Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Using Satan's Glasses To Interpret Scripture

Everyone is a bible interpreter. If you have ever quoted a verse or referenced something Jesus said, you are doing interpretation. The question is not whether we are bible interpreters, it is whether we are good interpreters.

Bible interpretation is the discipline known as hermeneutics. There is a right way of doing interpretation and a wrong way of doing interpretation. There are hermeneutic rules such as 1. always interpret Scripture with Scripture and 2. interpret Scripture in its proper context, and the often forgotten task 3. look for authorial intent. These and other principles are guidelines and guardrails to prevent the Wild Wild West of bible interpretation (see more on that here).  

The Devil's Interpretation

The danger I want to warn us of, is reading the Bible like Satan. Satan knows the Bible. He likely has more verses memorized than you do, and me for that matter. Yet this does not mean that Satan rightly or correctly interprets Scripture. We saw Satan distort God's words in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3. God said one thing, Satan said something completely different.  Man becomes the victim.

But perhaps the most clear example is found in Matthew 4. In Matthew 4 Jesus has just been baptized and is led into the wilderness by the Spirit. There he will be tempted and tried. Satan appears to Jesus after he has gone 40 days and nights without food. He comes and challenges Jesus to turn stones into bread. Jesus doesn't go for it. But then Satan moves to his next temptation, but this time he uses Scripture. In Matthew 4:6 Satan says to Jesus as they stand at the pinnacle of the temple, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'"

Well there you have it, I guess Jesus has to jump. After all, Satan has shown from Scripture (Ps. 91:11-12) that Jesus should jump because angels will be there and will keep him from striking his foot. But Jesus doesn't jump. Instead, Jesus counters Satan's use of Scripture with another passage (Deut. 6:16), "Again it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'" In other words, Jesus interprets Scripture with Scripture when he tells Satan he's not jumping off the temple. He shows that Satan's conclusions are invalid, because the passage is not quoted in context. Jesus exhibits here how Bible interpretation should be done. 

Don't Use the Bible Like Satan

Unfortunately, many people today don't take heed to this example. Instead, countless thousands pluck Bible verses kicking and screaming out of their contexts to make or prove any point. However, this is not permissible. We don't have the option of using Scripture any ole' way we want. 

One of the ways I have seen this developing in our culture is the use of passages like 1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John 4:8. In this former passage, we see Paul outline the way of love in the Christian life. He speaks to how love must accompany all of our actions. In the latter passage, we see John declare that anyone who does not love is not from God, because God is love. So these two passages, and a few others, are often tossed out in public square conversations, even in Christian-to-Christian conversation, to negate speaking out against sinful actions. These passages are used as an attempt to muzzle into silence a Christian who is speaking out against sin. The often heard retort is, "Well, I know you are saying that X is wrong, but the Bible also says that God is love, so I just think we should focus on loving people." Now don't get me wrong, loving people is important, but what that statement attempted to do is produce an action - in this case, silencing the believer who is vocalizing the sinfulness of an action - by using other passages of Scripture. Does this look familiar?

The Bible exhorts believers to stand for the truth. Interestingly, Jesus, the most loving of all humans to ever live, had no problem calling out sin. Yes, he loved people and was merciful, but he did not tap-dance around the issues of the day in order to win the crowds affections. Another fascinating part of this is the reality that the verses used from Paul (1 Corinthians 13) and John (1 John 4:8) come from guys who do the very thing (call out sin) that those who cite their verses are trying to urge against. For example, John, the same John who wrote that God is love, is also the same guy who wrote in the same book(!) the words of 1 John 1:6 "If we say we have fellowship with him (God) while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth." Or consider this doozy in 1 John 3:6 "No one who abides in him (God) keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him." As you can see, to use verses from these guys to promote this idea that we should not speak out against sin, is to be deceptively selective in choosing verses, because they do the very thing you are using them to silence others from doing.

It is not loving to remain silent when people are sinning their way straight to hell. It is neither loving or noble to silence believers who are daring to show courage in the face of a culture and church that are not. Yes, believers should be tactful and wise as serpents and gentle as doves in the way they approach speaking out against sin. But when believers are quoting Scripture to other believers to produce an action that the particular passage doesn't warrant, it's wrong. By the way, this is how the Devil does Bible interpretation. It is time Christians stop using Satan's glasses to read Scripture.

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1 comment:

  1. Good read...thanks for bringing this to light for others to consider when they are explaining Scriptures to others...