There are things that people commonly think are in the Bible, but which actually aren’t. Sometimes the presumed ‘facts’ are inferences that may or may not be true; in other cases they are just wrong. Here’s a selection of ten non-Biblical ideas or assumptions that are often encountered:
- Jesus was born in a stable. Maybe not! The Bible does tell us that the newborn Jesus was laid in a manger (Luke 2:7), which was a feeding trough for farm animals. However, a common arrangement of that region was to keep the animals in a corner of a family’s living space.
- There were three wise men who rode camels. The Bible story doesn’t state a number or their mode of transportation (Matthew 2:1-7). ‘Three’ comes from the mention of three kinds of gifts and the camels are just a plausible guess for how they may have traveled.
- Jesus was an only child. The Bible says Jesus had siblings. (Mark 6:3) Those who believe that Mary was a perpetual virgin (not taught in the Bible) sometimes theorize that these were children of an earlier marriage of Joseph (which is possible, but never stated).
- Democracy and Capitalism are God’s approved systems. The Bible doesn’t advocate any kind of political system, and the concept of a democracy is never mentioned, even though democracies were known in ancient times (e.g. Classical Greece). Similarly, for economic systems: though Acts 4:32-35 reports that the early Jerusalem Christians practiced a ‘communistic’ kind of sharing for a time, this was not mandated. God is concerned with how people are treated, not the specific systems employed, and that’s how He judges our chosen systems too!
- Each of us has a guardian angel. This is an appealing idea that has a grain of legitimacy. The Bible does tell us that God uses His angels to protect and defend His children (Psalm 91:11-13), but the idea of an individual angel assigned to each of us is not from the Bible.
- Satan presides over Hell. That’s not Biblical. Most of what we are told about Hell in the Bible uses highly figurative language, but the idea that it is a place staffed by Satan and his minions is never implied. Far from being Hell’s ruler, what we are told is that Satan himself will ultimately be dispatched to a place of fiery torment (Revelation 20:10).
- Heaven is in the sky. The Bible frequently speaks of “the heavens” to mean the ‘firmament’ of sky and celestial objects – a potent image of the light and glory of God’s residence. However, the Bible specifically localizes neither Heaven nor Hell and that’s probably because both exist in ways that lie outside of our concepts of space and time.
- Jesus’ family was poor. During His ministry, Jesus spoke of His lack of material possessions, but there is no compelling reason to think His upbringing was especially poor. In fact, as the son of a tekton (the Greek word usually translated as ‘carpenter’ but which can also mean ‘craftsman’), Jesus’ family was probably kind of ‘middle income.’
- Mary Magdalene had been a prostitute. All we are told about Mary Magdalene’s past is that she had been healed of “seven demons.” (Luke 8:2) The idea that she had once led a shameful life is probably due to a medieval confusion of several women mentioned in the Bible.
- Jesus was striking in appearance. The Bible is totally silent on Jesus’ physical appearance. People were clearly drawn to Him, but this was a consequence of what He said and did. That Judas had to make special arrangements to identify Jesus to His captors (Mark 14:44) suggests that there was nothing particularly distinctive about the way He looked.
The truth is that there are lots of things about the people and events of the Bible that are commonly assumed without Biblical basis. Probably none of us is immune from harboring a few such ideas, and for the most part these are harmless elaborations. However, we DO need to be alert to the possibility that such assumptions can subtly color our perception of the truths that the Bible does teach.