March 28, 2017

Don’t Twist the Scriptures

Thomas Overmiller

Many claim to be Bible teachers. They claim to teach the Word of God accurately. But before you believe them, ask whether they are twisting the scriptures to their own advantage. That’s what Peter says at the close of his last letter to the churches.

And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:15-16)

The Scriptures are the inspired, authoritative, written Word of God.

Peter mentions something called ‘the Scriptures’. The word literally means “the writings.” But what writings? They are the things that God said and were written down.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)

“Given by inspiration” means that the original words God gave to us as written scripture were “God-breathed.” They were the very words spoken by God.

For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (2 Peter 1:21)

God chose certain men for this purpose. These men wrote the words of scripture “as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” The word “moved” means “born along,” as when a gust of wind blows on the sails of a ship, guiding it through the sea. This does not refer to mechanical dictation, in which the Holy Spirit moved the arms and hands of the writers as marionette puppets. Instead, it means that he guided their minds and wills in such a way that they wrote the exact words he wanted them to speak, exactly as he wanted to speak them.

Scripture is exactly what God wants us to know, from his mind to ours. That is why Paul could say in 1 Corinthians 2:16, “We have the mind of Christ” — in the 66 books of the Bible we have the mind of Christ.

“The Scriptures” includes both the Old and New Testaments.

The word “scripture” appears 50 times in the New Testament almost always referring to the writings of the Old Testament. Can we view the New Testament in the same way, as Scripture? One key reason piece of evidence is right here in 2 Peter 3:16, where Peter calls the letters that Paul wrote Scripture. He mentions the letters that Paul wrote to the churches. In the same breath, he refers the Old Testament “the other scriptures.” So the Apostle Peter tells us that he, along with the early church, accepted Paul’s epistles as equal in quality and authority to the 39 books of the Old Testament.

Consider also 1 Timothy 5:18, an excerpt from one of Paul’s letters. In this sentence, he further expands our understanding of New Testament scripture.

For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.

In this verse, Paul quotes “the scripture”. What scripture does he mean?

First, he quotes from the Old Testament Torah, Deuteronomy 25:4, written by Moses.

Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn. (Dt 25.4)

Second, he quotes from either Luke 10:7 (or possibly Matthew 10:10), which are both New Testament gospels.

And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house. (Lk 10.7)

Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat. (Mt 10.10)

Paul viewed the NT gospels as Scripture, just like the Old Testament books of Moses.

Peter also indirectly indicates that his letters were equal in scriptural quality to Paul’s letters (2 Peter 3:15).

And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; (2 Pt 3.15 – note the key word “also”)

This should give you confidence that the Old Testament and New Testament books alike are indeed the word of God and have been viewed this way by the apostles and churches from the beginning. It should also increase your sense of personal duty to know the words of scripture for yourself and obey them, bringing your mind and life into alignment with the very words of God.

You are responsible to understand the words of scripture accurately, even the difficult parts.

Peter makes a fascinating admission, that some of the things Paul wrote are “hard to understand.” If the apostle Peter says that some of the things Paul wrote in scripture are hard to understand, then don’t be surprised when you discover this for yourself in your daily Bible reading and personal study. The word hard to understand describes something that you can understand, but only with great effort and diligent study.

It is the responsibility of pastors to help you understand the Bible more clearly, especially the difficult things that it says. And no matter how simple and easy a pastor may want the Bible to be for you, he must never give the impression that the entire Bible is easy to understand. There are things in both the Old and New Testaments that are hard to understand. Pastors also have the responsibility to help you study these difficult things for yourself.

In this ministry, we need to be conscious of two sorts of people in a church.

  1. Unlearned people: those who don’t know what the Bible says because no one has taught them
  2. Unstable people: those who are either prone to changing their mind a lot or are even psychologically unstable

As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Pt 3.16)

Why do we need to be aware of people like this? Why do you need to discern whether you have any of these qualities? Because an unlearned or unstable person will be most in danger of either 1) being led away by ideas and interpretations that are unbiblical or 2) twisting Bible truth to suit his own purposes.

You must never twist Scripture to suit your own purposes.

The word twist means “to bend, distort, misinterpret or change the meaning of something by explaining it in the wrong way.” And that is why Peter wrote this letter, 2 Peter – to warn and prepare churches throughout the world to recognize and respond properly to false teachers.

Who can count the false doctrines and wrong ideas that have been taught and written throughout the 2,000-year march of church history? They are many, and their wrong ideas are often based on something in scripture. But these are based upon a twisted explanation of what the scripture actually says.

Who hasn’t heard that Jesus cannot be God because he is called “the firstborn” son of God? But this claim is in complete disagreement with the whole Bible teaching of the deity of Jesus Christ. It reveals a complete lack of knowledge (or disregard) for the what the word firstborn actually means.

Why are these and other Bible teaching errors a problem?

Mishandling and misunderstanding the Scripture produces disastrous results.

As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Pt 3.16)

Peter says that when anyone misinterprets the Bible, it leads to destructive consequences. In particular, he is addressing a specific form of false teaching in this letter. There were people teaching that Jesus would not return to judge the world for its sins. As a result, they taught that they could live and behave however they pleased.

Where did these false teachers find basis for their errors? They used content from the letters of Paul and writings of the Old Testament to support their claims! People who didn’t know for themselves what Paul and the Old Testament actually said were influenced by these teachers. Along with these teachers, those who followed them would be in for a tragic surprise when Jesus did come to judge the world in the future Day of the Lord. Mishandling the Bible in this way was no small mistake. It was a tragic error.

We need to be reminded of the great importance of knowing our Bible. Listening to preaching on Sunday is important, but that’s not enough. We need to take in as much teaching with our church as possible. We also need to take in as much as much as we can in our daily quiet time with the Lord and beyond. If you have a Bible question, study until you get the right answer. If you need help, ask your pastor. He will be glad to help you get to the right answer from the Word of God.

But whatever you do, be sure you don’t twist the Scriptures.


Thomas Overmiller serves as pastor for Faith Baptist Church in Corona, NY and blogs at Shepherd Thoughts. This article first appeared at Shepherd Thoughts and is used with permission.

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