OK, let’ me confess: I’m guilty of misquoted Bible verses to say what I want them to mean.
This short list is more of a personal correction than anything else. Also, let me be clear, I don’t think it’s a felony to use Bible verses in slightly different contexts. I’m not the Bible verse police, but I do think it’s helpful to know the original context so we can understand and apply the full and beautiful meaning of Scripture.
So, take this list with a grain of salt.
4 of the Most Misquoted Bible Verses
1. I Can Do All Things.
I can do all this through him who gives me strength. — Philippians 4:13 (NIV)
This short Bible verse is often quoted by sports teams, bumper stickers and tag lines as a rally cry to accomplish great things like running a marathon, climbing a mountain, winning the championship, finishing the remodel on the kitchen, etc. However, this short — and powerful — passage gets its meaning amidst the context of contentment. Paul is writing this letter to the church in Philippi to let them know that God has taught him to be content in times of plenty and in times of desperation (he’s writing this letter in prison).
So, in its proper context, this Bible verse is a tribute to a man who learned to follow God in any circumstance. Whatever came Paul’s way, he handled with faith. It could be stoning, prison, shipwreck, beatings, etc. This passage is not a clarion call to go out and accomplish great feats of strength, but a beautiful reminder to pursue faith and trust God in the midst of the ups and downs of a life given fully to the cause of Christ.
2. Plans to Prosper.
“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)
This verse is often quoted during a trial to encourage or inspire — pointing us to the promise that God has specific plans to help us prosper so don’t worry! However, in context, this verse is dealing with a particular promise given to Israel from God; the promise points to the end of their Babylonian exile in specific terms — 70 years (verse 10). So, the word prosper doesn’t refer to money or material blessings, but physical and spiritual salvation.
But, someone might say, God still wants us to prosper, right? Well, in terms of salvation, yes. In fact, this passage is a great reminder of the fulfilled prophecy and the perfect Word of God. This is an amazing story that points us to a greater release and redemption for all of God’s people. So, taking away our specific, individually focused application doesn’t subtract the awesomeness from this passage. In fact, it enhances it and reminds us of the collective salvation of God’s people in history and in the future, still to come–which is much better than money or material things in the here and now, right? Riiiight.
3. Where Two or Three Are Gathered.
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”— Matthew 18:20 (NIV)
This verse is often used as an encouragement that God is with us in tough circumstances — all we need are two to three people in a prayer group and we’re set. In fact, you don’t even have to say the full verse, just start it out: “Where two or three are gathered … ” and other church members will shake their heads in agreement. However, this passage really deals with building a testimony in the context of church discipline.
A proper, and reliable, testimony was extremely critical in the Jewish context. This passage was an encouragement to the church leaders during difficult times of confrontation and church discipline — that God would be present with the witnesses as they sought to make matters right and restore a fallen member. Is God still with us when two or three are gathered? Yes, of course.
He’s also with us when it’s just one or one thousand.
4. All Things Work for Good.
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)
This passage is often used to encourage another believer who’s going through a tough time — reminding them that it will eventually work out for something good in their life. In other words, don’t worry about getting fired — God has something better in store for you … all things work out for good, remember? There are two major issues in this passage to deal with to keep it in context.
First, the passage deals with those who love him. That’s an important distinction. It’s not for everyone, but specifically for believers.
Second, the “good” that’s described in context is about God’s ultimate sovereign plan of salvation and restoration, not so much our comfort.
So, the good here leads us to glorify Christ and His divine plan that’s being accomplished no matter how hard the circumstances and no matter how devastating the loss. It’s not so much about God changing your loss of job into a new opportunity as it is God using all of our circumstances for His divine good.
Are there any Bible verses you would add to the list?