Once upon a time, Bobby and Cindy were both studying to become chefs at The Culinary Institute of Los Angeles. Bobby was awfully fond of Cindy; in fact, he thought that he might love her! As anticipation grew in his mind, he could not help but pray about asking her to be his wife. Weeks of prayer had gone by, yet Bobby heard nothing from the LORD. Until one day, he embarked upon a verse in Proverbs 18:22 which read, "The man who finds a wife, finds a treasure and receives favor from the LORD." This was it! This was his and Cindy's verse! The LORD had finally given him confirmation! Being extremely excited about this news, Bobby rushed to see Cindy and tell her about "their verse." Naturally, Cindy expressed much enthusiasm at this; however, in the back of her mind, she was not so sure. Within six months, Bobby and Cindy were married. It was beautiful, wonderful, and perfect--until one day that thought came back in Cindy's mind. How could it be that she was having such thoughts about her commitment with Bobby when the LORD had given them such a powerful verse as He did? Did they make a mistake or is she just having doubts? Within four months, Bobby and Cindy were divorced. They were both devastated. After all, did not God give Bobby "their verse?"
Too often, there are situations like this amongst Christians. It doesn't have to be this particular scenario, but think of how many times you have heard someone give you "their verse" or say that the "LORD gave them a verse." The idea of "pet verses" is all over in the Church today. Does this mean, however, that these things are right? "Pet verses" are very dangerous and can cause a false conception of the Word of God. When the Christian is approaching the Scriptures, he/she needs to understand the whole counsel of the Word of God. To really understand the severity of this, consider a typical evening at a home Bible Study. The teacher asks the group what a particular verse "speaks to them" and then receives several contradictory answers! Who is right? If they were all right, then that would make the Word of God contrary and arbitrary-but do we say that someone is wrong? Yes. We need to find out what the entire Bible is teaching about a subject and not merely our verse.
Reconsider our previous story of Bobby and Cindy. If Bobby were to have looked at his "pet verse" in context, he would have found that it could not have been applied to his particular situation. Closer examination of the text shows that the Proverbs verse is not a statement encouraging marriage, but a statement reaffirming a marriage already obtained. (This is not to say that Bobby and Cindy were wrong in marrying, but the LORD did not "give them a verse"). Verses that are contrary to the full counsel of the Word of God and not rightfully interpreted are never "given" by the LORD.
Okay, if having "pet verses" is not the proper approach to Bible interpretation, then what is? Here are some basic hermeneutic overviews that can help: know the nature of interpretation. There are some verses that are completely inflexible in their interpretations and meaning. There are also some verses that are flexible in their interpretations and may possibly mean a few different things (this does not mean that they are opposite meanings, but it has a few possible explanations). The key is to find those verses that are inflexible in their meanings and keep the more flexible ones in the context of the least flexible ones. For example, consider the belief of water baptism being necessary for salvation. In Acts 2:38, we find that Peter tells the potential converts that they need to repent and be baptized for their sins. This verse seems pretty clear: water baptism is necessary for salvation. Yet, how clear is it? Acts 10:44-48 explains that Peter was preaching to the house of Cornelius and the Holy Spirit fell upon them because they became saved. Following this, the household was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Thus, the progression is as follows: faith, salvation, and baptism. So if the verse in Acts 2 explains that water baptism came before salvation and the verses in Acts 10 explain that water baptism proceeded salvation, then which is correct? At this point, it is important to remember which of the two passages is inflexible and which is flexible. The Acts 10 passage seems pretty clear in its interpretation and inflexibility, but what about the Acts 2 passage? This passage may seem pretty clear in its meaning at first glance, but a closer examination of the grammar lets us know otherwise. The command by Peter for them to repent and then be forgiven of their sins in the plural, but the command for baptism is in the singular. As a group they were told to repent and be forgiven, but as individuals they were commanded to be baptized. Peter had commanded them as a group that in order for there to be remission of sins they would have to repent, but because of the remission of sins each one would have to be baptized. Thus, repentance leads to redemption and not baptism because the one person's baptism could not be used to redeem the entire group of people. Therefore, there is no contradiction, but pure consistency.
This is only an example, but this principle can be applied all over Scripture. It is extremely important that we understand to take in the whole counsel of God's Word before we draw conclusions to apply to our lives. "Pet verses" are dangerous. They can produce misconceptions about God, the Bible, and the Christian walk. Next time you are confronted with adopting a "pet verse," be sure to "be a Berean" (Acts 17:10-11) and find the correct interpretation before you attempt to apply it to your life!
Senior Kitchen Staff, Calvary Chapel Conference Center
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