A Response To: “Be Careful Using The Bible”

An article titled “Be Careful Using The Bible” was published this week on the United Methodist news site. The article is troublesome as it shows a clear lack of exegetical and hermeneutical understanding that is so rampant in liberal circles. Moreover, it shows how an improper understanding of the Bible and improper Biblical interpretation can lead to justifying sinful actions.

The article was written by Rev. James R. McCormick who is a retired United Methodist pastor from Cumming, Georgia. His abuse of Scripture in the commentary is deplorable and this article is a response to the misuse and apparent misunderstanding of Scripture.

The premise of the article is this:


In studying the Bible, it is necessary to realize that often God is cited as supporting whatever values are normative at that time in history. Those are “timely” standards — standards valued for a time — but not necessarily “timeless” standards that are applicable for all time and all circumstances.

This, of course, is true for some things found in Scripture such as the civil laws given to Israel to govern Israel. That was for a specific time and specific people. However, this principle is not true for the moral standards that we find in Scripture. Moral standards are timeless.

We see the error of this thinking in the examples that are given. The first being Abraham and Hagar.


Remember that the Bible affirms Abraham having sexual relations with Hagar, Sarah’s maid, in order to produce his first son, Ishmael. Only later did Sarah produce Isaac, through whom Jews trace their ancestry.

I must ask Rev. McCormick, where in Scripture does it affirm Abraham having relations with Hagar? Where does it state that this is ok? It does not say anything of the sort. This was Sarah’s idea, not the Lord’s plan. In fact, we see in Scripture the opposite of affirmation for this act, we see the consequences of the sin as it tears the family apart and causes division. In no way was this a moral standard for that time to take multiple wives. In fact, this actually affirms the moral standard we see throughout Scripture that marriage is for one man and one woman.

Rev. McCormick tries the same tactic with the 1,000 wives of Solomon. Again I must ask, where is this affirmed in Scripture? Where is this sanctioned? It is not.

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How To Study The Bible

I am often asked, how do you study the Bible? How do you know that your interpretation is correct? Are there rules to follow? Are there tools to use? Where do I begin? All of these are very good questions, and all of these questions have good answers that follow them. This post is not meant to be an exhaustive look at how to conduct Bible Study. This is simply a brief overview of the topic.

The Bible was written in three primary languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. It was also written to various people groups in various cultures spanning over 1,000 years and none of those were cultures and people that are still present today. This is known as the gap of Biblical Interpretation. In order to arrive at a proper interpretation, we must close this gap and find the original meaning of any passage in Scripture that we wish to study. So how do we accomplish this?

First, you must become familiar with your passage in your native tongue. To do this, you must read the passage in several English translations. Preferably, a few translations that are essentially literal and one that is dynamic equivalent. Dynamic equivalent translations, such as the New International Version, do not necessarily follow the literal translation of a passage and add in commentary-like supplements in phrasing and word usage to help the reader understand the meaning. Essentially literal translations are just that, translations that are as literal as possible compared to the original. Translations that I recommend are the English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, and the, Christian Standard Bible.

The second step is to look at the original languages. You need to find words, using a concordance and lexicon combination or Bible software such as Logos Bible Software, that are key to the passage. Then you need to look up the corresponding Greek or Hebrew word to find out what the author meant by using that particular word.

The third step is to understand any historical and cultural contexts that may be applicable when looking at interpreting a passage. Where was this written? When was this written? To whom was this written? Were there any significant events going on at that time that might be alluded to in the passage? Were there any geographical features that need to be taken into account? These types of questions help give insight to things that are not plain in the text itself.

When you look at these steps, the next thing to do is to figure out, what did this mean to the original audience? How would they have understood this passage?

When following these rules, you are well on your way to framing proper interpretations of Scripture. We can know what Scripture says with confidence. Remember, there is only one possible interpretation but an unlimited number of possible applications.