'God Is Not a Genie in a Bottle': Ways We Misuse the Bible
Is there a danger, when reading Acts 2:38 ("Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'"), of thinking that baptism is a precondition of salvation?
This was a specific command given to a specific group of people who were to express their salvation through baptism. There is a difference between the means of salvation and an obedient response to salvation. Baptism was an expression of what had already happened in the heart. Baptism was not to be linked with salvation, because that would make salvation the product of a specific action, contradicting the teaching that salvation comes through faith, not works.
What principles can guide careful interpretation of Scripture?
There are several: understanding the Bible's various literary genres, understanding historical context, discerning the author's intent, carefully defining the meaning of words, looking at grammatical relationships, reflecting on the church's history of interpretation, and always adhering to the principle that the Bible never contradicts itself. These elements are very important to understanding what Bible passages really mean. There are plenty of resources today—Bible dictionaries, commentaries, lexicons, and more—to help ordinary Christians gain a better understanding.
Could evangelicals ever become so focused on getting texts exactly right that they end up debating how many angels can dance on a pin?
Anyone who engages the study of mathematics or architecture knows that even one slightly off-balance angle can distort the whole picture. Theologians who are trying to build an overview of what the Bible says know that we have to get things right. Satan, in the garden, twisted the Word of God ever so slightly. We must understand that God has embodied his will and his nature in these texts. If we skew them even ever so slightly, we will misunderstand him.
Go to ChristianBibleStudies.com for "Misusing the Bible," a Bible study based on this article.
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Other Christianity Today articles about the Bible include:
Why the Bible Is Not a Book of Moral Laws | Contrary to popular belief, it's the startling gift book. (January 12, 2012)
Location, Location, Location | Particular places shape the biblical story, and each Christian life. (November 22, 2011)
How to Read the Bible | New strategies for interpreting Scripture turn out to be not so new—and deepen our life in Christ. (October 7, 2011)
The Son and the Crescent | Bible translations that avoid the phrase "Son of God" are bearing dramatic fruit among Muslims. But that translation has some missionaries and scholars dismayed. (February 4, 2011)