Before you read this column, please open your Bible to find the book of 2nd Hesitations.
Not. There is no such book. It’s an old joke perpetrated by pastors who like to check the biblical literacy of their congregants.
But the Pew Research Center didn’t find America’s lack of biblical knowledge funny. Last year, this nonpartisan fact tank tested the religious comprehension of Americans. If you’re a churchgoer, it won’t tickle you to know that atheists and agnostics scored best. Take the test yourself at http://miniurl.com/bibletest/
As a chaplain, I’m not surprised. I often find churchgoers don’t know basic biblical stories. For instance, many people think the Bible says that Eve gave Adam an apple. Not true. The Bible only says it’s 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 the ones we call three kings were astrologers and we only assume there were three men because they brought three gifts.
But these are simple facts and harmless trivia. The real damage is done when folks use biblical misinformation to assert their own standards.
For instance, some evangelicals will assert their doctrine, “Once saved, always saved” as if it were a Scripture verse proving their Christian conversion is an irreversible lifetime membership. Not only is the saying not in Scriptures, but too often folks gloat over it like a get-out-of-jail-free card to justify bad behavior.
“Spare the rod; spoil the child” is used to justify corporal punishment. Sorry, it’s not in the Bible. I’m not saying it’s wrong to swat the hand of an errant child, but the actual passage is Proverbs 13:24: “The one who withholds (or spares) the rod is one who hates his son.” The verse probably says more against the complacent parent than it justifies the violent expression of your will upon a child.
But the one misquote I rarely tolerate is: “God only gives you what you can handle.” 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.” It’s the writer’s way of saying, “Just say no” and it means God will provide us with an out in every temptation. The danger in this folksy misquote is it burdens people with a belief that God gives them their calamities.
Jesus angrily denounced religious leaders for their habit of quoting verses that supported their selfish causes: “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.”
If you are like me and got 100 percent on the test, congratulations. We are spiritually gifted and well-versed in verses. But the real test is how you apply the Bible, not to others, but to yourself.
I read a blog recently by Craig T. Owns, a Michigan pastor (see http://craigtowens.com). He says when he reads the Bible, he asks himself some hard questions.
• Do I have an emotional response? Or is it just a meaningless daily habit?
• Do I share with others what the Scripture has revealed about me?
• Am I willing to be accountable to others to make the changes I need?
But his best question is the one that I’ve been trying to say for the past 600 words: Do you just read the Bible? Or do you allow the Bible to read you?