Perusing the card aisle at my local grocery store, I searched for the perfect blend of witty and encouraging for a friend having a tough week.
Flipping through cards, I noticed a theme. Many contained Bible verses. Yet the verses they quoted were yanked out of context. The display reminded me of how often I reach for a passage without checking the context and digging deeper into the overall theme of the story of book. Though I’ve made this mistake, I’m working to become more diligent in this area.
Here are 3 of the most tempting Scriptures to yank out of context:
1. “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” –Exodus 14:14
While comforting, this passage is often misinterpreted to mean that we can sit back and take a passive approach to life’s battles.
The context suggests something far different. Moses speaks these words to the Israelites, who had just escaped slavery under Pharaoh. Nearing the Red Sea, God’s people hear the thunderous roar of the Egyptian army hot in pursuit and begin to wonder why they ever left Egypt at all. To calm them, Moses says, “Be quiet. Stop complaining. God will fight for you."
God was about to perform a miracle generations would remember: the parting of the Red Sea. Their stillness would soon be transformed to movement as they marched across the coral seabed.
2. “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.” –Romans 8:28
This passage is often used to comfort those facing crisis. The miscarriage. The sudden death of a loved one. The heart-wrenching diagnosis. The foreclosure. The painful divorce. The bankruptcy. The loss of a job. Well-meaning friends are tempted to use this as a pat-on-the-back-don’t-worry-God-has-something-good-in-store-for-you reminder.
The “good” in this verse, isn’t about our comfort at all. Its true meaning is further revealed in the verse that follows: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”
God’s definition of “good” is being transformed into Christ’s likeness.
This passage isn’t about God landing someone a better job or restoring lost wealth or pulling a magic rabbit out of a worldly hat. Paul is saying that those who love God will be transformed into the likeness of Christ, the ultimate good.
3. “’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.’” –Jeremiah 29:11
This passage is branded at graduations and weddings, births and birthday parties. Jeremiah 29:11 may take the cake as the most misused Bible verse.
Jeremiah is speaking to the exiled people of God. He is telling them to batten the hatches and get cozy being in captivity. The lockdown isn’t ending anytime soon. Yet God will eventually restore the Israelites to the Promised Land. They will not stay in captivity forever.
Jeremiah 29:11 isn’t about us, but the people of Judah. However, this promise does extend to you and me—one guaranteed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
How can you avoid pulling passages out of context?
- Read the verses that surround it.
- Study the passage in several different translations to grasp a fuller meaning.
- Consult a Bible commentary or study Bible to know the author and audience of each passage.