As a teacher I am very careful that those I teach understand scripture in the context in which it was written. That includes who it was written to and the reason that it was written. To understand the proper context you must also know when it was written and the societal and cultural environment in which it was written.
The unity of the Bible is unique when compared other literature in that it was written over a period of approximately 1,550 years, with at least 40 human writers, most of whom did not know each other and were from varying backgrounds (king, fisherman, tax collector, shepherd, etc.). The Bible was written in various environments (desert, prison, royal court, etc). Yet its theme of the fall of mankind, God’s plan for reconciliation and redemption of mankind, and return to the original relationship between God and mankind, flows through the entire bible allowing any passage to be viewed in the context of the entire Bible
Because of its length, diversity of literary styles, and human interpretation many passages when taken out of context can be used to justify almost anything. When taken out of context people can be duped, hurt, and deceived.
There are some passages of scripture that are taken out of context more than others. Most of the time they are not used to hurt of deceive but they may have that effect others both Christians and non-Christians. When used to justify or prove a point for selfish or judgemental reasons the effect is always a negative one that casts God, and the Church in false light, often causing non-Christians to reject Christianity.
We must take care to avoid forcing scripture to fit our own lives and circumstances. It not only sets us up for disappointment, but discourages new Christians as they come to know the character of God, and it drives some non-Christians away. When we make scripture about us and our material good, we set ourselves up for spiritual failure.
Here are five verses, from and article written by Wesley Baines for beliefnet.com, that many of you may be using out of context. If you are, I pray that this post will cause you to avoid this error, and encourage you to consider the context when you do read and study so that you can properly apply the treasures of Scripture to your life and witness. When you read and study the Bible and know what it says in its entire context it will result in a greater appreciation of God’s love for you and His plan for you life. That plan is to conform you to the image of His Son.
Romans 8:28-30 (NLT2)28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.
5 Bible Verses You're Probably Using Out of Context - Learn what they really mean.
By Wesley Baines
Context is the key to good Biblical interpretation. It’s helpful to think of the Bible as a series of letters written between different people that we are to read and learn from. Rather than being addressed to us, the readers, individually, each letter has an intended audience, and a certain cultural, temporal, and geographical context in which it is set. Imagine, for example, that you wrote a letter to your cousin, Bunbury, who lived down the street from you in 1998, telling him that he should stop making cucumber sandwiches in the shape of Bill Clinton’s face because it is grieving God.
Imagine, a thousand years later, that someone reads your letter, and immediately infers that cucumber sandwiches in the shape of Bill Clinton’s face should never, ever be made, and that it would be a sin to do so. But later, this person takes a closer look at the context of your letter, discovering that 1998 was the year of the Lewinsky scandal, and that Bunbury’s family was a big fan of polygamy, and he was using his sandwiches to celebrate Clinton’s adultery. Clinton cucumber sandwiches are, in fact, not morally wrong to make, but Bunbury’s irresponsible use of them was.
Without context, you don’t get the Word of God. You get legalism and false doctrine, and suddenly, no one can have any fun with their cucumber sandwiches. So in the interest of avoiding similar blunders, here are the top 5 Bible verses that you’re probably using out of context, and what they actually mean.
" Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."
Luke 11:9 NIV “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
Ask many theologians what the number one most misused verse in the Bible is, and you’ll likely hear “Luke 11:9,” followed by a long sigh. This verse is often used, particularly by televangelists, as the source of “name it and claim it” Christianity, which treats this verse as an absolute. “Want that new Mercedes? Claim it in the name of God, and you’ll get it! Want that winning lottery ticket? Claim it! Just knock, and you’ll be richer than your sinful neighbor!” This kind of thinking, while conducive to filling pews and reaping large tithes, is not scriptural. Luke 11:9 has little to do with guaranteeing our personal fulfillment. Let’s look to the context of the verse rather than attempting to apply it by itself.
To understand Luke 11:9, let us look to the beginning of the chapter. In Luke 11:1, Jesus' disciples ask Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” In response, Jesus teaches them what we know today as the Lord’s Prayer, which serves as an example of how we are to pray.
Luke 11:1-4 NIV One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: “ ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation. ’ ”
Nowhere in the Lord’s Prayer—the example of how to pray, given by God, Himself—do we see Jesus claiming a new donkey and cart, or piles of gold. It is a humble supplication, asking God to help us live the way He wishes us to live, and to provide for us as we need to be provided for in order to do this. This is God’s promise. This is what God guarantees us.
Jesus told His disciples, “Ask and it will be given to you…” after giving them the example of what to ask for—things like the forgiveness of sin, the coming of God’s kingdom, and the basic sustenance—our simple daily bread—needed to allow us to serve Him. Ask for these things, and they shall be given to you. Ask for a Cadillac, and receive the collective sighs of a thousand theologians.
