Bashing The Bible
or “Scripture Bashing”

by Graham Pockett

Scripture quoted is from the NIV Bible, not because it is ‘best’ but because it is in modern English. If in doubt, please read the quotations in various translations. You might like to read Why I Quote The NIV Bible.

I guess I have always been wrong. With my Protestant upbringing I never did agree with Catholics who venerate the Mother of Jesus, but I do believe in the inerrancy of the Bible which says “Blessed is the Mother of Jesus” so who am I to argue!

Most Protestants will scratch their heads at this and assume that I’m quoting from some special Catholic version of the Bible. I’m not! Reading from the NIV Bible in Luke 11:27 we find that it says:

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” [NIV]

Well, my quote was right! The Bible does say “Blessed is the Mother of Jesus”! Now let’s read the next verse (v28):

[Jesus] replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” [NIV]

A totally different connotation has been placed on the quote when we place it in context. Rather than being a supporting text for the veneration of Mary, it is really quite the opposite.

“They select a few seemingly appropriate texts and use it as justification.”

This is what I believe is wrong with some people who preach the Word (and I’m not just talking about Preachers). Well intentioned people flip through their Strong’s Concordance looking for supporting text for some viewpoint. They select a few seemingly appropriate texts – like the one I just mentioned – and use it as justification, as ‘proof’ of that viewpoint. However, many times they don’t place that quote in its proper context.

I’m reminded of the story of the elephant and the blindmen. It’s an ancient Hindu parable but true never-the-less. Last century, John Godfrey Saxe turned it into an amusing poem which starts:

    It was six men of Indostan
    To learning much inclined,
    Who went to see the Elephant
    (Though all of them were blind),
    That each by observation
    Might satisfy his mind.
         [Click here for the full poem.]
A shorter, more original version goes something like this:
    Once there was a poor Persian village where all were blind.
    One day a strange new creature called an elephant appeared at the village wall.
    Since no one in the village had ever heard of an elephant, the three wisest of the blind villagers went out to discover what the new creature was like.
    They all felt the creature.
    The first blind sage felt the tail and said, “This elephant is like a rope!”
    The second blind sage felt the leg and said, “No, it’s like a tree!”
    The third blind sage felt the side and said, “No, you fools, like a wall!”
They were all correct from their limited point of view, but all were totally wrong in their description of an elephant.

Christians often do this with the Word. Rather than look at the whole book, they narrow it down to single verses – looking at the individual leaves on trees and often not seeing the forest. It’s like picking up a single piece in a jigsaw and deducing the final image from that one tiny portion. The Bible is not just a series of verses but a complete manual.

The red square in this picture indicates the location of the jigsaw pieces.
(images from a ‘Globe Puzzles’ jigsaw)
The jigsaw pieces above tell you nothing about the “big picture”, in this case a photograph of Lake Wanaka in New Zealand.

By selecting single concepts out of the Bible and not looking at the Word in its entirety, we are abusing God’s Word.

By carefully selecting individual verses, you can prove anything. What is God? Is He a vengeful, petty god who pouts when He doesn’t get His own way and punishes people who don’t grovel at His feet? You could easily make that case by selecting verses and concepts out of the Word.

This is what a lot of non-Christians do – pick and choose the concepts they espouse. Oh, and Christians do it just as often – but in reverse. They ignore what doesn’t suit and only preach on verses which prove their point.

When reading the Word we must consider three things:

  • who is speaking?
  • who is being spoken to?
  • what is being said?
For example, look at Genesis 3:1-4 using the New International Version (NIV):
    1   Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
    2   The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,
    3   but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
    4   “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman.
Who is speaking in verse 1? It is the Devil. Who is he speaking to? It is Eve. What was he saying (verse 4)? He was lying to her in temptation: “You will not surely die”.

“It is therefore important to place all Scripture in its correct historical setting and to read it as it was meant to be read.”

We do not want to apply what the Devil tempted Eve with as applying to us. But if we chose to deliberately abuse or manipulate the Word of God we could make the (apparantly) correct statement that: “the Bible says that if you disobey God you will not die”!

It is therefore important to place all Scripture in its correct historical setting and to read it as it was meant to be read. For example, the book of Romans was written to Jewish believers in Rome. It quotes the Old Testament and talks about the Law and about ‘works’.

