Most Mis-interpreted Bible Verses: What’s at the Top of Your List?

Brian Orme, at ChurchLeaders, lists his five most misused, overused, abused, misread and misinterpreted Bible verses.

What is at the top of your list of most misused Bible verse?

The Bible is a sharp, double-edged sword — able to piece the heart. However, when portions of the Bible are used in the wrong context, it’s like trying to fight with the butt of the weapon instead of the blade. It’s just not effective.

Over my years in ministry and as an ongoing student of the Bible, I’ve come across many biblical misquotes, misunderstandings and flat-out misuses.

However, if I’m honest, many of these have come from my own lips. I confess: I’ve been guilty of abusing passages, ignoring context and, even at times, stretching the meaning for my own teaching needs, but I’m seeking to reform my loose ways in favor of something much more beneficial — the original interpretation.

His Top Five: Phil. 4:13; Jer. 29:11; Matt. 18:20; Rom. 8:28; and Prov. 29:18.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • carl

    Luke 6.38

  • Ben Thorp

    His 5 are pretty good. I would probably add Matthew 7:1 (“Judge not, lest ye be judged”).

    See also Eric Bargerhuff’s book “The Most Misused Verses in the Bible” which includes the ones mentioned, along with Luke 14:13-14, 2 Chronicles 7:14, Colossians 1:15, 1 Timothy 6:10, 1 Corinthians 10:13, Proverbs 22:6, Exodus 21:23-25, James 5:15, Acts 2:38, Proverbs 4:23 and John 12:32

  • Ryan G

    Yes, I’ve heard each of those used out of context many times. It’s frustrating. I would add to the list Rev. 3:16 (with the “cold” made to refer to unbelievers, not a certain type if usefulness), Rev. 3:20 (having it apply to unbelievers, not unfaithful churches), and Hab. 1:5.

  • gordonhackman

    1 Thess 5:22 about avoiding the “appearance of evil,” was frequently misused in the conservative and fundamentalist Christianity I grew up in and around.

  • http://differentcloth.blogspot.com/ jeff stewart

    Don’t know about *misused” – but skubalon is not used enough.

  • Blake

    “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.” – Isaiah 55:8

    I have heard this scripture used too many times to recall by those asserting God’s justice. i.e. God can do whatever God wants. Its about His glory. We dont know his ways so if a child gets molested its all in Gods plan because his ways are better than ours.

    I dont think this is what the writer of this text had in mind.

  • http://exiledson.tumblr.com/ Curt Leininger

    John 15:13. A call to arms.

  • Phil Miller

    Romans 7:14-25 would be one of my pet peeves that I hear a lot of people get wrong. I’ve heard whole sermons on it. The typical interpretation is that Paul is describing his own life which is then extrapolated to be indicative of the normative Christian life. It seems pretty clear to me from reading in context, that Paul isn’t really talking about himself or Christians in general, but it instead engaging in a bit of rhetorical impersonation in the voice of Adam here.

    Actually, the whole book of Romans is filled with things that Evangelicals often get wrong. imo.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    My understanding (from my seminary days) is that the correct interpretation (of those two options) is widely debated in scholarly circles.

    Not to disagree with your interpretation, so much as to argue that it must not be especially clear (even from context) after all.

  • Matt

    Jer 29:11. The context of this verse is not warm and fuzzy. Jeremiah didn’t give this to the senior kids in the youth group at high school grad.

  • Alan Knox

    Hebrews 4:12

  • http://derekleman.com/musings Derek Leman

    As a Messianic Jew, I would add in Matthew 5:17-19. Speaking to a Jewish band of disciples, Jesus affirms Torah. Christians, in my opinion, not understanding that some things in Torah do not apply to non-Jews are afraid to believe what Matthew 5:17-19 says. Just to be clear, it does not mean that non-Jewish Christians must keep Sabbath and food laws. (But Messianic Jews have a covenantal obligation to be Israel).

