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SCRIPTURE TWISTING: 20 ways the cults misread the Bible

December 17, 2009

By James W. Sire

A Review by Dr. Gary S. Day

When James W. Sire read Archie Matson’s book, Afterlife: Reports from the Threshold of Death, he became motivated to write the book under review, and he first listed the ways Matson misunderstood the Bible.  Sire listed that Matson:

1.  Set-up straw men, like the literal view of interpreting Scripture

2.  Used innuendo

3.  Argued in a circle

4.  Failed to take into account other relevant biblical texts

5.  Engaged in name calling

6.  Misrepresented Biblical data

7.  Charged that contradictions were in the Bible that clearly 

8.  Draw wild and speculative conclusions

From this list Sire began to research the question, “How do people in various religious movements, especially those involved with the occult or cults, interpret Scripture?  What he noticed was that many cults twist Scripture to fit their teaching, yet they claim the Bible as their own source of authority.  The way this twisting was done, he found, was through the violation of the principles of sound literary interpretation, which then caused a misreading of the Biblical text.

The entrance of Biblical error by the cultic groups is often made by their making an obscure, unclear and even problematic Scripture passages into key doctrines (like the verse that seems to allude to baptism for thedead-1Cor 15:29).  Traditional Christian interpretation does not base doctrine on one verse or on obscure passages, and the core doctrines of traditional Christianity have overwhelming Biblical evidence to support their teaching, yet each of them has been challenged by one cult or another.  Some of the core beliefs of traditional Christianity is: the Deity of Christ; the Triune nature of God; the Creation of the universe by God; the sinfulness of humanity; salvation by God’s grace through faith; the resurrection from the dead; and, many other teachings that are supported abundantly by the Biblical Scriptures.

As Sire puts it, “The purpose of this book is to provide a guide to the methodology of misunderstanding that characterizes cultic use of Scripture.”  He has isolated twenty types of errors made in the process of interpreting Scripture, which is to be used as a general defense against all misreading perversions of God’s Word, for the Word must be read correctly.

The two formal assumptions that guide his analysis are: 1) The doctrinal basis of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, which holds to “the unique Divine inspiration, entire trustworthiness and authority of the Bible; and 2) Articles 2 of the Lausanne Covenant (1974), which further states that the Bible was addressed to the minds of all mankind and is universal.  No one is excluded from its authority, and all can adequately understand Scripture as their minds (not emotions or feelings) are illuminated by God to see its truthfulness.

What Sire does not do is to dehumanize or demonize those he opposes, as many other Christian apologetic writers do, but he rationally presents his points with grace, for they are considered to be humans also.  The only loaded term he could not avoid is ‘cult’ or ‘cultic,’ which he describes clearly.

A summary of Sire’s twenty types of errors of misreading or misusing of the Biblical texts by cultic groups follows:

1. An inaccurate quotation is simply the misquoting of the Bible, yet the misquotation, deliberately done or not, is asserted as correct and criticized accordingly.

2.  A twisted translation is where a Biblical passage is translated in such a way that it is skewed to support an erroneous notion or teaching.

3.  The Biblical hook is a devise where a Bible text is quoted to grab the attention of listener which is then followed by a non-biblical teaching; such as the Mormon’s technique of quoting James 1:5, which is followed by an explanation of Joseph Smith’s “revelation” that God the Father had a body.

4.  The ignoring of the immediate context is where a text is removed from the framework of its contextual meaning, and then given an inaccurate interpretation.

5.  The Collapsing of Contexts is where two or more incongruent verses are joined in interpretation as if they comment on one another; like when the Mormon’s join Jeremiah 1:5 with John 1:2, 4 to imply that both verses speak about the pre-mortal existence of all human beings.

6.  Over-specification­ is a more detailed or specific conclusion drawn from a Biblical text than is legitimate; such as the Mormon missionary manual’s use of the parable of the ten virgins in Mt 25:1-13.

7.  Word play is when a word or phrase from a Biblical translation is interpreted as if the revelation had been given in that language (e.g., English); like Mary Baker Eddy’s use of the word Adam, saying it is two syllables meaning obstruction, and thus builds erroneous teaching upon the erroneous interpretation of the Hebrew word Adam.

8.  The figurative fallacy is, 1) the mistaking literal language for figurative; and, 2) visa verse.  Mary Baker Eddy does the first in her interpretation of “evening”; and the Mormon’s uses the second in their interpretation of the prophecy “thou shalt be brought down and speak out of the ground” (Isaiah 29:4), taking it to refer to the Book of Mormon as God’s word to people, which was taken out of the ground at the hill Cumorah.”

9.  The speculative reading of predictive prophecy is where dubious interpretations of predictive prophecy are explained as specific events; such as the Mormon interpretation of the sticks of Ezek 37:15-23 to represent the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

10.  Saying but not citing is where a writer or speaker asserts that the Bible says something, but does not cite where it says what is asserted, such as the common saying supposedly coming from the Bible, yet doesn’t, “God helps them who helps himself.”

