18 Ways People Twist Scripture

John Stapleton’s video 18 Ways People Twist Scripture is based on “Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways The Cults Misread the Bible” by James W. Sire

1) Misquoting

Since a world of information is accessible within reach of our phones, we don’t feel like we need to memorize much of anything. Things are vaguely familiar to us including the Bible. One way that we can be deceived is when we have a general idea of what the Bible says instead knowing what it said. The devil did this with Eve.

Genesis 3:1–3 (ESV)
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of
the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the
woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any
tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent,
“We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God
said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the
midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you
die.’ ”

First, the devil questioned what God said, causing attempting to cause doubt in Eve. If we have a vague idea of what the Bible says, we might doubt, too, if someone presses us to explain what we believe. Then Eve quotes what God says, adding the, “neither shall you touch it,” part. God doesn’t need help articulating his mind and heart. We must not add or subtract from his words. We must remain faithful to them.

2) Mistranslating

The Bible comes to us from the Hebrew and Greek languages. Whenever anything is translated, compromises need to be made to ensure that the receptor text reflects what was said and is readable. This explains the bundle of amazing Bible translations we have in English that are all faithful in their various ways. Some translations try to reflect the wording of the original while others reflect the possible shades of meaning.

Then there are what I’ll call “corrupt translations.” There aren’t many on the market, but one notable one is the New World Bible that translates John 1:1 to read, “The Word was in the beginning with God and was a god” (NWT).

3) The Bait-And-Switch

Using the Bible to grab attention and then teaching what is anti-biblical.

This is really common in a lot of Word of Faith preachers. Perhaps the most popular example of this is Joel Osteen. He starts every one of his sermons by holding up his Bible and then reciting his chant about it, to give people the impression that he is going to teach from the Bible and be faithful to it. Then he proceeds to preach the damnable prosperity gospel. People do this because they don’t have anything substantial to say.

4) Ignoring Context

People do this all the time with popular verses. These verses seem to say one thing when you separate them from their contexts. See if you know the context behind these verses:

Habakkuk 1:5 (ESV)
“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be
astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you
would not believe if told.”

This is not positive. Stop putting this verses on merch! This is about God sending the Chaldeans to punish Israel.

Philippians 4:13 (ESV)
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

This verse is not about football. It’s about Paul’s ability to be content no matter his situation, poverty or riches, in prison or free.

5) Speculation

This happens when we don’t have all the information we want so we fill in the gaps with what we think. This happens a lot when we are trying to figure out the chronology of events, for example. The Bible is more concerned about the significance of events instead of the timing. So when Jesus was born at right time (Galatians 4:4), the Bible is communicating that the stage of history was set for Jesus to come. It is less concerned about the nativity taking place in 4 BC. This is usually a result of our western perspective being read into an eastern book. A great resource to read more on this is Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes.

6) Explaining away everything as cultural and irrelevant.

This is dangerous because some arguments in scripture is not rooted in culture, but creation. At other times, cultural arguments are made when a theological argument is made. Grasping the cultural backdrop, and understanding how our culture differs from the Biblical one, is important.

However, it should never stop there. The application is usually if not always rooted in the theology of the passage. Who is God and what is this passage communicating about him?

7) Wordplay fallacy

The Bible in your hands or on your device is the word of God. But note that it is a translation. As good as our translations are, they are all limited by the constraints of the English language.

Greek and Hebrew are different with different words, grammar, and concepts. I’m all for word studies, but when we need to make sure that we check the Greek or Hebrew to see if the author is using the same word or a different one. Words carry specific meanings so its important that we get this right.

8). Everything is literal or figurative

Everything in the Bible is true, but it not everything is presented the same way. Some truth comes to us as plainly literal. John 11:35 says, “Jesus wept.” At other times, the truth is figuratively presented. Consider following passages:

Matthew 23:37 (ESV)
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets
and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I
have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her
brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

John 16:16–18 (ESV)
“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a
little while, and you will see me.” So some of his disciples
said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little
while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and
you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?”
So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little
while’? We do not know what he is talking about.”

John 16:29–30 (ESV)
His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and
not using figurative speech! Now we know that you know
all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is
why we believe that you came from God.”

Revelation 14:19–20 (ESV)
So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and
gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into
the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress
was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the
winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.

You see, some truths are presented literally. Some truth is presented as a word picture, esp that last one. This is one of the fallacies of the Left Behind series. We need to pay attention to literary details like genre, the way a character is talking, the flow of the argument, etc. Like any other piece of literature, if we break these rules of comprehension, we will walk away with weird interpretations. One more example:

Luke 22:35–38 (ESV)
And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no
moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?”
They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one
who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And
let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.
For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me:
‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is
written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look,
Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is
enough.”

Is the sword literal or figurative? Some people assume it is figurative but that is a confusing interpretation since the moneybag and knapsack are literal. Some would say that Jesus was talking about the sword as the word of God, and they would mention how Jesus would tell Peter later to put his sword away. Since Peter never needed to use his sword, why would Jesus tell him to bring an actual sword?

That’s a good question, but that’s the wrong way to interpret the text based on the context. For whatever reason, Jesus is talking about an actual sword.

9) Predicting prophecy

Many people have tried to predict the future of Israel and the second coming of Christ by assigning dates. This is when you see some of the weirdest hermeneutical gymnastics at play. People will use math, taking verse numbers and dividing them by the number of Jesus’ disciples times the whatever random number they choose.

