The devil’s copy of the Bible is not gathering dust on a nightstand. It’s the most dog-eared, underlined book in his library. Satan is steeped in the Scriptures.
He even quotes chapter and verse to Jesus.
In the famous temptation account, the devil attempts to get Jesus to jump from the temple top to the ground below. He baits him with some cherry-picked words from Psalm 91, “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,’” (Matt 4:6).
In other words, “Look, Jesus, don’t you even believe your own Bible?”
Needless to say, the devil warps the psalm to imply something it doesn’t. But that’s the way he rolls, isn't it? By misquoting, manipulating, and ripping God’s word out of context, he wields it as a weapon to drive us to doubt and pride.
SOME OF THE DEVIL’S FAVORITE VERSES
To encourage us to put our faith in our own goodness, for instance, he’ll quote the Ten Commandments, but tack on this commentary: “Listen, you and I both know that you’ve broken a few of these. Hey, it happens. But it’s not like you’ve flunked the test. You’re no murderer, for instance, or a thief. And God sees that. He’s not looking for perfection but progress. Build on the laws you’ve kept. The Almighty’s not going to condemn you if you’re trying. He knows you’re basically a good person, certainly much better than some.” In short: Do more, try harder. That’s Satan's pseudo-gospel.
Or, to urge a more accepting, coexisting flavor of Christianity that remains utterly mute in the face of virtually all heresies and vices, no matter how explicitly they’re lambasted in other parts of Scripture, the devil will quote Jesus, “Judge not, lest you be judged,” (Matt 7:1). Ironically, this is from the Sermon on the Mount, which is riddled with some of Jesus’s sharpest judgments against sin.
There’s hardly a portion of Scripture that doesn’t have hell’s dirty fingerprints on it.
Or, to mutate God’s word into an ego-boosting, motivational manual for life-coaching, the devil will quote Paul, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” (Phil 4:13). Never mind that Paul is talking about how he’s learned to be content in his ministry whether he’s well-fed, famished, broke, or has cash in his wallet. Satan would have you believe this verse is about trusting in yourself, harnessing your inward power, chasing your dreams--all the mumbo jumbo of self-help spirituality. In other words, he uses this verse to bend our heads downward, until we’re in the navel-gazing posture.
We could go on and on. There’s hardly a portion of Scripture that doesn’t have hell’s dirty fingerprints on it.
FOUR LITTLE ANSWERS
So what’s the answer? How do we protect ourselves from being duped by the Bible-quoting devil?
That’s a big question. Here are four little responses that at least begin to answer it.
1. Avoid Twitterizing the Scriptures. Twitter allows only 140 characters per tweet. That may work for social media, but not so well for theology. The Scriptures are full of books, chapters, paragraphs. Quoting snippets of verses here and there, Twitter style, is not wrong, but it also won’t give you the big picture. Immerse yourself in the whole chapter, the whole book. See every detail in context, like you would the individual pieces of a mosaic.
2. Friends don’t let friends read the Bible alone. Study the Scriptures with others, preferably those whose knowledge exceeds yours. Learn from them. Discuss it with them. Of course, it’s fine to read the Bible at home by yourself. But join a Bible Study, too. Your pastor or other teachers can help you better understand the Scriptures, as Philip guided the Ethiopian eunuch to understand Isaiah (Acts 8:30-31).
3. Study the Bible with dead people. That is, those who are dead but truly alive in Christ. There’s two millennia of biblical, theological wisdom in the saints who have gone before us. Study the Scriptures through their insights, too. If you’ve got the cash, buy the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Or check out what Augustine, Chrysostom, Gregory and others wrote about the Sunday Gospel readings in this set. If you’re in Romans, read it with Luther in this very helpful book.
4. Remember whose book it is. The Bible is the book of Jesus. In one way or another, it’s all about him. The OT readies us for his coming. The Gospels tell us of him. The rest of the NT is focused on his work. The Bible is not the Instruction Book for Life or the spiritual equivalent of Aesop’s Fables. It is the testimony about Jesus. Whatever chapter you’re reading, ask, “What does this tell me about Christ?” When you do that, you’re already well on your way to the right answer.