Reasons The Bible Is So Misunderstood In Modern Times

Reasons The Bible Is So Misunderstood In Modern Times Shutterstock

For centuries, we have misunderstood and misinterpreted the Bible.

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And with so many people shaping their lives around this book, misinterpretations often have dire consequences. Misunderstanding the Bible can lead to prejudice, misogyny, and a multitude of other abuses and aggressions. There’s no one reason as to why people misunderstand the Bible today. History, culture, and even the church itself all contribute to the misuse and misinterpretation of the Bible.

1. Constantine

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Roman emperor Constantine is famous for legalizing Christianity in 313 A.D., per Rhodes College. While yes, he did stop the throwing of Christians to lions and gladiators (yay!), he also opened the door for trouble. As the church began to inform the culture more and more, the Bible eventually became a justification for the Christians to do the persecuting.

2. Theodosius

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80 years after Constantine legalized Christianity, Emperor Theodosius took it a step further. He made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. For the first time, Christianity was the masthead for politics and war — which was a far cry from Jesus’ teachings! And we all know where politicizing the Bible leads…*cough* ahem, Donnie T…*cough*

3. The Church of England

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Fast-forward to medieval England, where the church was basically in charge of basically everything. Including the King. The church informed what wars were fought, which laws were made, etc. Even though Jesus taught caring for people, showing mercy, and loving one another, the priests were the only ones who knew that (the Bible was not fully translated into English until 1382) and so the Bible was used to control people. We still struggle with that mentality today.

4. The King James Bible

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Even today, many churches claim that the King James Bible (KJV) is the only reliable translation, but really, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. KJV was based on what were considered “new” manuscripts (new for that time). Today, however, archeologists have uncovered older Greek texts, leading to more accurate interpretations. Unfortunately, much of the older generation was taught scripture using this outdated interpretation.

5. The Reformation

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Now, to be clear, The Reformation in 1517 was a much-needed occurrence. Those involved broke away from the Church of England and its corrupted, self-serving message, prioritizing correct scriptural interpretation. But…who got to decide what “correct” even was?

6. Denominations

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According to Live Science, there are 2 billion Christians scattered over the globe. And those 2 billion Christians are separated into 45,000 denominations. Every single one of them holding different beliefs about different scriptures. Can you lose your salvation? Methodists say yes, it’s possible. Baptists will probably throw hands if you suggest that out loud. How does one determine which churches have got it right?

7. Forgotten Creeds

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Besides legalizing Christianity, Constantine did another cool thing. He called for what became known as the “Council of Nicaea” in 325 A.D., where Bishops from all over the empire gathered to address controversies in the church and ensure a united interpretation of the Bible. This council (and others following) created “creeds” which stated the basic, fundamental beliefs of the Christian church. The Apostles Creed and The Nicene Creed are the most well-known. However, unless you grew up in a liturgical style of worship, there’s a really good chance you’ve never even heard of them…

9. Cultural Context Matters

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We so often put the Bible in its own little world, and forget that it took place in the textbooks from 8th grade ancient history. Think about the cultures of that time! We don’t make animal sacrifices in Western modern churches anymore, and all the Levitical laws about it make little sense to us. But in that day and age, every religion made sacrifices. Israel just got to do it a different way. (“Hey, just because the Moabites over there are setting virgins on fire doesn’t mean you can. A sheep is fine, thanks.”) Not every piece of the Bible was written to 21st century America.

9. Modern Morals

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Again, cultural context matters. With our enlightened modern minds, we read the commandments in the book of Joshua about conquering the Canaanites and are justifiably offended. Because in modern days, our wartime motives just aren’t the same. But back in those days, tribal warfare was simply the norm. It was a necessity for just existing, really. The problem comes when we forget the difference between descriptive and prescriptive texts, and thus warp our view of God and the Bible.

10. Reading the Wrong Way

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Really, the Bible isn’t meant to be read like a novel. Nor is it just a bunch of stories and rules, applying to every single person forever. Instead, the Bible is a diverse collection of literature. There are lawbooks, histories, songs and poetry, letters and more (for more info, see here). Understanding this is key to understanding what applies to us, and what God actually meant.

11. Sunday School

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Sunday school can be really great, and there are some really great teachers and curriculum writers out there. But, children’s Sunday school classes can also play a huge role in modern misunderstanding of the Bible. How so? Well, children’s Sunday school curriculums often focus only on application. And many of the stories are oversimplified to the point of error. For example, the story of Nehemiah shows someone doing the right thing without being asked, so kids, you should clean your room without Mommy and Daddy having to ask. (That’s an actual Sunday school lesson I once had to teach.)

12. Lack of Study

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Many people just read the Bible, taking it all at face value. But the Bible was written so long ago, and is filled with such a variation of content, that we can’t do that and expect any actual understanding. To fully grasp the meaning of the Bible, we have to study. We have to dig below the surface. And that is sadly underemphasized in many churches.

13. A Loud Minority

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For a lot of non-Christians, the Bible has become associated with people like the Duggars (19 Kids and Counting/“Shiny Happy People”). These fundamentalist, abusive sects of Christianity are weird and loud, but they are the minority. They are incredibly negative, misleading representations of the Bible. Most Christians are not like that, we promise!

14. The Internet

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We love the internet, truly (I’d be out of a job without it). In understanding the Bible, it can be an amazing resource for commentaries, historical info, etc. But the problem is…there are thousands and thousands of literally everything. Which means you can read thousands of opinions on just one Bible verse. Maybe you just wanted a simple breakdown, and now your head is swimming, and you’re questioning your whole faith on a Thursday lunch break.

15. Separating God and Jesus

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Christians and non-Christians alike, we all do it. Old Testament God is this angry, Zeus-like character ready to throw lightning bolts when you disobey. Jesus, on the other hand, is his hippie pacifist kid with the “coexist” bumper sticker. In reality though, Jesus is the perfect representation of God (see John 14:8-9). That means everything we read about God should be interpreted through Jesus. And if it doesn’t match with Jesus, then maybe we consider the possibility that it was a culturally specific, not for us, type of situation.

The misunderstanding of the Bible not only keeps non-Christians from wanting to know God, but it keeps Christians from knowing Him fully. Correctly understanding the Bible is key to living in freedom as Jesus intended.

Beryl Kate is a writer and blogger based in Mississippi. In between potty training as a mom herself, and supporting moms as a doula, she writes articles for Bolde, PsychLove, various Medium publications, and slowly drafts a romance novel.
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