ERRORS TO BE AVOIDED
How To Study The Bible For Yourself
1. Closing the Mind 2. Cultural Redefinition 3. Deductive vs. Inductive Bible Study 4. Getting Lost in the Details 5. Giving Up 6. Ignoring Clarification 7. Indecisiveness 8. Missing the Obvious 9. Overlooking Context 10. Seeing only the Spectacular 11. Selective Interpretation
In this section some common errors are explored that will have a negative impact on the value and effectiveness of your Bible study. It is not intended to be exhaustive but shows examples of the grossest errors so that they may more easily be avoided.
We may be tempted when studying the Bible to believe that we already understand what is being said to us, especially when dealing with more familiar passages. Since we do not possess infallibility it is entirely possible that an interpretation of Scripture which we have held for a significant period of time may be in need of correction or of further development. It may even be possible that our interpretation is correct but that more detailed study of the passage is in order.
As much as possible we must put aside our previous conclusions while in Bible study so that the truth of what is being told to us may be unearthed. This is not to say that our initial interpretations are necessarily incorrect but that they cause us to be predisposed to further interpretation that is in favor of our initial interpretations. There is a fine line that needs to be walked here since the building up of a body of doctrine depends by necessity on maintaining a history of previous interpretations and inter-relating them to each other.
In this practice, the culture to which the particular passage under investigation was addressed is re-defined in such a way as to dispense with the universal application of an uncomfortable mandate. This practice is most commonly used in instances such as the presentation of a legitimate lifestyle rather than one that is condemned by God. Each passage that speaks out against the practice is re-interpreted in such a way as to make the culture to which it is addressed guilty not of immoral behavior but of an incomplete practice of love.
However, once the Bible is twisted in this way it can be made to say everything anyone would like it to say and it can, therefore, say nothing at all. It is no longer a guide to Godly behavior but an echo of our own desires, an interesting book which may or may not apply to our lives today, depending on what we wish.
However, the Bible is not a book that addresses itself in one way to the people of one age and in another way to the people of an other age. It cannot be since the Bible is the word to all ages by an eternal unchanging God. What God demanded of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, Jerusalem and Rome, he demands of people today since it is His law that determines proper and improper behavior and that law does not change because He does not change.
One of the most common errors is for the student to replace inductive Bible study (exegesis: where meaning is pulled from the Bible) with deductive Bible study (eisegesis: where meaning is pushed into the Bible). The difference between the two lies in the fact that while inductive Bible study (that which is promoted throughout this lesson) seeks to glean knowledge from the Bible, deductive Bible study attempts to use the Bible to support a previously made conclusion.
Inductive Bible study allows the Bible to lead the student.
Deductive Bible study has the student leading the Bible.
It is possible to deduce a correct interpretation as well. It is critical that the student makes a conscious attempt to prevent their preconceptions from interfering with their interpretation. We must remember that God is speaking to us through the Bible as well as through His Spirit, we must allow Him to speak and be guided by Him rather than by our own desires. We must be willing to discard a favored belief if our Bible study shows it to be in error. We must be unwilling to discard a belief that is supported by the Bible even when “wiser minds” inform us to believe otherwise.
This is an error that is all too easy for many of us to fall into and involves analyzing a passage of the Bible to such depth that we overlook the actual significance of the text. An exaggerated example of this can be found in some treatments of John 8:1-11 where various analysts have gone through great effort to determine the means by which the condemned woman was caught in her sin. While in many instances looking at this passage in such detail may be intellectually rewarding such a practice does have the danger of causing us to lose sight of the fact that Jesus, when confronted by a person guilty of a sin worthy of death, did not Himself condemn her; even though He alone met His own criteria for condemnation and punishment. The overwhelming theme of this passage is one of forgiveness and looking too deeply at the events surrounding this theme will distract us from it.
In the study of some passages of the Bible, such as "obscure" sections of prophetic material, we may conclude that since we could never come to an understanding of the passage in question we might as well give up before we even start. What we often fail to understand, however, is that all of the Bible was written by real people in a manner which would be understood by the readers, who were also real people; both with the same failings as we have ourselves.
