I will admit up front that I’ve been guilty of some of these abuses on more than one occasion. Chances are you have, too. And, by the way, we’re not alone: the Bible is probably the most abused book ever written. So, there’s no need for anyone to be defensive here, and hopefully we can have a helpful conversation! 🙂 These are the six ways that I see Scripture abused the most commonly. In particular, I had in mind ways that Scripture is referenced in an abusive manner. So, yes, we could argue that reading Scripture, then refusing to obey it is a grave abuse, but it’s not the sort of abuse I had in mind. That said, are there any categories you would add?
1) THE “STRETCH” REFERENCE
There is a certain strand of Christian teaching that still insists on seeing the Bible as a big ole book of answers. Everything you’ll ever need to know (or perhaps everything worth knowing) can be found in the Bible. Either because they embrace this view or because they feel pressure from those that do, many Christian writers, speakers, etc, feel the need to tie everything they say to Scripture somehow. Often this means backing up everything with a Scripture reference … whether the reference works, or not. In my experience, the topics that inspire the most “stretch” references are marriage and finances.
I once read a book on Christian finances that used Genesis 14:21-24 as a reference when talking about credit card debt. Now if you take the time to read the reference, you’ll see that, well, credit card debt really isn’t the message there. The sad thing about “stretch” references is that they are often really good advice, and can stand alone as such. Do you really need a Bible verse to convince you that being in massive credit card debt isn’t a great situation? There’s no reason to abuse Scripture to try to justify the advise or prove your credentials to your intended audience.
2) THE “SKETCH” REFERENCE
Christian business are the worst offenders when it comes to this one (though that’s not to say that all, or even most, Christian business do this). Basically it’s an attempt to harness the sacred authority of Scripture to support what it is your doing. The absolute worse example I’ve seen lately was a Christian dating site. Quoting verses like “seek and you will find” and “God will grant you the desires of your heart,” they went well beyond acceptable bounds. It would have been fine to say something like, “Look, it’s hard to meet other singles, much less other Christian singles. Come join our online community.” (I personally have no problem with online dating sites in theory.) But instead, they used these Scriptures as part of a larger campaign to guilt and bully people into using their services. The overall sense of the ad was basically, “Hey, if you don’t want to be single, just do what God says in Scripture … and use our service to help!”
3) THE FLIPPANT REFERENCE
Okay, I bet this would be the category where we would have the most disagreement if we actually tried to start putting Scripture references into these abusive categories. What I might argue is flippant, you might say is totally harmless, and we might flip flop answers on the next reference. Basically, these are references to Scripture that don’t treat Scripture with the seriousness and sacredness it deserves (the subjectivity of those categories being the reason we probably won’t agree across the board on this one very often).These might range from light offenses (and maybe in your opinion, non-offenses), like a Christian company putting “Your Word is sweeter than honey” on their honey bottles, to (what I hope we would agree) is a grievous offense, like putting Bible verses on toilet paper. Note that it’s not necessarily the motivation for the action that makes the reference flippant, but rather the treatment of Scripture. The honey peeps may have just been trying to be cute, while the toilet paper peeps may have been trying to evangelize the captive audience of people in public restroom stalls.
4) THE OUT-OF-CONTEXT REFERENCE
Oh my! If we wanted to, we could easily do a 25-year blog series with daily entries on examples where we’ve seen Bible verses used out of context. Christians and non-Christians are both guilty of this, and the internet is plagued with these sorts of references! My favorite examples of this particular abuse, though, come from Christian jewelry. I’ll give you an few example.Has anyone ever seen the friendship necklace that has “May the Lord watch between you and me” engraved across the front, then is cut into two pieces so each friend can carry a piece? Seems kind of sweet, doesn’t it? But when you read the actual reference, it’s pretty hilarious! It comes from the story of Jacob and his father-in-law, Laban. Okay, it still seems sweet, though, right?
Well, Jacob and Laban couldn’t stand each other. Worse, they didn’t trust each other, not even a little bit. They had spent the first fourteen years of their relationship tricking and cheating each other as best as they could. So when it came time to part ways, they created a little stone monument between them and said those “sweet” words on that friendship necklace. The idea was this: “Look, I can’t watch my back 24/7, so I’m trusting God to protect me from your trickery and untrustworthiness.”
5) THE IMPOSED-DEFINITION REFERENCE
This is another one that both Christians and non-Christians are guilty of quite frequently. Basically it’s using the Bible to defend your point of view without taking the time to figure out how the Bible defines the terms being used. People find verses with the words “love,” “freedom,” “judgment,” “authority,” etc, and then scream, See? See? The Bible says it, too, so you have to listen to me! Personally, I think “love” is the most abused term in this category. People know the Bible says “God is love,” but don’t bother studying how Scripture defines love (especially God’s love), so they assume that God automatically approves of anything they are convinced is done out of love.
6) THE -UM-IT-DOESN’T-ACTUALLY-SAY-THAT REFERENCE
For reasons that can only be described as masochistic, I sometimes read through the comment sections on various internet news sites. I’ll often seen non-Christians trying to nail Christians on hypocrisy charges by saying things like “Don’t they know that their own Scriptures tell them to __________” or “Jesus taught ____________. I don’t know why his follower can’t get that.” The strange thing is that the vast majority of the time, the Bible actually doesn’t say that, or Jesus actually didn’t teach that. There are a ton of misunderstandings — or just plain false claims — about what the Bible contains out there, and the ease of access and lack of accountability associated with the internet has only exacerbates the problem. I have heard some truly weird ones in this category from, “The Bible says that Christians have to think of themselves as better than other people; they don’t have a choice.” to “Baptists drink the blood of babies; their Scriptures tell them to.” (I promise I’m not making that last one up!)
What are some of the worst examples you’ve seen?
What are some of the worst examples you’ve personally committed?