I already gave examples of how spiritually abusive groups twist the Scriptures in my discussions of their black-and-white thinking and their esoteric approach to truth. But I should also point out that the twisting of Scripture is a manipulative technique in its own right, and it is especially prominent in spiritually abusive groups.
Unlike full-blown cults, whose members are not usually classified as "Christians" in the Biblical sense (because they deny the core doctrines of Christianity), spiritually abusive groups tend to be composed primarily of Christians. And since Christians usually require a Biblical basis for what they believe and practice, spiritual abusers must find some means to provide one, even if that means is illegitimate.
In his book Scripture Twisting, James W. Sire has helpfully catalogued the top-20 ways that cults misread the Bible, and I have seen nearly every one of those methods used in spiritually abusive groups that were supposedly Christian.
In the group that I was involved with for 5-1/2 years, loved to quote the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:34-37:
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn `a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'
"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
[Matthew 10:34-37, NIV]
The only problem is, the leader used these verses in order to separate us from our families! Following the instructions of our leader, who persuaded me that I needed to break off contact from my family because I needed to "recover" from their "corruption," I spent three years totally separated from my family, all of whom lived within a few miles of me.
During that time, I missed the births of nieces and nephews, and I missed the funerals of relatives. I refused to come to any birthday or holiday celebrations. I had allowed myself to be totally cut off from them -- interrupted only by the occasional surprise phone call or unannounced visit from one of my brothers -- for three years.
I had forgotten a simple principle of biblical interpretation: always compare Scripture with Scripture. Never take one verse and read it outside of the context of the entire Bible. For it was Jesus who also said:
And he [Jesus] said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, `Honor your father and your mother,' and, `Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: `Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban' (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that."
[Mark 10:9-13, NIV; see also Matthew 15:3-6]
Jesus was referring to a way in which the Pharisees had manipulated a legitimate part of God's Law through their teachings so that it allowed people to disobey one of God's most basic commandments: to honor mother and father. Likewise, the leader of our group had manipulated Jesus' teaching in Matthew 10:34-37 -- which simply taught that we should love God above all others -- into virtually the same error that the Pharisees had committed!
Whenever spiritual abusers misuse, misrepresent, or otherwise misinterpret the Bible, 90% of the time you can cut through all their confusing rhetoric and twisted reasoning by asking three simple questions:
1. What was the original author actually saying to his audience?
2. What was this author, who was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saying to all believers?
3. What is God saying to us through this text?
If the Scriptures are being interpreted correctly, the answers to all three of these questions will be consistent with each other. There will be no "mysterious underlying meaning." It will all make perfect sense.
If someone comes to your house and claims that you must "meditate" in order to "go far deeper" than the surface-meaning of the text, and that they themselves have come up with unique understandings of particular verses "through prayer and fasting" -- I'd be sure to count the silverware after they left. They probably lie about other things, too.