This is how we have got so many predicted dates that are now in bygone years. Didn’t Jesus say in Matthew 24:36, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” If Jesus doesn’t know when he’s coming back, no one else does either.

10). Cherry picking verses that seem to prove your point

People always want to feel justified in what they believe, so they take verses out of their context and treat them as a fortune cookie so as to seem that they have a point. By doing this, you can make the Bible say anything.

Politically, you can make Jesus sound like he supports the Democrats or the Republicans. The truth is Jesus is king of his own kingdom and doesn’t support any political party.

This happens when people ignore context, as well as the rest of what the Bible says on a given topic.

What do you think Philippians 4:13 means? “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” I’ll tell you one thing, its not about football. Read the context and you’ll discover that Paul is talking about being content for better or worse.

11). Confused definition

This is the fallacy that assumes words do not have a semantic range, that is, a range of meaning. When God says, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15), the command doesn’t narrowly mean, “Don’t take something that isn’t yours.” This could include not paying taxes, cheating in business, not paying one’s wages, money laundering, etc.

Often, people ask what the “literal” meaning is. There is no such thing as literal. There is a gloss we can are familiar with, however. To say it a different way, we all have our favorite Bible translation, and the one we use the most is the one that “sounds like the Bible.”

While that’s fine, we must remember that these are just translations. The authority isn’t our favorite translation, but the the original manuscripts they are derived from.

12). Ignoring alternative explanations

This is a temptation for people that have studied the Bible for a while. We tend to study passages and then file them away as though we’ve exhausted everything there is to know about that passage. (This is impossible, by the way.)

I have been pushed in this recently as I’ve encountered a few of Mark Strauss’ books. They’ve encouraged me to be a more serious student of the Bible. He constantly reminds me to look at the cultural backdrop of the text because it is crucial to cross the barrier or language, time, and culture.

If I was not open to these better explanations, I would have been doomed to keep reading my culture and my perspective into the biblical text, and that would ensure that I would be wrong.

13). The “obvious” fallacy

Leeland Ryken says that most Bible passages are allusive on the first reading. You will probably not understand most of what the Bible is saying the first time you read it. It requires re-reading, active listening, and meditation.

Like I said in the last point, we all come to the Bible with our own assumptions and we usually argue from our own experiences and culture. Simply because the Bible was written long ago, and the languages are old and dead, and the thinking of the authors are rooted in a worldview that is opposite of ours, most things are not obvious.

14). The Virtue of Association fallacy

This fallacy is less common but still a problem. This is the “guilt by association” mistake. We cannot do that when it comes to the Bible, not every time anyway. This is the accusation levied against Jesus by the Pharisees. They assumed he was a sinner because he kept company with sinners. Today, this accusation appears in cults like Mormon (CWB doesn’t believe in Mormonism, as there is a difference between the two. Consider the following Youtube video- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=in-sPf0pLQM – for a better understanding)ism. Jesus and Satan are spirit-beings, but that does not mean that they are half-brothers. It’s a mistake to assume so.

15). Secret Gnostic Reading of Scripture

This is a major problem. The Gnostics were heretics in the first century who denied the incarnation of Christ and his death on the cross, and undermined the authority of the Scriptures, who tried to replace them with their dreams and their own ideas. The gnostic reading of Scripture treats the Bible like a code that needs to be cracked. They believe there is hidden meaning in the text, and to be clear, this is
not work required to cross the barrier of language, time, and culture. This is speculation and make-believe. This establishes people as the authority and not God. This is putting words in God’s mouth. This is blasphemous.

16). Adding another “Holy” book to the Bible

There is much debate over what belongs in the Bible and what doesn’t. Sometimes people want to take away books, and other times people want to add some. The Mormon (CWB doesn’t believe in Mormonism, as there is a difference between the two. Consider the following Youtube video- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=in-sPf0pLQM – for a better understanding)s do this when they supplement the Bible with the book of Mormon (CWB doesn’t believe in Mormonism, as there is a difference between the two. Consider the following Youtube video- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=in-sPf0pLQM – for a better understanding). The Jews did this when they added their Targum to the law, which was their Bible. The Catholics do this with the Apocrypha (which is helpful in understanding history, but not inspired by God.)

17). Rejecting Biblical Authority

This is very tempting to do today in our post-Christian society. It’s tempting to write o! the Old Testament
because God looks bad there. It’s tempting to take the teaching of Jesus but not accept the fact that he is God. It’s tempting to ignore Paul and write him o! as someone who is hypocritical to his own teaching. It’s tempting to only view Christianity historically, and ignore the theology behind all of it. People don’t like hearing, “The Bible says,” or, “God says.” People want the Bible to be a suggestion.

Never mind the fact that the Bible is also an honest book that records what people did, without endorsing their sins. If the Bible is anything less than authoritative, you are cutting o! the primary means by which God speaks to us.

Even though Christianity is more than just a book, that book informs what this thing is all about.

18). Worldview Confusion

Some of us will never agree. Not because we hate our opponents, but because some ideas or ideologically opposed. In the same you that you cannot mix capitalism with marxism, so you cannot a biblical worldview with Buddhism, Islam, or anything else.

This also happens often when it comes to the gospel, the central message of the Bible. People tend to add things to the gospel when the gospel is meant to stand alone. Often, people want the “social” gospel, or the “prosperity” gospel, but anytime you add something to the gospel, you lose the gospel.

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