Misunderstood Scriptures

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Over the years I have heard all kinds of Scripture used and misused all kind of ways. Here are some of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted among them:

Proverbs 29:18a– the KJV rendering says “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Consequently this verse has been widely used to promote the need for visionary thinking, leadership, etc. Nice and needed thoughts but actually this text does not support them. The NIV (and other versions including the NKJV) more accurately translates this verse as “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.” Totally different (and more proper) meaning here.

1st Corinthians 6:12– “‘Everything is permissible for me.'” I have heard this phrase (which Paul repeats later in this book in 10: 23) misused in a variety of ways usually connected to an idea that Paul was somehow granting the Christan some type of extra measure of freedom to engage in what might be considered questionable or disputable activities. But if you look closely at the text you will see that these are actually not even Paul’s own words. He is quoting someone else here- probably those who were advocating the same type of philosophy as those who misuse this text now. In reality Paul was teaching against this kind of thinking and using their own quotes (“”Food for the stomach and the stomach for food.'” ) to stress the importance of responsible Christian behavior when it came to morality and exercising Christian freedom.

John 9:31– “Now we know that God heareth not sinners.” (KJV) There is really nothing wrong with the KJV translation of this text- what is wrong is how it has been taken out of context and misused to prop-up a false idea that “God does not hear sinner’s prayers.” The context of this verse is about certain Jews’ reaction to Jesus healing a man who had been born blind. Obviously these were Jews who opposed Jesus and were wanting to discredit this miracle. They set out investigating it- including an interrogation of the healed man. It was, in fact, the healed man who spoke these words in an attempt to explain what happened and defend himself. These words are simply recorded by the Holy Spirit as part of that conversation and were never intended to form the basis for some doctrine about who God does and does not hear in prayer. For way too long this verse was used as sort of a condescending battering ram to discourage “sinners” from praying. We know from other texts that God hears and receives all who “earnestly seek him” and while sin does separate us from God- any sinner (and that includes all of us by the way) sincerely seeking him will be heard and will find him.

Matthew 24:6– “Wars and rumors of wars.” This phrase is taken from an entire body of prophetic teaching by Christ concerning what the heading in most Bibles indicates are “Signs of the End of the Age.” Most take this to mean the apocalypse or end of the world and anytime a war breaks out they quote this sentence to warn of impending doom, but this is not the meaning of Christ’s teaching here at all. While there are some “end-time” components later in this section of Scripture, Christ in verse six and the immediate surrounding text was speaking about what we now call “the destruction of Jerusalem” which occurred in 70 AD. Here he is warning those in this city to flee beforehand so as to escape the wrath of the Romans who carried out this devastation to squelch the Jewish freedom fighter’s acts of terrorism and defiance. Read the entire text. Jesus encouraged fleeing to the mountains, expressed concern for pregnant women who may have to flee and hoped that this would not occur in winter. What difference would any of this make if it were truly the end time? So don’t use “wars and rumors of wars” as a proof-text on the end of the world. If you do you will constantly be in turmoil- war and the possibility of war is always with us.

Last but not least there is this- and it could simply be just legend. Mark chapter thirteen is Mark’s account of Christ’s prophetic teachings we just visited in Matthew 24. In verse 15 he records Jesus saying this: “And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house..” It is reported that one preacher- years ago- used this text to preach against the then growing and popular practice of women putting their hair in buns and not letting it flow naturally down. The title of the sermon- at least when spoken- sounded like a direct quote from Mark 13:15– “Top Knot Go Down”!  

Now that was extreme! But it just proves that without proper interpretation we can make Scripture say anything. One major problem with all of this type of interpretation is approaching Scripture only as a “proof-text”- that is, reading it to prove what we already believe or to prove some point we want to make. Not a single word of Scripture was ever written as a proof-text. Scripture is about God recording real events and using real people in their culture and setting and using them, their words and examples to teach everlasting heavenly principles, doctrine and values. And we must always root every text within its original context before we begin making contemporary applications or we could easily create more misunderstood Scripture.

How about it? Agree or disagree?

Maybe you have more misunderstood Scriptures to add to my list.

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20 Responses to Misunderstood Scriptures

  1. mkjergaard says:

    Rev. 3:20 — not a salvation text, but frequently used as one.

    Gal 3:28 — often used to obliterate all gender roles/distinctions.

    Matt 17:9 (KJV) Similar to the “top knot” example A portion of the verse says, “Tell the vision to no man” — if you say it quickly, you can make it seem like Jesus is saying ‘television to no man.” Ha!

    When you remove the “text” from “context”, you’re left with only a “con.”

  2. Good post Danny. You are quite right that we can “twist” the scriptures to say just about anything we desire without proper tools. Thanks for calling us to be discerning readers of the Word.

    Shalom,
    Bobby V

  3. lesjr says:

    Or, as a teacher used to say, “a text without a context is a pretext.”

