The Bible is intense. It’s scary. It’s violent. It’s dark. It’s tough. It’s challenging. It’s cumbersome. It’s not easily dismissed. It’s confusing. It’s divisive. It’s unsettling. And, it’s hard.
Yet when you ask any Christian which book they would turn to when they need hope, encouragement, direction, or inspiration, they say: the Bible.
How can it be that a book that is undeniably difficult can also be relentlessly rewarding?
Years ago, my family traveled to Florida for vacation. In fact, we were there for the opening day of Universal Studio’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We bought our tickets weeks in advance, got up extremely early, and made our way to the park to await the opening. When the gates to the main park opened, thousands of people flooded in, moving quickly to get in line for the opening of the new section. My family was in the masses. We weaved our way through the park and saw where the line of people were queuing up. And we waited. And we waited. And we waited some more.
Finally, about twenty minutes before Harry Potter World was supposed to open, we saw some movement among the employees. One of them had a megaphone.
She said, “This is NOT the line!”
My family looked at each other, confused. We weren’t in some small, rogue line with a dozen or even a hundred people. Hundreds and hundreds of people were in this line.
Again she said, “This is NOT the line!” To make her point, she said, “If you want to go to Harry Potter world, you need to be in the line on the OTHER side of the park.”
We were devastated. We thought we were in the right line. We were in the right place, the right park, the right day, but we had a misconception about where we should line up and it delayed us seeing that new park by an entire day. Misconceptions aren’t the same as heresies. Lots of really great Christians are in the right place with the right heart, but the misconceptions they have about the Bible slow them down from discovering what God is trying to communicate in His Word.Misconceptions about the Bible aren't the same as heresies. Click To Tweet
Here are ten misconceptions Christians have about the Bible:
1.The Bible is about me.
Now, I don’t know that anyone says this explicitly, but we think it a lot. We read about Moses and see how we’re like him. Or we read about David and see how we’re like him. We often times insert ourselves into the stories of the Bible. Yet this can prove to be problematic. In the ways that Moses and David are flawed, they are like us. Yet in the ways that they are heroic, they are foreshadows of Jesus. Rather than being quick to say how we’re “like” a Bible hero, we should first look to see how these heroes point to Jesus. (Hebrews 3:1-3)
2. The New Testament contradicts the Old Testament.
No. It doesn’t. Jesus says that he doesn’t come to abolish the Law but fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). God doesn’t try something out for two-thousand years, think it’s a bad plan, and then change His mind. God is the same yesterday and today. Salvation was always available to those who walked in faith, just as we today are saved by faith (Hebrews 11). In the time of the Old Testament, those who had faith believed on a promise that had not yet been realized. Today, we set our faith on the ability of Jesus to be the fulfillment of the promise. Put another way, in the Old Testament they trusted in the Messiah to come. Today, we trust in the Messiah who has come. Properly understood, the true Israel has always been defined by faith rather than genetics (Romans 9:6), but this becomes more clear in Jesus and his establishment of the Church.
3. Old Testament God is mean, Jesus is nice.
OK. This is related to the previous misconception, but a little different. Many times people think that the God of the Old Testament is angry and vengeful, but that Jesus is nice and patient. This is a two-way misconception. God, as we see Him in the Old Testament, is far more patient than we acknowledge (Genesis 18:32-33). And Jesus is far less soft than we give him credit for (John 2:15). But the bigger problem with this misconception is thinking that the LORD of the Old Testament is different in substance and nature than Jesus. They are the same God. Jesus destroys Sodom. The LORD is murdered on the Cross. This is the mystery of the Trinity, but necessarily true. The Father and Son and Spirit are One.
4. The Bible has the answer to all of life’s questions.
The Bible has the answer to some of life’s questions. It can’t tell you which investments to make, which house to buy, which career path to follow, what you should major in at college. At times it provides practical wisdom, but the Bible does not primarily tell us how to live our lives. Rather, the Bible provides its answer to life’s struggles in the form of pushing us into a relationship with God. The Bible from beginning to end is the story of Messiah–of the God who creates, restores, saves, redeems, and re-creates.The Bible provides its answer to life's struggles in the form of pushing us into a relationship with God. Click To Tweet
5. We must be sure to always interpret the Bible literally.
Sometimes. This is a tough one. The reality is that the best interpreters understand the Bible in its literal and its literary contexts. The Bible has 66 books, but they have different genres. There are historical books, poetry, Hebrew wisdom books, letters, apocalyptic writings, and prophecy; and sometimes the genre can shift within a book. Some books are clear cut, like the Psalms or Proverbs. Others are harder to decipher, like Daniel. And the genre impacts how literally we interpret a book. We must be sure to always interpret the Bible literally when the Bible intends to be literal. When the Bible does not intend to be literal, we should seek to interpret the literary and spiritual signficance of what’s written.
