Misusing Scripture: Common Mistakes (Part 2)

In our last article, we explored the first four common mistakes in Bible interpretation: overlooking context, ignoring the genre, forgetting the unity of Scripture, and losing sight of the big picture. Today, let’s consider another three common mistakes in Bible interpretation. 

5. Overlooking Historical Context 

When we read the Bible, it is natural to assume that everything we read is written directly to me and for me. As we read Scripture, we’ve got to remember that we’re separated from the original audience by thousands of years of history, culture, and geography. 

For example, rigorously applying Romans 16:16 (“Greet one another with a holy kiss”) today would probably be problematic, especially with a pandemic going on. The reality is that this cultural practice communicates a timeless truth: God’s people should be warm and hospitable to each other. In our context, it would probably be wise to roughly equate it with a handshake (or an elbow bump) or a friendly greeting. A basic recognition of the cultural gap between the world of the Bible and our world can go a long way in preventing sloppy interpretations—and sloppy kisses, for that matter. 

The better I understand the original audience and the author’s intentions, the better I will be able to understand the text’s objective meaning and make responsible application into my life today. 

6. Misdefining words. 

The Bible was translated from Hebrew and Greek into English. This means that in reading your English Bible, you’re one step removed from the originally-inspired words of Scripture. Thankfully, we have access to excellent, accurate translations of the original words of Scripture. Oftentimes, a quick comparison between two or three will give you good insight into the original meaning. 

Nonetheless, you can sometimes be greatly helped by looking up the underlying Greek or Hebrew words. You don’t have to have a seminary degree to do this. Free online tools like biblehub.org and blueletterbible.org make this as easy as clicking on a word and reading the entry from the lexicon.

But a word of caution is in order here. Every word has a range of meaning. As you read through a definition, always consider which particular usage best fits the context you’re studying. Be careful of inventing novel interpretations of a text based on an unlikely meaning of a word. Be careful of digging up a meaning that is centuries removed from the Biblical author’s time. It makes no sense to do this in English and it doesn’t make sense to do this in Greek, either. 

If, like me, you use the venerable King James Version, it’s important to recognize that you will encounter some archaic words like “bruit” or “anon” that don’t make sense anymore. After all, the KJV was first translated over 400 years ago. Other words have changed meaning since 1611, meaning that we will often encounter terms that don't mean what we think they mean. Inconceivable, isn't it? My friend, Mark Ward, calls these words “False Friends.” For a fun introduction to these, check out this quiz: https://kjvquiz.com. For example, some people have posited a pre-Adamic race of humans based on their assumed understanding of the word “replenish” in Genesis 1:28. In 1611, the word meant “to fill”—and that’s exactly what it means in Hebrew and exactly what it means in this context. Simply looking up the underlying Hebrew word or taking a peak at another translation can go a long way in clearing up the confusion. 

7. Assuming that the Bible is unintelligible. 

Far too many Christians don’t read the Bible because they assume that, since the Bible is an ancient book with some weird stuff in it, then they can’t understand it. And while there are some challenging parts of the Bible, we need to remember that the Bible is the self-revelation of God, designed to make truth plain and understandable. Theologians use the ironically unclear term “perspicuity” to refer to this glorious clarity of Scripture. 

Since Scripture is God’s self-disclosure, we must approach Scripture with the expectation that it’s not meant to be obscure and unintelligible. So read the Bible, not with the assumption that God is hiding truth from you in mystically dark corners, but read with the assumption that God is actively revealing Himself to you using plain language. That means we should take Scripture at face value, recognizing, of course, the use of figurative language along the way. 

The overall message of Scripture is very clear: man is sinful and accountable to his Creator. God has acted to redeem sinful man by sending His Son Jesus to die in the place of sinners and rise again. Any sinner who repents and believes will be forgiven and freed. You can get this quite readily, even if you can't quite figure who the Nephilim are in Genesis 6.

While there are certainly aspects of the Bible that are obscure and challenging, these are not the most central parts of the Bible’s message. We could put it this way, “The main things are the plain things and the plain things are the main things.” In other words don’t build doctrines on the obscure passages. 


As you read Scripture, remember that God has given you His Word so that you might know, worship, and admire Him. This, of course, is why the gospel is necessary; we need to be forgiven and transformed before we can even begin to love God. Loving God will, in turn, spill over into obeying Him and delighting in His will. As we read Scripture, realize that God is both the Author and Subject of Scripture, He is both its Source and its Aim. 

It’s all about Him. So let us honor Him by taking His Word seriously. 

Tolle Lege!


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