Select Page

The other day I discovered a very good article (November 2, 2010) entitled “The Careful Handling of the Word” by Jack K. Kuhatechek.  The article appeared in the publication Voice by Dallas Theological Seminary.  The link is https://voice.dts.edu/article/the-careful-handling-of-the-word-jack-k-kuhatschek/.  This article lists seven common errors folks commit when engaging the Bible.  Let’s take a brief look at these errors and ways to avoid them.

ERROR NO. 1 IS PROOF TEXTING which is the practice of using certain short passages, many times only a single verse, pulled from the Bible in support of a particular belief or doctrine.  See bible.org.  Proof texting is an extremely dangerous practice because it ignores the context of a passage and can result in some very bad and even extremely destructive propositions.   Every diligent Bible student knows that one basic principle of Bible study is to factor in the context of the passage including the literary context, historical context, cultural context, etc.   As Kay Arthur says (Arthur, How to Study Your Bible, (1994) Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR., page 20), “… context always rules in interpretation.”

One very comprehensive book on Bible study (Baurer and Traina, Inductive Bible Study, (2011) Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI) points out at page 79 the importance of context:

The second reason for beginning with the survey of the book-as-a-whole has to do with the contextual principle.  As we shall see in part 3, the most important factor in interpretation is context, especially literary context: the setting of of individual passages within the book of which they are a part.

One way to avoid proof texting is to analyze the passage in the block or unit of text it resides.  This may comprise engaging the paragraph or the chapter or even the entire book of the Bible per the suggestion by Bauer et al.

ERROR NO. 2 IS BEING TOO LITERAL which is the practice of reading the Bible without factoring the authors’ use of metaphors, similes, and other non-literal literary devices in various literary genres.   Exemplary literary devices include the following: “anthropomorphism” means the attribution of human features or actions to God; “hyperbole” means exaggeration to say more than is literally meant; “idiom” means an expression peculiar to a particular people; “metaphor” means a comparison in which one thing represents another; and “simile” means a comparison using “like” or “as.”  See Hendricks et al., Living By the Book, (1991) Moody Press, Chicago, IL).  A Bible student been be cautious to recognize literary devices in a passage.

ERROR NO. 3 IS  IGNORING THE BIBLE’S BACKGROUND which is the practice of not factoring in the historical and cultural circumstances during which the text was written.   Mr. Kuhatechek describes a mistake some make about Jesus’ advice and counsel to the church at Laodicea recorded in Revelation:

We usually assume that “hot” means we are spiritually alive or “on fire” for the Lord, while “cold” means we are spiritually dead or hostile. In other words we think Jesus would prefer that we be either for Him or against Him rather than being neutral. But such an interpretation of “cold” and “hot” completely ignores the background of the passage and is therefore misleading.

Another excellent New Testament guide for Bible study (Blomberg et al., Handbook of New Testament Exegesis, (2010) Baker Academic, Nashville, TN) reads at pp. 63-64:

Understanding the historical context of a passage removes the haze of obscure cultural tradition that often shrouds the text for modern interpreters of Scripture. … The job of the responsible exegete, therefore, is to overcome the obstacle of cultural distance by understanding the relevant aspects of the social atmosphere as the authors and the audience of Scripture would have understood them.

ERROR NO. 4 IS RELYING ON FAULTY TRANSLATIONS which is a practice that is self-explanatory.  Every English translation contains some translation errors.  There is less one-to-one word correspondence between the biblical language (i.e., Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) and the receptor language, e.g., English, than one may think.  A person can reduce the chance of making the faulty translation error by engaging the passage in several translations.  These translations ought to range between a more “literal” translation (e.g., New American Standard Bible 1995 Update, English Standard Version) and a range of dynamic translations (e.g., New International Version, New living Translation, God’s Word).  A chart showing the ranges of Bible translations is at page 36 of the September/October 2019 issue of Bible Study Magazine.  Please note that Bibles are available that contains multiple translations in a side-by-side format. 

ERROR NO. 5  IS READING INTO SCRIPTURE which is the practice of eisegesis.  Mr. Kuhatechek quotes a great saying that says it all:

Wonderful things in the Bible I see: things that are put there by you and by me.

Then he writes, “[S]ometimes we read our own ideas into Scripture rather than those the author intended.”   The website gotquestions.org defines eisegesis:

The opposite approach to Scripture is eisegesis, which is the interpretation of a passage based on a subjective, non-analytical reading. The word eisegesis literally means “to lead into,” which means the interpreter injects his own ideas into the text, making it mean whatever he wants.

The way to avoid this error is engage Scripture through the basic steps of observation, interpretation, and application and then let the passage take you where it goes.  Do not engage the Bible with the preconceived idea of what you want it to say and then twist it say what you want.  By the way, the correct method of interpretation is exegesis, which means per gotquestions.org:

Exegesis is the exposition or explanation of a text based on a careful, objective analysis. The word exegesis literally means “to lead out of.” That means that the interpreter is led to his conclusions by following the text.

ERROR NO. 6  IS THINKING WE CAN DO IT ALL which is the practice of not checking our interpretation against the interpretations of other reputable Bible teachers, preachers and scholars.  Hendricks et al. (Living by the Book) counsels:

Consultation involves the use of secondary sources.  They shed light on the text that will help you make more sense out of what you’re looking at.  … Using secondary sources, you can leverage yourself against the contribution of others.

ERROR NO. 7 IS FAILING TO APPLY WHAT WE LEARN which is self-explanatory.  It makes no sense to store up many Bible facts, doctrines, etc. and not apply them in one’s life.   The preceptaustin.org website describes application as follows:

The dictionary defines application as the act of putting to use or putting into operation especially for some practical purpose. It is  the act of bringing something to bear; using it for a particular purpose. It is the work of applying something (I like that — it make take a little “holy sweat” to apply what we have learned, but it is worth the effort exerted!)

In Bible study, application is putting truth you’ve discovered (through observation and interpretation) to use in your life with the ultimate goal of transformation or life change. Bible study is meant not merely to inform but to transform and renew our mind. (Ro 12:2-note)

Life transformation, i.e., genuine change, occurs through the renewing of our minds.  In his book Knowable Word [(2014) Cruciform Press], Peter Krol teaches that we apply the Bible in our head, then we apply the Bible in our heart, and then we apply the Bible in our hands.  See pages 85-91 of Knowable Word.  Note that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 points out the practical applications of Bible engagement.  This passage, taken from two translations where one (ESV) is more literal and the other (NLT) is more dynamic, reads:

2 Timothy 3:16–17 (ESV) – 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16–17 (NLT) – 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

Notice the differences in the translations.

In conclusion, I hope this brief article is helpful.  You should check out the original by Jack Kuhatechek at the above link.

NOTICE OF PERMISSIONS – I am mindful of and respect the rights other authors and publishers possess in their works.  I thus try my best not to violate any copyright rights other authors and publishers possess in their works.  The below copyright permission statement is the result of my best efforts to understand that limited usage or “fair use” is available and to secure direct permission for specific works.  Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  The quotations from news sources are fair use.

Scripture marked “NASB95” are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.”

Scripture marked “NCV” is taken from the New Century Version. Copyright © 1987, 1988, 1991 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

The Scriptures marked “NET” are quoted are from the NET Bible®  http://netbible.com copyright ©1996, 2019 used with permission from Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved”.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture marked “GW” is taken from the God’s Word Bible that is a copyrighted work of God’s Word to the Nations. Quotations are used by permission.