I don’t remember too many college homework assignments, at least not ones that I enjoyed. But one assignment in particular has really stuck with me. (And I feel slightly awful that I don’t remember the name of the professor as clearly as the assignment.)
It was my second year of college, and the assignment was to analyze the lyrics of well-known worship songs. We had to assess which bible verses the songs were based on and then study the verse in context to see if the song accurately interpreted it. I was surprised by how many worship songs I grew up listening to that maintained good theology, just not necessarily from the verses they quoted.
As clear as scripture is, we don’t always get it right. I know I’ve misinterpreted bible verses and passages plenty of times. I even have a record of this in my bible study journals as a teenager. They are really pretty embarrassing!
I’ve heard it said that God will speak through his word and that it can mean something different for everyone. But that’s actually not an accurate way to understand scripture. The intended meaning for bible verses doesn’t change depending on the reader. The truth of God’s word doesn’t change over time. It is constant.
And that’s part of the beauty of the bible. Its truths are timeless and applicable to people of different generations and cultures.
As we read the word of God, it’s important we are aware of our own interpretation. This can be hard sometimes, because we come to the text with our presuppositions or even familiar misunderstandings.
The word of God does speak into our individual lives in a very real way, but it’s not so individualized that the same verse can mean ten different things to ten different people. We must strive to interpret scripture accurately. This doesn’t mean we will always get it right, but it helps us steer clear of common errors.
From the outset, I want to tell you that if you read one of the bible verses below and have been getting it wrong, don’t freak out. If you are part of a bible-believing church, chances are that you aren’t a heretic. Getting one bible verse wrong doesn’t revoke your “orthodoxy” card.
As my seminary Greek professor was fond of saying, “Don’t worry. A good systematic theology will protect you from your bad interpretation of any one passage.”
With that in mind, here are three commonly misunderstood bible verses and how to better understand them.
1. ‘Where Two or Three Are Gathered’
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. (Matthew 18:20)
Misinterpretation: The common understanding of this verse is that whenever believers gather together, God is with them. This interpretation has some issues, because it suggests God is only present when two or three are gathered and not when a believer is alone.