11.  The selective citing of Biblical texts is where only a portion of texts on a subject is quoted to substantiate an argument, where a full survey and quotation of all relevant texts of the subject would not support the argument; such as is done by the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ critique of the traditional teaching about the Trinity doctrine.

12.  Inadequate evidence is when hasty generalizations are drawn from inadequate or too little Biblical evidence; like the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ teachings that blood transfusions are unbiblical.

13.  A confused definition is where a Biblical term is so misunderstood that the essential Biblical doctrine it refers to is either distorted or rejected totally; like the equation of being born-again with reincarnation by Edgar Cayce’s followers.

14.  Ignoring alternative explanations is when a specific meaning is assigned to a text, or passage, when valid alternative interpretations are not considered, such as Erich von Däniken’s interpreting Gen 1:26 as an oblique reference to God’s being one of many astronauts.

15.  The obvious fallacy is where generalized words of phrases are substituted for logical reasoning; like when Erich von Däniken says, “Undoubtedly the Ark (of the Covenant) was electrically charged.

16.  Virtue by association is when a cult writer, cult writings, or cult literature is presented to sound Biblical.  Rick Chapman, Jaun Mascaro and the Mormon Doctrine and Covenants use this paralleling technique.

17.  Esoteric interpretation assumes that the Bible contains hidden or esoteric meaning known only by the cultic initiates.  The interpretation of a Biblical passage is declared without an explanation of it, or a vague explanation only is given for the interpretation; such as when Mary Baker Eddy interprets the first phrase of the Lord’s Prayer as, “Our Father-Mother God all harmonious.” 

18.  Supplementing Biblical authority is the elevation of other writings from post-biblical times that replace the Bible’s authority as God’s only Word to mankind, or that are added to the Bible as another authoritative writing; The Mormons supplement the Bible with the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.

19.  The rejecting of Biblical authority, either as a whole or in part, is done because of its divergence with human rationalism, or its divergence with other assumed authorities.

20.  A world-view confusion results when Scriptural statements, stories or commands are lifted out of their cultural context and placed within the frame of reference of another system, and given meaning that is marked different form their intended meaning.  An example of this is when the Marharishi Mahesh Yogi interprets, ”Be still and know that I am God”  to mean that each person should meditate and realize that he is essentially Godhood itself.

The knowledge of these types of Biblical reading errors that Sire identifies will help in exposing the imposters of Christianity, and give strong reason when dialoging with those on a wayward path.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2009 3:19 am

    Mormons Are New Testament Christians, not Creedal Christians

    The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is often accused by Evangelical pastors of not believing in Christ and, therefore, not being a Christian religion. This post helps to clarify such misconceptions by examining early Christianity’s theology relating to baptism, the Godhead, the deity of Jesus Christ, and His Grace and Atonement.


    Early Christian churches, practiced baptism of youth (not infants) by immersion by the father of the family. The local congregation had a lay ministry. An early Christian Church has been re-constructed at the Israel Museum, and the above can be verified. The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) continues baptism and a lay ministry as taught by Jesus’ Apostles. Early Christians were persecuted for keeping their practices sacred, and prohibiting non-Christians from witnessing them.

    The Trinity:

    A literal reading of the New Testament points to God and Jesus Christ , His Son , being separate , divine beings , united in purpose. . To whom was Jesus praying in Gethsemane, and Who was speaking to Him and his apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration? The Nicene Creed’s definition of the Trinity was influenced by scribes translating the Greek manuscripts into Latin. The scribes embellished on a passage explaining the Trinity , which is the Catholic and Protestant belief that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The oldest versions of the epistle of 1 John, read: “There are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water and the blood and these three are one.” Scribes later added “the Father, the Word and the Spirit,” and it remained in the epistle when it was translated into English for the King James Version, according to Dr. Bart Ehrman, Chairman of the Religion Department at UNC- Chapel Hill. He no longer believes in the Nicene Trinity. . Scholars agree that Early Christians believed in an embodied God; it was neo-Platonist influences that later turned Him into a disembodied Spirit. For example, it was an emperor (Constantine) . who introduced a term, homoousious, which defined the Son as “consubstantial” (one being) with the Father. Neither term or anything like it is in the New Testament. Harper’s Bible Dictionary entry on the Trinity says “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the New Testament.” Furthermore, 11 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were non-Trinitarian Christians The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) views the Trinity as three separate divine beings , in accord with the earliest Greek New Testament manuscripts and the Founders.


