Tuesday
Jul072009

Twisted Scripture

The apostle Paul told his readers in Ephesus that when they read his letters, they would be able to understand his insight into the mystery of Christ (3:4).

He was not, then, writing to obscure or obfuscate, but only to communicate. His objective was perspicacity, not perplexity.

When Peter commented upon his spiritual brother’s writings, however, he noted that they were often misinterpreted or abused (Second Peter 3:14-16).

 

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

 

People of ignorance and instability are the ones most prone to twisting scripture – altering its meaning and application in ways that either bind or loose where God has not. Even inspired apostles were told, “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18, NASB).

Scripture was God-breathed into the hearts and mouths of inspired people who preserved it in their writings (see Second Timothy 3:16). “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (Second Peter 1:20-21).

Because of the divine origin and eternal power of God’s word, it is imperative that people who labor in it do so with caution and respect. James is surely concerned with twisted scripture when he warns, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (3:1). Likewise, Peter says, “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (First Peter 4:11, NKJV).

Scripture is twisted, however, when the one working with it is either ignorantly unskilled or maliciously duplicitous. Some twist the scripture because they do not know any better; their ignorance, while not entirely forgivable, is at least correctible (see Acts 18:24-26). 

Others do violence to the faith on purpose, choosing to misinterpret God’s word because it is easier that way. They find themselves kicking against the goads of a wounded conscience, but they resist those pangs of guilt and convince themselves that it is all right.

Some twist the scriptures because of personal bias or loyalty, maybe to a sect or even to self. An honest interpretation would invalidate some choice and make for inconvenient changes and so the honest assessment is suppressed.

Others twist the scriptures because of greed. They desire interpretations that will feed the treasury or ensure a paycheck. Peter likened them to the false prophets of old – like the men in Jeremiah’s time who promised peace, peace, when there was no peace on the horizon (Second Peter 2:1-3).

 

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

 

Teachers twist scripture to prove pet doctrines and to win debates, snatching statements out of context and making inconsistent applications of certain truths. They are like the devil when he tempted Jesus, using Scripture against itself and making a mockery of the simplicity and clarity of God’s word (see Matthew 4:1-11).

Scripture is twisted both to bind and loose. The Pharisees, of course, interpreted many parts of the Law of Moses in excessively severe ways so that they bound where God had not. They considered themselves the essence of conservatism, but it is also liberalism that goes beyond God’s word to bind where he has not (see Second John 7-11). The early church used the issue of ritual circumcision to resolve this problem, but even at Rome, the same principles were in play where the Jewish saints sought to bind their diet and calendar upon Gentile converts to Jesus (see Acts 15, Romans 14).

Scripture is twisted to loose where God has not loosed when authority is discovered in divine silence for myriad missions and customs. God’s New Testament marriage law is judged to be too strict on its own and so modern men loosen it with a dozen different theories. The pattern of work and worship for the church excludes so many popular and prominent activities; couldn’t it be loosened just a bit? A pattern once loosened can never be restored again, save with great discomfort and regret.

When offered a morsel of twisted scripture, the disciple must simply stay hungry for truth – the milk and meat of God’s word that is pure and peaceable – and not settle for a pretzel of error and deceit.