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This question really hits home with me right now because of a very controversial cult-like and destructive church that is located in our region. Like most cults, it twists Scripture and the teachings of great Christian pastors in order to intimidate and terrify its members into obedience. It does not offer freedom in Christ, but emotional, social, financial, and spiritual slavery. Most cults are like this. While their teachings may SOUND very good and may be full of Bible verses, their doctrine is often built on the misuse of Scripture and the cunning words of false teachers who deceive those without a strong Biblical foundation. These cults are not innocent. They cost people their souls and sometimes their physical lives as well. The Bible is quite a large book and it’s not always easy to understand. It contains stories about man’s sinful behavior and about events that took place long ago, as well as poems, songs, wisdom literature, prophecy, and letters. There are lots of idioms and places in Scripture where the author used terms and figures of speech that were familiar to people of his time, but which might be unknown to many of us today. Even the best of scholars disagree sometimes. We’re also human beings. We have deep emotional needs, and we come to the Bible with our childhood teachings, life experiences, biases, and a lot of preconceptions. With all this in mind, it’s not surprising that people can easily pick out a certain verse in the Bible and twist it to mean something completely different from the author’s original intent. Sometimes this happens because a teacher/pastor is trying to deceive others intentionally, as Satan did when he confronted Our Lord in the wilderness. It’s not hard for a cunning and intelligent cult-leader to know what his/her people what to hear. Satan may also completely deceive a false teacher so that the teacher believes the lie he is spreading. Sometimes it’s because a person deeply WANTS a certain doctrine or belief- such as the promise of Earthly health or wealth- to be true. In other cases, it’s simply because a person has not really studied all of scripture and he latches on to the first verse he reads that sounds good or that makes him feel better about himself. Sometimes, lack of Biblical cultural information can case Scripture to be misunderstood. In one case, I heard a pastor preach about how the the story of the ewe lamb (2 Sam 12) "wouldn't have been true because no one at that time would keep a lamb as a pet." This pastor's opinion was flawed simply because he wasn't familiar with the immense value that a young female animal has to a poor farmer in an agrarian society. Common examples of scripture out of context include: Believing that God-the-Father has a physical body since the Bible speaks of His hands, face, back, and even wings. Taking Old Testament customs, promises, and/or rules and curses and applying them to modern Christians without careful study to see if these still apply. Taking a verse from the Psalms or one event from Acts and creating an entire doctrine around it. Believing that God approves of a certain ancient custom or even a sin because it’s described in a Bible story. For example, a person may come to believe that polygamy is okay for modern Christians since the Jewish Patriarchs practiced it. Allowing one of God’s attributes to completely eclipse another of His attributes. We see this a lot with characteristics such as love, mercy, justice, and wrath. To some people, God is nothing more than a benevolent grandfather who can be manipulated and will never judge anyone. To others God is a figure of terror, ready to send them to Hell for the slightest misstep. Neither exaggeration is correct. We’re all still learning and growing, and we need to sincerely pray every time we take up the Bible for study that God will guide us into truth.
Context is abused in at least two ways: 1) Ignoring context. That is, misusing the words or phrases by interpreting them in ways never intended by the writer. 2) Imposing a different context. Theologians call this eisegesis (as opposed to exegesis). This involves having an idea not present originally and forcing the text to say say it. These two methods can both be done at the same time or not. And there are certainly others I have not mentioned. There are also many kinds of word fallacies. This happens when a person attaches the wrong definition to either the original word or the translated word so that the scripture is made to say something different than what it should.
We are challenged constantly in the Church because there are many teachings that abuse the Bible contexts and lead many into error. To understand why a book was written and to whom the writer was addressing is so important. To know what is the main theme of the book and to what end it was written is very important. Jesus promised that if a believer was willing to do the will of Christ he would be sure what doctrine is from God or false. John 7:17. We also have the Holy Spirit to help us understand and apply the Bible truths in their correct context. Sadly I have seen elaborate explanations that build false claims regarding the most basic of Scriptures. Recently I chatted with a man who believed only those people having connection to the “Nation of Israel” belong to God. He would refute my interpretation of the book of Hebrews by saying “Who was the Book of Hebrews written to?” He went on to imply that I could never understand the book because It was written to Jews. I asked him how could an Australian understand the book of Romans and he changed the subject. Another person trying to deny the The Trinity said he did not accept the all of the common Bible as genuine. He had thrown out the book of John and the book of Hebrews and the reason he did it because they have sound doctrine on the Trinity. What is definite is that the Bible cannot contradict itself but everything in it is Inspired by God. The most important thing in understanding context is that the one studying the Bible should be honest about truths and if they seem to contradict each other, one should patiently wait for the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth concerning a doctrine. The student when finding scriptures contrary to popular doctrines should pursue that truth not hide from it, jump over it, or distort the context related to it. Honesty is the essential virtue when approaching the Bible. One of the doctrines of John Calvin concerning the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is commonly believed by many scholars. They teach that “not believing” is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Here is a classic case of abusing context. The Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit has a simple explanation when studying the context properly. Matt 12:30-32, Mark 3:22-30, Luke 11:14-26. It was a common thought among the religious enemies of Christ that Jesus’ power came from a devil. He was actually accused of having a devil John 10:20. “Many of them said He has a devil” link that with Mark 3:28, Mark 3:29, Mark 3:30, and you see that the Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit was to call the Holy Spirit in Christ a devil. So to imply that the sin of unbelief can never be forgiven we look at where it is can be forgiven. Romans 11:23 shows that if they choose to abandon their unbelief they will become a part of the Church. On the other hand the Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven in this life or the next. So Calvin’s teaching is a gross abuse of context and why he took the meaning so far away from it’s true context God only knows. There is another common doctrine that is an abuse of context and we can use these to illustrate just how some teachers put their own ideas into a scripture to make it mean something not taught in the Scriptures. This scripture is quoted in relation to a “Cessation Theory” 1Corinthians 13:8-13. Basically the doctrine teaches that the completed Bible is spoken of as “the Perfect”. So to check the doctrine and the context properly we look a little more closely. What is certain in the context is that prophecy, the gift of tongues, and knowledge shall pass away. 1Corinthians 13:8. So when do these gifts cease? By looking at the context you can say prophecy, and the gift of tongues will cease to operate at the same time as knowledge will be done away with. This did not happen with the coming of the Bible. The knowledge both of God and technology continues to increase so the gifts remain relevant.
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