Straight Outta Context: 5 Bible Verses People Love to Misinterpret
Something crazy has happened over the last 30 years; this thing called the internet was invented. Followed a few years later by a phenomenon called social media. And whether we realize it or not it has had a dramatic impact on the way we consume information, including God’s Word. The reality is there was a time when if you wanted to find a verse in the Bible you had to, get this, pick up an actual Bible and read it. But these days looking up your favorite verse is as simple as typing some keywords into Google or scrolling your Instagram feed and having it magically pop up on your smartphone.
This has led to a problem that is now seriously impacting our understanding of God’s Word; most people don’t have a clue how to actually read the Bible. That in turn has led to an even more dangerous problem; the misinterpretation and sometimes abuse of God’s Word to suit our own agendas and ideologies. And the reason this is possible comes down to one major thing; people no longer have the attention span to read and understand the Bible in the context in which it was written.
Here’s a fundamental truth about any information we consume. Whether it’s telling a joke, making an argument in a legal proceeding, or sharing that hilarious story about your first middle school dance, context is absolutely critical. Why? Because without context there is not enough information for the listener or reader to fully understand what is being conveyed or why it’s important. Without context we are left to make our own assumptions and often those assumptions turn out to be dead wrong.
The fact is when most people read God’s word they do a few things that greatly reduce their ability to understand it as God meant it to be;
We “cherry pick” verses. The truth is you can make any single verse say just about anything you want it to when it stands alone. It’s much harder to do that when it’s read within the context of a whole chapter or book.
We read the Bible looking for it to tell us what WE want to HEAR rather than what GOD wants to SAY. When we do this it makes it very easy to intentionally manipulate a verse to work in our favor and support whatever position we already stand on.
We don’t understand the original language in which it was written. The Bible was written primarily in Greek and Hebrew/Aramaic. There are many words in the English language that do not translate perfectly from Greek/Hebrew. In order to truly know what the author meant it’s essential to know what word was used in the original language.
All that to say, in a world that often misinterprets scripture and leads people astray from the truth of God’s word, I want to help you read and unpack it in a way that both honors God and increases your understanding of Him. On that note, to help jumpstart your accurate interpretation of scripture here’s five of the most common verses that people regularly take out of context, and how to actually read them for all they’re worth;
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
I know, I know, this one is absolutely going to crush some people’s dreams. If there is one verse that is taken out of context more than any other, it’s Jeremiah 29:11. Here’s the truth about this verse. God absolutely DOES know the plans he has for you. And he DOES have plans to prosper you and give you a hope and future. It’s just not in the way most people think. Here’s what we need to understand about this verse. This was a word given to Jeremiah the prophet for a specific people, in a specific time for their specific situation; the Israelites, during the time of the Babylonian exile, while they were still in bondage. It is a promise for THEM. It is not a material promise for all people at all times.
Sadly, prosperity gospel preachers love to use this to say, “see look, the Lord wants you to be healthy and wealthy.” God absolutely knows the plans he has for you. And if you are a follower of Jesus he has an amazing eternal future planned for you. But as Jesus says in John 16:33, “In this life you WILL have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” So, before you get that Jeremiah 29:11 tattoo, really think about whether that’s the verse you want displayed for all to see.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Another all-time favorite, and unfortunately another all-time misinterpreted verse. This verse is often used to say that if you are a follower of Jesus only good things are going to happen to you. But as you look at the whole of scripture it is clear that God never promised everything in this life would be rainbows and butterflies. It is absolutely true that God IS at work in ALL THINGS for the good of those who love Him. He sent Jesus, he has given us his Spirit to guide and comfort us and we do have an amazing inheritance awaiting us in eternity. But similarly to Jeremiah 29:11, there are going to be trials in this life. Things aren’t always going to turn out “good.” To fully understand this we need to look at the verses leading up to verse 28. From verses 19-27 the Apostle Paul talks exclusively about the suffering that he has endured in order for the name of Jesus to be made known. This is specifically a verse of encouragement to those who are suffering for the cause of Christ. For those “who have been called according to His purpose.”
I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
The way this verse is often used, maybe it should actually be read, “I can do all things through a verse taken out of context.” Philippians 4:13 might as well be called the athletes calling card. It is seemingly used by every athlete from the hobby jogger trying to complete their first couch to 5k run to the biggest NFL stars to say, “with God on my side I can overcome any mental or physical challenge that stands in my way!” Spoiler alert, this verse has absolutely nothing to do with giving you the strength to finish your first marathon. Rather, it is specifically talking about learning to live in contentment even when we are lacking the material comforts of life. Just before this in verses 11-12 Paul tells us that he, “has learned the secret of being content.” “He has learned how to live with much and he has learned how to live with a little.” He is writing this in the midst of a time of great need in his life as he strived to share the gospel. And, is proclaiming that his strength doesn’t come from what he has, but WHO he has to lean on, Christ.
Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
This is a favorite, not just of Christians, but of the “world” as well. It’s amazing how people who don’t believe anything in the Bible love to quote this to anyone who tries to tell them they’re doing something wrong. Oh the irony.
While we are never to condemn someone, it is for God and God alone to determine who has a genuine faith in Christ, we are absolutely encouraged to call out people in their sin. The issue Jesus is addressing here is that we need to make sure IF WE DO call someone out that we aren’t currently guilty of doing the exact same thing or worse. We need only read the next few verses to see exactly what Jesus means. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
When you read this in context Jesus is saying, if you are going to judge you better take the plank out of your own eye so that you can see clearly to take the speck out of someone else’s. He directly states that it’s OK to take the speck out of someone else’s eye, meaning, it’s OK to “judge” them for what they’re doing. It’s just not OK to do so while you’ve got something far bigger in your own life that you need to deal with first. Ultimately, to not call someone else out on a sin that is destroying them is incredibly unloving. So, judge away in love, but you better make sure you inspect your own life first so that when you do the other person actually hears you.
1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Oh how many times I’ve heard this one quoted out of context. “Don’t you know that money is the root of ALL evil!?” Well, I’ve got good news and bad news. Here’s the good news first. Money IS NOT the root of all evil. Money is just a thing. It cannot be evil in itself. Sin is the root of all evil. In fact, money is GOOD! Money, like all good things, is a gift from God. Stewarded well for His glory there is nothing wrong with having lots of it. If we read the verse what it actually says is, the LOVE of money is a (singular) ROOT of ALL KINDS of evil. And now for the bad news, how we view money and how we use money are the problem. When we love (idolize/worship) money it always leads to hoarding it, refusing to be generous with it and greedily trampling over others to get it at all costs. It always leads to, “all kinds of evil.”
At True North, we believe the Bible is truly transformative. Its truths will revolutionize your life and draw you closer to God. And most importantly it is the story of the redemptive power of Jesus Christ that brings salvation for all those who would believe what it says about Him. But that power is only unleashed when we accurately interpret it. My prayer is that you would develop a passion for reading it well. If you do, I promise you will grow in ways you never imagined.
Some tips for studying the Bible, it's verses, and understanding it in the fullest context possible.
Get yourself a study Bible. There are many good ones to choose from.
Pray before and after you read. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind to His truth.
Read through whole books of the Bible from start to finish, paying special attention to how each verse fits within the context of not only the chapter but the book.
Read the Bible as though it is one large story, because it is! Scripture always supports scripture. You will never read something in God’s Word that contradicts itself.
Finally, look for Christ in everything. The entire Bible points to Jesus, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. Every single verse points to redemption through Jesus.
God bless, and may his Word forever be your passion!