Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible by James W. Sire

Scripture_Twisting

One Sentence Synopsis

An excellent, easily readable book to help you recognize the many ways the false teachers in the cults and in our churches misuse the Bible.

Rating

5 out of 5

Recommendation

Read this book so you can quickly and easily spot the repeated errors of false teachers like Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Beth Moore, and Sarah Young. Not only will you be able to catch their errors, but you will be able to explain to others how these false teachers are misusing the Bible.

Chapters

  1. The Methodology of Misreading: An Introduction
  2. World-View Confusion: A Preliminary View
  3. The Text of Scripture
  4. Scripture as Rhetoric
  5. Scripture as Literature
  6. Scripture as Evidence
  7. Reasoning from Scripture
  8. The Authority of the Bible
  9. World-View Confusion: The Heart of the Matter
  10. The Discipleship of the Word

Detailed Review

In his preface to the book, James Sire writes:

As Christians and, we trust, good readers of the Bible, we need all the help we can get to be sure we are reading the Scripture accurately, that we are indeed worshiping the one true God. That’s why I wrote this book: to help all of us-myself as much as anyone-to become better readers of the Scriptures, more devoted followers of our Lord Jesus Christ, more effective communicators of God’s truth to all people. But the book also seeks a special audience-those being led, as are so many today, by false teachers into false doctrines and perhaps eventually into eternal darkness (Sire, p. 8).

While the text and the examples within the book are focused on the cults, the lessons are equally important today within Christianity. People within the church misuse and abuse the Bible in the same manner as the cults. Satan uses the same playbook in both cases. It is not that these people want to openly reject the Bible, but rather they misuse use it for their purposes just as Satan did in the temptation of Jesus as recorded in Luke 4:1-13. Sire specifically notes that the Bible is often employed simply to add credibility to false teaching:

The Bible has long been a book that commands attention. If you can employ it in the service of your own cause, you can gain for your cause a certain credibility-even where the Bible is not accepted as the sole authority on matters of faith and life (Sire, p. 41).

How do two people reading the same text come to different conclusions? By “violating the principles of sound literary interpretation”:

If traditional Christianity affirms the Bible as its sole authority-sola Scriptura, as the Reformers said-how can these very different religious movements claim Scripture for their own? The obvious answer is the right one, I believe. They can only do so by violating the principles of sound literary interpretation (Sire, p. 12).

It is these violations that Sire describes in Scripture Twisting. He has identified 20 classes of violations:

  1. Inaccurate Quotation
  2. Twisted Translation
  3. The Biblical Hook
  4. Ignoring the Immediate Context
  5. Collapsing Contexts
  6. Overspecification
  7. Word Play
  8. The Figurative Fallacy
  9. Speculative Readings of Predictive Prophecy
  10. Saying but Not Citing
  11. Selective Citing
  12. Inadequate Evidence
  13. Confused Definition
  14. Ignoring Alternative Explanations
  15. The Obvious Fallacy
  16. Virtue by Association
  17. Esoteric Interpretation
  18. Supplementing Biblical Authority
  19. Rejecting Biblical Authority
  20. World-View Confusion

As the title of chapter 9 makes clear, Sire recognizes that non-Biblical world-views are the “heart of the matter” and result in or influence many of the other errors of interpretation. Sire writes:

The most significant and pervasive explanation of how the Bible is used to support essentially nonbiblical ideas involves world-view confusion… World-view confusion occurs whenever a reader of Scripture fails to interpret the Bible within the intellectual and broadly cultural framework of the Bible itself and uses instead a foreign frame of reference. In other words, rather than seeing a statement of Scripture as a part of the whole biblical scheme of things, the reader or interpreter views it from a different standpoint and thus distorts the Bible, perhaps seriously, sometimes even reversing the meaning (Sire, pp. 25-26).

In discussing the Biblical Hook, Sire makes an interesting application from the story of Joseph Smith’s, founder of the Mormon Church, first vision:

If we find ourselves in the situation he [Joseph Smith] describes before his vision, frustrated because we can’t seem to get it handle on God’s truth, our response should be to pray for God’s wisdom-yes, indeed-hut to apply ourselves again to Scripture and to resist either personal visions proclaiming nonbiblical truth or teaching from others based on such visions. The Bible should only hook us to study more intently the Bible itself. To be hooked on Scripture is to be hooked on truth (Sire, p. 50).

