misconceptions

it seems that all over pinterest and tumblr are inspiring bible verses with pretty fonts and backgrounds. walk into any hobby lobby or parable store and woodcuts with those same verses line the walls, waiting to be hung in our kitchens. but do we really understand the context and meaning behind these verses, and could we even be using them incorrectly?

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in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. – john 1:1 niv

one of the first verses that comes to mind is philippians 4:13. commonly used to uplift athletes, performers, and the terminally ill, the verse is often seen quoted as saying, “i can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” yet the niv translation reads, “i can do all this through Him who strengthens me.” most other versions read “all things,” but the niv is different because it directly references the previous verses. (this is not to say the other translations are wrong, just to point out the importance of context in choosing bible verses.) in the passage, paul is discussing the hardships he has been through while serving Christ. he writes that he has “learned the secret of being content” no matter what situation he is in, whether starving or wellfed, imprisoned or free, at home or traveling. and it is these things, he says, that God has enabled him to endure with a strong spirit. the verse is in no way meant to imply that absolutely anything is possible for anyone who asks; instead, it means that no matter what we experience in life, God will be our source of joy throughout it and enable us to continue faithfully.

another commonly misread verse is 1 timothy 6:1-10. often quoted as “money is the root of all evil,” this verse is used to perpetuate class warfare and demonize the wealthy. yet the niv reads, “for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” paul here is speaking to timothy, urging him to learn the difference between true heavenly wealth and contentment and having earthly possessions. he states that loving both God and money fully is impossible, and love of one will produce hate for the other. the Christian believes that all sin stems from a hatred of God, and so if one loves something that is not God, it can lead to loving sinful things as well. this could of course happen in a variety of ways outside love of money (i.e., love of a significant other, love of fitness, love of food), but paul here specifically discusses material goods because timothy is surrounded by false prophets who seek to gain money by turning people to follow their teachings, believing that the money will make them happy.

the final verse i wish to discuss is jeremiah 29:11. this verse is rarely misquoted, just taken out of context. the niv 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.’ this verse is often used to console high school and college students without a career plan, or the recently unemployed who fear the future. sadly, however, this verse is not a universal comfort to the lost; it is taken from a prophecy delivered to the israelites living in exile. in the prophecy, God promises that after 70 years He will return the israelites to the land they had lived in before being taken to babylon. He advises them to live as comfortably as possible while they are there, and to stop fearing intermarriage. He directs His people to stop despairing and have hope. this verse is of course uplifting, and perhaps it can be taken as a source of hope today, but in all technicality it is not meant for us.

i don’t want to destroy anyone’s Christmas gift ideas, or say that no one should have a bible verse on a desk ever again. i simply believe it is important to know the context for any bible verse we want to quote. if we can’t even get uplifting, inspirational, and motivational verses right, then what basis is there for anyone to believe Christians have correctly interpreted God’s commandments?

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11 thoughts on “misconceptions

  1. Great post and amen. I really agree with this. We so often find people who really don’t pursue God that hard, but they surround themselves with these bumper sticker verses and somehow it makes them feel deeply “Christian” and “right where God wants them.” When in reality, their hearts really aren’t fully committed. It just looks good on a piece of art that we could get for $19.99 at Hobby Lobby for the living room.

    I think I would back off a little myself that those verses could never be, or not usually are, applied in various situations that are applicable…I think the Spirit has probably given a lot of people rest in, say, Jer 29:11 when bad things have happened with little visible hope on the horizon (which was the overarching theme of what happened to Israel at the time she was in captivity in Babylon – especially for someone walking through their own spiritual Babylon). Also Paul did quote a number of verses in Romans that maybe didn’t make contextual sense in the OT to go where he put them; they had a duality to their usage it seemed for the Spirit’s purposes. That said, I think your conclusion is spot on, it is very important to understand the context for any verse we start talking about and not apply it to something that it really has no connection to. Great stuff! Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment!! i do say at the end that i’m not trying to imply these verses should never be used, but i might have worded it incorrectly, so thanks for pointing out the confusion. if you could give a few examples of verses paul quotes, i’d love to read the quoted and original contexts myself so i can learn more *^^*

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      1. I’m sorry I missed that then at the end, you’re right it was there. My mistake! But yes, I very much agree with you on the post!

