“Let’s ask the Bible a question, flip it open, and point to a verse!” said one of my church friends. Humored, the group agreed.
One young mom wondered if she would have a second child. She opened her Bible, her finger landing on Obadiah 1:17, “But on Mount Zion will be deliverance…”
We cracked up, but we knew we weren’t using the best approach to Scripture (and this friend didn’t have another child).
Here’s what the Bible says about itself:
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” –2 Tim. 3:16-17 (NIV).
Most evangelical Christians would agree that the Bible is the Holy-Spirit inspired Word of God and vital to our daily lives and spiritual growth.
However, many times we don’t understand what the Bible is not.
Contrary to certain Christian teachings (and products) which I’ve often encountered, here are five ways the Bible should not be used.
- The Bible is not a promise box.
I remember sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table as a child, sorting through a box filled with verses printed on pastel cards.
The Bible contains many promises, but it is always best to know the context of a verse so that we apply it correctly.
- The Bible is not your daily horoscope reading.
It is more than a collection of devotional thoughts. Discipline and study are required for us to grow in understanding of how to sit under the text and allow it to shape our lives.
- The Bible is not a love letter.
Yes, it tells the grand story of a God who loves humanity and paid dearly for our redemption, but its literature includes law, history, prophecies, apocalyptic, Gospels, and epistles (the only actual letters).
Calling the Bible a “love letter” is simplistic and can discourage people from reading major portions of it.
- The Bible is not a manual for magic.
If we believe God will have to do our bidding like a genie in a bottle because we said the right verses enough times, we are in danger of treating the Bible like a book of magical incantations.
God is in control; we’re not. The Bible is God-breathed and supernatural, but it is not a tool for manipulating desired personal outcomes.
- The Bible is not a science textbook.
We may want the Bible to answer our specific questions about earth’s origins, the creation timeline, and other scientific inquiries. However, these are not the questions which God’s Spirit inspired the biblical authors to answer.
We need to ask what the text is teaching us rather than forcing it to answer our preferred questions.
With all five of the above mistakes, we end up using a “cut and paste” approach to the Bible instead of a holistic one.
In my seminary journey, I’ve learned some principles on how to approach Scripture.
You see, the Bible is an ancient book written to ancient audiences living in vastly different cultures than our own.
Much of Scripture is descriptive rather than prescriptive (meaning the text simply records what’s happening without saying this is how things should be).
For these reasons, good questions to ask when reading a passage include:
- What genre (type of literature) is this book?
- Who is the author of this book, and who is the audience?
- What is the overarching theme/message of the book?
- What is the historical/cultural/geographical context for the book?
Using this framework helps us avoid slicing up the Scriptures into out-of-context pithy sayings or forcing answers to questions which the biblical writers aren’t addressing or using lazy short cuts instead of pursuing real spiritual growth.
Knowing the Word of God enables us to know the God of the Word.
May your time in the Bible this next year draw you closer than ever to him.