  • Andrew Dowling

    Try all of Revelations :)

  • http://brianzahnd.com Brian Zahnd

    Matthew 11:12 The violent take it by force

    Matthew 22:21 Render unto Casesar

    Luke 22:36 The NRA verse

    Romans 13:4 Caesar doesn’t bear the sword in vain

    Philippians 4:13 I can do all things

  • Phil Miller

    Well, I understand what you’re saying, and I do realize the interpretation is not without controversy, but from what I’ve seen, the controversy comes because people read the passage with a certain theological framework already in mind. I say it’s clear only because if you’re willing to read that passage without assuming you already know what Paul’s point is, I think it really does become clear.

    One of the clearest explanations I’ve read of the passage is in Ben Witherington’s The Problem With Evangelical Theology.

    I guess you could say this comes down somewhat to and old versus new perspective thing, although, Witherington couldn’t really be said to be firmly in either camp.

  • Stefan

    Isaiah 43:1-4: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. [...] Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you [...].” Spoken to individuals after having decided to “trust in” Jesus.

  • RJS4DQ

    Not at the top of my list, many already listed are higher, but Matt. 16:18-19 is high on the list.

  • http://differentcloth.blogspot.com/ jeff stewart

    I thought there was only one. ;-D

  • Matt Dodrill

    Romans 13:1

  • Chris Baca

    As a Pentecostal, Acts 2, Acts 8:14-20, Acts 9:17, Acts 10:44-48, and Acts 19:1-7. In my tradition, these are used as proof texts that baptism in the Holy Spirit is only sure when one has spoken in tongues. It’s quite ridiculous.

  • KentonS

    Blake, FTW!

  • Philip Wesley Davisson

    Definitely my number #1 is Jeremiah 29.11 and number #2 misinterpreted is probably John 14.6; also not a big fan of Matt 18.19 and its related set (John 14.14, 16.23-24; 1 John 3.22) And all of that is apart from the way that passages against women in ministry are wielded.

  • KentonS

    Two nominees:

    John 14:6 – “It’s my way or the highway.” (The disciples were expecting Jesus to overthrow and drive the Romans out of Judea, and Jesus was saying His way – the only true, life-giving way – was foot washing and serving those who deny and betray us.)

    Eph 2:8-9 – “It don’t matter what you DO, as long you have your DOCTRINE right.”(“Works” in v.9 is not about doing good works to earn salvation but about being marked in a Jewish identity by circumcision, kosher and strict sabbath keeping. It’s contrasted to the good works in v.10.)

  • Graham Ware

    It’s not a single verse, but I’ve seen a lot of misuse of Lk. 16:19-33 lately. Many have used it to defend eternal conscious torment, which seems highly inappropriate given the context.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bill.kinnon Bill Kinnon

    Some leaders have built their entire ministry around Hebrews 13:17.

  • Tony Springer

    1 Cor 10:13: “suffering” substitutes “temptation”

  • AHH

    Pretty ironic that the post started that way. One could construct a whole group of passages where something gets misread as meaning “the Bible”. The category would also include John 1:1 and I Cor. 13:10.

    I’d also nominate 2 Chronicles 7:14 when it is interpreted to be about the USA.

  • http://thebookofdavis.blogspot.com/ Michael Davis
  • http://twitter.com/tommyokeefe Tommy O’Keefe

    I think the one that has consistently bothered me the most is the use of Matthew 26:11 (The poor you will always have with you) as an excuse for ignoring poverty in our midst.

  • SFG

    Proverbs 22:6.

  • Steve Johnson

    Deuteronomy 6:4-9 when used to say that parents have the exclusive responsibility of discipling their children.

  • http://www.lauraziesel.com Laura Ziesel

    I second Prov 22:6. Wrote an explanation of how my seminary prof exploded my world when he explained that one here: http://www.lauraziesel.com/2011/10/train-up-child-in-whose-way.html

    I would also propose Matt 18:3 or any of the “have faith like a child” verses. (Is it in all three synoptics? Can’t remember.) I mean, come on, children are insatiably curious. I’ve never heard this verse interpreted that way.

