3 Most Tempting Scriptures to Yank Out of Context

Margaret —  August 6, 2014 — 31 Comments

3 Most Tempting Scriptures to Yank Out of Context

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.

What passages would you add to this list?

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31 responses to 3 Most Tempting Scriptures to Yank Out of Context

  1. 1 Cor 10:13…I hear people often say “God will never give you more than you can handle” when trying to encourage someone in the midst of a trial…I think they are pulling it from this verse, which is actually talking about the temptation to sin vs choosing a different path and not a trial.

  2. Thank you for those. For years and years I’ve cringed when well meaning people “claim” those verses, especially Jeremiah! I believe our lesson is to seek peace in the midst of our adversity, or “exile” if you will. Jeremiah was telling them they’d be there a long time, and to seek God in the midst. And yes, in God’s timing He would restore them.

    • “Jeremiah was telling them they’d be there a long time, and to seek God in the midst.” –Yes.Yes.Yes. Great reminder!

  3. I would say Philippians 4:13 — we use it like we are superheroes and can leap tall buildings in a single bound. In context of the verses before this one, Paul telling people that whatever circumstance – having much or a little – he finds himself in, he can learn to be content. We can use it from the point of being content in life but Jesus does not give us super powers.

    • Jim, I agree. I have been studying this passage in Philippians for the last several months. It’s really encouraging my dependence on Christ!

  4. Proverbs 23:7King James Version (KJV)

    7 For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.

    Many people use this verse inappropriately. Trying to get you to be your thoughts and to think yourself better, when other translations and other verses around it make it mean something else entirely.

  5. I would add “if two of you agree about anything” and “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:19-20) a passage about court judgements and witnesses, not small group.

  6. Psalm 37:4. Not so much about find a husband as being more like Him.

  7. Luke 6:38. I have seen, over and over, proponents of the prosperity gospel movement use this verse in such a manipulative way. Rarely do they discuss the gravity of what is in Luke 6:37. They just use 6:38 in the context of more money. They have used Genesis 12:3 to the same end. Like you said, Margaret. Read the surrounding verses. Also learn from the Holy Spirit and be as wise as a serpent. We can not let ourselves be manipulated.

  8. Deborah (Debbie) August 6, 2014 at 11:53 am

    Margaret…AWESOME post!!! When we read Scripture considering the whole counsel of God’s word and IN CONTEXT we are more likely to gleen the TRUTH and be transformed and encouraged and equipped. And most wonderfully we are more likely to know HIM more intimately. I LOVE God’s Word but I want to know more and more HIS Word, not a word of my (or someone else’s) making. I can’t tell you the number of times seeing His word in context has been far more of a blessing in my situation than the often (mis)understood meaning when its taken out of context. Thanks for you ministry in equipping us to understand God and His Word better. Bless you!

  9. Margaret, Everyone,
    Great points about taking Scripture out of context. Once we come to knowledge of the context of the verse, we can see how it also can apply to our own lives. For example, in the midst of temptation, 1 Cor 10:13 gives me strength to endure. If God had plans to prosper Judah and give hope to their nation, He can also cause me to prosper, and to live in hope.
    In my studies, there are verses on women that are taken out of context, causing women to be unnecessarily oppressed. In 1 Cor 14:34-35, these words are given in a culture where women were not allowed to receive an education. Rather than disturb the congregation, the husband was invited to provide instruction at home.
    God specifically confirmed women’s role to me through encounters with Him, setting me on the right track. And I fully believe we can search for Him and ask for understanding on the verses we struggle with. Truly, God is faithful in offering spiritual gifts and guidance to those who seek Him! (1 Cor 1:9)
    Have a blessed day, everyone!

  10. THANK YOU! Thank you! Thank you!!!
    I have begun to hate pat answers. Don’t give me pat answers! Some things are just hard and not easy. Read Job and the Psalms. There were deep painful experiences there. Life isn’t easy! Jesus didn’t promise an easy life either. Instead he says cheer up for I’ve overcome the world. Yes we will have trials and tribulations.

