I hadn’t intended to start with this topic, but sometimes things just present themselves.
First, let me state my view of the Bible for the record: it is God’s word. God speaks in and through that book, hovering as the spirit did over the waters of creation. I believe it was written by people to understand the character of God, the story of Jesus, and how we can participate in that ongoing story. It gives me a sense of belonging and a wider picture of the love our Creator has for us. I feel directly connected when I read it, even in the verses that don’t shout right at me. I don’t believe I will always get some startling revelation, but I believe that reading the Bible is a critical discipline that cannot be cast aside if you call yourself a follower of Jesus. Participating in Scripture is the practice of waiting on God.
That being said, we certainly do like to add an addendum here and there which wasn’t in the original. I’ve done it myself. It’s easy to do, right? You can’t always find exactly what you want to express in the Bible, and sometimes Mark Twain or Winston Churchill are spot-on. Sometimes it’s just something that you’ve heard so much from other believers, it has become holy in your mind.
I call these an idol because it seems that they emerge from our lips with the same amount of reverence we attach to great verses like John 3:16. They are idols because we have made them holy when they were not intended to be, and sometimes they subvert actual Scripture.
I am not against quoting people other than the Bible writers. Most of what I do on social media is quoting others, and it’s often outside the Bible. I’m certainly not saying you should never read anything but the Bible. I read many other things. I am saying this: if you’re going to call something a guiding principal of your life, you had better make sure that it either lines up with Scripture or isn’t directly refuted by Scripture. Otherwise, you’re in very dangerous territory.
I think fake Bible goes a couple ways. The first is to totally make it up. Such as:
“Hate the sin, love the sinner.”
Okay, I’ve definitely said this one. Believed it. Probably not long ago. Here’s the problem: we are now defining someone as a sinner, obviously based on the knowledge of some individual sin that has been revealed to us in their life. I hear this one a lot from conservatives who are genuinely trying to come to terms with how to respond to homosexuals without being judgmental.
There’s some Biblical backing for this. This is Jude 1:22-23, from the New Living Translation:
And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.
I know what you’re thinking. “It’s right there! It says almost the same thing!” Ah, but wait. What comes before this verse? Here’s Jude 1:17-21:
But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ predicted. They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.
But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.
A bit of a different spin there. First of all, “creating divisions among you” only happens with people who are already “among you.” The picture is more of a Christian who is trying to be worldly than the world trying to break in to our fortified churches. That makes sense when you read the following verses, where Jude outlines working within the body. The lead is with mercy. The second step is rescue. The language is all about love, and it ends with “hating the sins.” All of it happens inside the body, not outside. Railing against the “world” was never Jesus’ method, and he tells us in John 16:33 that he has already overcome it.
We can easily fake stuff like this, make up things that sound flowery but run contrary to what Jesus taught.
But then sometimes we actually use the Bible to make fake Bible. Like:
The Golden Rule
Cool your jets, I know this actually IS in the bible. “Do unto others as you want them to do unto you,” or some other near translation from Matthew 7:12. Very easily understood. Often quoted.
It’s really important to note the context, once again. Where most people use this verse sort of inside out… like, “do unto others before they do unto you,” it’s poor discipleship either way. The context of this verse is the Sermon on the Mount, arguably Jesus’ most famous discourse. This little tidbit comes right after Jesus talks about how God gives good gifts, how he does not withhold his blessings. The familiar section actually has a comma in the NIV, but all versions have a second half of that verse that essentially says what the NIV does: “for this sums up the law and the prophets.”
The Sermon on the Mount really needs to be read in sections. Separating the sections creates very different results. As a unified body of work, you get the picture of how Jesus is raising the people at the bottom of life, calling them blessed, instituting a radical love that starts with realizing our mutual brokenness with our fellow man. Taking pieces out of it… you get things like this.
The “Golden Rule” (also never labeled in the Bible) is pointed out by Jesus as, depending on your translation, “the summation of the law and prophets (NIV),” “the essence of all that is taught in the law and prophets (NLT),” or “this IS the law and the prophets (KJV).” The essence is the same: the golden rule is a summation of the spirit of the Old Testament. While Jesus says he did not come to destroy what came before, but to fulfill it (and said it in the Sermon on the Mount, two chapters prior), it’s important to notice that the Sermon on the Mount is going beyond “the law and prophets.” The new law is love, the new righteousness is from Jesus. Our actions are not dependent on what others do, but what Jesus has already done.
Check the motivation
I could go on with the list here, but let’s get to the point: the Bible is not ours to weaponize or personalize.
I can think of a few reasons I’ve tinkered with God’s word, and all of them are because I needed to say something specific. The pivotal letter is, “I.” I needed to make a point in a devotional. I needed to think something I was doing was correct. I needed to feel like God was blessing the decision I had already made for myself.
You can get the Bible to do that. If we fish around long enough, cut verses off from their context, and write it into the narrative we’re already in favor of; if we start with an opinion and dig until we find something that backs it up, we will be successful most of the time. We can even justify slavery, and many have.
Silencing our own agendas when sitting before scripture is very difficult. There will always be fragments of our own willpower, so maybe being aware of their presence is the only real solution. Perhaps this is why Jesus said, in Matthew 13:33, that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a little yeast hidden in a batch of dough. If it’s good yeast, the Kingdom will rise even in the midst of the world. Our part is not to make the Bible fit into our own definitions of rightness, it is only to allow God’s actual word to permeate the places where we are so that the Kingdom truly comes, and not our own sense of absolute security and self-righteousness.