I have attended two different substitute teacher trainings. Both trainings were very different but one thing they both contained was a warning not to simply trust the students when they say, "But our teacher always lets us do this…" Instead, we were encouraged to abide by the teacher's notes whenever possible and, when in doubt, take the teacher's lack of notation as an indication of what to do. "Those kids are always gonna try to pull one over on you and make up their own rules!" We were warned. "Don't let them!"
Unfortunately, we find ourselves in similar situations far too often when it comes to what we believe about Jesus and the Bible. When giving an explanation for why Paul taught what he did, Paul explained, "I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11-12, NIV). Paul wanted the Galatians to know that he did not simply pass on something he had heard from some other person but that Jesus himself had revealed these things to him.
Unless Jesus is personally appearing to us, the closest thing we have to such direct revelation is the Bible itself. When we are dealing with such important things as eternal truths, we do not have the luxury of simply taking someone's word for it. Through the centuries people have attempted to credit the Bible with saying all kinds of things that it doesn't actually say, things like, "God helps those who help themselves," or "Money is the root of all evil" or (shocker!) that there were three wise men and a whole host of barbaric things too numerous to mention. Quite often, people attribute things to the Bible that not only aren't in the Bible but are contrary to the teaching of the Bible. "God helps those who help themselves," is a great example of this. Romans 5:6 tells us, "While we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly" (NIV) and gives us numerous examples of God's concern for the helpless.
"Why does this matter?" one might ask. Because the Word of God is something that deserves so much respect, we need to be careful not to credit it with human ideas. Because sometimes, what the Bible does not say is just as important as what it does say. And because it keeps us accountable for knowing the difference between our opinion and the Word of God. Paul even made such a distinction in 1 Corinthians when writing about marriage. He wrote, "To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): if any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her" (1 Corinthians 7:12, NIV). If Paul, writing what would become scripture, was diligent enough to make a distinction between his own opinion and the word of God then we can do no less.
The next time we hear someone say, or we are tempted to say, "Well, the Bible says…" we need to check our sources. Even unintentionally, it is never a good idea to mislead people about the Word of God.