The Misuse of Truth



Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 1:13).


          People are able to mishandle truths such that the truths create a falsehood.


Creating Falsehoods from Truth

          We have spent an entire lesson on the importance of keeping the context of a passage in mind, but it will not hurt to further emphasize the point. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus talks of several traditional beliefs the Jews held, but which had no support in the Scriptures. In Matthew 5:38, Jesus talks about the idea of vengeance. “You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'” Though Jesus attributes the saying to traditional beliefs, the quote is from the Old Testament. It is found in several places, such as Exodus 21:22-25, Leviticus 24:19-20, and Deuteronomy 19:16-21. If you read the context of each of these passages you will see that the phrase comes from instructions to judges. When a person was found guilty of certain crimes, the punishment measured out by the judge was to be based on the damage done by the person while committing the crime. However, we can see from Jesus’ comments that the Jews had taken this concept and applied it to everyday life. No longer was it just used by an impartial judge to hand down appropriate punishment. Now the idea was that if I thought you did me wrong, I was justified in doing an equal amount of wrong back to you. The Jews had taken a statement that was true in one context and created a falsehood when applying it to a different context. They ended up contradicting God’s law on personal vengeance. “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18).

          From the same sermon, we can see illustrated another way people create a falsehood from truth. In Matthew 5:21, Jesus again quotes from their traditional beliefs. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.'” The quote as a whole is not found in the Old Testament. Instead, it is a conjoining of two separate passages. “You shall not murder” is from the Ten Commandments, recorded in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17. The second part, though, appears to be a loose summary of Numbers 35:29-31. “And these things shall be a statute of judgment to you throughout your generations in all your dwellings. Whoever kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the testimony of witnesses; but one witness is not sufficient testimony against a person for the death penalty. Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death.” Notice that the tradition Jesus quotes warns of the possibility of a trial if someone commits murder. The Old Testament talks in much firmer terms. A murderer will be brought to trial. Even prior to the Old Law, God made a covenant with mankind in the days of Noah and stated, “Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.” (Genesis 9:5-6). By combining a truth with a sort-of-truth, the impact of God’s law was watered down, giving the false impression that if you weren’t careful, you might get caught if you murdered someone.

          In all languages, words can take on a variety of meanings depending on the context in which they are used. For example, in English, the word “row” can mean a series of things, to propel by oars, or to make a lot of noise; which meaning applies depends on how the word is used. Hence, it is not surprising that error is created by applying the wrong definition of a word or phrase in a particular context. I once argued with a man who insisted “Christ's use of the word 'whosoever,' like that of God and Moses, referred only to the Jews of Israel - 'whosoever' in Old Testament Israel.” He then used Leviticus 20:2, Exodus 31:15, and Leviticus 19:20-21 as proof that "whosoever" refers to the Jewish nation. Just because “whosoever” referred to a limited group in one context does not imply that it retains the same limited application in all contexts.

          A similar mistaken argument is made with the Greek word “psallo” used in Ephesians 5:19 and generally translated as “making melody.” Countless people have turned to dictionaries and read that the word means “to play a stringed instrument.” The dictionaries are closed and they proclaim, “See, the Bible allows the use of musical instruments!” The problem is that was the meaning of psallo in classical Greek. If they had continued to read the dictionary, they would have learn that by the days in which the Septuagint translation was composed, the meaning of psallo had morphed into “to sing with a harp or to sing psalms.” Then just a bit further you find that by the days of the New Testament the word had changed further to mean “to sing a hymn or sing praise.” By applying the classical Greek meaning of a word to its New Testament usage, people have taken two truths to create an erroneous position.


Falsehoods created by taking Truth out of order

          Just because one idea follows from another, it does not imply you may reverse the order. For example, this is a true statement: “If Jim was President of the United States, then he was over 35 years old.” It is true because the Constitution of the United States requires Presidents to be over the age of 35. However, the following reversal is not true: “If Jim was over 35 years old, then he was President of the United States.” A lot of people have passed the age of 35 without becoming President.

          When a statement is expressed in the from of an “if” ... “then”, the part between the “if” and the “then” is called the premise of the statement. The part that comes after the “then” is call the conclusion of the statement. Just because the premise of a statement leads to a certain conclusion, it does not imply that conclusion will lead to the premise.

          A form of this unreasonable reasoning is when a person appeals to the consequence of an action to justify (or reject) the action. “Since good comes from X; therefore, X is true.” Or, “since bad comes from X; therefore, X is false.” The Salvation Army is a religion built on the idea that God expects Christians to aid the less fortunate, which is true. But they then proceed to accomplish that end by a variety of means. To members of this denomination, it doesn’t matter how good is accomplished, so long as the end is reached. The liberal movement within the church has done much the same. In the 1950's it was argued that orphans needed caring. James 1:27 is proof that God views it as a Christian’s duty. Hence, they concluded that any means may be used to reach that goal because the goal is good.

          The extra difficulty in dealing with these types of issues is that a lot of emotion can be generated by keeping everyone’s attention focused on the outcome. When emotions ride high, few are inclined to reason out whether God would be pleased.

          Nadab and Abihu essentially reasoned in this manner. Incense need to be offered before God, so they wrongly concluded that it didn’t matter how the offering was conducted, so long as the goal was reached. They harshly learned that God wants obedience in all that He commands (Leviticus 10:1-3). God told Moses and Aaron, “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.” When man decides how to accomplish God’s will, it is man who is glorified and not God.


Falsehoods created by shifting quantities

          A times facts are made to appear as related ideas by subtle shifts in the quantities involved. Perhaps it is best show with an illustration. “All whales are mammals. Some fish are not whales. Therefore, some fish are mammals.” The conclusion is false because it was never proven that whales are fish. The two statements are actually independent facts, so they cannot be joined to create another truth.

          These particular mis-reasonings are often difficult to spot because the shifting quantities. We went from “all whales” to “some fish.” The added complication interferes with analyzing the statements.

          Another example is found in the statement, “Everyone loves someone; therefore, there is someone whom everyone loves.” The falsehood is created by assuming that only one person is being loved in the first portion of the statement. Everyone can love someone, but multiple objects of affection can be involved.

          The same error is made in the use of Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Many read this statement and assume that there is one sin of which everyone is considered guilty. The verse does not state there is only one type of sin involved, yet many assume that Adam’s sin is inherited by his descendants. This is particularly amazing since Paul points out that everyone sins and then a few lines later states, “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come” (Romans 5:14). Paul is talking about all sins and not a single sin which everyone inherits.