Bible Verse Twisting

“People twist the Bible all the time to make it say whatever they want.”

Ever heard that one?  Have you ever been the one who said that?  Perhaps you just finished giving your view on homosexual behavior.  In the process, you cite a Bible verse or two, and the person you are conversing with responds with the above.  Where to go from there?

This can be difficult to respond to.  I mean, on the surface the claim looks solid.   Who can disagree with that?  I see people twist Bible verses all the time, so I’m sympathetic to the charge.  Yet, something odd is lurking under the surface, and it can be hard to suss out.

Really, most  of the time, that one liner is merely a dismissal of your case.  You give a verse, explain the context, and give an argument for its meaning, and someone merely dismisses it with a “ah, people twist the Bible all the time.”  You’ve made a specific case, and somehow, just by making the general observation that people twist the Bible, your whole case is defeated.  Really?  No, not really.  It’s a hand wave, not a substantive response.

Greg Koukl, in his book Tactics, gives another example conversation that shows this very well:

Johnny (your conversation partner):  People twist the Bible all the time to make it say whatever they want.”

You:  Well, you’re right about that.  It bugs me, too.  But your comment confuses me a little.  What does it have to do with the point I just made about homosexuality?

J:  Well, you are doing the same thing.

Y: Oh, so you think I’m twisting the Bible right now?

J: That’s right.

Y: Okay.  Now I understand what you were getting at, but I’m still confused.

J:  Why?

Y:  Because it seems to me you can’t know that I’m twisting the Bible just by pointing out that other people have twisted it, can you?

J: What do you mean?

Y: I mean that in this conversation you’re going to have to do more than simply point out that other people twist the Bible.  What do you think that might be?

J:  I don’t know.  What?

Y: You need to show that I’m actually twisting the verses.  Have you ever studied the passages I referred to?

J:  No.

Y:  Then how do you know I’m twisting them?

Perhaps the person has studied the passages…but I’m venturing a guess that most who throw out the one liner I led with haven’t…they are just trying to dismiss your argument because they don’t like it.

Regardless of whether or not the person has actually studied the passage in question, they must do better than just say “people twist the Bible all the time.”   What the person means to say is that *you* are twisting the Bible, but the general observation that others twist it doesn’t demonstrate that you are wrong.

20 responses to “Bible Verse Twisting

  1. These are really awesome. I just linked to yesterday’s, and I’ll link to today’s tonight when I go home!

  2. You’re right. Just because other people misconstrue a particular passage doesn’t necessarily mean that you are.

    That said, there is no one interpretation of almost ANY passage you can refer to. For every sentence, paragraph, verse, chapter or book, there are legions of interpretations and there are legions of citations to back up almost any point of view.

    And this has historically been one of the great flaws of the Bible. It explains why there are so many different branches, denominations, sects and cults under the umbrella labeled “Christian”. Each one has a slightly different interpretation and they all claim to be owners of THE correct version.

    It makes it next too impossible for an outsider to sift through all the contradictory claims. Catholics say the Protestants have it all wrong. Baptists dispute the Methodist interpretation. The Amish believe that all the aforementioned types and more are missing the boat. And almost all of the mainline churches say the Mormon’s and Jehovah Witnesses are downright daffy.

    Yet, each of these groups believes that their interpretation is the correct one and each can trot out their own scholars to provide scores of “evidence” to support their position.

  3. Pingback: Can people twist the Bible to make it say anything they want? « Wintery Knight Blog

  4. RT, name the specific passage that can be misinterpreted.

  5. Wintery,
    You obviously missed the gist of my comment. I didn’t say there was one specific passage that can be interpreted in a variety of ways. My point is that almost ANY passage can be interpreted in multiple ways.

    To humor you, however, there are many forms of Christianity that hold homosexuality to be sinful based on 3 or 4 passages in the Bible. However, denominations like the United Church of Christ (of which my wife use to be a member) have gay clergy. So, it’s readily apparent that said church interprets those same passages in a different way.

