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Misquoted Bible Verses or Misused Bible Verses – Which is Worse by Rev Michael Bresciani, July 2006

When it comes to your preacher are you checking his accuracy and ignoring his attitude? A degree is not a device to authenticate everything that is said by a theologian or minister.


A cliché is a trite expression or idea conveyed so often it becomes common. Clichés usually lack interest or originality but their real failing is that they are rarely ever questioned or investigated. They have a way of creeping undetected into the everyday language of the people.


The sheer force of repetition establishes a cliché until it is held as something sacred or immutable. For example take the common saying "God helps those who help themselves." This saying is repeated by thousands of people the world over and most of them think it is taken from the Bible. It is not a Bible verse but it has taken on almost as much authority as one. This cliché is not just a few degrees off the mark but it is diametrically opposite the Bible teaching.


God is a helper especially to those who cannot help themselves. The simple, the fatherless, the widows are all promised special help from God because of their helplessness. Christians have their share of unquestioned clichés. While many of them have some measure of truth in them they beg to be more meticulously scrutinized. Here is one very important example.


"Never Take a Scripture Verse Out Of Context"


This cliché is often used when we are trying to establish whether a teaching or doctrine we've heard is true. It is often used to pinpoint the errors of the cults and the so-called pseudo-Christian religions.


The truth is that it is often necessary to take a verse out of its context to convey its most basic meaning. To include the verse preceding or following some verses would tend to cloud their truest meaning in literally hundreds of instances. The scriptures for the most part are not written in a narrative form. This is especially true of the New Testament epistles. A few examples are as follows... In Proverbs 11: 28-30 are three verses that are totally unrelated. If we were to be emphasizing the necessity of keeping peace in the home verse twenty-nine would be a good verse to use.


"He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart." (Proverbs 11:29)


Verses twenty-eight and thirty have absolutely nothing to do with keeping peace in the home. We are forced to extricate or disengage the verse from its context to gain the fullest use of it. We can carry our example still a step further to illustrate the weakness of the cliché.


The first sentence of verse twenty-nine is separated from the second by a colon. The second sentence is in no way thematically connected to the first. In order to get the greatest impact from this verse if we were stressing the idea of peace in the home it would be necessary not only to remove the verse from the context of the passage but we would be forced to split up the verse and leave part of it out altogether. Hundreds of Bible verses are found in similar complexity


Subject matter changes so frequently in the New Testament that it becomes necessary to remove a whole passage from its context to gain the full meaning of it. The weakness of this cliché is perhaps best seen in the sayings of the Lord himself. He was notorious for dangling quoted verses in mid air without supportive contextual inclusions.


Many times Jesus would say, "It is written" or "Have ye never read" and quote a single verse taken right out of its context. He made no apologies for not including the preceding or following verses and the effect of his single verse sayings often stopped the mouths of his enemies or illustrated a great principle to his followers. Sometimes the verses he quoted were taken from texts that originally had nothing to do with the subject he was dealing with. Such is the case where Jesus was criticized by the Pharisees for accepting the praise of the little children in the temple...


"And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the son of David; they were sore displeased..." (Matthew 21:15)


Jesus answered with a single verse taken from Psalm 8:2 that in its original context had nothing to do with establishing the inspiration or accuracy of a child's spontaneous praises. Psalm eight is a song of recognition of God's glory because of His wonderful creation and a query of the invested powers given to man by God. Yet out of this seemingly unrelated passage Jesus extracted and wielded a single verse to the shame of his enemies, the Pharisees.


"...And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?" (Matthew 21:16)


If he had included the preceding and following verses of the passage it would have made absolutely no sense. Jesus in fact quoted verses taken out of context over twenty times as recorded in the four gospels. While some are repeated in the parallel gospels this only serves to verify that he did make a general practice of it. Even more amazing is the fact that unlike the apostles, Jesus never quoted more than one verse of scripture at a time. The apostles quoted two or three but never more than four at a time.


The apostles and the writers of the New Testament epistles far exceed the Lord's proclivity for taking verses out of context. Over ninety times from the book of Acts to Revelation verses are pulled out of context and used as proof texts. Less than ten times do they include more than one verse of scripture.


The closest some of them come to even identifying their source is with such phrases as "David saith" or "Isaiah saith it" The rest of the quotes begin with such phrases as "he saith also in another place," "Wherefore he saith," "What saith the scriptures," "Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith," "The prophets saith," "wot ye not what the scripture saith," "The scripture saith" and "What saith it." Thirty-eight times the above sayings were used to quote a verse out of context.


Only a well studied student with an excellent memory could even hope to guess at where such scriptures might be located. Keep in mind also that they were quoted over thirteen centuries before the printing press was invented. The hearers had to depend largely on the integrity of the speaker or writers for the accuracy of the quote. They couldn't whiz through the pages of their Bibles and read verses preceding or following the quoted verse. If taking a verse out of context is the crime we hold it to be then not naming the source of our quotation must be a cardinal crime and all the writers and figures of the New Testament were guilty of it.


The term used most profusely in the New Testament in connection with a verse taken out of context is "It is written." Every verse Jesus quoted was preceded by it and the apostles used it over fifty times themselves. It is the equivalent of a more modern saying that we are all familiar with, "The bible says." We have all heard preachers who warn that a verse should never be taken out of context and then we hear them say, "The Bible says," literally thousands of times in their teachings This is one inconsistency we should be thankful for because without it teaching would often be incomprehensible and quite dull.  


It has become an accepted fact among believers that the enemies or false teachers are the ones who make the habit of taking verses out of context. But by contrast we can see that it is in fact the believer or the Lord himself who have exercised this practice most often A few times the Pharisees said, "Why did Moses write..." or a similar expression and it is recorded twice that the devil said, "It is written."


Beyond doubt we can see that the opposing forces of the kingdom rarely practice this most dreaded habit. The reason for this is plain. Paul once said that some men were preaching the Gospel out of envy hoping to add further affliction to him by stirring up the anti-Christian forces. He concluded that it didn't matter why they were doing it. The effect was the same. Souls were saved. (Phil. 1:15-19) Satan doesn't like to quote any scripture even if it is out of context.


For this very reason, in many of the cults the scripture quotes are reduced and often not quoted at all. Another authority or special spiritual experiences often replace them. In reality false teachers do no more than the true teachers when they take a verse out of context. The difference is in the intention. Where there is an evil intention even verses quoted in context can be twisted and misused.


We should be far more involved in discerning the spirit in which we are taught rather than the letter. If our teachers have a history of giving sound teaching, and have recognized and certified ministries shouldn't we allow them reasonable latitudes? We should give them the freedom to extract verses for our learning even if they must occasionally resort to the dastardly Practice of "taking a verse out of context."

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