Romans 11:6 says “And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.

Many Jews considered that how they behaved and not what they believed was important, which was why Paul made this and similar statements. But comments like this have lead many Christians to deny that how we behave is important, calling any deliberate moderation of behavior “works” and therefore implying that Christians can behave in any way they like. The concept that Christians do not need to behave in certain ways is opposed in James 2:18-26 [NIV – emphasis mine] which says:

    18   But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
    19   You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.
    20   You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?
    21   Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?
    22   You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
    23   And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend.
    24   You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
    25   In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?
    26   As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Other books of the New Testament are written to non-Jews and therefore have a different emphasis. This is because the new Christian Gentiles had other problems.

The believers of Colosse had lost direction and had started borrowing from other religions. This is now called Gnosticism. The book of Colossians was written specifically for these people.

The book of Galatians was written to refute the teachings of the Judaizers – early Jewish converts who believed that Gentiles must submit to the Jewish Law.

1 Thessalonians was written to encourage the church at Thessalonica which was being persecuted. Part of that encouragement was to assure them of Christ’s return. However, Paul had to write 2 Thessalonians to counter the belief that Jesus’ return was imminent as church members had stopped working and were waiting for the Second Coming.

Paul wrote the book of Titus to advise the Greek pastor in his responsibility in supervising the churches on the island of Crete.

“The individual books of the Bible were written to specific groups about specific things.”

So each of these books were written for a specific purpose – and sometimes to a specific church or individual. While the instructions, encouragement and censoring can be used by others, they can give the wrong impression if the background to the books is not considered, specially when there is a concept presented which is not repeated elsewhere in the Word.

The Apostle Peter acknowledged that words could be misconstrued or deliberately distorted or abused. In 2 Peter 3:16 he wrote:

[Paul] writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

To an alcoholic you say “do not drink any alcohol under any circumstances at any time”, but this does not necessarily mean that it should be imposed on people who do not have a problem with alcohol. The instruction is specific to the circumstances. Likewise many individual books of the Bible were written to specific groups about specific things.

So while we are placing the Word in context, are ensuring that we aren’t just quoting verses to prove a viewpoint, and are being careful of who is speaking, who is being spoken to, and what is being said, we must also be aware of the new Will of God which supplanted the Law of the Old Testament.

This new Covenant was fulfilled in Christ. In Luke 16:16 Jesus says:

”The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.” [NIV]

So the end of John the Bapist’s ministry was the dividing point between the old Covenant and the new – between Old Testament Law and New Testament Grace.

“I try to ensure that I read 10 verses either side of a quote to place it fully in context.”

All Christians must therefore be on their guard not to abuse the Word of God. They should be diligent in recognizing this abuse and in not perpetrating this crime.

To help me I try to ensure that I read 10 verses either side of a quote to place it fully in context (remember the “Blessed is the Mother of Jesus” comment).

I try to always think about who is saying what and to whom. I also try and place teachings in their historical context.

Clearly it is important to place the entire Word of God in perspective. To select certain passages to the exclusion of the whole, to selectively use the Bible to prove a point, and to ignore the historical aspect of various books in the Bible is therefore wrong.

“We must be more like the Bereans and examine Scripture to see if what we are being taught is true.”

The Bible was not written to be understood by quoting snippets, but by reading the whole context. To do less is to potentially abuse the Word of God. In Acts 17:11 it says:

Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. [NIV]

We must be more like the Bereans and examine Scripture to see if what we are being taught is true. Likewise in John 8:31 Jesus says:

”If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

If you want to know the truth of the Scriptures – seek the real truth from the entire Bible, not just from selected passages.

I pray you have found this article interesting and I would be pleased to read any comments you may have. However, my workload is such that I may not be able to respond to all mail. Address any comments to Graham Pockett.

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This article was featured in the November 1999 edition of The Christian Online Magazine.

This article was featured in the September 2003 issue of Australia's Alive Magazine.

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Graham’s Christian writing:
"Graham Pockett doesn't mince any words, but he writes with a kind heart. If you have questions about such things as "once saved, always saved", or why so many different ideas can come from the same scripture, or how much what we see and do affects us as spiritual beings, you'll find much to think about here."  from This Christian Life
Graham Pockett
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    Last Updated: Thursday, February 14, 2019