Misused Bible Verses

I’m tempted to do this sometimes.

I’ve been pondering an idea for a while but haven’t had the time to do it, so I’d like to do some crowdsourcing. There are a lot of Bible verses that we regularly hear brutally misused. I’m not just talking about a verse that is a ambiguous and there are different interpretations of it. I’m talking about things like quoting half a verse while ignoring the other half in order to make a point completely opposed to what is directly said in the second half.

Here are some I’ve already been thinking about. After compiling for a while, I realised they fit well into a few major themes:

Pro-Violence/Pro-Empire

First we have the texts that we use to support violence.

23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (Exodus 21:23-25 NIVUK)

I actually just wrote about this, so won’t again, but it is even directly overwritten by Jesus!

‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34 NIVUK)

In context, of course, if Jesus were talking about a literal sword for his followers to employ, he would have been telling them to kill their families with it (or at least their non-Christian families).

For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:4 NIVUK)

Let’s ignore the preceding Romans 12, and presuppose that this is talking about Christians in government 300 years before that happened, and then conclude that it is our duty to kill people!

Pro-Violence/Judgement (of God)

Very closely related, we get those texts that are used to make God judgemental, violence, or downright evil.

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised. (Job 1:21b)

This attitude is rebuked and it comes within a story of Satan taking things away from Job, so why do we cite it and sometimes even sing it as true?

‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9 NIVUK)

Often used to explain why God is angrier, more violent, and less just than we are, when the context is the exact opposite.

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

I actually already wrote a blog about that one, too.

Work out salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12)

Typically used to say we need to be afraid God will punish us or he’ll revoke our salvation, ignoring that the preceding verses were about how humble and self-sacrificial God is and that we are told to work out our salvation, not work to keep our salvation.

Shame and Control

These may be the most ugly of all, the texts used to shame and control other Christians legitimately trying to follow Jesus the best they can.

Touch not mine anointed (1 Chronicles 16:22a KJV)

Used by abusive pastors or other authorities to keep anyone from questioning their power. Previous verse: how God didn’t let anybody oppress his people but rebuked kings on their behalf.

Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.(Proverbs 22:6 NIVUK)

Often used to shame parents. If they have turned from the way they should go, obviously it was your fault for not putting them on the right path. This is a straight-up denial of the genre of Proverbs which speaks in broad generalities – it is not saying that children have no free will!

‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged. (Matthew 7:1 NIVUK)

I can’t count the number of times I’ve questioned whether something is a problem and I’ve had this quoted to me without them taking the concern seriously. It seems to be viewed as the ultimate trump card: how dare I judge them for being judgemental?

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

So if you are overtaken by a temptation, clearly it’s your fault.

Money is the root of all evil (not what the Bible actually says)

This one is actually just being misquoted, typically to make people who have more money than you feel guilty about it. It actually says that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).

It’s All About Me

Individualism and self-centredness at its finest.

11 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 NIV)

The meme sums up the problem with how this one is typically used.

Ask and it will be given to you (Luke 11:9)

Often used as prosperity teaching, in context it comes right after explaining what kind of things they should ask for: in short, the Kingdom.

28 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)

Like some of the other prosperity stuff, it is clearly not saying that God will make sure nothing bad happens to you. Side note: I’m a little tempted to put the entire book of Romans on this list,  along with the entire book of Revelation, but that arguably goes into the territory of valid alternate interpretations.

13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)

No, being a Christian does not turn you into a superhero, or, as it most often seems to be used, the world’s greatest athlete.

Leave It To Beaver Values Reinforcement

The household codes, such as:

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:21-22 NIVUK)

Notice most don’t usually include the next part about slaves, considering we typically agree that part doesn’t apply. Most of the time they don’t include the introduction about submitting one to another, and sometimes they don’t even bother bringing up the man’s half which is even more demanding and far more radical in the context. I’ve written about these lots of times, but in short, not only do many not bother with the context of the author, most don’t even bother with the preceding and following passages.

11 The poor you will always have with you (Matthew 26:11a)

Therefore, don’t bother trying to fix it, right? Nope. In context it is prioritizing a centrality of Jesus, which if you take seriously means caring for the poor as he did and taught. Plus he’s quoting Deuteronomy 15, so if you look at that you’ll conclude some interesting things.

And of course there are the very few texts that may be about homosexuality. Here’s one example:

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men (1 Corinthians 6:9 NIVUK)

with the footnote:

The words men who have sex with men translate two Greek words that refer to the passive and active participants in homosexual acts.

Even though even some fundamentalist scholars admit that these two words are hard to translate, the supposedly-ecumenical NIV still puts that footnote as very matter-of-fact because politics (as many translations do). Even if translated correctly here, most don’t bother looking at the other things listed around it in any of the places that something possibly to do with homosexuality appears and are not remotely consistent with this judgementalism.

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That turned into a lengthy post, but if you have more ideas, leave them in the comments.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.