  4. Rodney Livingston says:

    Danny,
    Thanks for the insight into something that has been on my mind for about a month now. I am guilty of taking the scripture out of their context sometimes but I don’t think it is to make it say what i want it to say but just to use that one phrase. When I put more emphasis on study in the entire context, the scritpure mean so much more to me and I know they do to those in the pew. Thanks again for the post. I am working harder to use scripture just God wants me to in the 21st century. God Bless! Tell the family hello.
    Rodney

  5. Royce says:

    1 Chronicles 4:9-10, better known as “The prayer of Jabez” is a great example. What Jabez prayed many centuries ago does not apply to every Christian in every situation today. Bruce Wilkenson earned millions on what history will show to be another Christian fad. It is quite common for well meaning preachers to take verses out of context to make some point or to reinforce one.

    We should have the desire to treat the Word of God honestly and with respect. It is one thing to know a verse or passage. It is another to know what it says, and another to know what it means, and then another to be willing to adjust our lives, and our teaching, to it.

    Far too many of us are “loose” with the Scriptures.

    Royce

  6. jim miller says:

    How about to not add to or take away from this book……?

  7. Scottie says:

    Danny,

    Good stuff and I agree with (what I think the point of) the post is–that being the importance of context, etc. This is true in all rhetorical criticism of literature–not just religious texts.

    I don’t want to start a firestorm here, but this too has been on my mind a little lately. One of the things I like about restoration traditions is that they generally hold a high view of Scripture. This is at least a solid anchor point that hopefully plays out in how the congregation or individuals in that congregation approach both corporate and individual worship. One of the issues I have, however, is that in my heart, I am not sure that every word or phrase has some divine meaning or theological implication and yet we elevate all of it to the same level.

    I know–some of the folks reading this could immediately jump to the conclusion that I am saying the Bible is not inspired. That is not exactly what I am saying. Interesting enough though is that not all books within what we call the Bible make the claim to be inspired in and of themselves. I do believe that there are insprired, consistent and God-ordained messages in them all. And before you throw out 2 Timothy as a rebuttal, we did not take all Scripture, only those that were voted on by the early church fathers–and the only “Scripture” that Timothy was preaching from was the Old Testament and maybe some early circulated letters, which I highly doubt would have been canonized into Scripture at that point in time . But that’s another study.

    What I am saying is that I think we spend a lot of time trying to find those “hidden” or “deeper” truths by examining every story or narrative in the Bible as if it has some major tenant of faith or worship. I think that the major thematic peices of the different sections of what we call the Bible are extremely obvious.

    I do not believe it takes a scholar to understand what we call “matters” or “articles” of faith. (When the heck did we come up with that term anyway?) It does not take an expert in history to reveal the kind of person that the Christain tradition says God wants us to be.

    However, understanding the text in the fuller context is absolutely invaluable. But let’s make a distinction between the ability to describe the richer meaning as a way to bring the text to life, and understanding the fuller context as a means to reveal the complete truth. If God wanted scholars and the learned to be the ones who reveal the message to us, then that says something to me about the character of God that is inconsistent with his choice of fishermen, prostitutes, murderers, and adulterers (sp?) etc. in His plan.

    In my humble opinion, its simple:
    There is good and evil, and we chose to live against the moral law (evil).

    God satisfied morality (justice) by punishing Christ. Christ said if you believe that I can save from what you deserve, then live a life reflective of how I lived (read be good to other people and recognize you inability to save yorself) and claim My power I will save you.

    There will be a judgement based on your choice so pick a side and oh by the way, God decides who truly are believers.

    The bottom line for me (and this is just for me) right now is that I think we elevate those things that we are comfortable with and ignore those things we are not comfortable with in the name of context.

    Okay, so I won’t be allowed to ever teach at GW or probably get up to do anything ever again, but this is something that is tough for me. (I hope the leaders there know that I would never say these things in a large public gathering so as not to cause problems for the leaders there–however, I do think a class or study on this would be interesting)

    I believe the Bible contains the message of God. I believe the message that the Bible is conveying to us is simple, easy to understand and obvious–not hidden.

    I think understanding and delving deep into the context of Scripture (especially the New Testament) is of utmost importance to see how the simple message of Christ’s life was applied in histrocial situations.

    I do believe that people twist the simple message of God. Some times unintentionally–they are not all wolves folks–some are mis-guided sheep who are truly seeking so let’s be careful of judging them in context of Matt. 5. They twist the word by using context or lack thereof to say what is already on their agenda with respect to issues like, organization, women’s role (which I personally think we have really complicated to the point of our detreiment) , worship styles, outreach, etc.

    One final thought…in spite of all of this, I think it is a good idea if our preachers and other leaders are as formally educated if it is practical. Not a requirement, but helpful when you get beyond the message of God which I think is simple to the application of God’s message which can be hard to do…that education and ability to bring the text to life, understand counseling techniques, marriage issues, greif issues, etc. is important.

    Okay…I’ll duck now

    scottie

  8. Darin says:

    Danny,

    Agree.

    I wonder if it is even possible not to twist scriptures in some way. It seems that with any verse or idea one can find one that seems to conflict with it. Looking at the situation often an’t give us the full story because we don’t know what was in teh mind of Christ.

    Each side says look at context neither admitting that both could actually be true, just in different situations. Each claims the Bible as authority. Everyone believes they have properly put everything into cultural context.