    Divinization, narrowing the space between God and humans, was also part of Early Christian belief. St. Athanasius of Alexandria (Eastern Orthodox) wrote, regarding theosis, “The Son of God became man, that we might become God.” Irenaeus wrote in the late 2nd Century: “we have not been made gods from the beginning, but at first merely men, then at length gods” Justin Martyr in mid 2nd Century said: “all men are deemed worthy of becoming ‘gods,’ and of having power to become sons of the Highest” Jerome wrote that God “made man for that purpose, that from men they may become gods.” Clement of Alexandria said worthy men “are called by the appellation of gods, being destined to sit on thrones with the other gods that have been first put in their places by the Savior.” Origen in reference to 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 said “Now it is possible that some may dislike what we have said representing the Father as the one true God, but admitting other beings besides the true God, who have become gods by having a share of God . . As, then there are many gods, but to us there is but one God the Father, and many Lords, but to us there is one Lord, Jesus Christ.” The Gospel of Thomas (which pre-dates the 4 Gospels, but was considered non-canonical by the Nicene Council) quotes the Savior: “He who will drink from my mouth will become as I am: I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him,” (Gospel of Thomas 50, 28-30, Nag Hammadi Library in English, J.M.Robinson, 1st ed 1977; 3rd ed. 1988) For further information on this subject, refer to The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) agrees with Early Christian church leaders regarding theosis.

    To paraphrase Origin’s thoughts in the words of Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie: “There is and can only be one who is supreme, who is the head and to whom all others are subject”. Becoming like God is not saying we will ever be equal to Him, frankly we won’t and can’t He, and only He, will forever be worshipped by us.

    The Deity of Jesus Christ

    Mormons hold firmly to the deity of Christ. For members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS), Jesus is not only the Son of God but also God the Son. Evangelical pollster George Barna found in 2001 that while only 33 percent of American Catholics, Lutherans, and Methodists (28 percent of Episcopalians) agreed that Jesus was “without sin”, 70 percent of Mormons believe Jesus was sinless.

    The Cross and Christ’s Atonement:

    The Cross became popular as a Christian symbol in the Fifth Century A.D. The Emperor Constantine first used it as a battle symbol for his soldiers in his quest for the Roman Empire . Members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) believe the proper Christian symbol is Christ’s resurrection, not his crucifixion on the Cross. [If your son died in a car accident, would you hang a replica of the smashed car around your neck!] Many Mormon chapels feature paintings of the resurrected Christ or His Second Coming, which give us assurance of the re-uniting of our bodies and spirits. Furthermore, members of the church believe the major part of Christ’s atonement occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus Christ took upon him the sins of all mankind.

    Grace Versus Works

    One Evangelical Christian author wrote of his sudden discovery that his previous beliefs about salvation were very different from those held by the early Christians:

    “If there’s any single doctrine that we would expect to find the faithful associates of the apostles teaching, it’s the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. After all, that is the cornerstone doctrine of the Reformation. In fact, we frequently say that persons who don’t hold to this doctrine aren’t really Christians…
    Our problem is that Augustine, Luther, and other Western theologians have convinced us that there’s an irreconcilable conflict between salvation based on grace and salvation conditioned on works or obedience. They have used a fallacious form of argumentation known as the “false dilemma,” by asserting that there are only two possibilities regarding salvation: it’s either (1) a gift from God or (2) it’s something we earn by our works.
    The early Christians [and Latter-day Saints!] would have replied that a gift is no less a gift simply because it’s conditioned on obedience….
    The early Christians believed that salvation is a gift from God but that God gives His gift to whomever He chooses. And He chooses to give it to those who love and obey him.”
    —David W. Bercot, Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up: A New Look at Today’s Evangelical Church in the Light of Early Christianity, 3rd edition, (Tyler, Texas: Scroll Publishing Company, 1999[1989]), 57, 61–62.

    The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) agrees with the earliest Christians that grace is conditioned upon obedience to Jesus Christ’s commandments.

    Definition of “Christian”: .

    But Mormons don’t term Catholics and Protestants “non-Christian”. They believe Christ’s atonement applies to all mankind. The dictionary definition of a Christian is “of, pertaining to, believing in, or belonging to a religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ”: All of the above denominations are followers of Christ, and consider him divine, and the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament. They all worship the one and only true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and address Him in prayer as prescribed in The Lord’s Prayer. The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) teaches that good Christians of any denomination will be able to dwell with Jesus Christ in the Eternities. They do not teach (as some denominations do) that people who don’t worship “their Jesus” are destined for Hell. It’s important to understand the difference between Reformation and Restoration when we consider who might be authentic Christians. . Early Christians had certain rituals which defined a Christian , which members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) continue today. . If members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) embrace early Christian theology, they are likely more “Christian” than their detractors.

