The Misuse Of Scripture


1. "There's always more than one interpretation" and "You can make the Bible say anything you like" are two sayings that many people quote to undermine the inspiration, inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures and to justify the doctrinal diversity among the churches.

2. Is there any truth to these sayings?

a. While it is true that several different people may each have their own interpretation of a passage of Scripture, we need to realize that there is only one true interpretation and that all the false interpretations are due to a failure to follow and apply the rules of interpretation[1] and careless research. Here is an example of Paul correcting a false interpretation:

"Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, that You may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You are judged. But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is
not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world? But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), Let us do evil that good may come? Their condemnation is just" (Romans 3:1-8 NASBR)

1) It has been admitted that some had not believed the gospel but as one of the results of this sin, the character of God as a just Being, shone out all the more. Some had argued that if my sin serves to show the righteousness of God, then let us sin and so bring more glory to God.

2) Well that's one interpretation! But Paul denies teaching such a thing and condemns those who subscribe to such a belief.

b. While it is true that you can make the Bible say anything you want, we need to realize that the Bible only teaches one truth and that any other false teachings are the result of a failure to follow and apply the rules of interpretation and careless or no research. Here is an example of making the Bible say what you want when you don't follow and apply the rules of interpretation:

"You heard that I said to you, 'I go away, and I will come to you.' If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I" (John 14:28 NASBR)

"Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:13 NASBR)

1) Taking John 14:28 alone, one could teach that since Jesus Himself said that the Father is greater than He, it follows, then, that Jesus cannot be God. Taking Titus 2:13, we can say that Paul refers to Jesus as God.

2) Does the Bible teach two different things? No. A closer examination of the context of John 14:28 reveals that this verse refers to the voluntary subordination of Jesus during His earthly life when He willingly placed Himself in submission to the Father. It says nothing about His nature, only His temporary rank on earth. Thus, the "greater than" refers to His position rather than His person.

3. The aim of this lesson is to encourage us all to learn about the proper rules of interpretation so that we can avoid misusing the Scriptures and increase our knowledge of God's word. This will increase our assurance of what we believe and give us greater confidence in teaching others the truth.


There are many wrong ways to handle the Scriptures but only one right way.

A. Here are three of the most common ways in which God's word is misused:

1. Proof texting[2]. There is nothing wrong, as such, with this method of presenting what the Bible teaches but it is a method that is frequently abused. How is it abused?

a. When a person has already decided what the Bible teaches on a particular topic and then searches the Scriptures for verses that seem to back up his belief[3]. This, then, is the first error: This person's whole approach to the Scriptures is wrong because he has already decided what the Bible teaches and does not let the word teach him (Acts 17:11).

b. When a person has gathered enough verses that appear to back up his position, he stops searching. This means that there may be many other verses that speak on the subject: some that appear to back his views and others that oppose his views. So he is really speaking on a topic of which he knows little about. This, then, is the second error: This person has failed to gather all the passages that pertain to the subject (Psalms 119:160; Acts 20:27).

2. Twisting the Scriptures. Using this method, a person can quote actual Scripture but apply a meaning to it that the author never intended. Here are two examples:

a. Paul had written to the Corinthians and told them not to associate with immoral persons and it seems that some had taken this and twisted it to make it mean that he forbade contact with any immoral person. Paul then shows that such a belief was ridiculous because it would mean that one would have to leave the world. The true meaning was that they were not to keep company with an immoral brother or sister (1 Corinthians 5:13).

b. In the Parable Of The Talents, the master praised the slaves who had done business and made a good profit but rebuked the one who done nothing. The master said he should have put the money in the bank so he would at least have had some interest to collect (Luke 19:11-23). Now I do not want to enter into a debate as to whether a church should or shouldn't keep its money in a bank account where it can earn interest, the only point I wish to make is that this verse doesn't authorize it. But, unbelievably, I have heard some quote this passage to justify it. There are many lessons to be learned from this passage but how we handle the Lord's money is not one of them.

