Are These 5 Bible Verses ‘Constantly Used Out of Context’?

It’s been claimed that many Christians regularly misuse the wildly popular Bible verse Philippians 4:13, but are there other tidbits of scripture that are similarly being touted in an improper context?

Thomas Turner, an author and program manager at the International Justice Mission, penned a recent blog post for Relevant Magazine in which he highlighted Philippians 4:13 along with four other verses that he said are “constantly used out of context.”

“When we open our Bibles, we read words that are thousands of years old with twenty-first century eyes. We read words literally written in stone tablets on tablets made of plastic and metal,” Turner wrote. “With such a gap in time comes a context problem. Basically, when we open our Bibles, we are faced with a problem: We don’t know what that culture and time in history was like, so we often take things the wrong way.”

He noted that this is a problem for popular uses of Jeremiah 29:11, Luke 4:18-19, Matthew 5:18, Luke 6:20 and Philippians 4:13.

Turner argued that many people miss the communal aspect inherent in Jeremiah 29:11, which reads, “‘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.'”

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com
Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

Rather than recognizing that this verse is about God speaking to the “whole people of God, Israel and the church,” Turner said that some Christians internalize it and assume that it’s God’s personal address to each and every individual.

“The context does not negate that fact that God wants us to put on the armor of God by living virtuous lives of spiritual discipline or that the God who made us has a plan for us,” he wrote. “What the context of passages like Jeremiah 29 or Ephesians 6 implore us to do, as the people of God, is to be in this together. For God works in this world primarily through the Holy Spirit and the Body of Christ.”

And then there’s Luke 4:18-19, which reads, “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives.” Turner said that Christians tend to spiritualize captivity, taking for granted the fact that physical freedom doesn’t exist for all.

Jesus, he said, was speaking about both material and spiritual healing.

“These people lived in a country where the provincial ruler could order every baby boy under two years of age slaughtered and no one stopped it,” he explained of those living under Roman rule to whom Jesus was talking. “This context is often missed on us who take for granted physical freedom.”

Turner continued, “[Jesus] saves us body and soul, not one or the other. He wants to save us from our physical captivity and our spiritual captivity. That’s why he healed people and he forgave their sins.”

He then tackled Matthew 5:18 and Luke 6:20. The former reads, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and the latter reads, “Blessed are you who are poor.” Turner said that there’s a debate over whether these verses are speaking about economic or spiritual needs, though he said that both interpretations are correct.

“Jesus views us holistically, and we would be best to view our own humanity in the same way. Blessings can be found in the alleviation of both physical and spiritual bankruptcy,” he wrote. “We are called to be poor in spirit and rich in Christ. In the same way, Jesus wants those who are poor find their wealth in Christ as well. And at the same time, those who follow Christ, as they pursue the Kingdom of God, are called to find ways to clean up the economy of this world and distribute the gifts of God in such a way that those in poverty find the Kingdom in their midst.”

Photo credit: Shutterstock
Photo credit: Shutterstock

As TheBlaze previously reportedPhilippians 4:13, which reads, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” is yet another problematic verse when it comes to context.

It is a scripture that is often cited and used to inspire Christians to reach their goals and to press on when the going gets tough. But is it being “misunderstood, misused, and misinterpreted” as Religion News Service columnist Jonathan Merritt noted last year.

The columnist wrote that improper use of the verse is rampant in modern Christian culture.

“For them [many Christians who use the verse], the ‘all things’ that Christ empowers them to accomplish includes fulfilling their dreams, climbing to new heights, and embracing their destinies,” he said, noting that former football star Tim Tebow, among others, has been known to tout the verse.

Merritt continued, “Unfortunately, this way of interpreting and applying Philippians 4:13 couldn’t be further from its actual meaning.”

The writer argued that it is essential to look at the verse in context, noting that it was written by Paul when he was in prison. Rather than advocating for people to seek out new personal “heights” and to fulfill their destinies, Merritt said that the text is very literally instructing believers on how they should rely upon their faith when faced difficult situations.

Turner took a somewhat different turn in claiming that the words must be read in context, though he seemingly agreed with Merritt’s overall point. Read Turner’s entire piece here.

(H/T: Relevant Magazine)

Front page image via Shutterstock.com

149 Comments