2 Peter 3;16-17 says, “As also in all his epistles [Paul’s], speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.”
In other words, Peter is telling us that people will be guilty of taking Scripture out of context and making it say what they want it to say. The following are the most common ways (whether through intent or ignorance) that people use to do this:
1. Inaccurate Quotation – A biblical text is referred to but is either not quoted in the way the text appears in the Bible or is wrongly attributed.
Example: The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi says, “Christ said, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’”
This is actually found in Psalm 46:10 – “Be still, and know that I am God:”
2. Twisted Translation – The biblical text is retranslated to fit the preconceived teachings of the cult.
Example: The Jehovah’s Witnesses translate John 1:1 as “In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”
It actually states: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
3. The Biblical Hook – A text of Scripture is quoted primarily as a device to grasp the attention of readers or listeners and then followed by teaching which is so unbiblical that it would appear far more dubious to most people had it not been preceded by a reference to Scripture.
Example: Mormon missionaries quote James 1:5 (“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”) which promises God’s wisdom to those who ask Him. They follow this by explaining that when Joseph Smith did this he was given a revelation from which he concluded that God the Father has a body.
4. Ignoring the Immediate Context: A text of Scripture is quoted but removed from the surrounding verses which form the immediate framework for its meaning.
Example: Alan Watts quotes the 1st half of John 5:39 (“Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life”), claiming that Jesus was challenging his listeners’ overemphasis of the Old Testament, but the remainder of the immediate context reads, “and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” (vv. 39-40), which shows that Jesus was upholding the value of the Old Testament as a testimony to himself.
5. Collapsing Contexts – Two or more verses which have little or nothing to do with each other are put together as if one were a commentary on the other(s).
Example: The Mormons associate Jeremiah 1:5 (Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.) with John 1:2, 14 (2.The same was in the beginning with God. 14.And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.) and thus imply that both verses talk about the pre-mortal existence of all human beings.
Jeremiah 1:5, however, speaks of God’s foreknowledge of Jeremiah (not his pre-mortal existence) and John 1:2 refers to the pre-existence of God the Son and not to human beings in general.
6. Over specification – A more detailed or specific conclusion than is legitimate is drawn from the text.
Example: The Mormon missionary manual quotes the parable of the Virgins (Mt. 25:1-13) to document the concept that “mortality is a probationary period during which we prepare to meet God.” But the par-able of the virgins could-and most probably does-mean something far less specific, for example, that human beings should be prepared at any time to meet God or to witness the Second Coming of Christ.
7. Word Play – A word or phrase from the Bible is examined and interpreted as if the revelation had been given in that language instead of the original Hebrew, Greek or Chaldean.
Example: Mary Baker Eddy says the name Adam consists of two syllables, A “dam”, which means an obstruction, in which case Adam signifies “the obstacle which the serpent, sin, would impose between man and his Creator.
8. The Figurative Fallacy – Either:
(1) mistaking literal language for figurative language or
Example: Mary Baker Eddy interprets evening as “mistiness of moral thought; weariness of mortal mind; obscured views; peace and rest.”
(2) mistaking figurative language for literal language.
Example: The Mormon theologian James Talmadge interprets the prophecy in Isaiah 29:4 (“And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be, as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust.”) that “thou shalt be brought down and speak out of the ground” to mean that God’s Word would come to people from the Book of Mormon which was taken out of the ground at the hill of Cumorah.
9. Speculative Readings of Predictive Prophecy – A predictive prophecy is too readily explained by the occurrence of specific events, despite the fact that equally committed biblical scholars consider the interpretation highly dubious.
Example: The stick of Judah and the stick of Joseph in Ezekiel 37:15-23 are interpreted by the Mormons to mean the Bible and the Book of Mormon.
10. Saying but Not Citing – A writer says that the Bible says such and such but does not cite the specific text (which often indicates that there may be no such text as all).
Example: someone says, “The Bible says, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’”
Example: Erich von Daniken says, “Without actually consulting Exodus, I seem to remember that the Ark was often surrounded by flashing sparks.”
11. Selective Citing – To substantiate a given argument, only a limited number of texts is quoted: the total teaching of Scripture on that subject would lead to a conclusion different from that of the writer.
Example: The Jehovah’s Witnesses critique the traditional Christian notion of the Trinity without considering the full set of texts that scholars use to substantiate the concept.
12. Inadequate Evidence – A hasty generalization is drawn from too little evidence.
Example: The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that blood transfusion is nonbiblical, but the biblical data which they cite fails either to speak directly to the issue or to adequately substantiate their teaching.
13. Confused Definition – A biblical term is misunderstood in such a way that an essential biblical doctrine is distorted or rejected.
Example: One of Edgar Cayce’s followers confuses the Eastern doctrine of reincarnation with the biblical doctrine of being born again.
14. Ignoring Alternative Explanations – A specific interpretation is given to a biblical text or set of texts which could well be, and often have been, interpreted in quite a different fashion, but these alternatives are not considered.
Example: Erich von Daniken asks why in Genesis 1:26 God speaks in the plural (“us”), suggesting that this is an oblique reference to God’s being one of many astronauts and failing to consider alternative explanations.
15. The Obvious Fallacy – Words like “obviously”, “undoubtedly”, “certainly”, “all reasonable people hold that” and so forth are substituted for logical reasons.
Example: Erich von Daniken says, “Undoubtedly the Ark [of the Covenant] was electrically charged!”
16. Virtue by Association – Either:
(1) a cult writer associates his teaching with those of men accepted as authoritative by traditional Christians;
Example: Rick Chapman lists twenty-one gurus, including Jesus, St. Francis and St. Theresa, that “you can’t go wrong with.”
(2) cult writings are likened to the Bible; or
Example: Juan Mascaro in his introduction to the Upanishads cites the New Testament, the Gospels, Ecclesiastes and the Psalms, from which he quotes passages supposedly paralleling the Upanishads.
(3) cult literature imitates the form of Bible writing so that it sounds like the Bible.
Example: The Mormon “Doctrine and Covenants 93” interweaves phrases from the Gospel of John and maintains a superficial similarity to the Gospel such that it seems to be like the Bible.
17. Esoteric Interpretation – Under the assumption that the Bible contains a hidden, esoteric, meaning which is open only to those who are initiated into its secrets, the interpreter declares the signify-cance of biblical passages without giving much if any explanation for his or her interpretation.
Example: Mary Baker Eddy gives the meaning of the first phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father which art in heaven,” as “Our Father-Mother God, all harmonious.”
18. Supplementing Biblical Authority – New revelation from post-biblical prophets either replaces or is added to the Bible as authority.
Example: The Mormons supplement the Bible with the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.
19. Rejecting Biblical Authority – Either the Bible as a whole or texts from the Bible are examined and rejected because they do not square with other authorities – such as reason and other revelation – do not appear to agree with them.
Example: Archie Matson holds that the Bible contains contradictions and that Jesus himself rejected the authority of the Old Testament when he contrasted his own views with it in the Sermon on the Mount.
20. World–View Confusion – Scriptural statements, stories, commands or symbols which have a particular meaning or set of meanings when taken within the intellectual and broadly cultural framework of the Bible itself are lifted out of that context, placed within the frame of reference of another system and thus given a meaning that markedly differs from their intended meaning.
Example: The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi interprets “Be still, and know that I am God” as meaning that each person should meditate and come to the realization that he is essentially Godhood itself.
The previous post came from my notes on James Sire’s Book, Scripture Twisting. This is neither an endorsment nor a repudiation of that book, but he gave some excellent points for Bible study that I could recommend to all.