This past week, I saw once again something that is very sad. The part that really saddens me is this, the one who did it knows better. However, no one is above doing it. In fact, there are many people who do it on a regular basis. Sometimes it is politicians, sometimes it is musicians, actors, or athletes. And sadly, sometimes it is a Christian who does it, or worse yet, a pastor. What I’m talking about is using the Bible, or more specifically, using a verse from the Bible in a wrong way to try and win an argument. It is not my intention here to wade into the murky political waters with this post. Rather, I simply want to warn all of us of the dangers of manipulating the Bible for our own purposes. The apostle Paul admonished his protégé, Timothy, to “study to show yourself approved, a workman unto God, one who does not need to be ashamed; rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). To “rightly divide” gives us the word picture of a surgeon taking a scalpel, and carefully making a straight cut. There are two forms of biblical interpretation. The first one is what we saw occur this week, and countless numbers of other times in the past. This form of interpretation reads into a verse something that may or may not be there. It typically occurs when someone goes to a random Bible verse, and simply quotes it to try to win an argument or persuade someone about something. One of the classic examples of this is Philippians 4:13 that says, “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me.” We see athletes and others quote this verse or write it somewhere that is visible. At face value, it seems harmless, good, and maybe even inspiring. However, by simply cutting that verse out of its context, you are manipulating the text and trying to force it to say something that it may in fact not actually say. The context of the passage is the apostle Paul talking about how God has taught him to be content in life whether he has a lot of things or he has nothing. The point of verse 13 is that Paul was saying it is God who gives him the strength and the ability to do what God wants him to do in spreading the Gospel. Later in that same passage God says, “but my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). Paul is trying to encourage the Philippian believers to trust God to provide for them, instead of believing it is up to them to figure their situation out. The second form of biblical interpretation pulls the meaning directly out of the text. It asks the question, what did this verse mean to its original audience. Once it has rightly understood the meaning, then you can ask the question, how does this apply to my life?
There are a couple of reasons why I wanted to address this here. First, I want to encourage you, if you see someone quoting a Bible verse in an effort to prove they are right or to win an argument; do yourself a favor and go read that verse and the verses surrounding it. By reading the verses around it, you will have a better chance at understanding the context of the verse used. Then, on the merits of the Bible, you can decide whether the person has a valid point or not. Second, if you are going to use the Bible to try and persuade someone, please do your due diligence in making sure that the verse you are quoting actually says and means what you say it says and means. I don’t want to come off too brash or rude here, but if you are too lazy to go and make sure you are using the Bible properly, it would be best if you left the Bible out of your argument. Because when you misquote or misuse Scripture, you not only make yourself look foolish; but worse, you defame God and do harm to the Gospel. Whether it is your intention or not, when we misuse Scripture we give rise to skepticism in non-believers about the truth of the Bible. We don’t want to be found as someone who is leading someone astray or causing someone to stumble, or worse, completely turn away from the Gospel. The best way to persuade someone of right and wrong is to use the Bible, but we must use it in love and make sure that we are “rightly dividing” the word of truth.