  • RobS

    Genesis 1:29 (on seed bearing plants) and Matthew 7:1 (on judgement) seem to be popular among a certain culture in the USA.

  • metanoia

    Doing a sermon series on the Book of Nehemiah and connecting it to your latest building project immediately comes to mind.

  • Phil Miller

    Lol… I visited a church last year that was in the middle of doing a whole series in Nehemiah, and while they didn’t (at least while I was there) relate it to a building project, it was turned into something about “casting our visions for success” or something like that.

  • AHH

    My earlier comment seems to have vanished (curse this buggy Disqus system!), but I agree about the irony of starting that post with the allusion to Heb. 4:12. Which could be part of a series where the subject of a verse is assumed to be “the Bible”, also including John 1:1 and I Cor. 13:10.
    Another pet peeve is making 2 Chronicles 7:14 be about the USA.

  • RJS4DQ

    Whoops – I think I sent it to spam accidently. Both disqus commenting and moderating are very iPhone unfriendly.

  • John Wallace

    I would say John 3:16 is the most under interpreted as opposed to mis-interpreted see http://www.johnsramblings.com/2012/12/do-we-read-john-316-correctly.html

    I’d also add Matthew 25:1-13 as one of the most mis-interpreted see http://www.johnsramblings.com/2013/01/the-parable-of-ten-virgins-matthew-251.html

  • Jeff Martin

    I second the Hebrews 4:12 one which I hope Dr. McKnight was using tongue in cheek.

  • http://pauldouglaswalker.blogspot.ca/ Paul Walker

    The “sword passages” read out of context as justification for the use of violence. Matthew 10:32-39 , Luke 22:35-38, Romans 13:1-7.

  • http://morechrist.blogspot.com K.W. Leslie

    Doing a series of them on my own blog. Looks like I touched on Orme’s, and many of those of the other commenters. I’ll also nominate:
    2Ki 2.9 (Elisha’s double portion)
    1Ch 16.22 (“Touch not the Lord’s anointed”)
    Is 55.11 (“God’s word won’t return void”)
    Pr 22:8 (“Train up a child”)
    Mk 7:19 (“Jesus declared all foods clean”)
    Jn 1:17 (Law thru Moses, but grace thru Christ)
    Jn 15.13 (“no greater love than laying down one’s life”)
    Pp 3.13-14 (“forgetting the past and looking forward”)
    1Th 5.17 (“Pray without ceasing”)
    He 12.1 (“the great cloud of witnesses”)
    Jm 4.2 (“you have not because you ask not”)

  • jwblair

    Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 Thess. 4:17

  • http://www.justindgentry.blogspot.com/ Justin Gentry

    Malachi 3:10 – It really pushes my buttons how this one is used to manipulate people into “sacrificial” giving

  • http://www.facebook.com/pmiller2911 Phil Miller

    Just getting people to start calling it by its proper name Book of Revelation or Revelation (it’s not plural) would be a good place to start… :-)

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    No one, I repeat, no one, reads a text without some preexisting theological framework. To suggest that something is clear when scholars dedicated to trying to learn as much about scripture as they can (I mean believers, here, not non-believers) say it isn’t as clear as people say it is, well my apologies for saying so bluntly, but that’s arrogance.

  • Russell Almon

    Scot,

    While I don’t comment much at all here (mainly due to life, there are all sorts of fascinating conversations here), I have commented here before how your ‘King Jesus Gospel’ has impacted me personally. And it seems to me the ‘King Jesus Gospel’ becomes a hermeneutic that begins to deconstruct and reconstruct (at the same time) everything in one way or another (so as of recent I’ve even been giving substantial thought to how it will affect my dissertation I begin in the fall).

    With that said, I would like to nominate John 3:16. Now, I don’t have any empirical statistics to back this up, but beyond the basic quotation apart from any context in John or work to understand what ‘everlasting life’ and ‘believe’ signifies in John, I think even from a standard ‘evangelical’ soterian perspective John 3:16 has ended up on enough signs at sporting events and in enough so called ‘gospel’ tracts to make a good case for it as the most mis-used verse of all time.

