Jan 092021 0 Responses

How Americans Often Read Scripture Incorrectly

We must read, but we also must read correctly. Biblical illiteracy among the American church has long been discussed. Yet even when Scripture is read, it is often read incorrectly. Either because we fail to take the time to understand what is being said or personal biases cloud our thinking, we often struggle to allow the text to speak for itself.

Here are three common ways we misread the texts. Recognize these three and you are more likely to understand to the Bible the next time you read it.

1. We ignore context. The most obvious way to misuse Scripture is to take a singular verse out of the context of its passage and apply it in a way that completely contradicts what it was actually saying. This is the greatest temptation of our day primarily because we read verses instead of chapters. Rather than taking in the full context of a passage, we attempt to quickly get something meaningful by seeking a single verse. The problem is that we can’t truly understand a verse unless we know the context in which it was written. Every word of the Bible was written by a specific author, to a specific audience, at a specific time, and with specific intent. While there are many applications to a single Scripture, there are not many rightful interpretations of that Scripture. We must first understand what the text meant to its original hearers before we can apply it to our lives. (See: More Pages, Less Instagram Verses)

Example: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” Philippians 4.13. This is a great verse. Yet, this verse is often taken out of its original context and used to convince people that they can do anything they put their mind to. The idea is promoted that as long as we are trusting Jesus, we should have success in every venture. But what is the actual context? The previous verse in Philippians 4 talks about Paul knowing what it is like to live in plenty and to live in want. He had been very poor and very rich, but in all circumstances, he had learned to become content because of Jesus. “I can do all things” primarily means he can live in all situations and still have peace because of Jesus. Philippians 4.13 is often used by sports teams and it is a great verse for teams, but just not in the way they expect. A true application of the verse would mean whether they win or lose, whether they excel or fail, they can accept both outcomes and give God glory in both circumstances because they can “do all things through Christ.”

2. We overemphasize America. I love my country. From a very young age, we rightly teach our children to love America and her values. But if we aren’t careful, Christians can conflate patriotism and faith. As we attempt to love Jesus and America, we can lose sight of the difference between Israel and America. It has long been a temptation of Americans to read America into the Biblical story. Even though we are never mentioned, we assume great promises are about us. The most common way to do this is to subtly assume that America is modern-day Israel. It’s not. While it can be fairly debated if God still has a plan for the nation of Israel or if the Church has taken her place, it can’t be debated that America is not Israel and promises made to Israel should not be applied to America. (See: Friends Don’t Let Friends Misquote the Bible)

Example: “If my people who are called by name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land,” 2 Chronicles 7.14. This verse has long been used as a promise to America. While we are right in calling ourselves and our nation to repentance, this verse does not apply to America. There is no promise that if the American Church will humble itself and pray, God will heal our land. We should pray. We should repent. But we should not assume this verse written about the nation of Israel applies equally to America.

3. We assume singular and ignore plural. In almost all situations, our first reading of Scripture is from the perspective of an individual. We continually remember that God loves me. Jesus died for me. He wants to have a relationship with me. And while those things are true, the individual application of Scripture should be considered as a secondary reading far more often than a primary one. The overwhelming majority of commands in Scripture are not primarily given to individuals but are written to the community. This should remind us of the importance of the Church and the church. It should cause us to consider application both in a corporate context and an individual one. We should assume every “you” in Scripture is plural unless the context proves otherwise. (See: A Simple Trick to Understand the Bible)

Example: “Abide in me and I in you,” John 15.4. Without consideration, everyone would read this verse in a singular context. Jesus tells me to abide in him. Yet the “you” is not a singular you, but is written in the plural. Southern Jesus would say, “Abide in me and I in y’all.” Nearly every “you” in John 15 is plural (y’all). While we are right to individually abide in Jesus, we must first consider how we as the community of believers abide in him.

What is a passage of Scripture which you have seen others apply incorrectly?

What passages of Scripture have you been reading incorrectly?

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