    Most Christian churches have clergy, but many Quakers (Society of Friends) do not. Again, these decisions — whether clergy are ordained by the Bible or not — are derived from interpreting the Bible in different ways.

    7th Day Adventists believe the Bible charges them to be vegetarians. No other denomination that I’m aware of interprets the Bible in this way.

    Jehovah Witnesses interpret the Book of Revelations to state that a specific number of souls will be saved (something like 144,000, I think). I know of no other Christian Church that interprets Revelations in that manner.

    I could go on and on and on to fill up this entire page and I would only be scratching the surface.

  6. Wintery & All,

    Here’s an example of what I’m referring to. Use this link. It shows how different Christians can interpret a few passages in different ways.

  7. RT, did it ever occur to you that it was those particular people you mention – UCC, SDA, Quakers, RCC, etc who twist the Scripture to suit their own biases?

    There is only ONE actual meaning for any passage, and that is the meaning the original writer intended. Sort of like our Constitution; no one cares what the writers intended any more – they claim it can mean anything the culture needs and so twist it and make it worthless. That’s the way the Bible is treated by those aforementioned denominations. They want to relegate much to culture of the time, or some other excuse because if you take the Scripture as written it points the finger at all of us – we are all sinners who don’t want God telling us what to do.

    Case in point are the passages about homosexuality. No denomination ever debated these passages until modern times when homosexuality is being sanctioned by society at large. It is still an abomination to God, as the passages clearly state. One has two do eisegetical gymnastics to make them say anything other than homosexuality is just plain perverted and an abomination.

  8. Oh, one more thing,

    I went to your link, and it presents the common homosexual-sanctioning bias that is prevelant nowadays, with misrepresentations of what the Greek means, and just plain eisegis.

  9. Glenn,
    You’re merely underscoring my main thesis. According to YOU, the various churches and denominations you listed are the ones misinterpreting things. I bet if one of their members came on this blog, they would say the exact same thing about you. Both of you would KNOW you were right and the other was wrong. Both of you would site the original text and the correct translation of ancient words.

    By the way, I am unfamiliar with the word, eisegis. I tried to look it up online and couldn’t find it. Would you define it for me?

  10. RT, I read your comment and I am glad that you now agree with us. But what do you mean by saying you are a flea-bitten foot-licker and that Taoism is crazy nonsense? I thought you liked it?

  11. Wintery,
    Play games if you like.

  12. RT,
    Sorry for the typo – “eisegesis” is what I meant – reading one’s own ideas into the text as opposed to exegesis, reading out of the text what is actually there.

    There is a saying, “Scripture interprets Scripture,” which would actually prove who is correct in their interpretation of the various texts disputed by the various denominations.

    SDA is considered a cultic denomination for various reasons, which leaves their interpretations suspect immediately. Quakers have never been considered evangelical Christians and have more in common with New Age with their “inner light.” UCC is well-known as a very liberal denomination, and Rome of course had added their ideas to Scripture for 1500 years!

    Proper interpretation of the Scripture is done by what is known as the historical, grammatical method; what did the author mean? And taking the passages in their context would eliminate 90% of your claimed interpretations that don’t agree with over 1900 years of understanding the Word of God.

    There is no way, without total misuse of the texts, that anyone can justify homosexual behavior being anything other than an abomination before God. Period! It was understood that way in O.T. times as well as 2000 years of N.T. times. It is only the new post-modern liberals who are trying to justify homosexual behavior who try to distort Scripture in their favor.

  13. Glenn,

    I know you believe what you believe and nothing I might write will change that.

    But, I believe, you’re still missing my point. For every interpretation of the bible, supporters of that interpretation can marshal scholars who will tear the words apart, show how this word means this and that phrase means that, and use historical and cultural references to buttress their interpretation. It’s like being on the jury in a trial in which both sides call competing experts”.

