There are many today who approach the Bible from quite a different perspective than those of us who grew up believing it to be the infallible Word of God, our only rule of faith and practice. The continuing questions about its accuracy and reliability can be very frustrating when it seems so obvious that the Bible is not something to be questioned. However, we live in an era when many, even in the church, are so consumed with pop psychology and political correctness that they simply cannot submit to the simple, straightforward teaching of the Word of God. To some, it has become all about “what it means to me,” “how I feel about it,” and “does it make me comfortable?”
Often, the Scriptures are used to teach the very opposite of what they actually say. This is done by clever, sometimes scholarly-sounding manipulation of words, often by self-appointed experts with little knowledge of the Bible, in order to make a passage of Scripture say other than what it actually says. The Bible warns against such misapplication of truth. “…just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16, NASB). When confronted with something in the Scriptures that may be hard to understand or hard for man’s ego to accept, there are always those who are willing to distort the clear meaning or wrest it from its context to make it say what is more comfortable.
The Scriptures say that there are some who are “willingly ignorant” of the truth (2 Peter 3:5, KJV) or that they “deliberately overlook” the facts (
One thing we hear frequently today is the title of this article: “I know what it says, but what does it mean?” Such a question, at best, borders on the ridiculous. I remember hearing Ken Ham, the creationist speaker, respond to this by saying, “If you come to a big red sign that says S-T-O-P, it wouldn’t make any sense to say, ‘I know what it says, but what does it mean?’ I’m not sure it can mean anything if it doesn’t say anything.” Mr. Ham was exactly correct.
A common practice is to use the Scriptures to justify pre-conceived beliefs. For example, if someone wants to believe that God did not really create the universe and all that is in it in six days, then it is a simple matter to reinterpret the Bible and make it say what is desired. For example, if such a Bible actually existed, the “Politically Correct Self-Esteem Version” (PCSEV) might say, “In several million years the Lord allowed the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them to come into being.” This would indicate that there was no specific, direct creative act by our omnipotent God, but instead, there is plenty of room for evolution and all of the other human opinion that so often comes into play when men try to tell God what He means.
What does Bible actually say? "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them” (Exodus 20:11, NASB). That’s what it says. That’s what it means.
Sin is an unpopular issue in today’s culture. The idea that there is a standard of which we all fall short is not at all politically correct. As a result, we get self-serving, popular opinions and reinterpretations of the Scriptures, such as, “All have made mistakes and can find relationship with God difficult unless they work hard to find a proper level of self-esteem.”
But what does the Bible actually say? “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB). That’s what it says. That’s what it means.
The biblical teaching of the penalty of sin is likewise unpopular. Would God really hold people accountable and bring judgment on them because of sin? Isn’t He a God of love? Doesn’t the word “love” completely define the very essence of who and what God is? In light of this, the Bible ought to say, “The cost of making mistakes is independence from God, but the reward of seeking a relationship with God is personal comfort and high self-esteem.”
But what does the Bible actually say? “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23, NASB). That’s what it says. That’s what it means.
And of course there’s this business of salvation. Isn’t it kind of a put-down of modern humanity to say there is need of a savior because of our sin, and to make it more humiliating, there is nothing we can do about it in our own strength? Aren’t we better than that? Won’t God accept our efforts on our own behalf? So we arrive at a new interpretation of
But what does the Bible actually say? “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, NASB). That’s what it says. That’s what it means.
What about this stuff about the sovereignty of God in all areas, including salvation? Doesn’t such a doctrine violate the “free will” of man? Does it not make man totally powerless and give God much too high a standing? Does it not reduce man a mere puppet to be manipulated by God? A new approach to this doctrine is as easy as rewording the Scripture to say what feels good. “When the people heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying themselves; and as many as believed and sought a relationship with God were, as a consequence, appointed to eternal life.”
But what does the Bible actually say? “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48, NASB). That’s what it says. That’s what it means.
Another very unpopular teaching is that there are “rules” for Christians to follow. After all, “I am free in Christ.” It almost seems as if some would use The Shack as their Bible. A nice, convenient, comfortable rewording of the Scripture might say, “If you love me, and yourselves, you will seek a relationship with me (unless of course you find a relationship with me uncomfortable and not to your liking).”
But what does the Bible actually say? "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15, NASB). That’s what it says. That’s what it means.
We live in a day in which the value and even the definition of marriage has been undermined. The biblical view of “one man and one woman for life” has been replaced by “any two (or sometimes more) people together for as long as they feel like staying together.” So it would be easy for someone to re-write the Bible to say, “Persons, love your significant others, at least while you feel like staying together.”
But what does the Bible actually say? “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25, NASB). That’s what it says. That’s what it means.
Even though the simple matter of church attendance is quite clear in the Scriptures, it is not necessarily popular among professing Christians today. Some feel they can worship God in their own way – in the mountains, at the beach, etc. After all, “the weekend is mine, and I need to relax after a hard week at work. And besides, I don’t like the music, and I don’t like the pastor’s annoying preaching style. I would rather go where people will listen to my opinion instead of my having to listen to a sermon from the Bible.” It is almost as if some believe the Bible says, “Going to church can be a good thing, but only if it makes you feel comfortable and gives you what you want to hear, which will encourage you, and all the more as you realize how important it is to have your needs met.”
But what does the Bible actually say? “Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25, NASB). That’s what it says. That’s what it means.
It would be quite easy to think of many more examples, but there is really no necessity. Anything in the Scriptures that people don’t like can be dismissed through twisting the words and meaning to make it say what is desired. The Bible tells us that when people refuse sound doctrine, they will seek out teachers who will twist the Scriptures for them. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NASB).
We need to take a proper approach to the study of the Scriptures, realizing that the Bible says what it means and means what it says. This can be summarized as follows:
“When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise” (Dr. D.L. Cooper).
This has been restated as follows:
1. If the literal sense makes good sense, seek no other sense, lest it result in nonsense.
2. If the literal sense makes NO sense, seek another sense until it makes good sense.
3. If the literal sense seems to make good sense, but appears to be in contradiction to other parts of the Word, use cross-references, check original Hebrew or Greek, check context, tenses of words, arrangement of contradictory words and see other translations.
These are good guidelines. As we study the Scriptures, our best approach is, “That’s what it says. That’s what it means.” What’s so hard about that? We either believe what God has said or we choose to let our opinions rule, which is a very dangerous way to interpret and understand the Bible.