"I can do all this through Him who gives me strength."
Philippians 4:13 NIV I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
What Luke 11:9 is to wealth, Philippians 4:13 is to competition. It’s the mantra of those who wish to climb the corporate ladder, those who wish to score that winning touchdown, and those who want to ace that final exam. We see, again, the human tendency to take a single verse and force it to apply to us outside of its context.
This verse is all about being content, and persevering through times of need, rather than simply being granted the strength to do anything. Looking back a few verses, we can see that Paul is actually saying “I can be content through Him who gives me strength.” In the previous verse, Philippians 4:12, Paul says that “I know what it is to be in need…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry…”
Philippians 4:10-12 NIV I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
Paul makes no boast, to the church at Philippi, that he can achieve or endure anything through God who strengthens him. He tells them, instead, that God grants him the strength to be content, no matter the circumstance.
So if you ever find yourself imprisoned or persecuted for your faith, it's appropriate to remember and quote Paul’s example, and his words in this verse. Shouting it at the church baseball game so that you can Samson-strength the ball over the tree line, or grunting it out at the gym in an effort to bench 300? Not so much.
"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 NIV 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 is the great encourager, the feel-good greeting card of scriptures. Taking it by itself (which is a mistake, as we know by now), it seems to guarantee the prosperity of all who love God. We’re starting to see a pattern with these misused verses—they’re focused on us, on our prosperity, on giving us strength, and on our personal good. God loves us all, unconditionally and eternally, and loves to bless us, but He also doesn’t guarantee that our lives will be easy or filled with plenty. This is because we live in a fallen world, and until Jesus returns to redeem creation, bad things happen, even to good people. Even to Godly people. With that in mind, let’s revisit this scripture.
When Paul, in this verse, speaks of “good,” he is talking about conformity to God’s word, rather than about our own personal prosperity and comfort. Remember—God is the definition of good. He is the center. The context of the entire Bible is about Him, about the importance of following His word, of having a good relationship with Him.
We have the tendency to make scripture about us. It’s not—it’s about Him. But that focus leads us to our ultimate good, the ultimate happiness and treasure, which is to be with God forever, restored and made whole. We may—will—experience hardship along the way in our fallen world, but God works to draw us closer to him, and in doing so, gives us the ultimate gift—Himself.
“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 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 is a great example of a verse that was spoken to a particular people, at a particular time, but is now often taken out of context and applied to individual readers. We quote this scripture to people with terminal diseases, to people who have lost loved ones, and generally to anyone who is suffering. And what does this do? It drives people away from the God when their cancer doesn’t go away, or when they can’t get over their grief through the church alone. Setting up unrealistic expectations is one of the worst things that can be done to a new Christian, and this verse is the most misused culprit in the creation of those expectations. Let’s look at what it really means.First, we need to know who is being spoken to. Jeremiah is writing to the Israelites, promising a specific end to their Babylonian exile. He says that “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place,” in Jeremiah 29:10, just one verse prior. His aforementioned plans are, specifically, for the exiled Israelites.
Jeremiah 29:10 NIV This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.
It is also important to keep in mind that, looking at the context of the Bible as a whole, when God says that He wishes to prosper us, that generally means in a spiritual sense—this is the ultimate form of prosperity.
While this verse, again, doesn’t guarantee our personal, material prosperity, we can see the character of God in it. He cares for us, and has the big picture in mind. No matter the situation, He can bring us back to His presence. This verse is an example of God’s character rather than a general promise to all Christians, and we should quote it as such.
“God will never give you more than you can handle.”
This one isn’t even in the Bible, but it’s so commonly quoted that it needs to be addressed. It’s a misquotation of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which reads “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.” This is a very different message than the misquoted version.
Why would we need God at all if we never encountered a situation too difficult to handle? Was the Holocaust not “more than you can handle,” for its survivors? For those who didn’t survive? The reality is that there will be many situations we cannot handle as humans in a fallen world. God allows us to be subject to difficulties which are more than we can bear, but He is also there for us to give us support in such times in ways that draw us closer to Him.
So what does the real version of this verse mean? For this, we can look to the language of the actual verse. God always provides a way out when we are tempted by sin—we have free will that allows us to choose God over temptation. God knows how much we can take as human beings, and has ensured that nothing immovable stands between us and an eternity with Him. (See That's Not In The Bible - God Will Never Give You More Than You Can Bear)
In Context Lies Truth
We must take care to avoid forcing scripture to fit our own lives and circumstances. It not only sets us up for disappointment, but discourages new Christians as they come to know the character of God.
When we make scripture about us and our material good, we set ourselves up for spiritual failure. Paying attention to the context of a verse, and even better yet, the context of the Bible as a whole, alleviates this problem, and allows us to know God more fully and truthfully.