    #1. I’ve seen this recently shared on Facebook and cringed. I recently saw the best response to another misused scripture “The battle is the Lords” yes but then someone shared a pic of a pile of stones and said, “the battle is the Lords but David still had to throw the stone.”

    #2. Caused me to cry as we’ve been through those circumstances not all but some.

    #3. Is about how we should respond to captivity and allowing God to prosper us in the midst of being attacked. Not materialistically but having joy and believing God has what’s best for us in spite of our circumstances. I hope that made sense. Also Jeremiah 29:7 says to pray for the city we live in. To bless it. Even if we feel like we are in captivity.

    Her are things we quote which are not even scripture…
    1. Once saved always saved
    2. God won’t give you more than you can handle
    3. Eye for an eye is taken out of context

    I must say The Lord has brought me to the point where situations are not stealing my joy or peace no more. Alleluia!

  11. I am a little confused by all of this, the Bible was meant for us to understand Gods ways and how he does it. We are not living back in the times that God parted the Red Sea or the Israelites were in captivity but I do not believe that we can not use and learn from them and find comfort from them. If we have to use everything in the Bible with just Biblicial times what use is it for us?

    • Hey Carol. I agree. I’ve always thought that everything God said to Israel as a group also applies to the individual (follow him, don’t worship idols, etc.) – both the warnings and the promises. That’s why I still think that verse in Jeremiah can still apply to me. But yes, Margaret’s overall point is very true; we must remember context. Seeing what scripture referred to way back when helps us to see how we can apply it today.

      • Hi Patricia, I think you make a great point when you say: “Seeing what scripture referred to way back when helps us to see how we can apply it today.”

        When we understand the context of the verse, we can better understand how it rings true to us, even now. Great reminder.

    • Hi Carol,
      You’re right: we can take comfort from all Scripture. Yet the danger lies in pulling a verse out of context and re-framing it to fit our own situation. When reading and interpreting Scripture, we have to take in to consideration the context, audience, and author of each passage to find out how that passage speaks to us today.

  12. HZ must be so proud of you for this post. :)

  13. I believe we can use these verses to better understand the character of our God, but we’ve got to be careful about “claiming” promises that were not given to us directly.

  14. I like others have to feel I Corinthians 10:13 is on this list. Oy how many hundreds of thousands of times have I had this verse used a Bible stick to be beat with. Have faith, God won’t give you more than you bear. Totally not what it says!

    Dare I add Romans 8;31 “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” This passage is talking about the total experience of when we live our life to honor God not this magical or fantastical thinking so many seem to rush to embrace.

    Isaiah 41:10 – all the poor folks who have been beat down with this verse, “oh if you have fear or worry you are out of God’s will.” Grr, no, you will have fear and anxiety and the comfort is that in the midst of these hard moments, God is WITH you. Not always delivering you, not always changing the situation, but He is still with you and He is still God. (How come we as Christians deny The Creator’s handiwork? Anxiety is a neurobiological response to a specific stimuli.)

    • “God is WITH you. Not always delivering you, not always changing the situation, but He is still with you and He is still God.” <– That is such an important distinction! Thanks, Brenda.

  15. Matthew 7:1 “Judge not lest ye be judged.” However, they ignore the very next verse that says the measure we use will be used on us. Judging, in this verse, means using our own standards to judge people instead of all of us being held to the same standard, God’s. People like to use this to say we can’t say anything is right or wrong, when clearly that’s not the intention here. We’re all under God’s idea of what sin is and when we do something that goes against Him, it’s sin. There’s nothing wrong with calling a sin a sin, and Jesus wasn’t using this verse to imply that. The key is to remember that we’re all in the same boat when it comes to sin. We all do it so none of us can judge others by their sins because we’re just as guilty before God’s holiness.

    The other most misused verse I’ve heard is Isaiah 53:5, “By his stripes we are healed.” They totally ignore the context and especially the very next verse that clarifies that healing: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” There’s no reference anywhere in this entire chapter to physical illness and/or healing. It’s all about our spiritual condition (which is the theme of the entire Bible).

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