All quotations are taken from the NKJV
The Chapter and Verse series is designed to help believers who are keen to study God's word for themselves, by using the keys to interpretation which the Bible itself supplies. Articles discuss principles to apply, and pitfalls to avoid in the study of the scriptures. They will be of especial interest to those with a desire to teach the word of God.
‘Which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures’, 2 Pet. 3. 16
Even when Paul was still alive, people twisted his writings to support their false doctrines. Peter warns his readers not to be led astray by such people. One key to not being fooled is what Peter says in verse 17, ‘since you know this beforehand’. We need to understand the tactics of those who distort God’s word. Like a stage magician who uses sleight of hand, at first these people appear convincing, but once you are ‘in on the trick’ the magic loses its appeal.
The oldest trick in the book is the deliberate misquote. Satan attempted this against Eve, implying that she was forbidden to eat from any tree. Although Eve did not fall for this, she was distracted enough to misremember God’s words herself, Gen. 3. 3. When you hear a verse quoted look up the reference to verify the quotation is accurate.
Be alert for teachers who constantly switch between multiple translations. They are scratching around for a form of words which best lends itself to their viewpoint.
In 2 Peter chapter 3 verse 16, Peter acknowledged that some things which Paul wrote are hard to understand, but he did not say they were impossible to understand. False teachers zoom in on the more difficult verses, confident we won’t be able to argue with their explanation if we don’t already know the meaning. We can defend ourselves in two ways: First, we must diligently study passages that are easy to understand. Then, if someone uses a difficult-to-understand verse to contradict an easy-to-understand one, we will spot it.
Second, as we mature in Bible study, we can dig deeper into the difficult passages to discover what they actually mean. Beware when someone implies that a verse does not mean what it very plainly appears to say. Even well-meaning Bible teachers can be biased by their presuppositions. Desiring to make a verse fit with their theology, they propose an explanation which actually contradicts the most obvious meaning of the text.
Sometimes a scripture may be directly applicable to us. This is especially so in the Epistles. Although our physical circumstances may be quite different from the original recipients of, say, Galatians or Ephesians, spiritually we occupy the same ground. We should read it and do what it says.
Indirect application (application of principle)
In other cases, a scripture may only be indirectly applicable. For example, in Matthew chapter 5 verses 23 and 24, the Lord Jesus gave instruction regarding temple worship. Since we do not sacrifice animals on an altar, we cannot apply these words directly. The disciples were then under the law. Spiritually, we are not on the same ground as they were. Nevertheless, there is a principle which we can learn regarding the attitude in which God wants us to worship Him today.
Sometimes, however, we may not be able to apply a scripture directly or indirectly, because later revelation has superseded what was written earlier. Application for us may be by way of contrast. An example is David’s prayer in Psalm chapter 51 verse 11, ‘do not take Your Holy Spirit from me’. We cannot pray this prayer, because the Lord Jesus and Paul taught that the Spirit will never leave New Testament believers, John 14. 16; Rom. 8. 9. Here, correct application would be to thank God that, despite our frequent failures, He has promised to remain with us.
How do we know when to apply directly, when to apply the principle only, and when to apply the opposite of what is stated? Generally speaking, we should start from Paul’s Epistles and work outwards. When the Gospels or Old Testament agree with Paul, we can apply them directly too. If they don’t, rather than trying to squeeze them to fit, we may need to recognize that they were written to people on different spiritual ground to ourselves, and apply accordingly.
False teachers ignore the plain teaching of Paul, and try to get us to apply scripture, especially law, that was never meant for us.