11 Common Biblical Misunderstandings

The Bible is the literal Word of God. It is to be read, studied and memorized so we might know how to live a life of joy and freedom in Christ. Unfortunately, the Bible is often misunderstood, misquoted, misused and abused—whether intentionally or unintentionally—to serve selfish purposes.

Here are some commonly misunderstood Scriptures and adages:

  1. “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:13–14 ESV)
    1. Out of Context: As invitation to invoke the name of Jesus to get whatever we want.
    2. In Context: Jesus is having a conversation with Philip in the Upper Room prior to His crucifixion and resurrection. Philip has yet to understand that in seeing Jesus, he has also seen God the Father. Jesus explains that He and the Father are one, and that everything He has done has been on the authority of the Father who dwells within Him (14:8–11). Jesus makes a promise that is tied to understanding the authority of God and a desire to see God glorified (14:11–12). The promise is not to answer all prayers for a prosperous and easy life by treating Jesus as if He were a genie in a bottle. Doing so contradicts the reality that Jesus said persecution would come—and that those who receive it are blessed (Matthew 5:11).
  2. “If God closes a door, He will open a window.”
    1. Out of Context: This adage is often attributed to God to explain how He directs lives. It’s often used to mean that a past opportunity was taken away to lead to a better one.
    2. In Context: This phrase is not found in Scripture. Attributing false teachings, as if commanded by God, deviates from the one true Word of God. Bible interpretations should be made thoughtfully in the spirit intended. Incorrectly attributing extra-biblical statements, claims or promises to God is dangerous. Some may have partial truth, but they are not of God. Always verify adages or sayings with Scripture.
  3. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6 ESV)
    1. Out of Context: Perfect parenting will prevent your child from rebellion.
    2. In Context: Parents do not have the power to create salvation or right living in their children. Only God can change hearts. There is wisdom in training a child in the ways of godly living and morality, but it is not a guarantee your child will grow up to follow God's laws. Parents should point their children to Christ, the one who can change hearts, who knows the best way to live and who is the path to freedom.
  4. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13 ESV)
    1. Out of Context: It promises personal success.
    2. In Context: This verse, about humility, is from the Apostle Paul’s letter written to the Philippians from his jail cell in Rome. The point of the verse was not to promise success, but to encourage Christians that whatever situation they are in—failure, success, poverty or wealth—they can depend on Christ to teach them to be content. “For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4:11b-12 ESV).
  5. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20 ESV)
    1. Out of Context: God is always in the midst of a gathering of the saints.
    2. In Context: There is some truth to this promise. God promises that He will never leave or forsake His children (Matthew 28:20). He is in the midst of corporate gatherings, and the Spirit of God dwells within the spirits of those who have trusted Him for salvation. However, this passage is not about the general corporate fellowship of the saints. Jesus taught the disciples how to handle church discipline. Specifically, the accountability of multiple church leaders is in view here, as they guide their local body. Dr. Eric Bargerhuff writes, “After establishing the church’s authority and heavenly sanction to take such action, Jesus promises his presence in a unique way. [He] is saying that whenever the church is pursuing and is involved in a reconciliation process with someone who has refused to repent, they can rest assured that God’s blessing is with them in their efforts.”
  6. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23 NIV)
    1. Out of Context: It justifies prioritizing self-care over engaging in unrighteous relationships.
    2. In Context: This verse is a father’s instruction to his son to guard his heart from influences that could corrupt his character. The point of this verse is to preserve godly character. Bargerhuff explains, “This passage, then, has nothing to do with hiding one’s feelings. It can never be used as a verse to argue that one should be overly cautious in emotionally engaging others.” God created us to live in community and to be vulnerable with one another. It is not intended to validate fear of rejection in close intimate relationships.
  7. “But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (Exodus 21:23–25 ESV)
    1. Out of Context: It justifies taking revenge into our own hands and delivering harsh retribution when wronged.
    2. In Context: God’s words to Moses were originally intended to limit the severity of retribution for certain offenses. This verse should be coupled with and informed by Jesus’ full revelation of this concept in Matthew 5:38–39: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Ultimately, Jesus says that seeking vengeance on human terms reveals the sinful motives of our hearts, and when grace is offered instead of retribution, it is a witness to the world of the transformative power of Jesus.
  8. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:10 ESV)
    1. Out of Context: Evil is misplaced on money itself rather than sinful heart motivations. 
    2. In Context: Paul urges his readers to beware because “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” Money itself is not inherently evil; rather the love of it is a “root of all kinds” of evil. Paul directs our attention to the motive rather than the thing itself. Rich or poor, people can be guilty of loving money more than God.
  9. “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.” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV)
    1. Out of Context: It is used to demand God to fulfill the expectations for our lives. 
    2. In Context: This promise was for a specific people during a specific time. Bargerhuff writes, “It is a ‘corporate’ promise. Therefore, we should be cautious about grabbing it out of context and inappropriately applying it to individual believers in the 21st century. God is talking about His plans to once again restore His people, prosper them and literally bring them back from Babylonian captivity!” God is a good God who blesses us with earthly blessings, although we should not expect that God to perform and bless us in the way we want based on a misunderstood promise.
  10. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 ESV)
    1. Out of Context: It promises bad things won’t happen to good people.
    2. In Context: Paul writes to believers—those who have trusted in Jesus for salvation—that God will work all things together for good. The Christian’s ultimate good is to be transformed to look like Jesus. Bargerhuff explains that all things “in the Christian life are designed for this purpose—the ultimate good of bringing glory to God, of advancing Kingdom purposes, and making us more holy, filling us with love, bringing about humility, developing our patience, cultivating our trust in God.” God uses all things to increase our holiness.
  11. “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV)
    1. Out of Context: God won’t put more on you than you can handle.
    2. In Context: The point of this passage is that no one is exempt from experiencing temptation (v. 12). The good news is that God, in His faithfulness, provides an escape to avoid temptation (v. 13). However strong a temptation might be—to disbelieve God, to fall into sexual sin, to lie or to gossip—Jesus is our escape. We are called to rely, not on ourselves, but God (2 Corinthians 1:9).

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