Great quotes are often taken out of context and they fair just fine.
"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot." - Stephen King
See? You do not need to read the rest of his book, On Writing, to fully understand the statement. (though if you love writing, you really, really, should read it)
But there is one book that must be read thoroughly--no matter how long it takes--because it continues to be misquoted by both fans and critics alike.
Despite the billions of copies sold world-wide--making it the best-selling book of all time--biblical illiteracy remains high. And it IS rather lengthy. If you are unfamiliar with it, here's a quick run-down:
The Bible is a collection of 66 books written over 1500 years by approximately 40 authors - kings, government officials, farmers, shepherds, doctors, priests, and fishermen. Open it and you'll read history, prophecy, Jewish law, poetry, formal letters, proverbs, and biographies.
Yet it is an astoundingly unified book, with Christ Jesus being the single thread woven through from start to finish. Everything points to him, predicts him, makes sense because of him, and is redeemed through him. The great "saints" we recognize through many cathedrals and churches weren't stellar human beings, but were profoundly affected and changed by Christ. For ease of reading, the books of the Bible were divided up into chapters and verses in the 16th century. And it's these verses that are plucked from their surroundings and tossed about as proof of whatever one believes.
A few years ago, I bought a small copy of the Bible with a medieval looking sword engraved into the gray, fake leather cover. "Hebrews 4:12" is on the blade. I love it. But I can see how unsettling (or plain eye-rolling) it may look to someone unfamiliar with the Bible. And it got me thinking about how common Biblical misconceptions are. Here's where the sword imagery comes from:
"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)
This isn't describing a battle...this is surgery. Here's another interesting verse about the heart:
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)
We believe all sorts of things about the Bible, and therefore, God. For example, it's quite common to assume the Bible is against various groups of people. But in reality, the Bible doesn't give directions on how to club people over the head with The Ten Commandments. It does not lay out a five point plan in becoming healthy and wealthy by shouting self-help words into the air every morning. It certainly doesn't condone waving hateful signs in people's faces.
What the Bible does say to us is much simpler and more freeing than popular culture assumes: we are loved and invited to surrender and follow a loving God through Christ. After that, Christ-followers are called to unity with each other, service toward others, steadfastness, and...peace.
But I think the worst thing to be taken out of context when not reading the Bible thoroughly for ourselves is the character of God.
And this is why I wrote this blog post. We all do this when we're too busy or distracted to draw near to God. We start to think of Him as distant. We figure His solutions would be the same as ours. We look at others with disdain and assume God does too. If we are believers, we forget the constant, immediate access to confidence, wisdom, love, peace, and sense of purpose we have. If we are unbelievers, we may see God (and the Bible) as cute concepts completely unconnected to history, psychology, science, archaeology, sociology, art, etc.
But as we take time to study the Bible, that changes. We get a real sense of the beauty, order, justice, patience, and sacrificial lovingkindness of God's character. His ways and life itself will still be a mystery, because we aren't God. But we will spot truth discrepancies, both in and out of church, much faster.
Remember that verse I quoted above about the deceitfulness of the human heart? Without studying all of God's Word for ourselves, we won't even be able to spot discrepancies in our own hearts! And they exist, whether we are church-goers or not. Whether we have "lived a good life and not killed anybody" or not.
If you are still reading at this point, I'm grateful, because I mean for this post to be an encouragement. I don't always study the Bible on a regular basis, despite fully believing everything I wrote above. But I have read the entire thing (many parts multiple times) over my lifetime, and I can honestly say it only becomes richer and more astounding. I continue learning new things from verses I've read what feels like a hundred times. And the more I read, the less I am sidetracked by things that don't matter, or are simply untrue.
I love hearing people's stories - leave a comment and tell me what your experience with the Bible has been. Think it's a waste of time and should remain on the shelf? Opened it for yourself and been surprised? Read it a hundred times and suddenly something clicked? Or just wonder why on earth it's still a global best-seller? Tell me!