Thursday, July 12, 2012

The 17 Most Misused Verses in the Bible

I recently heard about this book that lists seventeen verses that are supposedly the most commonly misused verses in the Bible.  By "misused" the author is implying that the interpretation and subsequent application of these verses is very often incorrect.  Here's the list.  I've posted it in the ESV, and it should be noted that some of the misinterpretations come from other renderings of these verses, like the NIV.  It should also be noted that there isn't consensus about what the "proper" interpretation and use of these verses are.  People will differ on that for as long as there are Christians on earth.  The point is, though, that the proper study and interpretation of scripture is of the utmost importance (check out this neat article for some info on proper interpretation).

Matthew 7.1
Jeremiah 29.11-13
Matthew 18.20
John 14.13-14
Romans 8.28
2 Chronicles 7.14
Colossians 1.15
1 Timothy 6.10
1 Corinthians 10.13
Proverbs 22.6
Philippians 4.13
Exodus 21.23-25
James 5.15
Acts 2.38
Proverbs 4.23
Proverbs 29.18
John 12.32

Time, space, and my enthusiasm for typing do not allow me to comment on the proper and improper uses of these verses, so let me just comment on the ones that I think are most significant, and the ones which I think I have personally misused in the past.

Matthew 7.1: "Judge not, that you be not judged."  People tend to take this verse out of context and use it to imply that Jesus means that it is wrong to ever make a judgment against someone, or to ever say that a person's point of view or belief system is incorrect.  This is absolutely not the case, as we all make judgments about people every day.  In fact, you've probably judged dozens of people and situations today alone.  What this verse is getting at is religious hypocrisy, which is made evident by the context.

Matthew 18.20: "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them."  People tend to most often misuse this verse in prayer.  They affirm God's presence and supposed willingness to hear their prayer based on the fact that they are praying with at least one other person.  I always chuckle when I hear someone mention this in a prayer (is that bad?): "Father, we know you are here, because you told us that where two or three are gathered in your name, you are there with them."  "Whew!" I think to myself.  "Thank goodness it's not just me, because if it was then I guess God wouldn't be here."  That's just not the case.  God is everywhere.  Even with people who are by themselves.  When you look at this verse in context you'll find that Jesus is actually talking about church discipline - when two or three people are gathered together to bring a brother or sister to repentance, there he is with them.

Jeremiah 29.11-13: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart."  More often than not I hear verse 11 used out of context by itself, apart from verses 12 and 13.  You tend to see this verse on graduation cards, and people tend to give this verse to people who are going through a particularly hard time.  This verse is also commonly used as a "life verse," or in other words, a verse that people "claim" as being something like the theme of their lives.  The only problem with this philosophy is that this verse wasn't written to 21st century Christians.  Instead, it was written to exiled Jews as they were lamenting the fact that God had delivered them over to their enemies.  In verse 10 God says that before the people see the fulfillment of the promise made in verse 11, the people have to endure 70 years of exile.  70 years!  How often do people who quote this verse as a means of encouragement think about that?  I certainly wouldn't want to wish a graduate 70 years of hard life before their welfare, future, and hope kick in.

Proverbs 22.6: "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."  This verse has unfortunately been misinterpreted as a promise rather than what it is: general wisdom.  Because people believe this verse promises that children will be Christians they are heartbroken (and feel lied to) when their child leaves the faith (or actually, never comes to faith).  Proverbs, however, are intended to be interpreted as general wisdom: things that, in general, are true.  For instance, in the Proverbs you also have verses that state that people who work hard will achieve and be successful.  Well, this is not always the case, but is generally true.  This is also the case with verse 22.6.  In general, if you train up a child in the way he should go, he will not depart from it, even when he is old.

Philippians 4.13: "I can do all things through him who strengthens me."  This is the verse that I've probably misused the most in my life out of all of the ones on this list.  This used to be my "life verse."  Whenever I faced something challenging or scary in my life, I would repeat this verse to myself.  I have since heard people cite this verse as the reason they can do certain things or reach their goals, or achieve certain ends.  For example, an MMA fighter named Jon Jones has this verse tattooed on his chest.  Is that what the verse means?  He can do all things, including pummel people in the ring (or octagon, or whatever) through the strength supplied to him by Christ?  The fact is that this verse speaks to enduring and overcoming hardship for the sake of Christ.  Unless you are enduring hardship for the sake of Christ, you're going to have a hard time applying this verse to your situation.

You'll have to check out the book to see the explanations of the rest of the most misused verses.  I should note that the author of the book also explains what he believes are the proper uses of the verses, and explains them in context.  Always a good practice.

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