    There is another factor to consider as well. Translation is as much an art as a science. There are many words and phrases that cannot be translated directly from language to language because of different frames of reference and/or different understandings of the world. Consequently, there are many cases in which a range of words — each with a different intrinsic valuation — represents the best a translator can do. Even worse, there are times when there is no adequate word or concept to convey in a different language what the author intended to convey in their own or no one has any clue what the original word meant to begin with.

  14. RT, I fully understand your point. However, it is a claim that is only made by those who refuse to accept the plenary inspiration of Scripture. Merely being a scholar is not the problem – the problem are the liberal scholars who want to change the historical understanding of passages, in the same way cultic “scholars” (LDS, e.g.) force thier bias into the text. BUT, if one goes to the text w/o looking to support any particular bias, then the plain reading of the text isn’t all that difficult.

    The liberals are part of the problem. Notice that the link you provided has just one agenda – to “prove” that the Bible is not against homosexual behavior. So do you really expect them to accurately translate and interpret? They have one big misrepresentation right up front:
    “There is an enormous range of interpretations that biblical commentators have made of the word “arsenokoitai.”” And in their link they say this:
    “Although the word in English Bibles is interpreted as referring to homosexuals, we can be fairly certain that this is not the meaning that Paul wanted to convey.”

    This is ridiculous. Of course Paul wanted to convey that. CONTEXT. But let’s look at another good scholarly discussion of the word to see why Paul meant homosexuals. The following is from “The Same Sex Controversy: Defending and Clarifying the Bible’s Message About Homosexuality,” by James R. White & Jeffrey D. Niell:

    A fair consideration of the writings and background of the apostle Paul reveals that he was well versed in the …Septuagint (LXX). It was his “Bible,” the text he used to share the truth of the gospel as he traveled about the world. While it seems sure that Paul could read the Hebrew as well, he was the apostle to the Gentiles, and the Septuagint was the source of his proclamation and the ground of his defense of the gospel as well. Indeed, at times, when the LXX differed in its wording from the Hebrew text, Paul would choose the LXX, knowing that his audience would have a familiarity with that version. It is a fundamental axiom in all scholarly study of Paul that the LXX is central in the determination of his sources and vocabulary. Truly, no serious challenge can be raised to this simple fact.

    The relevance of this truth, however, is seen when we consider the terms that are used in the LXX at Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Leviticus 18:22, when transliterated from the LXX Greek into English, in stating that a man shall not lie with a man as one lies with a woman, reads,

    meta arsenos (arsenos – male) ou koimethese koiten (koiten – to lie with sexually, have intercourse)

    But even more striking is the wording of Leviticus 20:13 in the LXX:

    hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gunaikos.

    Notice the close connection of arsenos (male) and koiten (to lie with sexually, have intercourse). The term “homosexual” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is made up of these two terms, arsenos and koiten – hence, arsenokoites. As a compound word it is clearly referring to male intercourse.

    The next fact to consider is also very important. Arsenokoites is a term that most agree did not appear prior to its appearance in the New Testament, and specifically in the writings of Paul. So where did it come from? Two possibilities suggest themselves, and both end up having the same impact upon our reading of the text. The term could have derived from rabbinic discussions of homosexuality, based upon the terms arsenos and koiten in Leviticus 18 and 20. Or it could have been coined by Paul. This would not be unusual at all, for Paul seems to have coined a number of terms based upon the need to communicate the truths of the Hebrew Old Testament in the language of the Greek Septuagint. …

    And most importantly, since he draws so heavily and constantly from the LXX itself, the conjunction of the terms arsenos and koiten (from which arsenokoites is derived) proves that the LXX text of Leviticus is the most likely source of this term.

