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Twisted scripture: “God doesn’t put on you more than you can handle”

Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

WomanOverworked

(NOTE: This is the second in a series of blog posts I am doing on some of the most commonly twisted and misinterpreted verses in the Bible.)

As a hospital chaplain, I seek to guide patients to find the spiritual strength to handle their problems. After hearing their story, I sometimes ask, “How are you handling that?” Many people will reply, “Well, God doesn’t put on you more than you can handle.” Others will say, “The Bible says God doesn’t give us more than we can bear.” That sounds nice, but it’s not what the Bible says! People get this idea from a misreading of 1 Corinthians 10:13. Here is what the entire verse says [italics mine]:

“No temptation has overtake you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13, NKJV

Many people seem to think that this verse says that God will not allow you to be tested beyond what you can bear. But read the verse again. Is that what it says? No! It says God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able. Some people correctly argue that the Greek word can be translated “tested” or “tried,” instead of “tempted.” However, almost all translations prefer the word “tempted” in this verse. Why? Because of the context. A rule of thumb for Bible interpretation is to read the context. So when we read the whole chapter, we see that 1 Corinthians 10 is about temptation. The first part of the chapter gives a series of warnings against falling into disobedience through unbelief. Verse 12 warns, “So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall.” Fall into what? Temptation. And verse 14 says the solution to the temptation is to “flee.” So the context of 1 Corinthians 10:13 shows that it is about temptation.

But if 1 Corinthians 10:13 does not say God won’t put on us more than we can bear, do other verses teach this? Ironically, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:8 that “we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” In other words, God put more on him than he could handle! But he goes on to say in the next verse, “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” The scripture frequently says that when we cannot handle things, God can give us the strength we need (See 1 Samuel 30:6; Philippians 4:13).  (Unfortunately, Philippians 4:13 is also misinterpreted, and we’ll discuss how in the next blog post.)

Here is the bottom line: God is not saying that we won’t face more than we can handle, but He is saying that He will give us the spiritual strength to handle whatever we face.

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Twisted scripture: “Putting out the fleece”

Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

GideonFleece

(NOTE: This is the first in a series of blog posts I will be doing on some of the most commonly twisted and misinterpreted scriptures in the Bible.)

In Judges 6:36-40, Gideon put fleece on dry ground, and asked God for a sign: to make the morning dew fall on the fleece of wool while leaving the ground around it dry, and then a second sign on the second morning, by leaving the fleece dry and covering the ground in dew. God granted Gideon’s request. From this story, we get the expression “putting out the fleece.” For many people, this has come to indicate the practice of asking God for a sign to show them God’s will. They may pray for God to show them a “sign” before making a major decision like getting married or taking a job. Sometimes, they even ask for a specific fulfillment, as putting out their fleece. For example, a person may pray, “God, if you want me to marry this man, have him notice the emerald ring on my right hand.” Or they may pray, “God, if you want me to take the job, then when I go for the interview, have the boss wear a blue tie.”

The problem is, that this is a twisting of scripture, and totally unbiblical. Here’s why:

1. Gideon didn’t just ask for a coincidence, he asked for a miraculous sign. For dew to fall only on the fleece with the ground left dry, and then dew to fall only on the ground with the fleece left dry, is not a natural occurrence, and cannot happen by accident. It required a supernatural intervention from God. So what Gideon asked for cannot be compared with the common idea of asking for an interesting coincidence to happen to guide someone to God’s will.

2. Gideon was not asking for God’s will. He already knew that it was God’s will to fight for their independence from the Midianites. He was looking for reassurance of God’s power and presence. He said, “If You will deliver Israel by my hand, as You said [italics mine], I will put a fleece of wool here…” (Judges 6:36-37)

3. Gideon’s “test” (Judges 6:39) was a violation of Deuteronomy 6:16, where God commanded the Israelites not to put the Lord to a test. Jesus himself interpreted this as a command not to test God with signs, and Jesus refused the temptation to do so (Matthew 4:7). Apparently, Gideon realized that he was treading on dangerous ground, since he asked God not to be angry at him for making the request (Judges 6:39). The fact that God granted Gideon’s request only shows that God is sometimes gracious with us, even in our foolishness.

4. Jesus refused to grant signs, implying we should trust in Biblical revelation instead of mystical experiences. In Matthew 12:38-39, the scribes and Pharisees said, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” He replied, “An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” He went on to talk about how Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and came out, and likewise Jesus Himself will be in the earth three days and come out. So Jesus was pointing them to the scripture and to the events of the gospel, and saying, “Put your trust in this.”

5. All of this points to a rule of thumb for Bible interpretation: Don’t get truth from a descriptive passage of scripture; get truth from prescriptive scripture passages. For example, the Bible often describes people having multiple wives, but 1 Timothy 3:12 prescribes only one wife for deacons in the church. Judges 6:36-40 is descriptive; it describes what happened. That does not necessarily imply that it endorses Gideon’s behavior. Deuteronomy 6:16 is prescriptive; it specifically condemns putting God to a test.