“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV). Paul told Timothy to work at the study of God’s word so that he could correctly interpret and present God’s truth. This directive is for Christians today, and we must take time to properly study the Bible so that we have a clear understanding of what is being presented. However, there is a lot of doctrinal error coming from today’s pulpits.
Bad teaching abounds in this modern age. And there are many reasons for this fact. But we are going to address three situations where teachers of the word, and laymen, inaccurately interpret scripture and create false doctrines. The three situations are as follows: failure to apply scripture in its correct context, failure to understand the meaning of a translation, and failure to interpret scripture considering its proximity to the cross of Christ. Understanding the context of scripture is a crucial key to interpreting scripture.
Many word-of-faith ministers use the following quote, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” This is taken from Proverbs 23:7. These ministers use this statement to teach that you will become the person that you think you are. Or, they teach that Christians are the way that they are because of how they think of themselves. There is some truth in this statement, but that is not what this verse is teaching. “Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats: For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee” (Proverbs 23:6-7). These two verses are not attributing the “state” of a specific person to their concept of self. These verses are a warning. What we learn from Proverbs 23:6-7 is that outward displays of affection are deceptive, if a person’s innermost being is not for you, they are not your friend. A person could smile in your face and have anger towards you in their heart. If a person hates or dislikes you in their heart, that person does not like you. This is the message of these two scriptures, and many ministers misquote it all day long. Most of them are simply repeating what they have heard, and they have not taken the time to study these verses in their context. Related to this issue is the problem of not understanding what a particular Bible translation is stating.
Some extreme prosperity ministers have told their followers that they have the right to command God concerning what he has created. This is a perverse message derived from a misunderstanding of what the KJV is stating in Isaiah 45:11. “Thus saith the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me” (Isaiah 45:11 KJV). Look at this verse in a different translation. “This is what the Lord says- the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands?” (Isaiah 45:11 NIV). This verse is not telling God’s people to give him commands, it is presenting the sovereignty of our Lord. We do not command God as some false teachers have stated, God is truly Lord, and we should not question him. When we attempt to understand a particular scripture or passage, we must understand who the passage was originally written to and under what covenant the original audience was subject to.
False teachers often quote the following verse to “prove” that Christians can lose their salvation. “But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die” (Ezekiel 18:24). However, this verse is directly speaking to those who are living under the old covenant, the law. Under the new covenant, grace, our righteousness is not from ourselves, it is from God. The righteousness of Jesus has been imputed to Christians. “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:9). Those teachers who use Ezekiel 18:24 as a proof text for “holiness or hell” do not understand how to properly interpret scripture, and they are incorrectly crossing covenants to prove their point. All scripture is God’s word, but we do not interpret or apply all scripture in the same way. Knowing what covenant was in effect when a scripture was given will help us to understand the current meaning and application of a text.
False doctrine is dangerous because it can present a perverse view of God, and it can also place a stumbling block in the path of growing Christians. The truth of scripture brings freedom, but improper interpretation of God’s word creates a lie that brings bondage and destruction. Understand how to study God’s word, under the illumination of God’s Spirit, and the true meaning of scripture will be revealed. “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit –just as it has taught you, remain in him” (1 John 2:26-27).