For years before I became a Christian I always had philosophical arguments against the Bible and did my best to use big words to sound like I knew what I was talking about. I used to always say that the biblical version of God is just an “anthropomorphism,” which means to give human qualities to something that is not human. I’ve recently heard many atheists use similar arguments, saying for example that if an ant where to imagine a version of God it would imagine a supreme version of an ant, and that the Christian account of God is simply us doing the same.
However, I believe if we are all honest with ourselves, we can easily see that even as true born-again Christians, we often imagine God to fit a version that best aligns with what we currently know and think, instead of allowing it to shatter our presuppositions and reveal the complete truth. In general, we as human beings seem to very much dislike anything that is confrontational in a sense that makes us have to look into the mirror and admit we are in error. However, this is the only way growth can occur. The problems begin to arise when we are either adding to, or taking away from, the Scriptures in order to fit our needs or we are following ministries that have made an entire business of doing so.
After conversion, I found myself very quickly getting bored with pastors teaching nothing but inspirational messages and weaving in verses that seemed to fit their message. I have learned and grown greatly listening to pastors who teach God’s Word in an expository style, meaning they go through the Bible passage by passage and verse by verse each week.
We need to make sure when we are studying God’s Word, or choosing a ministry to follow, that we are using “exegesis” as opposed to “isogesis.”
Exegesis is to take meaning from the verse looking at the historical meaning at the time it was written, the language and context. Isogesis on the other hand, means to “read-into” the text, or to add our own agendas, biases or preconceived notions into our interpretation and make it mean what we want it to mean. One clear example of this is how you often see many Christians (especially athletes) quote Philippians 4:13 in regards to achieving things when in truth Paul wrote the words to reference enduring hardship and distress, not accomplishing mighty feats.
The Apostle Paul also wrote to the Church at Corinth against using isogesis; he told them not to think beyond what was written. (1 Corinthians 4:6) The proper way to read the Bible is to understand what it meant when written to its original audience and then to look for the parallel and relevant meaning to us today.
This is not always easy to do; it takes study, not just a quick read through like you would any old book. Friends, we must read the Bible as a mirror that reflects back to us who God truly is and who we truly are. (James 1:22-25) As I mentioned in my previous article, God’s Word will often confront us, challenge us and make us realize that living in a way that pleases God is unpopular and difficult. In order to please God we must know who He truly is and not try to limit Him to fit our needs and previously held beliefs. God is perfect and will take care of those who put their faith in who He is and what He says.
Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar. (Proverbs 30:5-6)
Do you find yourself reading too much into Scripture at times? How can you take God out of the box of your own limited understanding?