'God Is Not a Genie in a Bottle': Ways We Misuse the Bible
Most Misused Verses in the Bible, The: Surprising Ways God's Word Is Misunderstood
Bargerhuff, Eric J.
Bethany House Publishers
May 1, 2012
176 pp., $11.69
What does the text mean to me?
This question, asked in Bible studies and sermons around the world, can lead believers to spiritual renewal. When it is the only question Christians ask of the Bible, warns Eric J. Bargerhuff, faith in Christ can become disconnected from the meaning of given passages. In The Most Misused Verses in the Bible: Surprising Ways God's Word Is Misunderstood (Bethany House), Bargerhuff, until recently a Florida pastor, advocates careful interpretation of Scripture based on attention to context. Owen Strachan, Christian theology and church history professor at Boyce College, spoke with Bargerhuff about how the Bible becomes a mere handbook, and its verses a talisman, when our desires crowd out sound interpretive practices.
Are there specific categories of verses that evangelicals tend to misinterpret?
Our temptation is to interpret the promises of God materially and temporally instead of spiritually and eternally. We Americans have bought into a materialistic, right-now mindset, and so we're tempted to pull verses out of context to fit that mindset. We need to understand that God's greatest desire is to glorify his name. Too often, we interpret God's promises in a way that is appealing to our sinful side. We often grab things out of Scripture and try to use them for our own benefit, instead of taking the necessary steps to submit to Scripture, to be humbled by it.
You critique prayers that uncritically expect God to grant us, well, anything. Like John 14:13: "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son."
God is not a genie in a bottle. Yes, he has a good, pleasing, and perfect will. But this doesn't mean we should pray for whatever we want. We are sinful people and don't even know what's best for us, as the Book of Romans says. Sometimes we pray with wrong motives. Praying random prayers that are self-centered is not God-honoring. We should seek his will when we pray.
What would you say to athletes who latch onto Philippians 4:13 ("I can do all this through him who gives me strength")?
In that passage, Paul is teaching on contentment and arguing that no matter what our situation is, we should learn to be content. The ability to be content, whatever the situation, is contingent on what Jesus gives us. This verse doesn't necessarily mean that Jesus will give the player victory, but rather that he can be content either way because of God's strength in him. It's not about God giving you the strength to dunk the basketball as much as it is him working in you to be content no matter what happens in the game.
Why is Jeremiah 29:11-13 ("'For I know the plans I have for you …'") commonly misinterpreted?
Most people overlook the context of the verse because it speaks to what they want to hear for their life. This was a corporate promise given to the nation of Israel, to a generation that came out of 70 years of captivity in Babylon. We think through an Americanized filter based on our preconceived notions of what blessing is. But God's promises are spiritual promises, not promises of instant gratification. Though God does bless us in many ways, he has not promised us our best life now. This world is not our home, and we should long for a better country.