a ton to say about us. But it’s all about God, first. He’s both the author and the hero of the Bible, and we come to understand ourselves only in reference to him. As people created in God’s image, the more we come to know him the more we come to understand ourselves and what it means to really live. But God is first, not us.

If we default to ourselves first, we demand the Bible answer our questions rather than attending to Scripture’s main concern. We make our situation central, forcing the Bible to give into our demands and yield up the results we want. And that, my friends, is a sure-fire way to get bad answers from the Bible. If we push hard enough, the Bible will give us answers alright, but they might be dead wrong.

3. Rush your conclusion.

When we do look to the Bible for answers, we are often in a rush. We’re under pressure, needing to respond to a situation, frantic to just do something. Needing God’s support, we can rush to the Bible and snatch a conclusion that’s likely wrong.

You see, the Bible is not a quick-fix guide for whatever’s broken in our lives–it is God’s living Word to us, designed to reveal himself to us so we can align ourselves with him. Yes, the Bible gives us guidance. I happen to think the Bible is incredibly practical on many things, such as marriage, finances and addictions. But ultimately Scripture reveals Jesus to us so we can follow him and let him lead our lives; the helpfulness of Scripture supports the Spirit’s goal to help us follow Jesus.

If we come to the Bible determined to get answers by the end of coffee break, we may not only get stupid answers, we might miss the whole point of God’s Word–to mature us into people who look and love and lead more and more like Jesus every day. It’s only those who take time, over time, who really experience the guidance Scripture offers.

So let me ask you:

Which mistake have you been prone to make?

How can we prevent these classic errors?

 

God's Word

You Can’t Really Get the Bible All By Yourself

We can’t go it alone. 

If we want to understand the Bible and obey its teaching, we need each other.

Why? Because the Bible is a “community book”, from start to finish, written in communities, for communities.

First, it was written in communities of living, active faith in God. Paul attributes writing roles to members of his ministry team, such as Timothy and Silas. I imagine Paul reading aloud to his team, discussing what he was burdened by, hammering through how to say it best, and praying together for good reception (especially for some of the more difficult letters). Luke, the primary author of the Luke-Acts volumes, interviewed people and collected stories, producing a dynamic narrative. Other works in Scripture show community involvement. And, of course, the Holy Spirit was involved every step of the way!

And, secondly, everything was written for particular communities, whether we’re hearing the great Hebrew prophets, the Gospel writers, or the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Little clusters of the faithful in Babylon, growing groups in Rome, persecuted Christians in Pergamum, all received God’s Word for their communities, as a community. Most early Christians only ever heard God’s Word spoken, Paul’s letters read aloud, Gospel stories discussed while gathered together. Due to illiteracy, many never would read it for themselves. Hearing God’s Word read aloud and then prayerfully discovering what it means and how we can obey as a community is how Christians engaged Scripture for most of Christian history.

PerovVG_PervHristianKievGRM
First Christians in Kiev by Vasily Perov (Wikipedia)

The advent of the printing press, the rise of literacy and the proliferation of writing is a tremendous gift. But one effect this gift has had on Bible reading is to privatize it, relegating Scripture to the silent, mental sphere of individuals. Many Christians, if they read their Bibles at all, do it in silence, alone, with no one else present. And that’s where it stays! For most of our brothers and sisters from the past, that would be a very strange way to engage God’s Word!

Scripture was given to inspire faithfulness in God’s people as a people; to honor that intent, we must engage God’s Word in community, hearing it out loud, taking it in live. Silent reading, personal study, private reflection are all important–don’t hear me wrong. But private practices will always fall short, even misleading us, if they are not sustained within a larger context of community reading, study, reflection and obedience.

What does this mean? It’s pretty simple, actually. Read and study the Bible with other people as a regular part of your life. Don’t accept as normal (silent, private reading) what is really, truly weird. When we read together, not only will we stay more engaged, but others will, too, and together we’ll be able to understand and obey the Bible in ways we’d never be able to alone.

God’s Word was given to us, for us, with an emphasis on the “us”. If there’s no “us”, even in the practice of listening and obeying, then we’ll miss out on much of what God intends us to receive.

How has reading Scripture aloud with others helped you understand the Bible more?

Can you think of a time when obeying God’s Word was only possible because you were receiving it as a community?

 

 

 

 

Three Easy Steps to Start Reading the Bible

1. Get one.

2. Open it.

3. Start reading.

Okay, maybe a little more direction would be handy. But seriously, it doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. Oddly enough, though, we often make Bible reading more mysterious than it is, and then leave it on the shelf and never start reading.

My advice? Just start. You’ll be surprised at what you find.  A friend of mine recently started reading the Bible for the first time. Her discovery? The Bible is way more interesting than she expected it to be, the stories about Jesus intrigue her, and she is (surprise!) enjoying it. She is eager to continue.

That can be true for you, too.

Just Start Reading
Just Start Reading

Here’s three more steps you can take to enhance your Bible reading experience.

1. Start with a story about Jesus.  All Christians will agree that Jesus is the central figure of the Bible, so why not start with him? And you’ve got four options: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, located right at the beginning of the New Testament (see Table of Contents in any Bible). Extra tip: Use a modern translation, such as the New Living Translation (NLT) or the New International Version (NIV). It’ll be easier to understand than Grandma’s old King James Version.

2. Read a natural section and ask: What are these stories telling me about Jesus? And what do I think about what they are telling me about Jesus? Pay attention to how you respond to these Jesus stories. What intrigues you? What bugs you?

3. Find a good friend with whom you can discuss what you are reading. The Bible was never meant to be read alone. It was meant to be taken out in the daylight–read and discussed openly.

That’s it. Really.

Let me know what you discover.

PS. As a bonus, check out YouVersion, a great Bible App for your tablet or smart phone. You can even listen to some of the available translations, which is a great way of getting into the Bible.