It’s hard for some people to hear that, it’s even harder for them to say. I daresay that many of the people that read my blog would tend to agree that the Bible is in fact great. Unfortunately, the Bible is one of the most misunderstood books ever written (which is odd considering it is the all-time best-seller).
People are fine with their limited knowledge of the Bible (what it says and what it means) and are perfectly happy taking verses out of context and using them to their own ends (usually to make themselves feel good and others feel bad). For instance, there are passages that people (usually preachers) use to get you to give money to them, make you feel guilt and shame for all you’ve done wrong, and passages that make you afraid of God – not healthy reverent fear, but cowering in a corner, afraid of being struck by lightning bolts fear.
Things we take for granted as we read the Bible cause us to not perceive it correctly. What covenant are they in? What religion are they (pre-Jewish, Jewish, post-Jewish, Christian)? Have they been that religion long? What religion were their parents? Their great-great-grandparents (and everyone in between)? What was their culture like? Are they new converts? What was happening in the religions of others around them? What time did this happen? What geographic region did this take place? (Not to mention, are we reading it through the lens of what someone told us it should mean?)
As an American I can say that we think everything is about us. For instance, “If it’s in the Bible it’s about Christianity.” Or, If it’s talking about the holy land or promised land (or any reference to Israeli land), it’s either talking about America (where we are) or Heaven (where we’re going).
My personal favorite, “Everything in the Bible is applicable to Christians now,” couldn’t be farther from the truth. Although it is not irrelevant, what was said and done under a different covenant is rarely applicable!
Wait. Does that mean we don’t read the OT? Should we just rip them out of our Bibles? Absolutely not! There is much value in it, much we can learn from those who went before us in the faith. but if we don’t read it with “Jesus lenses,” we will miss out on a lot of what is going on. If we read it as if it were happening right here, right now, we will miss the depth of it and we won’t grasp what was really happening (or why).
Similarly, we can’t assume everything Paul said in his letters to the various churches he planted and/or oversaw are to us. He was writing to churches full of Pagan converts. He had to keep reminding them about proper order and worship. He had to tell them what they should and should not do. These writings, quite often, are applicable to us, but often contained things that don’t translate well without knowledge of who the letter was written to, what was going on in their culture, what their previous religion was (and what its beliefs and rituals were), etc. Paul knew these things and spoke about them without clarifying it to us… Because it was not to us! He didn’t know it would be considered scripture one day. To him, it was just a letter!
Jesus’ teachings get twisted very easily, too. Jesus was a Jew, teaching Jews how to see God (for who He really was) within the OT. To those who followed Him, He taught Kingdom practices and principles. He did miracles and talked about things in a way that no one had ever heard. But people will still take Jesus’ words and use them to put people in religious bondage, telling them to keep the Law, give all their possessions away, turn their back on their family and friends, use a whip, turn over tables… And don’t even get me started on the twisted teaching that people extrapolate from the book of Revelation!
I honestly can’t think of anyone more misrepresented by his/her followers in history than Jesus. And it all starts with a mistranslation, a misinterpretation, or something taken out of context. Then, BAM! The next thing you know we have roughly 40,000 denominations with a similar, yet different, message. We have division instead of unity.
One very cool thing about the Bible is that I can read the same chapter 20 times and get a little something different every time. However, I need to make sure that what I am taking away from it is in line with the core message and that it fits the narrative. The Gospel that Jesus preached has to be as true to us as it was to the pioneers of our religion, even as true as it was to Abraham. It has to be as true for the Jew and the Gentile, male and female, the free man and the slave. It has to be not only true to white Conservative American Evangelicals but also to black African babies without food and clean water.
The Bible is not a get rich quick scheme, it’s not a field guide for warfare, it’s not 101 ways to manipulate people – although it has been used for all of these.
The Bible is the story of God trying to get people to realize He loves them. It’s a history of relationships (some good, some bad). It’s a chronicle of what man has done to appease God, and what God has done to reconcile Himself to man. If this is not how you’re using your Bible, you’re doing it wrong.