OceanSide church of Christ
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MAKING IT SAY WHAT IT DOES NOT SAY
Victor M. Eskew
It is commendable to turn to the Bible for proof of what a person believes and teaches in the religious world. However, we must be careful about making verses say what they do not really say. This is done by those in the denominational world all of the time. John 3:16, Acts 16:31, and Ephesians 2:8-9 are said to teach the doctrine of faith only. Romans 8:1, Romans 8:38-39, and I Peter 1:5 are used to support the doctrine of once-saved, always-saved. Those in the denominational world are not the only ones who make verses say what they do not really say. Anyone can be guilty of doing it. Let’s look at some examples.
In II Peter 1:20, Peter writes: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” Some believe that Peter is teaching that the common man is not able to interpret the Bible on his own. This, however, is not what Peter is teaching at all. Peter is referring to the fact that the men who wrote the Scriptures did not originate the message on their own. Instead, they were guided by the Holy Spirit of God. This is clear when II Peter 1:21 is connected to verse 20. “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in the old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” None of the forty writers of the Bible originated their own message. Every one of them was moved by the Holy Spirit to write divine revelation from God. Paul was very clear about this matter when he wrote to the churches of Galatia. “But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12).
Another passage that applies to our study is I Corinthians 2:9. Paul is the writer, and states: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” This passage has been applied to heaven many, many times in funeral lessons. The passage, however, has absolutely nothing to do with heaven. Paul is referring to information God has kept from man in times past, but is now revealing through inspired men. Verse 10 tells us that the things that were concealed and unknown (v. 9) were revealed. “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” Paul is teaching the church at Corinth about the process of inspiration. Man cannot know the things of God unless God reveals them to him by the Spirit of God. Fortunately for us, God has done this. In verses 12 and 13 Paul continues: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” What man could not know God has made known. The Holy Spirit searched the mind of God and revealed the text of Holy Writ to us. Now we can know what God requires of us.
A third passage that some try to make say something that it does not is I Corinthians 1:17. Paul says: “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” Some use this passage in an attempt to diminish the importance of baptism. They assert that Paul was not sent to baptize. If Paul was not sent to baptize, why did he baptize? In I Corinthians 1:14, he tells us of two he baptized. “I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius.” In verse 16, he also notes that he baptized “the household of Stephanas.” I Corinthians 1:17 must be put into its context. The members of the church at Corinth were dividing over who had baptized them (I Cor. 1:12). Paul wanted the church to know that baptism was not the only aspect of the conversion process. Paul, therefore, uses an ellipsis in verse 17 to make his point. Christ did not send him to baptize “only,” but to preach the gospel. Paul may have taught many people who converted to Christ, but he did not baptize all of them personally. That was okay with Paul. Who baptizes a person is not the important matter. It is the fact that one obeys the gospel of Christ that is important. Paul was not discounting baptism. He was confronting how the Corinthians were elevating the person who baptized them and were dividing the church over the matter.
A fourth passage we will consider is found in the Old Testament book of Proverbs. In Proverbs 29:18, we read: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Some use this verse to emphasize the need to planning for the future. The verse, however, does not apply to this at all. The word “vision” in this verse refers to divine revelation from God. If mankind never had a divine message from God, they would perish. “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). The second part of Proverbs 29:18, is a contrast to the first part of the verse. “…but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” The inspired writer is teaching us that God’s revelation brings man happiness and without it man would perish.
As we study the Word of God, we must be careful. Paul told Timothy to handle aright the Word of truth (II Tim. 2:15, ASV). We may “think” a passage says something that is doesn’t. If we make a passage teach something that it does not, it involves our perverting the Scriptures. We never want to do this. We want to present God’s Word as accurately and precisely as we possibly can. “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make your free” (John 8:32).