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“Understandest Thou What Thou Readest?”

October 29, 2010

The fundamentalist approach is dangerous, for it is attractive to people who look to the Bible for ready answers to the problems of life. It can deceive these people, offering them interpretations that are pious but illusory, instead of telling them that the Bible does not contain an immediate answer to each and every problem. Without saying as much in so many words, fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide. It injects into life a false certitude, for it unwittingly confuses the divine substance of the biblical message with what are in fact its human limitations.

 “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church”
Presented by the Pontifical Biblical Commission
to Pope John Paul II on April 23, 1993


A Bible site online states that their site: “helps people around the world discover what the Bible says about life’s questions.  Here you will find counsel, direction, encouragement, and help — all from God’s word.” and also, “Get acquainted with your Bible and find answers for life’s issues and challenges.”  The site, run by a Seventh-Day Advent group also says, “This website also allows you to ask for special prayer and receive Bible promises related to your request.” (emphasis mine)

Another site states, “Got questions?  The Bible has the answers, and we’ll find them for you.”

One online writer even goes so far to say, “Jesus relied on the Word of God alone to overcome obstacles, including the devil. God’s Word is alive and powerful (Hebrews 4:12), useful for correcting us when we are wrong and teaching us what is right (2 Timothy 3:16). So, it makes sense for us to carry God’s Word in our hearts through memorization, to be ready to face any problem, every difficulty, and whatsoever challenge that life can send our way. ” (emphasis mine)

The farther I research, the bolder and more absolute the answers seem to go down the rabbit hole.  One site goes so far as to package the Bible in different ways to appeal to anyone according to their place in life.  They state, “For thousands of years the Bible, God’s Holy Word, has been recognized by many as the definite answer for life’s problems.  It is believed to be the standard by which life can be explained, and it offers credible answers to many of life’s most troubling questions.” (again, emphasis mine)

Let me correct this erroneous statement, first of all, by saying that its timeline is completely wrong.  The Bible, God’s Holy Word, has been recognized by many as the definitive answer for life’s problems for no more than the last 500 years and more specifically probably not more than the last 200 years.  For thousands of years the definite answer for life’s problems was never solely sought from the Bible alone.  That concept was born out of the Protestant Reformation. 

It goes on to say, “The Bible also offers help in the business arena, when dealing with emotions, finances, relationships, or healing, as well as help with the numerous problems that we face on a daily basis.  The Bible is quick to offer solutions to those who apply it to their life.”


The core of the problem in this erroneous application of the Bible is that it turns the Bible into a fortune cookie collection of advice and answers by pulling the meaning away from the original context and contorting it into present applicable use.  It deals a devastating blow to the Bible and to the believer by making the verses situational to circumstance.  Since the Bible has become the main recourse for many denominations it has thus become the main “life manual” for solving any and every issue at hand.  It is the advice column which serves as the guideposts for every circumstance the contemporary believer may find him or herself involved with.  Rather than being the guideline it should be, it becomes the mainstay it was never intended to be.  There is quite a difference between the Bible as a guideline to life rather than the answer to all of life’s circumstances.

It is a rather limited and restraining concept to base every situation, decision, and function of life’s important matters on a singular verse of Scripture, (that is most often found to be either out of context of meaning, or fails to capture the fuller meaning of the passage as a whole.)  This in essence defines and captures the very problem with the ideology of Sola Scriptura but it also takes the concept too far.  Much like some Sacred Traditions of the Church can be taken too far.  However, the difference being that there remains in the Church a teaching authority to correct such excesses of faith.  Therefore, even the original context of Sola Scriptura use has altered so much that it has resulted in a change from looking to the Bible alone for doctrinal belief to creating what the council called, “A false certitude” of obtaining ‘divine answers’ to personal, contemporary, situational circumstances.  It is a gross misuse of the Bible and it does create “an intellectual suicide” in many, many different ways since it encourages no original thought or effort in the matter since the Bible has resolved the matter for the individual.  Also it thus removes an intellectual pursuit of the deeper truth contained in the Scriptural passages and relegates them to only what is garnered in the answer it provides to a contemporary question.

This practice calls to mind another practice known as Bibliomancy.  A sort of Sortes Sanctorum (Lots of the saints) or Sortes Sacrae (Holy Lots) of Bible verse – life applicability.

John F. McArthur is a Protestant and stanch anti-Catholic, however, in his book Charismatic Chaos he evaluates and expounds on this particular practice of relativizing Bible verses. 
He writes, “Looking for ‘a word from the Lord’ some play a game of ‘Bible Roulette’, flipping at random through their Bibles, looking for something that seems applicable to whatever trial or need they are facing.  When they find one they say, ‘The Lord gave me that verse.'”  Further on he states, “The importance of careful biblical interpretation can hardly be overstated.  Misinterpreting the Bible is ultimately no better than disbelieving it.  What good does it do to agree that the Bible is God’s final and complete revelation and then misinterpret it?” 
Precisely.  What good does it do to have the Word of God in your hand and yet not understand its teachings?  It is the essence of being an Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:30, 31).

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