Saturday, January 8, 2022

When the Devil Quotes the Bible



The biblical account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is a favorite one for many people; it appears in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is a great narrative because it gives us a manual for how to handle our own temptations—each time the devil tempted Jesus, the Lord responded by quoting Scripture. We too should rely on God’s Word, hidden in our hearts, to help us in our spiritual battles. 


But today I want to focus on a different part of the temptation account. Often lost in the telling of this story is the fact that Satan also quoted Scripture. Its as if the devil tweaks his strategy and says, “If you’re going to quote Scripture, then I will as well.” In Matthew 4:5-6 we read, “Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”’”


So here is what I want to point out: we need to be very careful about finding one phrase from the Bible and running too far with it. Satan was able to find a sentence from Psalm 91 that may have applied to the situation. Jesus could seemingly throw Himself from the top of the temple and the Father would be forced to dispatch the angels to rescue Jesus. But notice how Jesus responded. Jesus did not tell Satan that the verse was wrong. Jesus said “Again it is written (in other words, “It is also written,” or “It is written elsewhere”).” Yes, the Bible may say X, but it also says Y. 


As Christians we need to know all that the Bible says on a topic (X AND Y). It may say this, but it also says that. I am not suggesting that these phrases contradict each other; rather, they complement each other. The Bible is a unique book. It is not written like a self-help book, where each chapter tells the reader all there is to know on a topic. It reveals information, sometimes little by little, through the use of narratives and teaching. 


Some people read a verse on prayer, such as, “If you ask in my name, I will do it (John 14:14),” and they operate as if that is all the Bible says on prayer. But “again it is written,” that a person who lacks faith should not expect to receive anything from the Lord (James 1:6-7), and the person who asks with improper motives will “ask and have not (James 4:3).” (We also need to understand what it means to ask in Jesus’ name) 


The same can be said of the oft-repeated phrase “Judge not (Matthew 7:1),” and the oft-ignored instruction, “When you judge, use righteous judgment (John 7:24).” 


The point is, we need balance with Bible study. We need to be careful not to grab one verse and form an entire theology, but to research all that the Bible says on a given topic. 


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