I recently watched The Book of Eli, a postapocalyptic action movie starring Denzel Washington. The movie is worth putting in your Netflix queue. If you’re interested in the Bible, however, you’ll want to bump it to the top.
In The Book of Eli, all the Bibles have been burned because people in power used scripture irresponsibly. It’s not hard to imagine a future society reaching such a tragic conclusion. People distort biblical texts to serve their own interests far too often. Since the Bible is an ancient text open to a variety of interpretations, it’s all but impossible to keep people from manipulating its sacred words. The easiest way for me to start a flame war in the comments section would be to pit my interpretation of some controversial Bible verses against the interpretations of those who disagree. Maybe an easier first step would be talking about what’s not in the Bible.
Here’s a list of things people commonly misattribute to the Bible. Some are benign misunderstandings that don’t do much harm, while others significantly distort the Bible’s teachings.
Adam and Even didn’t eat an apple.
They ate a “fruit” from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I’m guessing it was a kumquat. They just look evil.
Several elements of the traditional Christmas story aren’t in the Bible.
The list is so long, I had to write a separate article!
Lucifer is not a name for the Devil.
Isaiah chapter fourteen talks about a Babylonian king who tries to become all-powerful before God knocks him off his pedestal. Isaiah describes the king as a “morning star, son of the dawn” who falls from the heavens down into Sheol, the Hebrew underworld. The Latin Vulgate Bible translated “morning star” as “Lucifer.” Then Milton refers to Satan as Lucifer in Paradise Lost, and—presto!—the Devil’s got a new name. I think Satan was behind the whole thing. Before he was cast out of heaven, the other angels called him Twinkle Tush.
“Spare the rod, spoil the child.”
There’s plenty of stuff in Proverbs about disciplining your child, but not this. I always told my mother that this meant throw the rod away and spoil the child with Atari games.
“A fool and his money are soon parted.”
Thomas Tusser wrote this in 1573 in Five Hundreth Pointes of Good Husbandrie. Besides, I know far too many rich idiots for this to be biblical truth.
“God helps those who help themselves.”
Algernon Sydney wrote this in an eighteenth-century piece entitled “Discourses Concerning Government.” Then Ben Franklin stuck it in Poor Richard’s Almanac. It’s a nice sentiment—we need to put forth effort to change our lives and our world—but Romans 5:6 says, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (New International Version). A central concept of the Gospel is that God does for us what we could never do for ourselves.
“To thine own self be true.”
This comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet; Polonius says it while lecturing his kids. It’s possible that Shakespeare employs a bit of satire here. Polonius’s advice tends to be shallow and misguided. He’s probably not encouraging his children to be authentic; he’s admonishing them to look out for their own interests. The Bible isn’t real big on that idea.
“This too shall pass.”
It’s true that most things get better with time, but the Bible doesn’t promise that. Some things hang around for a long time—like herpes or that stupid thing you wrote on Facebook after one too many mojitos.
“Money is the root of all evil.”
First Timothy 6:10 says, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Money can do a lot of good for a lot of people. It’s loving money more than people that makes a mess of things.
The Bible doesn’t say that the earth is fewer than ten thousand years old.
Young Earth creationists claim that the earth is between six thousand and ten thousand years old. This number is an estimate based on genealogies in the Old Testament. They count the number of generations traced from Adam and Eve and come up with an age for the earth. Nothing in the Bible, however, suggests a specific date of creation.
God does not have a specific person in mind for you to marry.
Well, he might. When it comes to God, I’m pretty careful about saying what he does or doesn’t have in mind. There’s just nothing in the Bible about God’s playing matchmaker. God wants good things for you and he wants you to lead a life of integrity, justice, and grace, but nothing in Scripture indicates that he’s guiding you toward that special someone. I like theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theory: Bonhoeffer says that God enters a relationship at the point of marriage as a way of honoring all the hard work it takes to make it to the altar.
The Bible doesn’t tell us when the world will end.
In Mark 13:32, Jesus says, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Since the angels don’t have a clue, feel free to ignore that televangelist who says that Obama is the Antichrist and Armageddon will start next Tuesday.
The Seven Deadly Sins aren’t.
The Bible certainly condemns gluttony, greed, sloth, lust, vanity, envy, and wrath, but not in one group. Different verses throughout the Bible talk about God’s displeasure with these sins, but they are never defined as “deadly” in the sense that any, or even all, of them will keep someone from salvation. Repentance is always an option.