Sunday, August 19, 2007

Never read a Bible verse

There is no God. The Bible says so in Psalm 14:1.

Oh, you say that it says, “The fool says … there is no God.” Does that make a difference? Of course it does. You can’t rip something out of context and make it say whatever you want it to say.

And yet Christians do it all the time.

Oh, they don’t rip phrases out of verses like I did above. What they usually do it rip verses out of passages, and the same kind of error can occur.

This one is a personal favorite. People like to quote Jesus’ saying, “I, when I am lifted up … will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). This is used to show that when we worship Jesus, it will draw people to Him. Singing can become evangelism! Only that’s not what Jesus was saying.


“But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

The crowd spoke up, "We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'?” (
John 12:32-34)
Clearly, Jesus is talking about His pending crucifixion, not worship, and yet even Charles Spurgeon took this verse, out of context, to refer to worship.

Skeptics do this frequently. When you come across a list of Bible “contradictions” or passages that “don’t make sense,” you can bet that 90% of them are simply taken out of context. Which leads me to my reason for bringing this up: Here are two rules for dealing with Bible verses.

First: When non-Christians throw a verse at you as a contradiction or other Bible difficulty, look at it in context. That will almost always clear things up.

Second: When Christians quote a verse to you (in text or verbally), look at it in context.

If those two rules sound similar, well, they are. So let’s boil it down into one simple rule:

Never read a Bible verse. Always read at least a paragraph.

And if you catch your pastor misquoting a lot, bring it up – gently.

(Note: I’m not saying never quote a Bible verse. It’s just not practical to quote large chunks of Scripture when you only need a sentence. But take every care that you quote a verse consistent with its context, and expect your readers/audience to read it in context later.)


For more on this topic, Stand to Reason’s president Greg Koukl has written a good bit. Here’s a link to a free article on their website: Never read a Bible verse. They also have some more in-depth resources you can purchase.

4 comments:

danny wright said...

I've spent a lot of time with JW's and found it helpful to always follow this rule. They can throw some very difficult hard balls from scripture, but when you take the time to read it in context, many times it clears right up; for you both even, if that were possible.

ChrisB said...

I learned this hanging out with atheists and other skeptics. I like the way STR phrases it, though. It kind of gets the attention.

I'm glad you're getting to shed some light on the JWs. They have a mystical ability to come when I'm not home. I've thought about setting snares :)

righteousness first said...

I sometimes feel that liberals do this. They often quote verses about God's love and Jesus' love, but they forget to mention the need for doctrinal purity. Do you think it's okay for them just to quote Jesus' love?

ChrisB said...

Hi, righteousness first, thanks for stopping by.

I understand what you're saying. It's not exactly the same thing -- this doesn't necessarily involve taking a verse or passage out of context -- but it is a problem.

Of course, it's not just liberals. Lots of people (maybe even all of us at one time or another) will focus on one doctrine or biblical truth to the exclusion of something else.

Some time back I realized that I was focusing on God's holiness and sovereignty to such an extent that I was losing sight of His lovingkindness. That's no healthier than focusing on His love. It's something we all have to be careful of.