6. Only seminary students can understand Greek & Hebrew.
This used to be sort-of true. There was a time when even a commonly accessible tool like a Greek Lexicon (dictionary) was difficult to use without extensive training. With modern tools anyone who wants to properly understand context by looking at a word in Greek or Hebrew can learn to use these tools with minimal training. The best translators know how to properly do a word study; this is a more of a fear than a misconception, and it needs to end!
7. The Bible contradicts itself.
The Bible has different priorities than we do. Critics, for example, will point to the dissimilarities between the gospels. Even Matthew, Mark, and Luke which are called the Synoptics (meaning “seen the same”) will have different speeches by Jesus or different details to stories. One example is the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and its nearly identical counterpart, the Sermon on the Plain in Mark. Which is it? Did it happen on a mountain or on a plain? Matthew’s gospel is primarily concerned with winning the Jewish people over into seeing Jesus as Messiah, and the bringer of a new Law. In the Old Testament, Moses brings the Law down from Mount Sinai. So when Jesus gives the new Law, he should give it from… a mountain. This doesn’t make one gospel true and another false; rather, it shows us the greater truth that the gospel writers are trying to communicate.
Ancient writers don’t value the same things we do. To shift minor details in order to communicate a more important truth is okay for ancient writers and consistent with other writings from the time frame. These don’t take away from the accuracy or historicity of the Bible in any way, shape, or form. Apparent contradictions in the Bible are most frequently misinterpretations. Given the reality that the Bible is comprised of 66 books written over nearly 1600 years, it’s truly a miracle how much continuity there is within the text.
8. My way’s the right way.
Now, this one is tricky. Strictly speaking, when it comes to understanding the intended meaning of a passage only one person in the end is right. Yet this doesn’t stop there from being a hundred different opinions. Often there is no way to be completely certain (no matter how passionate you are) that yours is the one correct opinion. Chances are that on some things you are right and on other things you aren’t. Most of the controversy in the Bible is centered around a handful of issues. When it comes to the core tenets of Christianity, the only debates are on the fringes of “orthodoxy.” However, on these minor issues, study the text to inform your opinions, and then be humble. You could be wrong, or your perspective may later change. Reserve your passionate defense of Scripture for the things that matter the most like the deity of Jesus, the power of his blood, the truth of his resurrection, and his heart to save sinners who come to him in faith. Outside of this, let the difficulty of Scripture move you towards humility and a hunger to walk with God and know him better.
9. I don’t have a predjudice or bias when I read the Bible.
Yes, you do. You most certainly do. It’s totally inescapable. That you were born in a certain country with certain parents with a certain background and a certain ethnicity and socio-economic status and religious context… all of this you bring with you when you open the Bible. Certainly it’s what will make the application of the Bible that much more rich and incredible. However, when it comes to interpretation, it’s important to recognize our bias and name it before we begin the work of interpretation. In so doing, we protect ourselves as much as possible from reading too much into a text something that was never intended. This is how, for example, slave owners were able to use the Bible to justify their owning slaves. Or in contemporary society, we can turn a “prayer of Jabez” into a call for monetary success in the world. These applications would never have come about without the interpreters bringing their bias into the text. Everyone has a bias and everyone brings it into their reading of the Bible to a varying degree.Everyone has a bias and everyone brings it into their reading of the Bible to a varying degree. Click To Tweet
10. Your translation matters.
Your translation only kind of matters. You should pick a translation of the Bible based on the experience that you want to get out of your time reading. For example, if you want something very readable and easy, the New Living Translation (NLT) chooses very contemporary language. If you want something that’s readable but more literal in its translation, the English Standard Version (ESV) is best. If you want something inbetween, that makes interpretive choices but still seeks to translate well, the New International Version (NIV) is helpful. At the end of the day, all translations are just that: translations. This means that they’ve all got strengths and weaknesses. They all bring something valuable to the table, and they all leave some things out. None of them are the “real” Bible at the exclusion of the others. The “real” Bible is written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. And when we study Scripture, we ought to be ready and willing to look at a variety of translations and even at the original language itself to discover meaning. Translations matter, but not as much as we sometimes think.
These are not the only ten misconceptions Christian have about the Bible.
The important thing to remember is that we are all prone to having misconceptions, and these will often hinder our ability to step back and understand Scripture well. Studying Scripture is invigorating, life-giving, inspiring, and challenging.
Let’s be unafraid about what makes the Bible difficult, and be excited about what God wants to teach us whenever we open up his Word.