“The Bible says…” is one of the most overused phrases amongst Christians. Even non-Christians and people who don’t believe in the Bible as a divinely inspired book quote it. It’s a phrase some use to justify their actions, validate their ideological positions, or even mock Christianity. It’s also a phrase that can trigger arguments amongst friends or incite frustration for those who haven’t experienced what they read. What can be baffling to witness are occasions when people deduce wildly differing meanings from the same passage yet begin their arguments with: “The Bible says…”. Such experiences have caused many to ignore the Bible, but I think a more prudent approach is to ask: “What does the Bible mean when it says…?”
When we examine the history of the Bible, we find that only a handful of its authors, like Moses and John, were instructed to write certain things down. Many of the Old Testament books were separate writings that captured the prophetic history of Israel, divinely-inspired messages, corporate prayers, wisdom literature, personal lamentations and the biographies of particular individuals. The New Testament writers wrote their gospels and epistles to specific people like Luke and Acts, Titus, Timothy and Philemon or specific Church communities such as Galatians, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Peter and Revelation. Yet, in His wisdom, the Holy Spirit directed men to compile these writings into what we now call the Bible several decades after their original authors had died. I believe most of these men didn’t anticipate how He would eventually use what they wrote. Fascinatingly, in the Bible, God, angels, men, women, children, animals and even demons speak and act. So when we say: “The Bible says…”, we need to understand the context of a given statement and who made it. Even more important is our need to discern the lesson the Holy Spirit wants us to learn.
Two verses in the New Testament helpfully clarify the Bible’s origin and purpose. First, Peter tells us that the Holy Spirit authored the Bible as He inspired men to write what we read today. So, the Bible wasn’t a product of man’s will [2 Peter 1:19-21]. Elsewhere, Paul explains that biblical writings exist to instruct and encourage us as we face life [Romans 15:4]. As such, the Bible is useful for teaching, reproving, correcting and training us in righteousness so that we’re equipped for every good work [2 Timothy 3:16-17]. That suggests that anyone who approaches the Bible but disregards the context of its origin and purpose won’t benefit from it. The Bible doesn’t exist to pique our curiosity or affirm or disprove our ideologies. Although written for us, the Holy Spirit never sought our opinion on its contents. Instead, it’s a book we should approach with humility and openness, given its real Author. If we do that, we’ll position ourselves to glean wisdom from it and enjoy the benefits of walking in righteousness.
When you engage with the Bible, what are you seeking? Many people approach the Bible with ungodly motives. For instance, I’m fascinated when people look for contradictions in the Bible because they’re trying to catch God out. But such is the foolishness and arrogance of men. Nevertheless, many of us search the Bible for applaudable reasons. Written by about 40 authors over approximately 1600 years, the Bible is a historical book set in a particular culture, capturing laws, events and sometimes intimate details of people’s lives. Yet, it also contains promises, prophecies and instructions for life. So, whether out of curiosity or a desire to understand doctrine, Paul instructs us to rightly handle the word of truth [2 Timothy 2:15]. I think this is where many stumble because even with the right motives, we can misapply the Bible, and as many of us can attest, God does what He says, not what we think He said.
I heard a preacher say recently that the Bible contains God’s contract (covenant) with us. He has exalted His word and name above all else [Psalm 138:2]. For instance, the promises of God in the Bible are His commitment to us [Isaiah 55:11], and He must do what He says [Numbers 23:19]. However, many of God’s promises have corresponding stipulations we must fulfil to see them manifest in our lives. Often, people will quote a promise but ignore the associated condition, and unsurprisingly, the fulfilment never materialises for them. Some knowingly flout God’s approach to life and devise alternative strategies for success, only to encounter failure. Whenever we assume we know better than God, the outcome is always to our detriment because we have no security outside God’s covenant. However, when we truly grasp that God’s integrity backs the Bible, especially His promises to us, it’ll become the most important book in our lives to understand and apply.
Ultimately, what the Bible says is of utmost importance. Rightly applying its teaching and wisdom will ensure we triumph over life’s circumstances and the forces of evil. Conversely, misapplying it in ignorance, wilful disobedience, or even for selfish gains isn’t without consequence. So, the next time you say: “The Bible says…”, it may be wise to ensure you’ve correctly interpreted and applied the text you’re quoting. Have you understood the context? Are your motives righteous [Philippians 4:8]? Often, some of us rely on others to tell us what the Bible says and neglect our responsibility to study and understand it [2 Timothy 2:15]. So, we’re easily led astray. Although teachers have their role in equipping us, we must learn from the Bereans because we’re responsible for what we hear, believe and do [Mark 4:24, Acts 17:11].
Lastly, if you’re holding onto a promise, and you’ve done your part to understand it and fulfil any corresponding conditions, then have faith in God and wait patiently for your guaranteed salvation [Lamentations 3:26, Mark 11:22]. God watches over His word to perform it [Jeremiah 1:12].