Some newspapers place old pictures of some business or place of interest in an area for people to see if they can recognize the scene in the picture. It is usually done as some kind of contest to see how many will recognize it. Most of the time I can look at the picture and think to myself, I know I’ve seen that before, but most of the time can’t figure out where it is. It reminds of someone making some quote and attributing it to the Bible. Think of some of the things you’ve heard people say are in the Bible but aren’t there. Here is a list of some I’ve heard recently. Does the Bible say, “Honesty is the best policy”, “All we have to fear is fear itself,” “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” “All people are created equal,” “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” “All you have to do to be saved is say the sinner’s prayer,” “All you have to do is believe to be saved,” and “The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
Now I think it would be an excellent use of one’s time to search through the Bible to try to find these and other things that people say are in the Bible. In the words of longtime preacher of the gospel, Marshal Keeble, “Look for this in the gospel accounts if you don’t find it there, you will find a whole lot of things that will help you live better.” It often seems that any quote we think of and can’t remember where we heard the quote, we attribute to the Bible. Often people have doubts about things they think the Bible says that it doesn’t say at all. It is wise always to take anything that is attributed to the Bible with a grain of salt until I am certain that it is actually there.
While it is a serious matter for one to say something comes from the Bible that doesn’t, I do believe there is a more serious problem with regard to Scripture. It is the problem of taking something out of the Bible and using it to teach something that the text wasn’t referring to at all. Often people pull a phrase out of its context and use it to make some point that they feel strongly about but it is a gross misuse of Scripture. I remember going to a funeral a few years ago and hearing the preacher quote from the Book of Job. The quote was, “All that a man has will he give in exchange for his life.” He quoted the statement as though it was a quote from God. But if one goes back to the second chapter of Job they will find the quote. The one who said it was Satan in his argument with God about Job. He was making the accusation that if God would just allow him to touch Job’s body he would curse the Lord to his face. When quoting from the Bible it is important that we ask the question, “Who is speaking?” Sometimes the Bible is giving an inspired record of uninspired statements. Job is quoting Satan correctly but is not warranting that what he said was right. It was a completely false view of mankind. Another that I’ve heard time and again is to quote a statement made in John 9:31 where it says, “We know that the Lord doesn’t hear sinners but if anyone is a worshiper of God, God will hear him.” Is the quote right? It is in that text and this is an accurate translation of the statement. But it was the blind man who had been given sight who was making the statement. His assessment may or may not be accurate, but it isn’t authoritative either way. It isn’t a statement from the Lord but from the man who had been healed who at this point didn’t even have a correct view of the Lord.
Another example of a misuse of Scripture is to quote a statement from the Lord or an inspired person but take it out of the context and apply it in a way that was never intended in the text. A classic example of this is a quote from 2 Peter 1:20-21. It says, “First of all, you should know this: no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, moved by the Holy Spirit, men spoke from God.” The part of this that is often quoted is “No prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation.” The application has been to say that no one can privately interpret Scripture. It is usually made to tell people they can’t just read the Bible for themselves and know what it is saying. We need some preacher, priest or spiritual authority to tell them what they should believe. The sentiment is wrong and the text is being abused. Peter went on to explain what he meant by pointing out that inspired men didn’t just come up with what they wrote on their own or out of their own imagination. They spoke as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. One of the most important points of Scripture is that we all have the right to study and interpret Scripture for ourselves. Certainly those who are trained in study, who have studied the original languages of Scripture can be helpful to others in understanding the Bible. But there is nothing more common that such authorities having very different opinions on what the Bible says.
Every person will face the judgment of the Lord so we should take personally the need to study and understand the Bible for ourselves and apply it to our lives to be certain we are right with God. One of the marks of Scripture is that the more important a point and the more it has to do with our salvation, the clearer the teaching. The less it has to do with our salvation and godly living, the more difficult the teaching.
Make certain that when you hear someone quote the Bible to ask, “Does it really say that?” Then ask if it is in the Bible, “Does the quote come from God or an inspired person?” Then ask if it is in the Bible and is from an inspired person, “Is it being used in a way that is in harmony with the context and application of Scripture?” It may well keep us from believing something that may lead us completely astray from God’s will.