Posted by: Heather | November 21, 2010

No Private Interpretation


II Peter 1:20  Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.

Would someone please fill me in on how children get so logical at the most inopportune times?  There are times I ask my children to do something, and they may follow to the letter, but add somewhat of a twist to what I said.   They have an amazing ability to turn things around to suit their own benefit.  Oh wait…was I talking about my children?  Oops…I just realize that everyone, including even myself at times, has that same ability.

For example, one day I caught one of my children taunting another one.  I thought I could step into this situation and display a bit of my parental wisdom by using some inspirational words to make the offending child realize they were doing wrong.  Of course an apology would follow, and all would be well again…or so I thought.   I used the well-known paraphrase of Matthew 7:12:  ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.  The Golden Rule…perfect!   That would surely solve this problem.  What I got was totally the opposite of what I expected.  The child looked me squarely in the eye with these words:  ‘Well, he was doing this to me, so that means he wants me to do it back to him!’  OK, so it didn’t work so well that time…live and learn.

I recently heard a term that was unfamiliar to me.  I met a dear young lady after she started reading my blog on Facebook.  She asked me if I would address the subject of ‘proof-texting’.  This was a term I hadn’t heard before, so I dutifully looked it up to find out what it meant.  Proof texting is taking a verse of scripture out of context to make it fit our circumstance or our thoughts on a subject.    When I saw that, I immediately realized I had been guilty!

You see, the major platform of my ministry is to encourage others to read and interpret scripture in its proper context.   Yes, I too have been guilty of taking a lone scripture and using it to fit the mold I thought it should.  And, I probably still do it occasionally, although I don’t mean to.  I figure most of us that have done it meant no harm.  We know the scripture and want to apply it.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to apply what we know.  However, there is a problem when we apply it in a way it’s not meant to be applied.  In the last couple of years or so, I have had a new, passionate desire to make sure the scripture I know and desire to apply is done within the true meaning of the passage.   I once heard someone say,  ‘Scripture has one interpretation, but many applications.’   Oh how true this is!

At its most dangerous, proof texting is one way fringe religions and cults ensnare people.  If one doesn’t know the scripture and its context, it’s easy to become the victim of spiritual abuse.  Spiritual abuse is not committed only by malicious leaders that wish to eventually kill their followers in the name of God.  Sometimes, well-meaning leaders are also guilty of spiritually abusing those they are supposed to be servants to, by taking scriptures and using them out of context to keep the laymen ‘in line’.  I believe most leaders fall into the category of those that truly want to help people.   But if a leader will use scripture to heap guilt on you so you’ll stay in their congregation, there’s a foundational problem with this picture.   The Bible teaches the sheep belong to God, not to the under shepherd.   As an example of this practice, the subject ‘touch not mine anointed’ is one scripture that is heard more often outside of its proper context than it is inside, and is, in my opinion, probably one of the most abused verses in the Bible.  See my article on this subject here.  Thinking about someone becoming involved in a cult seems extreme.  But, it happens all the time.  One thing leads to another, and before the unsuspecting prey knows it, they’re caught in the trap and don’t know how to get out.

Although becoming involved in a cult might be the more extreme side, there is still danger in taking scripture out of context, because the meaning in our minds can be radically altered from the original intent of the writer.   A young minister I know gave an excellent example of this in a recent sermon.  He asked the congregation what they would think if they went to someone’s house and saw a note lying around.  The note reads ‘Kill them all…the babies too.’  When he said this, I immediately thought of what it must have been like for the children of Israel when the decree came from Pharoah to kill all of the baby boys.  The horror and pain of that would have been almost unbearable.  Then, my friend shared that the note was left there for the exterminator, who was coming to treat the house for termites that day.  The context of that note totally changed when we knew the situation and the setting in which it was left.

This is exactly how it is when we study the Word of God.  We don’t usually think about all of the aspects that are important to gaining a thorough understanding of any passage of scripture.  Sure, the words themselves are extremely important.  But, the words take on so much more meaning when the setting, culture, language, and even geography of the area are considered.   There’s a whole new world to be gained by taking the time to search out these matters.   I’ve been amazed at the verses I’ve carefully read in context recently that were completely different than I once imagined they were.

Searching the scripture requires more of us than taking verses out of context, but the rewards are huge.  May we take Paul’s admonition to Timothy seriously…“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman who needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth”  (II Timothy 2:15).  (Just to make sure I don’t take this out of context, ‘study’ here means to ‘give diligence to’.  🙂  )  May we give the utmost diligence to studying out the context of the scripture that we may be able to encourage and teach others the full truth of God’s Word.



  1. Heather,

    I have studied the Word of God for as far back as I can remember and I have learned that to really make the Word applicable, it must be used within the confines of its intended purpose. I know there are many who have misaligned, misused, and misunderstood, God’s holy Word. It has caused the body of Christ to suffer needlessly and has led many into discouragement and despair.

    Like you, I have found myself using God’s Word incorrectly. Not necessarily for my own purposes, but still used incorrectly. I do so want my interpretation and application of the Bible to be accurate and to bring the body of Christ to greater growth and understanding.

    As always, your writing was timely and well said. I am grateful for your insight into the precious Word of God and even more grateful that you share it with us.

    Blessings to you today, dear friend.

    In Grace,

    • Thank you Marie! 🙂

      I am very blessed that through my blog (and outside), I get to talk with all kinds of people. I am amazed at the number of people that have been hurt by often well-meaning people (usually leaders) that have taken the scripture out of its context. These people don’t want to quit on God, but they sure get very ready to quit any kind of organized religion, or don’t know if they can trust it. It’s hard to see people hurt that way, and it is such a blessing to me when I find things, or when people ask me to study certain things to bring the truth out as best I can find it. It creates freedom where there has been bondage. Such a great gift!

      I hope you have a wonderful week, Marie!! Love you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: