We hear it all the time, ”The Bible says”. Nobody wants to act contrary to God’s unerring and holy word. Therefore, it’s a great way to justify anything as long as one can find even one verse to support what they want to believe.
Recently, I wrote an article titled What the End-times Survivalists Get Wrong. In the article, I mentioned that fleeing to the mountains was not based in Scripture because Our Lord says “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel.” (Mark 16:15) This may have caused some confusion because there is mention in Scripture of fleeing to the mountains in several places. Notably, “When you see the desolating abomination spoken of through Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.” (Matthew 24:15-16)
Let’s clear up any confusion and look at why we must be careful about following something just because it is in the Bible.
Fleeing to the mountains
Matthew Chapter 24 begins with Jesus describing the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. The disciples asked "When will this happen?", referring to the destruction of the temple. Our Lord's response to the question is given in verses 3 to 28. Jesus did not say “Oh, around 70 AD.” Instead, He gave them signs indicating when it would occur. Nobody can say for sure why He did not make it clear; but maybe he did not want them sitting around doing nothing until 69 AD and then panicking. Let’s take a deeper look into Matthew 24:3-28.
Bible scholars agree that the desolating abomination refers to Daniel 11:31, "Armed forces shall rise at his command and defile the sanctuary, abolishing daily sacrifice and setting up the desolating abomination." The abomination described in the book of Daniel happened in 604 BC, when Nebuchadnezzar removed the temple treasures and set up a statue of himself, desecrating the altar. In 66 AD, Gessius Florus began demanding to receive temple funds, which was similar to the first abomination of Nebuchadnezzar. The Jews began to rebel and shortly afterwards Roman armed forces began showing up in Jerusalem. This would have been a good time for Jews in Judea to begin fleeing to the mountains. The temple was destroyed in 70 AD, fulfilling the prophecy of Jesus.
Matthew 24:29-44 continues with Jesus talking about the signs of His Second Coming, moving on from the destruction of the temple. The verse about fleeing from Judea is out of context when applied to the end-times and the Second Coming, just as applying verse 29 (days of darkness) to the destruction of the temple would be out of context. Some might say that it is all related because it is all in the same chapter. Keep in mind, the Bible was not written in chapters. Chapters are arbitrary designations used only for reference.
Some also include the flights of Joseph and Uzziah as more evidence Christians need to flee to the mountains. Once again, those examples were specific instructions from God to specific persons about specific events. Those examples are not applicable to all Christians.
Can’t have it both ways
It seems as if those who like literal interpretations of Scripture do not follow a consistent approach. Often times, they start with a literal generalization and then change the verse to suit their own meaning. Or, they read one verse and say it applies literally to all Christians and then turn around to say another verse was not meant literally.
Consider “those in Judea must flee to the mountains.” (Matthew 24:16) Generalizations of this verse are a complete failure. On one hand, the verse is generalized to apply to all Christians. On the other hand, the part stating “those in Judea” is completely ignored in the generalization. If the verse could even apply to the end times, one would have to also assume that people who do not live in Judea do not have to flee to the mountains. To disregard the part about Judea is to manipulate the verse to serve one's own purpose.
Jesus said “This is my body” (Matthew 26:26). Yet so many Christian literalists all of a sudden change their tune and say he was speaking figuratively. Jesus told the rich man to sell everything, give to the poor and follow him. Yet, those who read Scripture literally don’t follow their own rules and sell everything. It is difficult, if not impossible, to find a Bible literalist who does not break their own literalist rules to suit themselves.
There is a huge problem in Christianity. The Bible is often not treated as God's Word to promote God’s truth. Rather, the Bible can be no more than an authoritative excuse for people to believe whatever they want; as they bend, fold and mutilate God’s Word to prove themselves right.
Applying Scripture correctly
It is important to understand the intent of Jesus and the intent of the authors of the New Testament. When Jesus tells a parable, it is a message for all Christians. For example, don’t build bigger barns means Christians should not store up earthly wealth at the expense of the poor. When Jesus speaks to His Apostles, the message carries over to the descendants of the Apostles, our priests. For example, priests truly have the authority to forgive sins. When Jesus speaks to His disciples, the message carries over to all future disciples like us. For example, go into the world and preach the Gospel is a message for all Christians. We do not literally have go somewhere else, we can go into the world at work, school, etc.
When Jesus speaks to a specific person or about a specific situation, the message is not to be generalized to apply to all Christians. For example, Jesus told the rich man to sell everything and follow Him. The message was for the rich man. Jesus does not require all Christians to sell everything and become monks.
Setting aside pride
It is often nothing more than the sin of pride that makes one believe they are divinely inspired by God to interpret Scripture. If God is one, then there is no way God could inspire 40,000 Christian denominations to have 40,000 versions of the truth. Jesus is not just our Savior and the Bible is not just a book. Jesus IS the Word. Jesus IS the book. He could not be untrue to Himself and inspire so many different interpretations of Himself.
A majority of people who are or call themselves Christian have never read the entire Bible once let alone enough times to understand the full message. Even fewer have read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which provides 2,000 years of magisterium on Scripture. And even less than that take the time to study and understand Biblical world history, customs and translation anomalies from the original text. (In case the reader is curious…yes, I have done all of these.) Don't assume that just because someone calls themself a minister or publishes videos on YouTube they are qualified to do so.
The worst thing a person can do is to create an idea or philosophy and then look for any verse in Scripture that supports the theory. We should be following Scripture, not using Scripture as an authoritative source to make people believe we are right in what we preach. This is a propaganda technique called “Transfer Fallacy”. For more information just perform an internet search.
Guard against false doctrine
I take the previous paragraph back. No, the worst thing a person can do is listen to someone else’s theories or start watching videos on YouTube and not checking the truth out for themselves. It is a common axiom, “Don’t believe everything you hear.” This is truer than anything when it comes to hearing someone quote the Bible.
Consider the verse “we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.” (Romans 3:28, New Living Translation) Sometimes, the verse is translated to read that we are justified by “faith alone”. This verse has been used for 500 years to accuse Catholics of being wrong and to make salvation the easiest thing to obtain since sliced bread. But two serious problems lead the uneducated Christian astray.
- Taken in a vacuum, the verse ignores “faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17) and “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) Thus, the verse as it applies to salvation is incomplete. Not wrong, but incomplete. So many will pick this verse or that verse and say one is right and one is wrong. No, there is a complete message that is revealed by all Scripture.
- It gets worse. The original Greek text does not include the word “alone” or “without”. Martin Luther added the word “alone” to his Bible translation to suit his own purposes. One can search for ‘Luther Bible’ on Wikipedia for more information.
When one hears another start an argument with "The Bible says..." an immediate red flag should arise. First, one must consider whether or not the verse is being taken out of context from verses around it. Second, one must consider whether or not the person is quoting the verse correctly or if they are changing it to suit their argument. Before accepting any teaching as truth, one must do their own homework and seek the full truth from Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. One should also try to determine if the usage of the verse is consistent with historical events and language translations.
Wolves seek to devour. It is important to know the credentials of the ones who are teaching and publishing YouTube videos or writing any Christian article. Speaking clearly and having a good argument does not make the teacher correct. Being a priest or minister of a church does not make a person correct. A good yardstick of a person is exactly what Jesus says, "By their fruits you will know them." (Matthew 7:15-20) Do not follow or heed teachings from anyone whose life shows signs of any deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, or sloth. God is not speaking through them.
Let’s make this as simple as possible...Follow the Church and trust in Jesus, who said “upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:16) Many would say, given the state of the Church today, the Church is right there at the gates. This is no reason to abandon the Church or Her doctrine. The Church has been at the gates many times in history. Jesus always saves His bride.
And as for the teachings of the end-times survivalists...they are still wrong.