Oct 9, 2016 By Norris Burkes

When I was a pre-ministerial student at Baylor University, I often teased incoming freshman by asking them to find 2nd Hesitations in the Bible. Of course there is no such book. Nevertheless, the joke often worked well enough to send them deep into their Bibles.

A 2010 Pew Research poll tested the religious comprehension of Americans and didn’t find the results as funny as I did. Worse yet, if you’re a churchgoer, it won’t tickle you to know that atheists and agnostics scored best. Take the test yourself at http://tinyurl.com/bibletest.

As a chaplain, I’m not too surprised that many churchgoers don’t know even basic biblical stories. For instance, many people think the Bible says that Eve gave Adam an apple. Not true. The Bible calls it only a fruit. Furthermore, Eve received the fruit from a serpent. No mention of the devil.

Even the Christmas story has its share of misconceptions. We may sing, “We Three Kings,” but those ones we call three kings were astrologers and we only assume their numbers because they brought three gifts.

But these are just examples of harmless trivial mistakes. The real damage is done when folks use biblical misinformation to assert their own standards on others.

For instance, some folks believe they can justify corporal punishment with the verse “Spare the rod; spoil the child.” Sorry, that’s not in the Bible.

The actual passage is Proverbs 13:24: “The one who withholds (or spares) the rod is one who hates his son.” I’m not saying it’s wrong to swat the hand of an errant child, but the verse probably speaks more against the complacent parenting than it justifies the expression of your will upon a child.

But the one misquote I find intolerable is: “God only gives you what you can handle.” The danger in this folksy misquote is it burdens people with a belief that God gave them their calamities.

As I’ve explained in past columns, the quote is a poor paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 10:13 which is more accurately paraphrased as: “God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to escape.” The verse is God’s promise to provide us with an out in every temptation.

If you scored 100 percent on the test, consider yourself well-versed in verses. However, don’t be so fast to congratulate yourself. The real test comes when our Bible reading causes us to ask the hard life questions that Jesus would ask.

In his blog, Michigan pastor Craig T. Owens suggests that we ask ourselves the difficult questions he asks himself when he reads the Bible (see http://craigtowens.com).

n Do I have an emotional response? Or is it just a meaningless daily habit?

n Do I share with others what the Scripture has revealed about me?

n Am I willing to be accountable to others to make the changes I need?

Owens is a smart guy. He encourages the questions because he knows that all too often we quote verses to support our selfish causes.

It’s the same thing that concerned Jesus when he angrily denounced religious leaders: “They tie up heavy loads, hard to carry, and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing even to lift a finger to move them.”

By the way, Owens saves his best question for last. It’s one we might remember the next time we’re tempted to use our scripture knowledge to give someone unsolicited advice.

“Do you just read the Bible?” Pastor Owens asks. “Or do you allow the Bible to read you?

– Write Norris at comment@thechaplain.net or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Twitter @chaplain, or call 843-608-9715.