Around the time I was ten years old, I remember seeing a number of books start popping up in stores about hidden messages in the Bible. Authors who were convinced that the Bible has a “secret code” that predicts modern events like the holocaust and the rise and fall of the Soviet Union made plenty of money explaining to people that there was a message behind the message. Oddly enough, these people actually used the Bible to develop their theories. They gave books, chapters, and verses to show their beliefs. But that doesn’t mean they were interpreting the Bible for what it really says.

The point is, anybody can make the Bible say anything they want it to if they look hard enough. That’s not what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to exegete it – letting it say what the Holy Spirit meant it to say. Most people can see the ridiculousness of coming to the Bible with the idea of finding some hidden message from God, like it’s a National Treasure movie. Unfortunately, those mistakes are still repeated all the time, as people of all different beliefs can find themselves opening the Scriptures to find what they want to find.

So much of the false doctrine and misguided traditionalism in the religious world isn’t based on the Scriptures, but on what people want them to say. If we want to keep from making these mistakes, we must do our best to avoid these three dangerous ways of interpreting the Bible.

It’s dangerous to build an opinion of the Bible through the lens of preconceived notions. So many people read a Scripture thinking, “Ok, I know it doesn’t mean this or that, so it must mean something else,” or, “How does this verse prove what I already know to be true?” If you come to the Scriptures looking to prove the belief you already hold about salvation, worship, the end times, the Holy Spirit, or anything else, you’ll undoubtedly find support for your belief system. But that doesn’t mean that you’ve discovered what the Bible says on the matter.

The truth is, we all have basic beliefs about what the Bible is and what it says, so it’s virtually impossible to come to the text without a belief of some kind. The temptation will be there to simply look until we find a plausible explanation for that belief. Fight that temptation. The key is to keep an open mind to the idea that your beliefs could be wrong and that the Scriptures will be the determining factor. We have to read them for what they say, not for what we want them to say. (See 2 Timothy 2:15.)

It’s dangerous to build an opinion of the Bible through the lens of someone else’s beliefs. The second most dangerous way to read the Bible is to let someone create preconceived notions for you. Millions, if not billions of people, base their understanding of the Bible on what their preacher, pastor, elder, or priest tells them the Bible says. Some more studious Christians may base their beliefs on the offerings of a favorite commentary writer. While I strongly believe in consulting those who have years of experience and wisdom in studying the Scriptures, that doesn’t mean any one person is going to be right all the time. Every Christian needs to be able to take the opinions of others and use them as an aid in their own personal study without relying on those other people exclusively. Those folks may be right, and they may be wrong, but to assume that they’re going to be right is to place your knowledge of the truth (and possibly even your salvation) in their hands – and what could be more dangerous than that? (See Galatians 1:6-9, Hebrews 5:12-14.)

It’s dangerous to build an opinion of the Bible without actually opening the Bible. This is by far the most common thing I see in the world today. So many people attempt to use the Bible to criticize Christians, all without ever really looking at what the Bible says. If you’ve ever been told “Do not judge” for saying that the Bible calls something sin, you’ve seen what I mean. “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality” is another favorite argument from those who don’t understand how the Bible works. “Hell is for bad people and I’m a good person” seems to be the deepest understanding of the afterlife that many people have. How dangerous is that? To gamble your soul’s eternity on a few platitudes about the Bible and God that may or may not be true is truly insane.

God gave us His Son, and He gave us His word. Sure, some parts of the Bible are hard to understand. Yeah, it takes some time to dig into the Scriptures and really start to grasp what’s being said. There are some parts that we’ll never fully understand. However, the Bible was made for us to be able to know what God wants us to know about Him and to know what He wants. Every Christian should be in the Scriptures every single day to test what they hear about the Scriptures, just like those noble-minded Bereans (Acts 17:11). The home, the church, the nation, and the world need people who know God’s word and can tell others about it rather than people who blindly believe what they grew up learning or what their preacher says or what the culture tells them about God. The Creator of the universe has given you a chance to know Him. Don’t let anybody else take that privilege from you.

By Jack Wilkie

Jack Wilkie is the author of “Failure: What Christian Parents Need to Know About American Education” and is the speaker for Focus Press’s “The Lost Generation” seminar. To schedule a seminar at your church, contact jack@tampaseo.expert.