One of the greatest dangers to disciples of Christ is the temptation to be a selfish Bible student. What exactly does that mean? How can one be selfish if they are studying the Bible?
Have you ever received a text from a family member or a friend which quickly turned into a squabble over something silly? I have. And why did it happen this way? Maybe someone normally responds to a request with “Ok, sure” but this time they answered “K.” The dreaded and coldly curt “K with a period.” The conversation continues with, “Is everything ok?” “Yeah. Why?” “Well, it doesn’t seem like you’re ok.” “Why not?….” and then things get out of hand. Maybe the person was upset, maybe not. What may have happened here is poor communication, but what definitely happened is something we call “reading too much into it.” Maybe that person was answering with speak-to-text. Maybe they were trying to save time this once. Maybe they were angry. Who knows? But what causes problems among communicators is when we put our ideas into others’ mouths.
Like any communication, the Bible is a work designed to convey the specific message that the author (God) wants to express. The tools used to this end include specific authors, nuance, explicit and implicit themes, languages, rhetoric, humor, poetry, sarcasm, metaphor, direct didactic, etcetera. Since it doesn’t contain every bit of information in the world, we know there are things left unsaid. However, the things that are said are of the most value (John 20:30-31).
And yet even these things can yield some complications. Peter said, “…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 Pet. 3:15-16). Sometimes reading Scripture is hard because it was written in a time and place thousands of years distant from our own.
Here is the danger. Peter shows us that it is possible to misread the Bible and make it say things it doesn’t say. Horrible abuses have occurred because of practices like that. Others bypass Scripture entirely and say that the Holy Spirit speaks directly to our hearts and that we should listen to the “initial promptings of the Holy Spirit.” When asked what that means, people say, “When you have a feeling to do something, that’s a word from the Holy Spirit.” In reality, those are my feelings into which I’m putting too much stock (Jer. 23:21-32). This is exactly what Peter meant when he said the unstable and untaught distort things to their doom.
Scripture is our sole source of information on God’s will today (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We must read things out of the Bible, not read too much into it.