While those who lived at the times during which the Bible was being written may have had a more intimate connection with the people, places and events that the Bible refers to than we do today, we are no less capable of coming to a proper understanding of what has been written than were they. We may occasionally have to end a study without the Holy Spirit having given us all the answers we wanted but we are certainly capable of appreciating the answers that we have been given.
Bible study, as has been said before, is not merely an intellectual exercise (where we must collect enough knowledge to gain a proper understanding of the text), nor is it merely a spiritual exercise (where we are given knowledge by the Holy Spirit without studying the text at all). Bible study is a process in which the Holy Spirit guides and give a blessing to the diligent student in the process of learning from the word of God. As God spoke at an earlier time.
Jeremiah 29:13 "And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart."
Typical of such error the argument makes sense on the surface, until we come to realize a broader view of what the Bible says.
Frequently, where two or more interpretations of a particular Biblical teaching have gained popularity, it is possible to come to the conclusion that any of the available options is correct and we need merely choose one that suits our fancy. At other times we are told that it does not matter what we believe the Bible teaches about a certain idea so long as we believe something and have good reasons for doing so.
But if the Bible is truly God's authoritative word and our accurate guide in the living of our lives is it possible to be ambivalent about its teachings. Or to put it another way, if the Bible is God's primary (or a primary) method for communicating His desire to His children how can we then say that what the Bible teaches is indefinite? It must either say one thing or it must say another but it cannot be made to say both. Once we begin to see the Bible as teaching many apparently conflicting ideas we tend to diminish its authority over our lives.
Indecisiveness on Biblical teaching, or approaching the Bible with the attitude that differing interpretations are equally valid undermines its authority by leading us, and others, to believe that the Bible says nothing definite. It is a legitimate to say that we do not know, that we have not been given understanding in a certain area (for we do not understand prophecy as it was understood in the days of its delivery), but we should never say that conflicting ideas are equally valid for they cannot be, one or the other must be right.
We can sometimes be so intent on finding significance in a Bible passage that we unconsciously overlook an obvious lesson. A case in point can be found in Jesus' teaching on God's provision of food and shelter for the birds:
Matthew 6:26 "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?"
We often will come from this passage with an assurance of God's concern for our well being. While this is legitimate conclusion it fails to connect God's provision of food for the birds with the observation that the birds themselves are actively involved in the process. We can read this verse and be rightly impressed with God's care for us yet fail to make the connection between the passage and the world it takes its example from, subsequently we make an incomplete interpretation and never come to the realization (from this passage anyway) that we carry a responsibility of care for ourselves as well and must often work hard to receive what God has given us, as do the birds work hard for what God has given them.
This error, also referred to as “proof-texting,” is the practice where a verse or a phrase is isolated from the surrounding text in order to prove a point. Many examples of this occur in each case of which the words of the isolated text are completely re-interpreted once they are removed from their surroundings. This is especially prevalent among certain cults that claim to be Christian but are not; such as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others.. Many non-Christian religions are also very good at proof-texting as well, such as the New Age Movement and the religion of Islam.
While Jesus Himself was often the subject of proof-texting, as can be noticed predominately in the gospel accounts of His life, in each case the text in question is not taken out of its original context but is used to show Jesus’ credentials by means of passages to which most contemporaries would have already been familiar. The error of proof-texting occurs when the original text is interpreted to say that which is in opposition to, or ignorant of, the context in which the text is found.
In reading passages such as 2 Kings chapters 4 through to 6 we may be tempted to concentrate on the more spectacular aspects of the passage and in so doing come to the potentially erroneous conclusion that because we do not have the same ministry as men like Elisha we are not as Godly.
The logical conclusion of such a line of thought would lead us to question the reality of our own salvation and our right to do any Christian ministry at all. While it may be true that we are not as Godly as Elisha, or other great men and women of the Bible, this is not a conclusion that can be supported by merely comparing our activities to the activities of a man moved by God to do great things in His name.
The translation method and style of too many of our modern translations tend to suggest that human opinion is of sufficient authority to modify the reader’s understanding of the text.
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