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The Devotional and Practical Use of the Bible - Promises

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

“Every promise in the book is mine” is one of the overstatements of the century. Few Bible promises partake of such universality. In applying the promises of the Bible to our specific situations we need to exercise great care. If we apply promises to ourselves that are not for us, we may suffer severe disappointment. Also, promises must not be used to tempt God. A reserve and a patience should temper all our usages of promises.

"In connection with the use of promises some have used the Bible on the same principle of animistic divination. Divination is the means whereby primitives decide whether they should undergo a proposed adventure such as hunting, fishing, or battle. Common methods among primitives to decide the portent of future events are to read the entrails of pigs or chickens; to crack a bone in the heat of the fire and decide what to do from the nature of the crack; to throw an egg on a grass roof to see if it breaks or not; to use the fire-test to determine guilt. On the sillier level divination is predicting one’s future by the reading of cards or tea leaves.

"Whenever we force the Bible to say something on specific items of our life, we are in danger of divination. If we do this we leave the sensible, intelligent use of the Bible for that which borders on primitive divination. Most notorious is the custom of opening the Bible and putting the finger on a verse and taking that verse as divine guidance. This method dishonors the intelligence of God, the sobriety of the Bible, puts the Christian faith in a ridiculous light, and places the method of determining the will of God on a superstitious, magical basis. It ought to be added: no promise of the Bible is to be used that is not in keeping with sane, exegetical principles.

"The type of divination mentioned above exists on a more sophisticated level with those who every day try to find specific guidance from the Bible—not guidance in the sense of getting truth, soul-food, and principles, but in finding one particular verse that tells them exactly what to do that day, or how to resolve a given situation. To do this they have to admit that God can give a message through the Bible that is completely divorced from the native, grammatical meaning of the verse. If this is permitted, then what is to prevent the interpreter from finding anything he wishes in the Bible?

"To be specific, at the outbreak of World War II, a certain individual could not decide what his course of action should be—enlist? join the merchant marine? get a theological waiver? He went to his Bible and, finding a reference to those who go down to the seas in ships, he took it as his orders from God to enlist in the United States Navy. The action could not be based upon any sensible exegetical principle, nor upon any spiritual principle; it was a haphazard coincidence between the verse that had the word seas in it and the United States Navy.

"The will of God is determined from the Bible only in terms of what it says in its first grammatical sense, or what can be derived from it in terms of great spiritual principles. To use the Bible as in the above example is in direct violation of the nature of inspiration and of the character of the Bible. God does not “double-talk” when He speaks in Scripture, i.e., He does not have a historical, common-sense meaning, plus some special message to us in a given situation. If God speaks to us in a given situation, it must be in terms of the sound exegesis of the passage.1

Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics, Third Revised Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1970), 192–195.

1 “The only way of ascertaining the will of God … is to learn it by zealous application as students of the revelation of that will contained in the Scriptures. Short cuts as pulling verses out of boxes, getting guidance by daily motto books, and letting the Bible fall open like a casting of dice are not only useless; they are deceptive.” Paul Woolley, “The Relevance of Scripture,” The Infallible Word, p. 195. His entire refutation of the magical use of the Bible is good.

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