It is all too common today that authors, speakers, and teachers are actively encouraging individuals to look outside the Bible for God’s wisdom. Sire accurately compares this to the error made by Joseph Smith. That alone should make Christians very cautious. Not to mention that it denies the sufficiency of Scripture.

Scripture Twisting contains another important reminder about the ordinary use of language by the author’s of the Bible:

God chose to reveal himself to us by speaking through his prophets in ordinary language. The rules for understanding the Bible are therefore essentially the same as the rules for understanding Homer, Aeschylus, Dante, Milton, Dickens and Conrad. We are to read in the same spirit as the writer who wrote. If the author wrote a letter, we are to read it as a letter; if a poem, as poetry; if a chronicle, as chronicle; if a parable, as parable; if prophecy, as prophecy (Sire, p. 51).

While we do need the working of the Holy Spirit to correctly apply the Scriptures and come to saving faith, we do not need any special methodologies for reading them properly. For example, in his gospel Luke writes:

It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught (ESV, Luke 1:3-4).

Would Luke have said this in his gospel account if he believed that Theophilus would not be able to read it and understand? Could Theophilus understand what Luke wrote before the formation of the supposedly infallible teaching Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church? Both ideas are nonsense. Each of the human authors of Scripture believed they were writing documents that could be understood by their readers.

If world-view confusion is the heart of the matter for improper Bible use, reading a verse out of context is probably the most common:

From the standpoint of the Bible as literature, the simplest error of reading is the failure to consider the immediate context of the verse or passage in question (Sire, p. 52).

The text of Scripture should first be understood within the context in which it occurs. Any reading which contradicts the meaning of the text in context cannot be a proper interpretation (Sire, p. 58).

As Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian Radio regularly reminds his listeners, “The three most important rules for interpreting Scripture are context, context and context.” As an aside, it was Rosebrough’s recommendation that led me to read Scripture Twisting.

In Scripture Twisting, Sire provides the example of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of Transcendental Meditation, misusing Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God”, by both misquoting it and taking it out of context. Best-selling “Christian” authors such as Sarah Young have likewise taken Psalm 46:10 out of its context and abused it to justify their own false ideas of meditation and personal extra-Biblical revelation from God:

A life-changing verse has been “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Alternate readings for “Be still” are “Relax,” “Let go,” and “Cease striving” (NASB). This is an enticing invitation from God to lay down our cares and seek His Presence. I believe that God yearns for these quiet moments with us even more than we do. I also believe that He still speaks to those who listen to Him (Young, Introduction, loc. 697).

While that verse may have changed her life, it does not teach what Young has read into the text. When properly taken in the full context of Psalm 46, verse 10 is teaching us that we can stop worrying about the troubles around us. We can “be still”, “relax” and “cease striving” because the LORD (Yahweh) “is with us” and He “is our refuge and our strength.”

Reading Scripture Twisting will equip readers to recognize errors by the obvious cultists like the Yogi as well as wolves in our midst like Sarah Young. Also, it prevents us from making the same mistakes when we read and interpret the Bible:

A knowledge of misreading goes well with developing good reading habits. Christians who respect biblical authority have a special burden to read right. We, too, are prone to fall into error. In fact, none of us is absolutely right about what God’s Word really means. That is why we must ourselves return daily to the Bible-reading and rereading, thinking and rethinking, obeying what we grasp, correcting our earlier readings as new insight is given us, constantly crosschecking our grasp of Scripture with our pastor, our fellow Christians and with the historic understanding of Scripture by orthodox Christianity (Sire, pp. 14-15).

References

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. 2001.

Sire, James W., Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible [Kindle Edition]. InterVarsity Press. 1980. Print Length, 180 pages. ISBN: 978-0877846116.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling – Deluxe Edition: Enjoying Peace in His Presence [Kindle Edition]. Thomas Nelson. October 12, 2004. Print Length, 398 pages. ISBN: 1404187820.

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