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Voices of Faith ‘The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose,’ Shakespeare wrote. What think ye?

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Saturday, August 17, 2013, at 11:22 a.m.

Pastor Betty Hanna-Witherspoon, Ebenezer Church, Kansas City, Mo.: This quotation may be built on Jesus’ encounter with Satan as found in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-12. In these passages, Satan uses Scripture to lure Jesus into exercising pride and pursuing fame and power. Jesus turns aside Satan’s use of Scripture to tempt him into demonstrations of his greatness with quotes from other passages. These passages counter Satan’s arguments that would lure him away from his ministry/calling.

The lessons we African Methodists quote is, “Even Satan can quote Scripture, but can he apply it appropriately? Our job is to apply Scripture correctly.”

The exact quote is found in Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” and is used to describe Shylock’s use of Scripture. It was an unflattering characterization of Shylock in a play that generally portrays him negatively. So the quotation is usually negatively applied to an opponent’s use of Scripture.

In today’s world, when we use this quotation, we are pointing to our or our opponent’s ability to search Scriptures looking only for passages that support what they already believe. We see the Bible quoted on both sides of many political and social arguments – war, immigration, women’s rights. It is possible within the 62 books of the Protestant Bible to find passages that speak to both sides of an issue.

That is why it is important to understand the context of Scriptural passages when quoting them or receiving them as the truth under which we live. It is important to determine if that context applies to today’s world.

Rabbi Mark H. Levin, Congregation Beth Torah, Kansas City: Multiple methods of Bible interpretation exist. Philo considered the Bible to be allegory. Some people search for original intent. Many Americans today choose biblical literalism to guide their religious lives. The point is that various techniques are utilized to explain the Bible’s intention.

An intelligent and manipulative person may connive to twist the Bible’s words to prove anything.

Does an authentic biblical meaning exist? Yes, but not on which everyone will agree.

Take the famous “An eye for an eye. …” Rabbinic interpretation insists God’s actual intention is “the cost of an eye,” to require monetary payment for damages. Yet, literal interpretations of the biblical law suggest that God demands that we do to the offender what was done to the victim, perhaps particularly regarding the death penalty.

Many people are inconsistent in their method of biblical interpretation. Leviticus 22:18 says, “With a male you shall not lie, the lying down of a woman. It is an abomination.” Many religious movements construe this to prohibit all same-sex intercourse, but that is not the literal meaning. The Bible never mentions lesbianism, for instance. That prohibition is interpretation and extension. Even literalists sometimes deduce by other methods.

Honestly religious people will interpret Scripture intending to fulfill God’s will, not to achieve personal goals. They will be influenced by their movement’s philosophies and histories, relinquishing personal agendas.

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