Or does it mean something else? The NIV has II Peter 1:20 read, "No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation." This would make the caution apply not so much to the reception of a text on our end as the giving of the text on the prophet's end. The next verse in the NIV reads, "For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."

Anyway...

My point here is to stay within the congregation, within the larger body of faithful believers, and not to allow yourself to drink too deeply of the heady elixir of finding-a-verse-that-has-eluded-the-scholars.

Doubt is such an egotistical thing. You find some flaw in Christianity--some "contradiction" in Scripture, some line of logic that "proves" Jesus could not have been Whom He claimed to be--and from that moment on, you're on a holy crusade. The doubt within becomes your deity, the defining principle of your life. You smugly wonder why no one has ever thought of this before.

When the Bible looks at such human tendencies and frailties, it dismisses them with one word: "fool."

Likewise, when we find an interpretation of some minute point of Scripture we're sure no one has ever seen before--or at least, only the truly brilliant like ourselves--be careful here.

Tread softly. There is quicksand in the area.

When you encounter some new doctrine--whether you found it all by your lonesome or someone else pointed it out to you--do this:

  1. Ask yourself what that doctrine does to the major affirmations of the Christian faith: the inspiration of Scripture, the deity of Jesus, the purity of the Gospel, salvation by grace through faith, that sort of thing.
  2. Ask yourself what the saints of old as well as the saints of the present--those teachers and expositors of the Word you esteem highly--would say about this. Then, go ask them.
  3. Pull up a chair. Get ready for a history lesson.

You'd be surprised how many of them have trod this same dead-end road you now find yourself on and in what detail they recall the hubris now flooding your soul from the doctrinal discoveries you have made. They laugh at what naive greenhorns they were (and by implication, you "are").

Then, listen as they tell you of how the Pelagians or the Gnostics or the Arians or another off-shoot of the Christian faith made the same discoveries as you and played that hand out to its full extension, only to find it barren and lifeless.

As a young believer who sometimes struggled with doubts on the Bible and its record of Jesus, it gave me a comforting assurance to observe that many of the people I admired most for their brains and common sense were devout disciples of the Galilean.

I sat in the home of a young husband who had been taken in by the "elders" who had knocked at his door one evening when his wife had been at work. He was bored and had nothing else to do that night, so he let them come in and then soaked up all their false doctrine and accusations. By the time his wife came to me--I was not their pastor, but the husband had sat in our congregation often as a teenager and she felt he had confidence in me--he was well locked into that false religion.

I asked him, "Jimmy, when they began telling you these things that you'd never heard before, doctrines so different from what you'd been taught in your own church, did it ever occur to you to ask someone about that? Did you think of calling your pastor or some other Bible teacher?"

His answer was revealing. "I didn't think there were any answers to what they were saying."

Doubt and conceit have that in common: they are confident no one has more of the truth than they.

Keep the bigger picture, friend. Ask other believers. But do not wrangle over words and sound all the alarms when the preacher or the visitor in your living room begins to do so. He may be on solid ground, but he's also playing around quicksand where one must tread softly.

Let's leave wrangling to the rodeos.

Dr. Joe McKeever is a Preacher, Cartoonist, and the Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Visit him at joemckeever.com/mtUsed with permission

Original publication date: November 20, 2009