    Maybe we are just using the Bible in a way it wasn’t intended. Instead of seeing God in a story that progresses we look for rules and say God lives by them.

    Hey, I do have a blog post that I just put up that I would love your thoughts on.

  9. Danny Holman says:

    I have thought at times that a great sermon series would be “Scriptures we accept misunderstood.” Just like researchers tend to find what they are looking for when they do experiments, it is easy to find what we are looking for when doing Biblical research as well. The tendency to look for a passage to support what we believe gets us all in trouble. Sometimes we stretch verses to cover and other times we just “recreate” one in a new image.
    My nomination… Matt. 10:32… One sees this verse used everywhere as a call to make a public confession before baptism. If it were only that easy.

    Thanks,
    Danny

  10. dannydodd says:

    Thanks for your input so far everyone!

    Mike, I had never heard of the “television” sermon. Funny.

    Les, I thought about using that quote in the post- glad you did.

    Rodney- glad we are thinking alike!

    Good perspective on Jabez, Royce.

    Jim is refering to Revelation 22:18-19 where we are warned in a concluding section of John’s entire prophecy to not add to or take away from the “prophecy of this book”- this book being Revelation. This text has historically (within the Churches of Christ) been used in a much more broader sense to mean the entire New Testament. Again this was not written by John originally to be any kind of fall-back proof-text to be used in debates to make our arguments on points of doctrine. But does this text have a broader meaning? Is this a principle that can be applied beyond this book? These are the real questions here (The exact same principle was applied much earlier to the OT law as recorded in the context of the law book of Deuteronomy in 4: 2) and this question brings us to Scottie and his good post.

    He said: “The bottom line for me (and this is just for me) right now is that I think we elevate those things that we are comfortable with and ignore those things we are not comfortable with in the name of context.”

    I agree Scottie that we all have no doubt done this and I agree that often our misuse of Scripture is not because we are seeking to harm anyone.

    Your honest post highligts the sometimes difficult task of interpretation. I agree that not every verse in every text or not every narrative holds some great revelation from God. This is why context is so important. I also agree that Gods basic truth is simple and anyone regardless of education searching for it will find it. There are deeper layers (though, but I do not consider them “hidden” ) which can simply be uncovered by more thourough study with proper and helpful tools. Remember the Hebrew writer spoke in terms of “milk” and “meat” and encouraged the Hebrews to grow in knowledge of God’s word so as to handle the meatier matters. This is where- I think- exegesis and hermenuetics come in.

    As for what books are inspired or not- I will save that for another post- my buddy Bobby Valentine I think has tackled this over on his blog in the past. It is a good discussion.

    And- I am glad you are at GW- there is never anything wrong with questions- when we direct them to God and respect each other enough to discuss them in healthy dialouge.

    Thanks for your thoughts too Darin. I will check out your post.

  11. dannydodd says:

    Danny H. says, “The tendency to look for a passage to support what we believe gets us all in trouble.”

    Amen to that!

  12. jim says:

    I know it’s scriptural to smoke because “Rachel lit off her Camel”.
    Danny, I am enjoying your blogs (not just this one). I wish GOD had made all the lists in order so we wouldn’t have to hunt around for them…………….

  13. odgie says:

    I would suggest that the whole content of Revelation is generally misunderstood.

  14. Jim Sexton says:

    Has anyone brought up “What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing?”
    1Cor 11:22a

    Is the church referred to here a building, and yet not a building when we preach and teach about the body elsewhere? Did the first century church (the one we want so desperately to be like) not meet in homes? And did the folks not have something akin to kitchens in those homes?

    On another tangent, didn’t Jesus institute the Lord’s Supper after the passover supper? Does this mean that we should eat as a body before taking the Lord’s Supper? Are we in an upper room? Did we go outside afterward to sing a hymn in the garden?

    Has the building become the temple? I certainly hope not…

    Jimbo

  15. J D says:

    Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.

    How many commands can we count in this verse that are staunchly defended…

    Romans 16:16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.

    And how many commands from this verse are staunchly ignored…but one descriptive phrase turned into a command?

  16. xybatt says:

    This is too much fun! Do you realize that if you took the “homes to eat in” then it would be a sin to go to a restaurant!!!!!! And, if Danny (or any of us) preached til midnight, would anyone be there with him? Also, heard a preacher recently blast members who work Sunday mornings and attend in the evenings as forsaking the assembly. The early Christians worked Sunday mornings…………..Danny is obviously having too much fun in his MMin classes……..

  17. preacherman says:

    Cleanliness is next to Godliness!
    Isn’t that in the bible somewhere?
    I can’t remember the scripture! 🙂

  18. dannydodd says:

    Now, who is having the fun! 🙂

  19. podcast says:

    podcast…

    […]Misunderstood Scriptures « Adventures in Preaching[…]…

  20. Jeanette says:

    Proverbs 31 and when Paul is talking about divorce. I think those are taken out of context. I believe Proverbs 31 is a directive for the Church and that when Paul is talking about divorce he is talking about the difference between law and grace.

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