        On Paul, here is a pretty good list of the verses he quotes throughout his letter. It’s pretty extensive. I will say though I haven’t vetted this whole list myself, so I don’t stand by every single mapping the author made. But I think the theme is important, Paul did regularly quote OT scripture and frequently it had an original context but was transformed into another purpose without losing the original content and meaning.

        I think another transformation that might happen is when reconciling some of the very violent Psalms (eg Psalm 35, 69, 109…) against human enemies into our current season of the world, post-cross, and after Jesus told us to love our enemies. We’re told repeatedly that our enemy is not flesh and blood, it’s Satan and his demons. And so, I see David’s hatred and prayers for his enemies’ destruction as an example of how we are to hate evil (of course I would incorporate Jude 1:9 in as well), instead of it only being a historical lesson. I think the Word is very deep, one passage can hold mysteries to be delved into for years.

        On the flip side, there are wonders to be learned of the context side of things. I’m taking a Koine Greek class right now. For the first time, I’m starting to understand exactly what some phrases and idioms in the NT actually meant when it was written back in the 1st century AD. For example, my Greek tutor talked about this one the other week, the phrase “in Christ” today is a pretty standard phrase, simply stating that you are saved and follow Jesus, but it doesn’t really expound on any depth of relationship. But ἐν Χριστῷ, “in Christ” in the Greek at that time, “in-ness” meant a very deep, intimate oneness between two people. To say you were in Christ back then, meant that you were deeply one with Jesus in his Spirit, you were filled with Christ and you were one with him. Such a shame our meaning today is so surfacey! (to coin a word) I love the 1st century meaning much better! So I think there’s some balance to be had here. I think the big issue I have is that there are tons of people in the church today who really want to keep their depth with Christ at the surface, they want to feel good, they know they should run to him in good and bad but fail to do so because their hearts aren’t really sold out on Jesus, and using those bumper sticker verses help them feel better about themselves and their circumstances, without doing any of the deep and sometimes messy relationship work with Jesus. It’s lukewarm through and through, it’s a shame. But it’s popular.

        Love to hear your thoughts! Hope you have a nice evening!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. this is actually a very important thought at the end, that people want to feel like good Christians without actually embracing Christ. we talked about spiritual apathy in my ethics class this past week and in the reading from deyoung’s book ‘glittering vices’ she notes that the greek word for it, akaedia, means ‘lack of care,’ and that people who have this vice are incapable of truly loving God because they won’t put in the effort. very relevant at the moment!! thank you for the verses and i hope you have a good night as well.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. p83, ch 4 in Deyoung right? That’s a good part on sloth. It’s a ‘grave spiritual malady…[that’s] a symptom of a deeper problem…the entire commitment of one’s life to God is at stake.’ Which in some ways, makes sloth one of the most dangerous sins. Someone might be better off addicted to cocaine than to slothfulness because the potential to become desensitized to the Spirit’s correction and loving guidance is probably a lot greater with sloth (lukewarm living) than any other sin. It’s a failure to love, it’s the relationship falling apart, the foundation crumbling. Highly relevant to today’s church. Even better, I’d say that’s the sin our church is most guilty of. Spiritual apathy is a dangerous virus to contract!

        On akedeia, I did a cursory check on it’s history and it has an interesting evolution from Greek through Latin with Cicero and then into the English, appearing in the 17th century. Pretty cool!

        Two other thoughts: That’s interesting how in Evagrius of Pontus the cf is to Psalm 90:6 from acedia. Talk about taking a verse out of context…lol. And then also, on acedia, the noonday demon, if only those monks had coffee, right? That’s why I used to fend off the laziness in the early afternoon!

        Cheers!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. oh, that makes sense. is it that the person who coined the term compared our eagerness to work to the grass in the psalm, and was merely making an analogy rather than an interpretation claim? i don’t know the history of the phrase. also, as far as the coffee goes i think that the way people treat their starbucks like air these days (myself included, even though caffeine actually makes me tired) shows that while it might cure the monks’ acedia, it would bring the new trial of gluttony XD

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Possibly, not sure what the history is on that one!

        So true on gluttony and coffee…I am guilty of that one! God has slowly been working on me in the area of excessive coffee consumtion. Hes weaned me down to ~2 1/2 cups a day, versus 5 from a year ago! Lol!

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