On the Danger of “Using” the Bible, Part 2

In my first blog post, I pointed out some of the dangers of “using” Scripture, especially in our Christian culture that highly values serious engagement with the Bible.

We need to be reminded that “to use” often means “to manipulate for one’s own satisfactions. It is an act of domination.”  [1]   We cannot utilize Scripture simply to confirm what we are and what we like. We must be willing to silence our own agendas and preferences, and listen to the agenda of the Word of God.

Scripture Uses Us

Karl Barth, who experienced much agenda-driven and highly-destructive use of the Bible in early 20thcentury Germany, offers this powerful conclusion:

“If the Church is the assembly of those who hear the Word of God, in the last resort this necessarily means the assembly of those who make use of it. But this, too, can mean only the assembly of those who are ready and willing that the Word of God on its part should make use of them . . . instead of our making use of Scripture at every stage, it is Scripture itself which uses us — the usus scripturae in which scriptura is not object but subject, and the hearer and reader is not subject but object.”[2]

Exactly this point is made in Hebrews 4:12-13. In the original language it is one sentence, very carefully and artistically crafted for maximum impact on the reader, one of the most graciously powerful assertions in all of holy Scripture about God’s ways and purpose in giving us his Word.

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Notice carefully that the word of God, in its penetrating power, discerns and humbles readers before the omniscient judgment of the living and active God. This is its most profound purpose and mission. When we use Scripture to turn its life and force on others without first facing that power for ourselves, we run the risk of being misled and misleading others. Using Scripture becomes an act of domination at the core of our lives.

Proper Use of Scripture

This lovely prayer restores our focus:

“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may, in a way consistent with this great gift, hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of your holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.”

Notice what it says about the use of the holy Scriptures: “ …hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them. . .” What is advocated by these words is a thoughtful, meditative, inward encounter and embrace of all holy Scriptures as God’s address to all of us.

Notice further that this kind of encounter is a request for the Lord: “grant that we. . .” Therefore, more than anything, this kind of reading requires time and humility, two resources in short supply in the bustle of our weekly work and in the life of our busy churches.

These thoughts challenge and invite us to find some quiet and peace in which to study holy Scripture, to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” its gracious words.  Don’t dwell on what others might do with it, or what you might use it for in the work of the Kingdom.

Rather, ponder the way Scripture might prostrate your heart and draw you into communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, our mighty Savior God who reigns now and forever in glory everlasting.


 Recommended Resources:


[1] Graham Ward, “A Christian Act: Politics and Liturgical Practices,” in Rashkover, Randi and C. C. Pecknold (eds.), Liturgy, Time, and the Politics of Redemption (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006) p.44.

[2] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, trans. C. T. Thomson and Harold Knight (London:  T & T Clark, 2004), pp. 737-738.

About the Author
Faculty Ministries

Thomas Trevethan Tom received an MA from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Tom was one of InterVarsity’s most gifted Bible expositors and he authored the books The Beauty of God’s Holiness (InterVarsity Press) and Our Joyful Confidence: The Lordship of Jesus in Colossians (DILL Press). He lived in Ann Arbor with his wife Barb after retiring in 2014 from 47 years with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Tom served as InterVarsity campus staff for the University of Michigan for many years, and most recently served on the InterVarsity Faculty Ministry Leadership Team as a writer, creating many resources for faculty and grad students. Our hearts go out to Barb and the family upon learning of Tom's passing in October 2023. His voice, in both writing as well as singing, will be greatly missed.