NOTE: Biblical illiteracy is pervading in today’s churches, including in evangelical ones, that take pride in their love for the Bible. One of the signs of this is the wrong way, mostly out of context, that Bible verses are quoted by Bible-loving evangelicals. The article below gives some of the most striking examples.
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That verse you keep quoting? It may not mean what you think it means.
he other day, someone gave me a note with Nahum 1:7 printed at the top: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.”For some reason, they neglected to include the next line, which continues the thought from verse 7: “But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of Nineveh.”
Okay, so maybe the fuller version doesn’t deliver quite the same Hallmark moment. And maybe that’s the problem with how many Christians use the Bible.
Christians read (and quote) Scripture in tiny, artificial fragments all the time. And by doing so, do we alter the meaning without even realizing it.
Digital Bible apps make it easier than ever to Twitterize holy writ. But we’ve been doing it for ages. Here are some of the most commonly misused Bible verses.
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you . . .’” (Jeremiah 29:11, New International Version)
Jeremiah 29:11 reads like a Christian motivational poster. (Wait. It IS a Christian motivational poster.) No wonder it was Bible Gateway’s second-most shared verse of 2013.
Woke up on the wrong side of the bed? Don’t worry. God has a plan for your day. Facing a rough patch at work? Take a breath. Your future is bright. Money’s a bit tight? Relax. God’s going to prosper you.
Except the words in
Jeremiah 29:11 have nothing to do with bad hair days, corporate ladders, or financial success. In 597 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah. He rounded up 10,000 leading citizens of Jerusalem and dumped them in Babylon, 500 miles from home. They lost everything. They didn’t know what to do next.
From Jerusalem, Jeremiah wrote to the exiles — and told them to get on with their lives: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters.” In other words: you’re going to be there a while. Yet God promised this wasn’t the end for them. In 70 years, the exiles would return home. This was the “hope and . . . future” mentioned in Jeremiah 29:11.
Incidentally, that hope and future was something most of the original exiles wouldn’t live to see for themselves. (Seventy years was a long time then, too.) The future described in this passage would be for their children and grandchildren.
In other words, Jeremiah 29:11 doesn’t guarantee your personal fulfillment.
“We know that all things work together for good to those who love God . . . ” (Romans 8:28, New King James Version)
Can we agree right now to ban this verse from greeting cards?
Romans 8:28 doesn’t mean that losing your job or getting cancer is somehow for your own good. In fact, a better translation is probably, “In all things, God works for the good of those who love him.” In other words, whatever your circumstances, good or bad, God is still fighting for you.
In Romans, Paul claims that Jesus came to rescue both Jews and Gentiles from death, creating a new human family. For Paul, nothing can thwart God’s purpose. “Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay,” and so will we. The happy ending promised in Romans 8:28 is not just any good outcome, like finding a new job or selling your house for more than the asking price. It’s the ultimate happy ending: the renewal of all things.
To quote N.T. Wright, “The world is still groaning, and we with it; but God is with us in the groaning, and will bring it out for good.” That’s what Romans 8:28 is about.
“Ask and it will be given to you . . .” (Luke 11:9, New International Version)
It’s tempting (and lucrative, for some preachers) to treat this nugget of Scripture as an ironclad promise. Whatever you ask for — promotion, wealth, the spouse of your dreams — God will give it to you.
Unless, of course, Luke 11:9 is part of a larger narrative in which Jesus has already told us what to ask for. After a brief episode in which he defends Mary over her sister Martha for choosing what matters most — being a disciple, a citizen of his kingdom — Jesus’ followers ask him how to pray. Jesus tells them to ask for things like daily bread, the advent of his kingdom, forgiveness for sin. Only then does he say, “Ask and it will be given to you.”
It’s not, “Ask for anything you want.” It’s more like, “Ask for my kingdom, and you will have it.”
Read HERE the rest of this article.
Ben Irwin is the author of a forthcoming children’s book with publisher David C Cook.