    • The Need for a Restoration of the Christian Church:

    The founder of the Baptist Church in America, Roger Williams, just prior to leaving the church he established, said this: “There is no regularly constituted church of Christ on earth, nor any person qualified to administer any church ordinances; nor can there be until new apostles are sent by the Great Head of the Church for whose coming I am seeking.” (Picturesque America, p. 502.) Martin Luther had similar thoughts: “Nor can a Christian believer be forced beyond sacred Scriptures,…unless some new and proved revelation should be added; for we are forbidden by divine law to believe except what is proved either through the divine Scriptures or through Manifest revelation.” He also wrote: “I have sought nothing beyond reforming the Church in conformity with the Holy Scriptures. The spiritual powers have been not only corrupted by sin, but absolutely destroyed; so that there is now nothing in them but a depraved reason and a will that is the enemy and opponent of God. I simply say that Christianity has ceased to exist among those who should have preserved it.” The Lutheran, Baptist and Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) churches recognize an apostasy from early Christianity. The Lutheran and Baptist churches have attempted reform, but Mormonism (and Roger Williams, and perhaps Martin Luther) require inspired restoration, so as to re-establish an unbroken line of authority and apostolic succession.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .* * *

    • Christ-Like Lives:
    The 2005 National Study of Youth and Religion published by UNC-Chapel Hill found that Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) youth (ages 13 to 17) were more likely to exhibit these Christian characteristics than Evangelicals (the next most observant group):

    1. Attend Religious Services weekly
    2. Importance of Religious Faith in shaping daily life – extremely important
    3. Believes in life after death
    4. Does NOT believe in psychics or fortune-tellers
    5. Has taught religious education classes
    6. Has fasted or denied something as spiritual discipline
    7. Sabbath Observance
    8. Shared religious faith with someone not of their faith
    9. Family talks about God, scriptures, prayer daily
    10. Supportiveness of church for parent in trying to raise teen (very supportive)
    11. Church congregation has done an excellent job in helping teens better understand their own sexuality and sexual morality

    . LDS . Evangelical
    1. 71% . . 55%
    2. 52 . . . 28
    3. 76 . . . 62
    4. 100 . . 95
    5. 42 . . . 28
    6. 68 . . . 22
    7. 67 . . . 40
    8. 72 . . . 56
    9. 50 . . . 19
    10 65 . . . 26
    11 84 . . . 35

    So what do you think the motivation is for the Evangelical preachers to denigrate the Mormon Church by calling it a “cult”? You would think Evangelical preachers would be emulating Mormon practices (a creed to believe, a place to belong, a calling to live out, and a hope to hold onto) which were noted by Methodist Rev. Kenda Creasy Dean of the Princeton Theological Seminary, as causing Mormon teenagers to “top the charts” in Christian characteristics. It seems obvious pastors shouldn’t be denigrating a church based on First Century Christianity, with high efficacy. The only plausible reason to denigrate Mormons by calling the church a “cult” is for Evangelical pastors to protect their flock (and their livelihood).

    • December 18, 2009 3:01 pm

      I’m sorry that you were offended by Dr. Day’s article. He will respond to you personally, although as author of this blog, I would also like to respond. Mormonism is a cult of cults.

      Tale bearer, occultist, Master Mason, polygamist, adulterer Joseph Smith Has led millions from worshipping the true Jesus Christ and following the true gospel. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that “holy underwear,” the taking of other men’s wives, the wearing of talisman’s (Jupiter stone) such as was worn by your “prophet”, has nothing to do with the Bible.

      All 11 points you cited are typical of many religions, including pagans, and this has nothing to do with salvation. You are following the god of this world – the god of Joseph Smith’s Freemasonry. He was quickly promoted to a master mason, then he “created” a sister religion called Mormonism and renamed the title, “Master Mahan.”

      Mormonism is so far out of the realm of orthodoxy, that it espouses a Jesus who was begat, not by the Holy Spirit as the Bible tells us, but by a PHYSICAL God the Father having relations with Mary! You also believe Jesus is Lucifer’s brother! Please sir, the imaginations of a false prophet who took other men’s wives in the name of God is endless. Pure evil.

      When it comes to what entity you actually follow, there is nothing more telling than the words of Joseph Smith himself:

      Joseph Smith blaspemously boasts that he did more than Jesus to keep a church together.

      “God is in the still small voice. In all these affidavits, indictments, it is all of the devil–all corruption. Come on! ye prosecutors! ye false swearers! All hell, boil over! Ye burning mountains, roll down your lava! for I will come out on the top at last. I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet . . . “
      (History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 408-409).

      This type of boasting comes only from one source. It would be well for all to avoid being trapped in the cult of LDS. For readers who think this is Christian, do your research. You will find nothing of true Christianity in the cult of the “Mormon Jesus.”

      My husband will likely want to respond to you also, but I would suggest that you attend a Baptist church or other scripturally sound church that follows no prophet but the Messiah Yeoshuah only and no other Book but the Holy Bible. Salvation is in the true Jesus Christ alone.

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