While the Bible has no bloopers, of course, the way we visualize the written Word might. For example, when Joseph’s eleven brothers came to him, we picture Benjamin as a youth because he was the youngest. However, shortly thereafter, all 70 members of Jacob’s family moved to Egypt, and the name list includes Benjamin’s ten sons (Genesis 46:21).
Another Bible story picture that may need a re-take is Samson. If he had a Mr. Universe physique, the Philistines and Delilah would not have wondered about the source of his strength. Perhaps Samson had an average or even puny body build, and thus his strength was a conundrum.
And don’t get me started on the narratives about Jesus’s birth. Show me the verses that mention a donkey, an inn-keeper, a stable, or wise men worshipping at a manger. Nor does the Bible say that the wise men followed the star from their homeland all the way to Israel. If that were true, it would have led them to Bethlehem, not Jerusalem. They did follow the star in Matthew 2:9─10, but only for about six miles. Yes, our Christmas carol lyrics contain several bloopers.
In my opinion, the greatest hotbed for bloopers shows up in Christian devotionals, which commonly take a verse or phrase and make it say something inspiring. Writers and speakers should not start with a great application and make the biblical text support that thought, lest bloopers result. Rather, we must observe the text in context—by asking what God was saying to the original audience. Someone has correctly observed that the Bible was written for us but not necessarily to us. Good study results in unforced interpretation, which will then determine relevant applications.
Consider these verses we often pull out of context:
Psalm 46:10 has nothing to do with so-called listening prayer or God speaking to our hearts. Instead, God is telling the nations to “be still and know” that He is God. He wants them to cease striving (warring) and let Him have His way.
In the beloved verse, Jeremiah 29:11, God is speaking to the Israelite exiles. We cannot personalize verse 11 unless we also claim verse 10—that we will return to our homeland after 70 years. Yes, we are constantly on God’s mind, but a better verse for that concept is Psalm 40:5.
For Ephesians 2:1, being “dead in trespasses and sins,” I’ve heard popular speakers cross reference John 11 to talk about a corpse. They are trying to prove that regeneration precedes faith, and that even faith is a gift, not a response. Yet in Ephesians 2:2, that dead condition results in walking! Let Ephesians interpret Ephesians. “Dead in sins” is explained in 2:2─13 and 4:17─19. It means separated from God because of sin.
Does 2 Corinthians 5:17 mean that believers will exhibit godly behaviors because they are “a new creature,” or is “a new creation” a better translation? We answer this by observing that the theme of 2 Corinthians 5:14─20 is our ministry of reconciliation. Now that we are “in Christ,” we have a new perspective on all of creation. Our old way of perceiving things according to the flesh (vs. 16) has passed away. A new outlook has come. Thus we now discern that unbelievers need to be reconciled to God, and we are His ambassadors in that process.
Perhaps you like to evangelize using Romans 10:9─10 to facilitate a response that people must both believe with their hearts and confess with their mouths. While many people have no doubt believed Jesus’ promise of eternal life and trusted in Him by a misapplication of these verses, in context they concern national Israel being saved (delivered) when they call on the Lord. We must not ignore the Old Testament quotes in Romans 10. They reveal the meaning.
Whenever the word salvation/saved appears in Scripture (seven times in Romans 9-11) always ask: “Saved from what?” (Hint: it usually does NOT mean from Hell.) Also, study the phrases, “calling on the name of the Lord” and “confess” the Lord Jesus, throughout Scripture to see if this is done by believers or unbelievers. (Rene A. Lόpez explains six views of this passage in his outstanding book, Romans Unlocked. Also see Charles Bing’s excellent book, Grace, Salvation & Discipleship: How to Understand Some Difficult Bible Passages, pp.153-157.)
Finally, consider Philippians 4:13 where doing “all things” through Christ refers to learning contentment, not running a marathon!
I am not a scholar, and many Bible passages baffle me. But I am a learner who tries to study a verse in context before offering wisdom on how it relates to us. Sometimes I look at my early published devotionals and blush at the bloopers they contain. Was I purveying God’s intended truth or my imposed concepts?
Hopefully this article will help you avoid bloopers as you study and teach the biblical text contextually.
Marcia Hornok is Ken’s lucky wife, proud mother of six, and happy grandma of 11. Her gift book of 82 practical devotionals, Fruit of the Spirit: Inspiration for Women from Galatians 5:22─23 is out of print but available as an ebook on Amazon.