Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Most Misused Verses in the Bible by Eric J. Bargerhuff (Book Review #15 of 2015)

This book went free on Kindle the week I happened to be listening to Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology lectures (available here) on biblical interpretation, so I couldn't pass it up. 

I was at least 30 years old before I learned how to read my Bible, or perhaps I should say how not to read it. I grew up going to "Bible-believing" Baptist churches that never taught me proper exegesis, and I never saw improper exegesis corrected. The church newsletter ("The Porter Vision") ripped Proverbs 29:18 out of context. "Life verses" like Philippians 4:13 and Jeremiah 29:11-13 were common and inappropriately painted on walls or included in various decorations. I attended Bible studies where "I think passage means..." were common. I even read deep theological books (Piper, Packer), but none of them ever dealt with teaching the reader how to read the Bible. Now I understand that's the most important thing a pastor can do for his congregation.

I thought I understood context. I recognized, for example, that Habakkuk 1:5 was a verse of judgment, God was raising up the Chaledeans to conquer Judah as a consequence of its sin. So, when people (like the missions arm of the denomination) used Habakkuk 1:5, I could say "wait a minute." But I was still prone to begin my Bible reading with "God, what do you want me to get out of this passage today?" and come across a verse seemingly related to what I might be feeling or dealing with and say "Aha! A sign!" Like, I might be wondering whether to ask for a raise and then happen to read 1 Timothy 5:18 and say "Yes, I should!"

The proper question should not be “What does this passage mean to me?” but rather “What were the author’s original intentions and how did the audience who first received it understand those intentions in the original context?” And then, only after discovering this is it appropriate to ask, “How then does the timeless biblical principle contained in this passage apply to me today? (loc. 1815).

I see a difference among fairly recent graduates from seminary, who seem to grasp this point, and those who graduated decades ago. The younger preachers I listen to are always harping on "don't take this verse out of context," etc. whereas I never used to hear that. Not reading Scripture properly has led to a whole host of problems in our churches, like in exercising church discipline (see example below).

Bargerhuff quickly takes the reader through several verses, teaching how not to read them. This is a short book that fulfills its purpose nicely: illustrate the importance of proper interpretation. Ask yourself: Who was the original intended audience? What else is happening around this verse, this passage, this book? Does this passage relate to a particular theme found in Scripture?

I think Bargerhuff does the best job on Jeremiah 29:11-13. This is similar to Habakkuk 1:5, it is a verse intended for Israel. The Christian can take comfort that God is in control and that one day we will live in Christ's kingdom, but Jeremiah 29:11-13 was specifically for Israel at a specific point in time. Most who were alive and heard Jeremiah's words would have died in exile before experiencing their fulfillment.

"God is speaking to the Israelite nation of Judah here. This is his plan for the nation, not necessarily a personal promise that is directed to any one person per se. It is a 'corporate' promise. Therefore, we should be cautious about grabbing it out of its context and inappropriately applying it to individual believers in the twenty-first century...The majority of people who hear this promise from Jeremiah’s lips will never see it fulfilled in their lifetime. They will likely perish in exile before it comes to fruition...I can still use Jeremiah 29, but I must apply it appropriately. Without a doubt, a future 'heavenly hope' exists for those who have placed their faith and trust in Christ alone for their salvation" (loc. 423-457). 

Other verses:
Matthew 7:1 - "Do not judge..." about hypocrisy
Matthew 18:20 - "Where two or more are gathered..." - God is omnipresent, He is there when only one person is present. This is most likely about the affirmation of decisions reached among Christians about reconciliation and church discipline.
"Jesus is saying that whenever the church is pursuing and is involved in a reconciliation process with someone who has refused to repent, they can rest assured that God’s blessing is with them in their efforts. In other words, as the church renders judicial decisions on matters of right and wrong that are based on the truth of God’s Word, they should be confident that they are doing the right thing and that Christ himself is right there with them, spiritually present in their midst" (loc. 593).

John 14:13-14
Rom 8:28 All things work together . . . this verse is about being conformed into the image of Christ.

Col 1:15 Christ the firstborn . . . an apologetic against Jehovah's Witnesses.
I Tim 6:10 Money the root of all evil . . . many forget the "love" part and context matters.

I Cor 10:13 No more than you can handle . . . this is about temptations, not trials. It's important to remember that early Christians suffered unto death, which is often not on the mind of people who quote this verse.

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child... the literal Hebrew allows for a few possibilities, but it is not a promise so much as a common sense correlation.
Philippians 4:13 I can do all things . . .this is about contentment.
Exodus 21:23-25

James 5:14-15 "Is anyone among you sick...?" I think think Bargerhuff does his worst job in this chapter. He wonders why God did not respond to his prayers when his father dies. His father was deteriorating after a series of heart problems. Scripture tells us in many places to pray for the sick, but it's not God's will to heal everyone. That would be enough-- we're still to pray. But Bargerhuff rightly points out that the word translated "sick" is not the same Greek word used elsewhere in referring to those with disease. Mark 6:13 for example "And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them," at first glance reads a lot like James 5:15. But the words in the Greek are different, the root in Mark being used extensively but a quick check of my lexicon says the word used in James is only used elsewhere in Hebrews, and really only works there as "weak." Bargerhuff suggests this passage in its entirety is dealing with reconciliation and those who had fallen under pressure due to persecution. I know from studying church history that dealing with those who betrayed the faith under persecution was a big deal for the early church, and that seems to fit into the theme of this passage.

Acts 2:38 Repent & be baptized . . . an apologetic against those who baptise for the remission of sins.
Proverbs 4:23 Guard your heart . . . has nothing to do with making yourself less vulnerable in relationships.The word for "heart" does not contain our American understanding of it.

John 12:32 "When I am lifted up I will draw all men to myself" - this is referring to Jesus' crucifixion and many worship leaders talk about "lifting Jesus high" in appropriately referring to this verse. It's like they're saying "I want to see Jesus crucified again and again!"

I give this book 4.5 stars out of 5. It is succinct, well-written, and does not contain a lot of fluff. Just enough detail, I highly recommend.

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