So apparently I made the news the other night. A nice gal with a giant microphone and a camera guy at her heels stopped me on the sidewalk and wanted to ask me some questions from the US citizenship test. I got two out of three right (the perfectionist in me wants to make sure folks know I realized immediately when I got the one answer wrong). And then she had some questions for me regarding a local educational issue.
I have a journalism degree. I write articles for a living. So I know how difficult it is to get a good quote that’s phrased in a way that it can be useful, so I forced myself to be a little more verbose than I normally would have with a camera and a light stuck in my face. And I certainly didn’t say anything inappropriate. I answered her questions in a way that was complete, grammatically correct, and snappy. A good quote.
And in the article and the news report, what I said was used to make a slightly different point than the question I answered. It’s not a hugely different point, but it’s a subtle enough to make me grumbly. If she’d asked the question about the issue my quote was used to support, I might have given her a different answer. But to a certain extent, I understand her position.
If nothing else, it was a really wonderful reminder for me on the importance of context. Because you really can’t just jump into a conversation and expect to understand all the bits and pieces. You can’t take a sentence out of a paragraph and expect to grasp the point of an essay.
Who but God goes up to heaven and comes back down?
Who holds the wind in his fists?
Who wraps up the oceans in his cloak?
Who has created the whole wide world?
What is his name—and his son’s name?
Tell me if you know!
Every word of God proves true.
He is a shield to all who come to him for protection.
Do not add to his words,
or he may rebuke you and expose you as a liar.
Cherry-picking is dangerous. Jumping to conclusions or making assumptions about half a conversation has ended friendships. So what do you think it’s done to the family of God?
God is God, and His Word is true. And He’s made it pretty plain throughout the Bible that anyone who adds to the Word (or takes away from it) will be in serious hot water.
I love the Bible more than any other Book in the world, but you absolutely can’t just take one fragment of it and plant your flag there. It’s either all true, 100%, or it’s not. Scripture has to support Scripture. You can’t believe that salvation is free by grace through faith and then also believe that you have to earn your salvation. Those two concepts are totally contrary.
You can’t just cling to a Bible verse because it sounds good or because it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. Read it. Study it. Understand it. Where did it come from? Who said it? Who heard it?
There’s a verse in the Bible that says “Eat, drink, and be merry.” Yes, that’s in the Bible. And if you just take that verse as it is, you’d think that God is telling you to live it up. Indulge yourself. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Just do what feels good right now! Right?
That verse is part of a larger story. It’s what a certain man says to himself after he’s accumulated wealth. He proclaims that he can “eat, drink, and be merry” and you know what happens next? God calls him a fool, because he is going to die that night and walk into eternity with none of his worldly treasures.
Without context, you can twist any statement to suit your purposes. Satan himself doesn’t hesitate to quote the Bible when it suits him. But the Bible will never contradict itself. God will never go against Himself.
So the next time you hear a Bible verse–whether you hear it at church or from a friend or off social media or wherever–don’t just accept it. Look at it. Try to understand it. And compare it to other Bible verses you know. Does it match up with other things the Bible says? Don’t just take it for granted that every Bible verse you hear is used in the correct context.