Ideas have consequences. Since the dawn of Western philosophy, we have witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly of this axiom. From the influence of John Locke upon the founders of America, to the disastrous results of the influence of Karl Marx in Communist Russia and Friedrich Nietzsche in Hitler’s Germany, it can hardly be argued that ideas don’t have consequences. Yet, not only do ideas have consequences, but so too does exegesis.
The danger of erroneous interpretation of Scripture is not new in our day. The Apostle Paul instructed a young Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). There is a right way and a wrong way to handle the Word of God. Unfortunately, our era continues to be littered with those who may find themselves ashamed because they have mishandled the Word of Truth.
Take, for example, Mark 16:17–18:
And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly poisons, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.
Although the authenticity of this passage is debated, some have taken these words and used them to justify the practice of literally handling deadly snakes in the midst of the congregation as a demonstration of faithfulness. Tragically, many have died from snake bites as a result. Exegesis has consequences.
Consider another well-known text of Scripture that when mishandled and misapplied has led to tragic results as well:
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (James 5:14–15)
The encouragement to call for the elders to pray for the sick has led some to misunderstand James as prohibiting the use of doctors or medicinal practices. Unfortunately, I have known families who have needlessly lost loved ones to sickness and diseases that were easily curable if only they had enlisted the help of a physician or used proven medical practices. Alas, erroneously interpreting and wrongly applying this text led them to believe that to call for such help would be disobedient to God. Again, exegesis has consequences.
While misinterpreting Scripture can unnecessarily prolong sickness and even result in physical death, the greatest danger is in what it can do to the soul. Through wrongful exegesis, people can and have been led to eternal death.