    This consideration is further confirmed when we remember that the audience of both letters in which the term arsenokoites appears (the Corinthian church and Timothy, Paul’s close traveling companion and child in the faith) had direct contact with the apostle’s teaching. Paul had spent eighteen months in Corinth, teaching and preaching (Acts 18:1-11). Surely, during this period of time, Paul had spoken to the believers concerning sexual purity as well as sexual immorality. …

    Having established, then, the context of the word in Paul’s usage and its origins in the LXX, we can see why the broad term “homosexual” is the best term to use in translation. The prohibition on homosexual behavior in Leviticus is not restricted to prostitution, or pederasty, or any other subcategory of homosexual immorality. It includes, and condemns, all such activity. Since this is the source from which Paul’s usage and understanding flows, it follows inevitably that we err when we attempt to limit the scope artificially to any more narrow meaning.
    I rest my case!

  15. Glenn,
    I’m not a Christian, so I don’t have a pony in this show. If I get some time, I’ll try to find a reasoned rebuttal from a liberal Christian source that employs the same kinds of methods you have utilized.

    For my part, I don’t care what the Bible says. I think homosexuality is natural, borne out by numerous scientific investigations of other species. My younger brother is gay and I accept and love him for who he is.

    As a heterosexual myself, I don’t intuitively understand homosexuality, but I likewise do not intuitively understand how anyone could like tuna fish (just the smell of it makes me sick). But I don’t think that there’s something wrong with people who crave tuna fish and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people like me who detest it.

  16. RT, Just because so-called science sees homosexual behavior in animals, that doesn’t make it natural for humans. Humans are NOT animals; we have the ability to make moral choices, something animals do no have. Not only that, it you say something is thereby natural just because we observe it in “other species,” then it would be “natural” for humans to eat their young. Same logic applies.

    Biology proves homosexual behavior is not “natural”; the human body was not made for homosexual relations, especially of the male on male sort, which the medical field has proven is extremely hazardous. Additionally, the psychological/emotional toll on gays has been well-documented.

    Homosexual BEHAVIOR is always chosen. No one has to have sex. The “natural,” designed sexual function is between male and female, and anything else is aberrant and unnatural.

    But if you don’t believe there is such thing as an ultimate truth, with an ultimate moral standard, then all you have is opinions as to whether any sexual behavior is right or wrong. Therefore, you have no basis on which to judge those who want sex with children or with animals or with corpses, let alone adult incest or polygamy.

    But all this is beyond the scope of the original article, which is about the twisting of Scripture to prove one’s agenda. Since you don’t believe the Bible is what Christians claim it to be anyway, then you should have no problem with anyone twisting it!

  17. Humans are NOT animals; we have the ability to make moral choices, something animals do no have.

    Humans are mammals and mammals are animals.

    Besides, you don’t have any idea whether or not other animals do or do not make moral choices.

    Therefore, you have no basis on which to judge those who want sex with children or with animals or with corpses, let alone adult incest or polygamy.

    I’m sorry, but this is such a juvenile argument.

    Since you don’t believe the Bible is what Christians claim it to be anyway, then you should have no problem with anyone twisting it!

    My whole point is that “twisting” is in the eye of the beholder.

  18. Ya know, I was doing what I said I would do — search the internet for a rebuttal. But I stopped because I realize that whatever I come up with you will deride as liberal Christian dribble, so why bother?

    You have your mind made up on this — as is your right — and it looks like nothing will make you budge. Even if God himself (the guy I don’t believe in) told you himself that you were wrong, you still wouldn’t believe it. You’d most likely tell anyone who would listen that it was Satan impersonating God and you won’t be fooled because you KNOW that you are right. Period.

  19. “Humans are mammals” is an evolutionist classification. Humans are distinct creations of God and totally separate from the animal kingdom. And yes we do know that animals do not make moral choices. Morals are something people have.

    Why was my argument “juvenile”? It is 100% logical! By what moral standard do you judge ANY sexual behavior – yours? By what right can you say homosexual behavior is “natural” and yet believe polygamy, adult incest, necrophilia, or even pedophilia isn’t “natural”?

    Scripture twisting is not just the “eye of the beholder,” rather it is in the eye of GOD, because all will answer to Him since it is His word being twisted. Nevertheless, I stand by my point that there is only ONE true interpretation meant by the author.

  20. Pingback: Narrating the Debate « The Pugnacious Irishman

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