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Reading into the Bible

December 28, 2012

I listened to a message at church the other day, and the preacher pointed out that when it comes to the Christmas story the Bible doesn’t actually tell us much. We tend to “read into” the story stuff that is not there. For example, when talking about Mary and Joseph returning to Bethlehem for the census, how many of us picture Mary riding on a donkey? That’s not actually in the Bible. We mentally picture Mary laying Jesus in the manger, surrounded by animals. Those animals are also not mentioned.

These are little things, but it got me wondering. Where else do we “read into” the text stuff that is not actually there? A good example is found from passages in Romans 8:29 and in Ephesians 1:5. People read these passages and then extrapolate that God “looked down the tunnel of time” and saw who would choose Him. Then, based on that information, God “chose us.” But the text doesn’t say any of that. Another example is from Isaiah 14:12. People who read the King James see the name “Lucifer” and immediately extrapolate from there that this passage is talking about Satan’s fall from heaven. But the Bible doesn’t actually say that. This passage is about the King of Babylon and has nothing to do with Satan. The more recent translations leave out the word “Lucifer” and translate the text more literally.

One more example is found in Hebrews 6:1-9. People read this and extrapolate that it is talking about Christians losing their salvation. However, when one carefully reads the verses, he or she will notice that verses 1-3 use the pronouns “us” and “we.” Verses 4-6 use the pronouns “they” and “them.” Verses 7-8 make an analogy. Then verse 9 shifts back to the pronoun “we” again. The text is telling us that if there is someone who claimed to be saved and came in and shared in the joy of the Lord and the peace and celebration, but then fell away, true Christians should not waste their time trying to bring them back into the Kingdom again. They were never truly saved to begin with. It should be pointed out that Judas Iscariot was one of the 12 that went out and performed healings when Jesus sent out the disciples. He clearly shared in the joy of the Lord and even performed miracles in Jesus’ name. But when he realized that Jesus was not going to overthrow the Roman Government he turned around and betrayed Jesus. No one bothered to try and bring him back into the fold again. He was clearly not saved.

The point here is that we are admonished to “rightly divide the word of truth” (see 2 Timothy 2:15). This means that we must always be careful to read exactly what the text says, and be careful not to insert into the text the things we assume it says, or things we have heard other people say it says, etc… We should all be like the Bereans from Acts 17:11, who listened to the preaching of the apostles and then went to examine the Scriptures to double check what they’d heard.  They did not just take someone’s word for it. They checked it out for themselves, and they were commended for it.

Reading the Bible daily is something that all Christians should do. And as they read their Bibles daily they must be careful not to add into the text things that aren’t there. Likewise they should not take out of the text things that are there.  The Bible is a unified whole, even though it was written by about 40 different people in different countries over a period of 1600 or more years. One Scripture should not be pulled out and used to make a point when there are other Scriptures that clarify the meaning of the one. The nature of the Bible is such that information is sprinkled everywhere. Good Bible interpretation rules say that one should use clear texts within the Bible to help clarify a less clear text within the Bible. To pull a couple of verses out to prove a point when other Scriptures clearly mitigate that meaning is not good Bible interpretation. This is why the only good practice is to read the entire Bible, and not just pieces and parts of it. It is impossible to rightly divide the Word when one knows only a portion of that word.

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