Five Bible Reading Mistakes with Verses on Money
Reading and understanding the Bible well is a skill that every follower of Jesus should pursue. Unfortunately, people are often unintentionally trained to read it shallowly or incorrectly by how we communicate it to them. Biblical interpretation is an art form that requires a broad understanding of context, history, and the whole witness of Scripture. Too often though, when we teach, we make it seem like one verse is all we need to build a theology or principle for life. I’ve been doing a series of articles on how to read the Bible well on our website: Ron Blue Institute. Below are cautions from the first three articles and two additional cautions I’ve observed that we make when we teach about money from the Bible.
- Read Bible Verses in Context. Pulling a verse out of context is the most common mistake people make when reading the Bible. This is often referred to as proof-texting. As pastors, when we use a verse to teach, it would be helpful if we did our best to set that verse in the context of the passage, book, and even the whole Bible as we teach it. This process will help our parishioners understand that we can only ever properly understand a Bible verse by understanding its context and its place in all the Bible. In helping them see this, we will encourage them on the path to becoming students of the Bible. How can you remind people about the pitfalls of proof-texts? What verse or verses have you been guilty of using in a way that removes them from their context?
- Understand the limits of Wisdom Literature. In many ways this is a subset of the first caution. Wisdom literature is a place where we often pull out single verses to make application on how Christians ought to live. While this can be helpful, it can also be misused. Understanding that wisdom literature isn’t a book of universal promises, but rather a book of what life is often like is a helpful place to start. Then, demonstrating that wisdom literature often seemingly contradicts itself (Ecclesiastes and Job as offsets of parts of Proverbs) will help orient people to the fact that wisdom literature is complex and doesn’t usually offer simple black and white answers. From here we can help people apply biblical wisdom to their lives that isn’t shallow and takes into account all the Bible has to offer. What Proverbs do you cling to that may be qualified or clarified in other parts of the Bible? Do you often understand wisdom literature in light of the whole instead of the parts?
- Understand Old Testament Promises. This is a fairly deep topic to explore in a few sentences, but one which is important in helping people understand how to read the Old Testament well. In general, we need to understand who an Old Testament promise was made to and ask if that promise is completed or somehow extended to us. If it is completed (not extended to us), then we should freely explore the promise to learn who God is and how He relates to people, but shouldn’t claim that promise as if it were made to us. Since God doesn’t change, we can always hold to any part of an Old Testament promise that points to the character God. We don’t stand in the place of most people in the Old Testament, but we do stand before the same God. How have you seen God’s character put on display in the promises of the Old Testament? How can you lead your people to see God’s goodness and character in these promises?
- Read parables consistently. Parables are wonderful stories with immense depth. They are full of symbolism and eternal truth. The problem that many of us have is that we read some parables entirely symbolically and others quasi-literally. Take Matthew 25:1-30 for example. There you have the parable of the ten virgins followed by the parable of the talents. Many people will see the oil and lamps symbolically and the talents (money) literally, even though both are said to be talking about the kingdom of heaven. We must understand the purpose of the parables and fight hard to maintain that purpose in our teaching. In what ways do you struggle to listen to the parables and hear them in their original context with their original symbolism?
- Allow Scripture to Challenge Our Culture. When we read the Bible there is a very real danger that we will find some idea that seems to align with our culture’s highest values and then ignore the other parts of the Bible where those values are challenged. Biblical interpretation means that we are willing to wade into muddy waters and find ourselves enmeshed in tension. The easy solution is to gravitate toward what is culturally acceptable to us today. However, the reality is that the Bible will regularly turn our cultural ideas upside down. It is warranted to be suspicious of any interpretation which holds up our culture’s highest ideals as biblical (not that it can’t, just that it often doesn’t). How do you protect against reading into the Bible our culture’s ideals and values? How can you teach people to examine everything by the Bible and not our culture?
To learn more about reading the Bible well see the following resources:
Reading the Bible Well, Part 1, by Michael Blue.
Reading the Bible Well, Part 2, by Michael Blue.
Reading the Bible Well, Part 3, by Michael Blue.
Blue, Michael (2020). Free to Follow: Discover the riches of a surrendered life. Austin, TX: Thirsty Land Press.
Financial domain contributor: Michael Blue serves as the executive director and general counsel for The Ron Blue Institute for Financial Planning.email@example.com
Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus
Curator of content: Dave Higle