Do You Read Your Bible?

The Scriptures are God's written revelation to man. Written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit, they tell us the things God wants us to know concerning His relationship with mankind and His plan of salvation.

At times, people have deliberately misused the Scriptures to advance their own fortunes or religious systems. Even people who read in their Bibles frequently can be deceived, as several cases of fraud by media religious personalities have demonstrated. How much easier to delude those who may only rarely read the Scriptures, if at all. How much easier still to deceive those who rely on a priest or other minister to interpret Scriptures for them.

As a case in point, I offer something I read in one of my old books of Catholic doctrine. It was in an article explaining who the pope is and how he came to rule over the Catholic Church. This was, of course, the RCC version. This particular instance underscores the necessity of reading a passage of Scripture in context.

Once more before his Passion Christ made a promise to Peter which brought the strength he was to have for his future office, and by virtue of Christ's help, into sharp contrast with his sin and frailty as a man. He was to deny his Master three times, but this denial was not to involve the loss of faith or to deprive him of his supernatural strength as the future rock of the Church. “Satan has sought for you [plural—i.e., the Apostles] to sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for thee [singular—i.e., for Peter] that thy faith may not fail, and thou, being once converted [when thou hast once turned to Me], strengthen thy brethren.” (Luc. Xxii. 31,32). No intelligent reader can fail to notice the significant change of number here. Temptation is common to Peter with the other Apostles. Satan has “asked for” them all, that he may sift them by temptation and separate them like chaff from the wheat. But it is for Peter specially that Christ prays, because on him, the man of rock, on him and him alone the faith of the Church depends. It is his peculiar office to strengthen his brethren.--John Gilmary Shea, Ed., The Catholic Educator: A Library of Catholic Instruction and Devotion, Vol. I, Peter J. Ryan, © Thomas Kelly (1902), pp. 321-22; has Imprimitur

Before proceeding, let's see how the passage actually reads in a Catholic and a non-Catholic Bible. First, the Catholic version:

31 And the Lord said: Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
32 But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.
--Luke 22:31-32; Douay-Rheims Bible

And now a rendering from a Christian version:

31 And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
32 But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
--Luke 22:31-32; King James Version

Just one more translation of the passage, for comparison. What follows is a literal, word-order translation of Luke 22:31-32 as presented in the 21st edition of Eberhard Nestle's Novum Testamentum Graece.

31 Simon[,] Simon, behold[,] Satan begged earnestly for you – to sift as the wheat;
32 but I requested concerning thee that might not fail the faith of thee; and thou; and thou when having turned support the brothers of thee.

Standing alone, the passage very well could be understood as stated in my old book. However, sound hermeneutics demand that a passage be read in context and interpreted in light of the whole of Scripture. When that is done, the Catholic understanding does not hold water.

Jesus spoke these words at the Last Supper, shortly after the disciples had erupted into yet another argument concerning who would be greatest in the kingdom. (Luke 22:24-30) This was not the first occasion of their arguing such matters (cf. Luke 9:46-48; Mark 9:34-37). Satan apparently was relentlessly pursuing the 12, and had already scored a victory with Judas. Peter was wavering.

By repeating Peter's name, Jesus made it crystal clear that this was a somber warning. Think of the impact on Peter, who by now must have grown accustomed to being called by the new name Jesus had given him. Yet here was his Master calling him by his old name. Surely this must have had the effect of adding to the intensity of His rebuke of Peter's worldly overconfidence. The context suggests that Peter may have been particularly outspoken during the earlier dispute among the disciples.

Imagine the impact on the gathered disciples when Jesus pronounced the words “Satan has asked for you.” As the Catholic teaching claims, in the Greek, YOU is in the plural and would have encompassed all present. But the context suggests that Jesus was looking right at Peter when He spoke. The reference to “sifting them as wheat” suggests that such unpleasant trials are necessary for their refining effect.

In the next verse, just as the Catholic teaching declares, Christ used the singular form of the pronoun YOU, no doubt to make it clear to Peter, who by now must have been quite crestfallen, that he was in His prayers and that he ultimately would be victorious. He urged Peter to encourage the other disciples. Christ told His disciple that his faith would not fail and so it came to pass. Peter himself did fail, and miserably, but his faith did not.

There is nothing in this passage to suggest that on Peter alone “the faith of the Church depends.” To suggest that it does is to discover in the passage something that is in no way suggested by the words. This is eisegesis and it comes about when one goes to the Scripture seeking support for a position or doctrine previously decided upon. Having the result of the study on hand before beginning the research makes it quite easy to come up with passages that can be forced to support the prior position.

Taking a few verses out of context, with no regard for how these isolated verses relate to the rest of the Scriptures makes it easy to come up with incorrect understanding. The only way to approach the Scriptures is to do so prayerfully, responsive to the Spirit's guidance and cognizant of context.

Take down your Bible and try it for yourself.

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