lifted-upHow many times have you heard the worship leader say something like, “Jesus said ‘If I be lifted up I will draw all men to me,’ so let’s worship Jesus and allow him to draw us nearer”?  Sometimes it is implied that our worship of Jesus will even result in Jesus bringing sinners to salvation.

A simple reading of the context reveals that it is being both misquoted and taken out of context.  Jesus didn’t say “If I be lifted up I will draw all men to me,” but rather “If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to me.”  The addition of the bolded words alone make it clear that the worship leader’s interpretation is wrong.  The context makes it even more obvious: (more…)

straight-outta-contextEveryone wants to be understood properly – even God.  In communication, a proper understanding can only be achieved when a clear message is properly interpreted.  If the sender does not clearly convey his message, or if the receiver does not properly interpret the sender’s message, miscommunication and misunderstanding results.  This happens all the time with the Bible.  We often misunderstand it because we fail to interpret God’s words properly.

Interpreting the Bible is more difficult than interpreting a modern text or conversation because it reflects a different era, geography, language, worldview, culture, literary genres, and idioms.  Oddly enough, the vast majority of Christians are never trained in Biblical interpretation.  Given this circumstance, it’s no wonder the Bible is misinterpreted and misapplied so much.


We rightfully bemoan the rise of the gay hermeneutic in which Christians are reinterpreting the Bible to allow for committed same-sex relationships, but has anyone ever stopped to think that what these liberals are doing to the homosex texts we “conservatives” have already done to the divorce and remarriage texts?  We have mangled Jesus and Paul’s teachings to allow for divorce for reasons other than sexual immorality, and to allow those who have divorced or have been divorced without grounds to remarry because we don’t think it is fair for people to be unhappy or alone.  We understand the strong desire to be in a loving, sexual relationship.  Our emotions become the motivating factor for reinterpreting (or ignoring) what would otherwise seem to be a pretty straightforward condemnations for most divorces and remarriages.


jesus-is-truthPostmodern Christians who dismiss the veracity of propositional truth like to cite John 14:26 where Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  “Jesus is the truth,” they say, “not doctrinal statements.  Jesus is the only truth that matters.”

This way of interpreting Jesus’ statement presumes that Jesus is saying He is identical to the truth, such that to speak of the truth is to speak of Jesus.  Linguists call this the “is of identity.”  An example of this use of “is” would be the statement, “Barack Obama is the president of the United States.”  There is an identity relationship between the man Barack Obama and the office of the president of the United States.  Clearly that’s not the kind of “is” Jesus is referring to.  When Jesus says he is the truth, he is not making an identity statement such that “Jesus = the truth,” otherwise, “to say that ‘2+2=4’ is true is to say that ‘2+2=4’ is Jesus. In other words, Jesus is claiming to be a mathematical statement.”[1]


In the Beginning We MisunderstoodMost books dealing with the proper interpretation of Genesis 1 attempt to do one of two things: show how Genesis 1 cannot be reconciled with modern science, or show how Genesis 1 can be reconciled with modern science.  Some try to show that Genesis presents us with a young universe, while others try to show that Genesis presents us with an old universe.  Either way, it is presumed that Genesis 1 intends to present us with a scientific description of how God created (order, duration, etc.). 

In their new book, In the Beginning…We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context, coauthors Johnny Miller and John Soden argue that this presumption is false, and concordism is a misguided hermeneutical approach to Genesis 1.  Discussions over the meaning of Genesis should not be driven by scientific questions, but by literary questions.  Our interpretation of Genesis should not be determined by our views about science, but by the text itself.  Why even think that God meant to provide a scientific description of creation?  The most important question to ask is what Moses meant when he wrote the creation account, how his readers would have understood it, and what practical impact it would have for them given their unique historical situation.  How did it prepare them for the theology and religious practices they were familiar with in Egypt, as well as those they would encounter in Canaan? 


Glass SlipperIf we are honest with ourselves, all of us want the Bible to support our existing beliefs and practices.  We want it to support the teachings of the religious tradition we were raised in, or are currently part of.  We want it to affirm that which we think is morally right, and condemn that which we think is morally wrong.  There is always a danger, then, that we will engage in hermeneutical and logical gymnastics to ensure that we can walk away from the Bible without having to change our beliefs and practices.

I often ask myself, Would I interpret this passage in this way if I had been raised in a different tradition?  Would I think X is wrong or Y is right if I was Presbyterian rather than Pentecostal?  Are my reasons for interpreting the Bible as I do good enough to rationally compel others to adopt my position, or just good enough to for me to feel justified in my present beliefs?  Would I adopt my position if I were an outsider, listening to the same arguments?  If not, why not?

While I fully understand the desire to avoid change and theological conflict with one’s religious community, truth should always be our first priority.  If good hermeneutics and sound reason cause us to walk away from the Bible confirmed in our present beliefs, then great.  But if good hermeneutics and sound reason require us to change our beliefs and/or practices, then so be it.  Truth is more valuable than tradition.

Portions of 1 John 4:1-6 are often cited in discussions of spiritual warfare.  John’s admonition to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 Jn 4:1) is cited as evidence that we need to exercise spiritual discernment to distinguish between angelic and demonic spirits, or even good and bad human spirits.  And then there is 1 John 4:4b: “Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.”  This Scripture is typically quoted in the context of overcoming the Devil.  But are these passages being interpreted correctly?  Are they referring to spiritual warfare?  To find out, let’s look at the context:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. [2] By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, [3] and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. [4] Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. [5] They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. [6] We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 Jn 4:1-6, ESV)

A key word in this passage is “spirit.”  Many presume that when John talks about “test[ing] the spirits,” he is referring to angelic and demonic beings.  It’s clear, however, that John uses “spirit” in several ways in this passage.  And in verse one he uses “spirit” to refer to human teachers, not angels and demons.  This is evidenced by his juxtaposition of “spirits” with “false prophets” who “have gone out into the world.”


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