Can You Break The Bible?

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In the video-gaming industry there is a term used to describe a video game that does not do what it is intended to do. The term is “broken”. Let’s say that I play a video game where I play a character that drives a vehicle. I put my character into a car and I manouver the car toward a wall, intending to hit it. What is supposed to happen when my pixilated car hits the pixilated wall? A simulation of a vehicle accident is supposed to happen. However, if the car goes through the wall, that means the game is broken. In the development of a video game there is supposed to be time when developers spend time playing the game. They do this as a means of testing the game. They keep an eye out for times when the game behaves in ways they didn’t intend it to behave. When they discover a problem, such as the example I gave above, they fix it.

Many people, Christians included, are guilty of treating the Bible the same way. When we see a passage of Scripture that we don’t like, it is too easy to try to “fix it” by changing the message it gives to one that is easier to accept. However, there are others who react very differently. Many other people will see the Bible as simply flawed, based on the disliked passage. They then conclude that the Bible is broken and proceed to throw it into the metaphorical garbage. In 2016 the science-fiction, outer-space exploration video game, No Man’s Sky, came out and it got this treatment. It had several problems. When it was released for sale it was not ready to be played. Due to unknown reasons the developers of No Man’s Sky, Hello Games, put the game out anyway. On account that it was flawed in more than one way, many people returned the game and demanded their money back![i]

At the bottom of the profile of a member of an “Atheism versus Theism” forum I was part of over 10 years ago, there was a tagline that read, “The Bible is like a person; torture it long enough and you can make it say anything you want.” As a Christian I can attest that, from one angle, this tagline is completely truthful. How many times has the Bible been ripped to pieces to convey messages that it doesn’t agree with? How many times has the Bible been tortured to undercut the messages that it aims to convey? The Bible has been tortured over the centuries by both non-Christians and indicated above, even by professing Christians. in hindsight actually, everyone, no exceptions, have been guilty at some level, at some point in their lives of Bible torture.

As stated above, one way the Bible has been tortured is through reinterpretation. Everyone is in some way guilty of this – including me. Any self-respecting Christian will take the notion of the Bible being the Word of God seriously. However, because we are sinful creatures we are going to not see things so clearly. This act of Bible reinterpretation can be done via reading the Bible through a lens that is made up of our own desires and understanding.[ii] Or getting hung up on single verses and seemingly not being able to recognize the rest of the page of text.[iii] and [iv] Or reading it through the eyes of our local clergy instead of our own.[v] Even though this is common we cannot deny one important fact: this act of Bible torture is a problem and one that cannot be ignored.

When a video game developer rewrites a string of code to say, “car into wall”, not “car through wall” into a video game, they fix the game. However, can someone simply reinterpret a passage of Scripture and thereby fix the Bible? No. Why? The passage of Scripture was never broken to being with. In other words, the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” fits nicely here. What was broken, then? The lens that the reader read it through.

When we torture the Bible through reinterpreting it falsely are we breaking the Bible? No. It is possible to do things in video games that result in unforeseen results. In gaming terms these unforeseen results are called glitches. No Man’s Sky was filled with glitches. I was playing it once when I took my character out of their vehicle to just have them fall through the ground. The game was supposed to be designed to have my character land on the ground, not fall through it. I did something that broke my copy of the game in one way. I reported it to Hello Games and they fixed it. No matter how many times you read the Bible, or ways you read it, it is going to say what it has always been saying. A passage of Scripture that goes against my conscience is not equal to my character falling through the floor in No Man’s Sky. This passage will not change. My complaining to Hello Games about this glitch in No Man’s Sky and them writing in a string of code to fix it is not equal to me complaining to my pastor about a disliked Bible verse and having him give me a reinterpretation of said verse. It is possible that he does correctly reinterpret the troubling passage, but if that is the case then he has corrected, not the Scripture, but the lens that I read the passage through.

One example of a Bible verse that is often reinterpreted is, Jesus’ words: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me,” (John 14:6). A common reinterpretation of this passage is: “I am a way, and a truth, and a life; a way to the Father is through Me.” This Bible passage gives a lot of people, even some Christians, pause because of its exclusive nature; that is, salvation is only found through Christ. This excludes all the other views regarding how can one get to heaven. I had a conversation once with someone who expressed their disproval of that verse. Their disproval was based of the exclusive nature of that verse. I simply responded, “not liking it doesn’t make it wrong.” The definite article “the” and the concrete phrase “no one” makes salvation exclusively through Christ. If that definite article and concrete phrase are true, then no matter how much you may hate that passage, that passage is still true. You then must  accept it and make a decision for both your temporary and eternal life.

Is the Bible broken? No. Can you break the Bible? No. However, you can break hearts and ruin lives with preferred readings of the Bible. The apostle Paul tells Timothy that there will come people who “will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,” (2 Timothy 4:3). This phenomenon has been happening since the beginning of time.  People have been jumping up and down in praise over words they want to hear and jeering when unpleasant words are spoken. The apostle is merely stating that this phenomenon will become socially normative. To conclude, you can’t control others but you can control yourself. Therefore, be sure to hear what God says and accept His message for what it is, and not for what you want it to be.

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[i] – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSxuexitcUQ&t=48s – January 16, 2018
[ii] – It is very easy to make conclusions based on our desires. If we see something to be wrong, but Scripture advocates it to be good, we may be inclined to try to reinterpret the passage so our consciences can be satisfied. In the same way, we see something to be good, but Scripture states that it is evil. We may be inclined to try to reinterpret the passage so that the Scriptural passage lines up with our worldview. When we do this we are effectively torturing the Bible; namely, twisting it to make it say what we want it to say.
[iii] – It is likewise very easy to study Scripture on the micro-level. It is very easy to single out verses and give an interpretation that neglects the context. When we ignore the context the author wrote their words in so to give their sentences and phrases meaning, we are torturing the text.
[iv] – It is also very easy to imbed the aforementioned singled-out verses in a different context than the context the author had in mind for their words. When we splice out sentences and even phrases from any body of any text, and put them into a context that was not intended by the author, that is torturing the text.
[v] – God has put clergy into our lives to help us get a good grasp on what God is really trying to say in his word. This is why James argues that when we become teachers of Scripture we are going to be held to a stricter standard and punished more severely if we mislead our students (cf. James 3:1). However, clergy are but human and are just as susceptible to being wrong and even letting preferences and likes and dislikes get in the way of looking at Scripture clearly. In the end, it is each Christian’s responsibility to look at Scripture objectively. The apostle Paul praised the Bereans for listening to him but not believing him based on his apostleship. They heard what he had to say but checked the Scriptures to see if what he was saying was true. This is what all Christians ought to do; namely, hearing what others have to say but letting the Bible’s printed words have the last say. When we leave the final interpretation at the foot of clergy and that interpretation is false, then we are participating in Bible torture.

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