How Should We Not Read the Bible? Part 3

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Continuing from part 2 of this series, we now turn to more of the mistakes critics make when alleging errors in the Bible.  These mistakes are taken from Norman Geisler and Tom Howe’s The Big Book of Bible Difficulties.

Mistake #6: Basing a Teaching on an Obscure Passage.

Some passages in the Bible are difficult to understand because the author used a word which isn’t found anywhere else in the Bible.  In cases like this, Bible translators try to determine the meaning from context, but sometimes they just don’t know for sure.

Some passages in the Bible contain well-known words, but we may not know to what those words refer.  An example of this can be found in 1 Cor. 15:29 where Paul speaks of those “baptized for the dead.”

Geisler and Howe ask, “Is he referring to the baptizing of live representatives to ensure salvation for dead believers who were not baptized (as Mormons claim)? Or, is he referring to others being baptized into the church to fill the ranks of those who have passed on? Or, is he referring to a believer being baptized “for” (i.e., “with a view to”) his own death and burial with Christ? Or, to something else?”

When we aren’t sure about the meaning, there are some guidelines to keep in mind:

First, we should not build a doctrine on an obscure passage. The rule of thumb in Bible interpretation is “the main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.” This is called the perspicuity (clearness) of Scripture. If something is important, it will be clearly taught in Scripture and probably in more than one place. Second, when a given passage is not clear, we should never conclude that it means something that is opposed to another plain teaching of Scripture. God does not make mistakes in His Word; we make mistakes in trying to understand it.

Mistake 7:  Forgetting that the Bible Is a Human Book with Human Characteristics.

Quoting Geisler and Howe:

With the exception of small sections, like the Ten Commandments which were “written with the finger of God” (Ex. 31:18), the Bible was not verbally dictated. The writers were not secretaries of the Holy Spirit. They were human composers employing their own literary styles and idiosyncrasies.

These human authors sometimes used human sources for their material (Josh. 10:13; Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 15:33; Titus 1:12). In fact, every book of the Bible is the composition of a human writer—about forty of them in all.

The Bible also manifests different human literary styles, from the mournful meter of Lamentations to the exalted poetry of Isaiah; from the simple grammar of John to the complex Greek of the Book of Hebrews.

Scripture also manifests human perspectives. David spoke in Psalm 23 from a shepherd’s perspective. Kings is written from a prophetic vantage point, and Chronicles from a priestly point of view. Acts manifests an historical interest and 2 Timothy a pastor’s heart. Writers speak from an observer’s standpoint when they write of the sun rising or setting (Josh. 1:15).

They also reveal human thought patterns, including memory lapses (1 Cor. 1:14–16), as well as human emotions (Gal. 4:14).

The Bible discloses specific human interests. For example, Hosea possessed a rural interest, Luke a medical concern, and James a love of nature.

But like Christ, the Bible is completely human, yet without error. Forgetting the humanity of Scripture can lead to falsely impugning its integrity by expecting a level of expression higher than that which is customary to a human document.

More to come!