I grew up in a Christian household, and have attended church for as long as I can remember. I’ve heard almost every bible verse there is (even if I can’t remember most of them). I think the bible can be confusing, frustrating, and rage-inducing. But for as complicated and confusing as the bible can be, some people can make it even more so.
In an age of twitter and short quotes, our cultures loves to boil down complex concepts or people into simple phrases, especially if those phrases can fit on a T-shirt or on twitter.
But life, people, concepts, and the Bible are more complex than that. I’ll give a short intro on how to respond when someone quotes a verse at you, and how to make sure the verse you love to quote means what you think it means.
Table of Contents
Nothing is Simple
First of all, quick intro: The Bible was written over the course of thousands of years, with many different writers, in multiple languages. We’re still finding ancient manuscripts and older copies that help us to better replicate the original writings, but it’s not perfect. I don’t think that historical and archaeological accuracy is the point, however. God speaks to us through the Bible, but also through the people in our lives, and through his Holy Spirit.
However, far too many people take the Bible at a very simplistic and shallow level. “If it says so in the Bible, it must be true!” But can we be so sure that the Bible is so simple and direct? To help us find a meaning closer to the original writings, we’ll use the power of the internet! WOOHOO!
So, example: James 1:6 in NIV says:
“6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”
well that sounds harsh! Jesus himself said, In Matthew 7:
7“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
9“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
What’s the deal? If God doesn’t help those who doubt, then how can we ask him for help? Or for clarification? Let’s take a closer look:
Compare and contrast
Go type that verse into Bible Gateway, and it will list several different translations. You can use this to compare different version, and get a better idea of how different groups have translated this. Bible translations are a significant and complicated undertaking. Each translation is a little different, and has a different goal. Looking at all of these different translations can help you get a better sense of the original.
Go Back to the Greek
My favorite: go to Biblehub.com, type in the verse up at the top search bar, and then click on “Lexicon” along the top of the page (between Greek and Multi). This will take EVERY word in that verse and give you alternate definitions for that word. So let’s look at doubt:
διακρινομενος verb – present middle passive – nominative singular masculine
diakrino dee-ak-ree’-no: to contend, make (to) differ(-ence), discern, doubt, judge, be partial, stagger, waver.
(If you want even MORE info, you can click on Strom’s number next to the word (1252) that will give you definitions, alternate meanings, and translator notes about the context.)
We can see that this meaning of doubt is less about asking questions, and more about judging and weighing your options. The equivalent of saying “God can’t help me, so I won’t even bother!” as opposed to “God, I’m afraid, and I don’t know if you can help me, but I’m still asking for your help”
Those are completely different attitudes, and that sounds much more like the God that we know.
Now, I’m not an expert, and I know that I get stuff wrong all of the time. But with the tools we have at our disposal, it is inexcusable to misrepresent what the Bible is about. If you want to read the simplest, easiest, and most theologically accurate version of the Bible, read this:
No, I’m not kidding. I know it looks like it’s written for kids, but this thing is absolutely amazing. I guarantee you’ve never heard the Bible like this before. Also the art is pretty.
Here’s their version of the Genesis Story. I love how everything points towards God’s love for us, and his plan to bring us back to him. Every single story is about that, and the writing keeps that at the forefront. It also is much better at allowing you to take the entire Bible as a whole, instead of cutting some pieces out, or ignoring others.
Let me know if you have any more questions, or if I got something wrong.