I’m sure there are more things to add to this list (feel free to do so in the comments), but right now I’m thinking primarily of two funny mistakes that I commonly notice in how we read the Bible. These are assumptions, really, and believe me, I’ve been as guilty of these as anyone!
1. If someone is a main character, he must be a good guy.
Samson is a chump. Jonah is a bigot. Jacob is a liar. These men are not meant to be positive role models.
Just because God uses someone as part of his redemptive plan, that doesn’t make them a good guy, a saint, or a “Hero of the Bible.” The examples I’ve just listed (and there are plenty more) should be pretty obvious, but I can’t tell you how many sermons, and vbs lessons I’ve heard that go out of their way to avoid those conclusions and point to the rosiest of all possible evaluations.
“Samson was strong for God…Jonah was afraid…” Nope. Let’s call a spade a spade.
Furthermore, even those who do have an overall trajectory of faithfulness often have spotty records. Noah really did get drunk. He did. Get over it. (I’ve heard more than one person explain that the flood changed the atmospheric pressure such that Noah didn’t know how drunk he was getting, but the Bible sure doesn’t say that!)
David really did commit adultery (and murder). Moses had a temper. Gideon really blew it in the latter days of his life (THE turning point in the book of Judges). And there’s a reason Joseph’s brothers wanted to kill him (brag much???).
Yet again and again, we come to the defense of characters such as these. Why? My best guess is that we think we’re supposed to overlook such flaws, like God’s not aware of them. But you know what? The Bible isn’t full of saints. It’s full of humans, and humans have flaws. They may be examples (some good, some bad), but they’re not exceptions.
2. If a main character says it, it must be true.
Solomon was a wise guy, but when he wrote Ecclesiastes (or whoever wrote it), he was also a depressed guy. Quit quoting from that book like it’s objective, okay?
Another example is the book of Job. Job’s friends are wrong. God says so. Don’t quote them like they’re gospel. And for that matter, isn’t it possible (even probable) that Job’s perspective at the end of the book is quite different than at the beginning. I’m guessing he learned a lot from his experience and subsequent encounter with God.
He said at the beginning of the book, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” That implies that no one should ever question God when trouble comes. Then he spends the next 41 chapters questioning God, and God (for the most part) approves of his laments. All the time I hear people saying “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away,” but by the end of it, I don’t think even Job would agree.
Perhaps the most egregious example of this, though, comes from Matthew 25, the parable of the talents. There are three guys given a lot of money. The first two invest that money and have returns for their risk when the master arrives. It’s a parable where the master represents God and the two men represent Christians who understand that faith requires risk.
There’s a third man in the parable, a coward. He does not risk, and when the master asks why, he says this. “Master, I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid…”
We should be deeply offended by these words. What an offensive portrayal of our gracious God! In context, it should be clear that these are the words of a coward, deflecting the blame for his inactivity by fabricating a character flaw in his master. But, again and again, I hear people embracing this as a true statement! “God is an exacting Judge, but we should turn that fear into motivation…”
Yuck. Just because it’s in there doesn’t make it so.
So there you have it. Two funny things I’ve noticed about how we often read the Bible. Again, believe me, I’ve been as guilty of these as anyone. I pass them on in hope that you can learn faster than I did! Notice other funny assumptions we make? Let’s hear it in the comments.