If you grew up in church you probably have a few verses in your back pocket ready to fire off whenever a fitting situation presents itself. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, in fact, it can be a really good thing. If we are using the verses in their proper context. The problem is many of us spout off a verse without knowing what the verses around it say. Which leaves us with many common Bible verses taken out of context.
So let’s look at some of these commonly misused Bible verses. And then look at what we can do to read the Bible in context.
Common Bible Verses Taken Out Of Context
Matthew 7:1 | Judge Not, Least You Be Judged
Judge not, lest you be judged.
This is an extremely popular saying and one of the most searched for verses on Google. We all know the words, but we don’t know the context. We’ve totally ripped this out of context, making this one of the most misused verses in the Bible. It’s become a mantra of sorts for those that believe we shouldn’t judge and just let everyone live their lives.
So many use this verse as an excuse to not listen about the faults others see in them. But that’s totally missing the point. When someone points something out in your life you should listen carefully. Every follower of Jesus should be getting the logs out of their eyes so they can see more clearly in order to help their brothers and sister. That’s why Jesus follows up this verse with Matthew 7:3-5.
We shouldn’t point fingers and condemn. That’s what the religious of Jesus’ day (and today) did. And that helps no one. What we should do is come alongside each other in love. It’s not judging to help someone see the sin in their life. It’s judging when we condemn them for that sin rather than helping them. There’s a big difference between the two.
If you want a more complete picture of this verse I’ve written about it here: Judge Not (what it really means)
Philippians 4:13 | I Can Do All Things
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
This verse is often used as a personal motivation to get through something tough. We use it as a rallying cry to win the game, get through a tough test, deal with a breakup, achieve a record workout, or finish a project. But when Paul wrote this verse that’s not what he had in mind. In fact it’s not even close.
The context of this verse tells us this, but because many just read this single verse many have missed the real purpose of this passage. Paul is actually talking about being content whether we are hungry or full, having plenty or little, in prison or free. He’s saying that God will get him through the seasons that God brings him too. Not that we can accomplish whatever we want.
Genesis 1 – 3 | The Creation Story
You can read it here: Genesis 1 – 3
Most read this story with a 21st-century mindset; it’s a story about how God actually created the world. However, this book wasn’t written to science-minded people. Rather an ancient group that lost their identity. They didn’t care about the science behind it, and it wasn’t written with that in mind. They saw their identity in the story.
At this point I know some of you are thinking, he just said Genesis isn’t literally true! That proves my point. The point isn’t is Genesis literal or not. What I’m getting at is because we are so ingrained in reading the Bible with our 21st Century eyes we missed the point of many stories in the Bible. Genesis 1-3 is an incredible story with rich applications. But we’ve boiled it down to God creating the world in a literal 7 days. That’s not the point of this story! Our modern reading has caused us to miss the point.
I’ve written a whole article on this, you can read it here: We’ve Missed the Point of the Creation Story
Jeremiah 29:11 | For I Know The Plans
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.
This verse is often quoted during a difficult season in life as a promise that God has a specific plan and will bring us through it. Many read this verse and think that if we trust God, then not only will we be brought through it, but we will prosper. In other words, we read it kind of like the prosperity Gospel. If we follow God then we will have a good life, the money we want, a nice house, and plenty of vacations.
The problem is that this verse is a specific promise to specific people, Israel. The promise is for deliverance by ending the Babylonian exile. During this time there were false prophets that were claiming that God was going to release His people soon. If you were to read the surrounding verses in Jeremiah 29, you would see God denounce the false prophets, tell them they are going to have to wait (70 years) and tell them while they are there to seek peace and prosperity.
This verse is meant to encourage that despite things not going the way the Israelites wanted, God is still in control. The Israelites are told to trust God, even though things probably aren’t making much sense to them. That’s faith, isn’t it? Believing now, what will only make sense in hindsight.
For more on what this verse means check out: What Jeremiah 29:11 Really Means
Revelation 3:20 | I Stand At The Door And Knock
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
We often this of this picture as Jesus standing outside an unbelievers house (heart) asking to come in. In other words, it’s a passage that’s addressed to the unbeliever. The problem is this verse isn’t addressed to the unbeliever. It’s addressed to Christians. More specifically it’s addressed to a church.
When we look at what is happening in the rest of Revelation 3, we can see that Revelation 3:20 is not about Jesus wanting to come into the life of an unbeliever. Rather it is about how we as believers can become lukewarm (another misunderstood verse in this same passage) and feel we are self-sufficient. In doing so we push Jesus out and leave Him standing on the outside of the door. That’s the picture this verse is painting, Jesus standing outside a Christian’s heart asking to come in.
For more on this verse check out: What Revelation 3:20 Really Means (I stand at the door and knock)
Matthew 18:20 | Where Two Or Three Are Gathered
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
If I had a dollar for every worship pastor that has misquoted this verse…
This verse is often misquoted to say that because there are more than three in the room God is there. When we use the verse this way it infers that when there are not two or more than God is not there. I know most people don’t believe that, but that’s how we use this verse.
If you were to read the surrounding verses in Matthew 18 you would see a different message. Jesus is actually giving instructions on what to do when you have a conflict with a person. When you have a disagreement with someone you should go with other people. It’s not about how many people need to be present for God to be with them. Rather practical advice on how to handle conflict.
So, What’s The Point?
If you only remember one thing from this article remember this. Context is king.
In other words, the verses around the verse you are reading will tell you a lot about the verse you are reading. If you ignore the context you will likely end up with a skewed view of the Bible. Context is king.
The context of a verse is one of the most crucial elements of Biblical exegesis. And it’s also one of the easiest things to do. It only takes a few minutes to look at the context in which something is said. If we spend just a few extra minutes on the above verses we would easily arrive at the intended meaning of the passage.
This isn’t just a principle for Biblical interpretation. Imagine if you actually read that article or listen to what that politician said. Rather than jumping to conclusions based on a one-sentence soundbite. Context is king. It tells us the whole story.
If you take a sentence out of context you can make anyone say anything you want. That’s the danger of taking scripture out of context. You can make the Bible say anything you want if you ignore the context. You HAVE to pay attention to the context of the Bible. Context is king.
The next time you read the Bible slow down and look at the context in which the verses you are reading are said in.
What verse would you add to this list? Leave a comment below!
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Resources For Reading The Bible
To help in this journey we need good resources to help us understand who wrote the Bible and the setting in which it was written.