3. Misquoting Scriptures. There are many Scriptures that people quote that are either misquotations or not actually in the Bible at all! Doing so misleads and deceives people.

a. "Money is the root of all evil." This is a misquotation of 1 Timothy 6:10 that actually says, "For the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil…" Another is, "The lion shall lie down with the lamb." This is a misquotation of Isaiah 11:6 that says, "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them." Another is, "God works in mysterious ways," which is not even in the Bible!

b. When Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted, Satan took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and said, "If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, `He will command his angels concerning You'; and `on their hands they will bear You up, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone'" (Matthew 4:6). The first quote is from Psalm 91:11: "For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways." Satan saw fit to leave out the latter part of the quote as it was contrary to his purpose.

B. The most common reasons for the misuse of the Scriptures are to deceive, manipulate, and control (Cp. Ephesians 4:14).


Some people think the misuse of Scripture is harmless but the consequences of misuse are very serious indeed.

A. How it affects those who are deceived. Whether we wittingly or unwittingly misuse the Scriptures, the consequences are the same. What we'll do here is just list some of the consequences of false teaching in general:

1. It can deprive the needy of the help that God wants them to have.

a. Jesus exposed how the Pharisees and scribes neglected their duty toward their parents when they set aside the law of God in favor of their own tradition (Matthew 15:1-6).

b. Jesus said, "For you always have the poor with you" (Matthew 26:11), and some actually quote this as a justification for not helping the poor. The attitude being: "There's no use in helping the poor because it won't solve the problem."

2. It can overthrow people's faith. Paul names Hymenaeus and Philetus as those who taught that "the resurrection is already past." It is this teaching that had overthrown the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:15-18; cp. 2 Peter 2:1).

3. It can lead people into immorality. Jude warns of the false teachers whose teaching led people to believe they could live a life of sensuality with impunity (Jude 1:4).

B. How it affects those who misuse the Scriptures. This, again, applies to those who wittingly or unwittingly misuse the Scriptures.

1. You are feeding people's belief that you can make the Bible say anything.

2. It makes your worship vain (Mark 7:7).

3. You are marked out or set aside for condemnation (Jude 1:4; 2 Peter 2:3; Revelation 22:18-19).


We must learn how to study and watch out for signs of going astray.

A. In view of the various ways there are of misusing the Scriptures and the condemnation that awaits false teachers, we had better be sure that we are handling the word of God accurately. One might be tempted to say, "If this is the case, then it is better not to teach at all!" This reminds us of the slave who was given one talent: "Another came, saying, 'Master, here is your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.'" (Luke 19:20-21). Rather, we should ensure that we…

1. Search the Scriptures for all that God has to say on a subject.

2. Examine the context to find the true interpretation.

3. Research the background of traditions and customs that may throw light on the meaning.

But these are only a few of the rules of interpretation.

B. Here are some general guidelines: you need to stop and think when…

1. What you believe, teach, or practice cannot be found in the Scriptures.

2. What you believe, teach, or practice makes void the word of God.

3. What you believe or teach leads to immorality or any evils.

4. What you believe, teach, or practice causes conflict and division.


1. There are many possible ways of misusing the Scriptures and in this lesson we have considered just three of the more common misuses: Careless proof texting, applying a different meaning to a passage that the author never intended, and misquoting verses. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, we are deceiving and leading people astray.

2. The misuse of Scripture has serious consequences: the needy are deprived of help, the faith of some is overthrown, and people are led into immorality. Those who teach error undermine the authority and integrity of the Scriptures in the minds of people by feeding their belief that you can make the Bible say anything you want, and it means you can be sure you are set aside for condemnation.

3. Each of us has a responsibility to ensure that what we believe, teach, and practice is Scriptural. This means that we need to search the Scriptures, examine the context, and research the background. We need to learn all the rules of interpretation.


It hoped that this lesson has…

1. Rekindled a healthy fear and respect for God's word.

2. Stirred up a desire to study the Scriptures in accordance with the rules of interpretation.

3. Caused us to consider our beliefs and practices in the light of the Scriptures.

[1] The science of interpretation is called hermeneutics.

[2] Also known as anthologizing.

[3] Sometimes called the hunt and gather method because they know what they are looking for and simply gather the verses that support their view.

By David Campbell

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