    However, from a KJG perspective (factored in with the sheer level of mis-use) I think it may also be the most mis-interpreted and mis-understood as well (it at least has a good a case as any of the others mentioned here).

    In fact, while I understand that with the sheer number of options available one has to be selective, I was a bit surprised that neither the linked article nor Eric Bargerhuff’s book length treatment, ‘The Most Misused Verses in the Bible’, included John 3:16. It causes me to wonder if a basically soterian orientation and hermeneutic is what obscures its mis-use and mis-interpretation from view?

  • Andrew Dowling

    Russell, my comment about Revelation (non-plural :)) aside, I would agree that if one verse was used out of context and mis-used in all the Bible, it would probably be John 3:16, or (in similar fashion) John 14:6. I think the entire Johananine Gospel and its soteriology are routinely cited incorrectly (as people cite the verses from a post-Reformation lens of soteriology completely foreign to John the evangelist).

    John is in places much more quasi-gnostic/’new agey’ than conceded by most. The evangelist’s concept of everlasting life is certainly not that of an eternal heaven after you die that Christians often refer to it as.

  • AHH

    More often than one might think, I have heard the claim that verses like Isaiah 40:22 and 44:24 (where God “stretches out the heavens”) prove that the Bible anticipated the scientific discovery of the expanding universe. Seriously.

    Pretty well illustrates a certain warped attitude about what Scripture is supposed to be.

  • Russell Almon

    Andrew,

    Not much time so I have to be quick.

    When you say,”I think the entire Johananine Gospel and its soteriology are routinely cited incorrectly (as people cite the verses from a post-Reformation lens of soteriology completely foreign to John the evangelist)” … I quite agree.

    However, when you say, “John is in places much more quasi-gnostic/’new agey’ than conceded by most” … I’m not so sure. I would say its the opposite. The ‘eternal heaven’ that you mention John has no truck with is what sounds ‘quasi-gnostic’ to me. Peace.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Russel,
    I don’t really understand your comment. By my understanding, a general trait of gnostic thought is oneness with God through self spiritual enlightenment; it’s not the basic Christian belief of “believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior and get your first class ticket to cloud land when you die” (which is how John 4:16 is often taken to confirm) I think when John speaks of “eternal life” along with his concept of the paraclete/”spirit of truth” is much more aligned with the Gnostic concept of achieving greater spiritual solidarity with Christ/God through “gnosis” which in John is learning from and being open to the Holy Spirit/ways of Jesus which leads to a certain transcendence of the constraints of the material world. Again, not fully Gnostic, but it does align with a sort of proto-gnoticism. Makes sense that John was popular with a lot of gnostic Christian groups; some scholars even hypothesize that some early gnostic christian groups were essentially schisms/split-offs from the community of John..

  • Joel

    My favorite out-of-context Bible quote is from an old WWII-era comedy, Hail the Conquering Hero. There’s one scene where a man is trying to direct a big crowd and no one is listening to him. And in frustration, he looks up to the sky and says “Oh death, where is thy sting?!”

  • Jeff Martin

    Ok, it was actually Brian Orme that misused Hebrews 4:12

  • Phil Miller

    I wouldn’t say it’s always arrogance. I think we need to be willing to take strong positions without being labeled arrogant. Otherwise, it seems we’re in a place where we become afraid about making claims about anything.

    In other words I’m not willing to concede that every theological framework is just as good as any other one. Some of them are simply pretty bad.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    I never said that every theological framework is equally valid. I’m simply saying that to use the word “clear” when there is sufficient debate (in appropriate circles) to demonstrate that it really isn’t… well, that’s just not okay.

  • Phil Miller

    Well, I guess we’ll agree to disagree on this one, then. To me, it’s pretty clear. By clear, what I’m saying is that the evidence I’ve seen supports that reading. It’s clear to me is all I’m saying.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X