Does the Bible say what you think it says?

This is a double-edged question, applying to believers and unbelievers alike. People today have all kinds of funny ideas about what the Bible says, ideas that they did not get from the Bible.

For instance, I once read a letter to the editor in a daily newspaper by a lady who claimed that the Bible commanded husbands to beat their wives and gave directions on how to go about it. I have read the Bible from cover to cover a number of times, in both English and French, and there is nothing that could possibly be construed to say such a thing. Possibly she got confused with the holy book of some other religion, but the teaching of the Bible is for husbands to love and cherish their wives as their own bodies and to give themselves for their wives.

Many Christians believe that the Fourth Commandment teaches that we need to attend a worship service once a week. There is nothing in the Ten Commandments, or anywhere else in the Bible, that says any such thing. All Israelite males were expected to attend the three main festivals in Jerusalem each year. Synagogues did not exist in the period covered by the Old Testament, thus there are no instructions at all in the Bible about weekly worship. (There is a verse in Psalms that says “they have destroyed all our synagogues.” Synagogue is a Greek word and does not appear in the original Hebrew text. Perhaps the translators got it right, but in this case I rather doubt it.) We worship once a week because we want to, not because the Bible tells us we have to.

The cure for all such misunderstandings is to actually read the Bible, not a verse or two here and a verse or two there, but the whole thing. That may sound like a tall order, but it is the only way to get the full picture of what the Bible is all about. If it sounds like too formidable a task to start at the beginning and read through to the end, then read a book from the Old Testament and then a book from the New Testament, with the goal of eventually covering the whole Bible.

The Bible should be read in bite-sized chunks so that you can absorb what you have read. A chapter at a time, or less for the really long chapters. That will take about four years to get through the whole book.

The more you read the Bible, the more you understand how it all is linked together and interprets itself. Context is the key to understanding the Bible. Trying to understand a verse, or a group of verses, apart from their context, is a recipe for misunderstanding.

A doctrinal scenario that relies on “rightly dividing the word of truth” should not be trusted. You can make the Bible say all kinds of weird and wonderful things when you cut it into little pieces and reassemble it according to such a scheme. If the Bible was supposed to be understood in that way it would have been written that way.

The apostle Paul’s instruction about “rightly dividing the word” should be considered together with the apostle Peter’s warning about those who wrest the Scripture to their own destruction. Wrest means to twist or tear apart. Rightly dividing means to deal uprightly. An honest approach to the Bible will uncover the rich treasures that it contains; the more we read, the more we will discover.

2 thoughts on “Does the Bible say what you think it says?

  1. Context is everything! I seldom read less than a chapter, I might compare it to other parts of the Bible hat contain the same events, or look in my parralel Bible at other translations, or search the Greek and Hebrew, by my first reading while it might strike me anew as Scripture often does – I am careful to test that spirit!

  2. Exactly. I refer to commentaries and Bible dictionaries, but more for context than interpretation. It can be helpful to refer to the meaning of the original Greek or Hebrew word, but I don’t ever want to pretend that this makes me an expert on those languages.

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