Never Quote a Bible Verse (and 7 Examples Where Christians Forget This Advice)

Never Quote a Bible Verse (and 7 Examples Where Christians Forget This Advice) August 24, 2016

Chick tractsIt’s not like I go through life looking for arguments. I’m just a happy-go-lucky, tousle-headed scamp skipping through life and whistling a tune who unaccountably gets blindsided by nutty Christian arguments just begging for a good thrashing. It would be rude to not comply.

In fact, I’m happy to agree with Christians when I can, and just to prove that, let me point out an article by Greg Koukl, “Never Read a Bible Verse.” His point is that you should never read just a Bible verse but rather read the entire paragraph to understand the context.

That’s good advice as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. It’s true that broadening your reading to the local context can clarify the meaning of the verse and is a fairer way to approach that verse. Unfortunately, this doesn’t assure us that the Bible doesn’t say something contradictory elsewhere—it’s a big book. Said another way, the actual context is the entire Bible. Don’t quote the Bible as an authority until you can assure me that the Bible never undercuts this message elsewhere.

The problem can be illustrated with a familiar source of simplistic Christian apologetics.

Chick tracts

Chick tracts are small comic pamphlets that illustrate conservative Christian principles (or attack the usual suspects of Catholicism, Islam, Mormonism, evolution, and so on) through an illustrated story. A typical story will have a sinner scared straight by a glimpse of hell, for example. The printed tracts are cheap enough that street evangelists can hand them out to potential converts.

Let’s use Chick tracts as examples where a broader biblical context would give a very different interpretation of the point they’re making.

1. Bogus prophecy. The Greatest Story Ever Told” is the condensed gospel story, and it can’t resist repeating several of the five claims of fulfilled prophecy in the first two chapters of Matthew. It first quotes Isaiah 7:14, “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” No, this isn’t a prophecy of Jesus. Simply following the “never read a Bible verse” rule, we can find from the context that this claim was to be fulfilled just a few years after it was spoken, in Isaiah’s own time. (More here.)

The tract also says, “The Bible prophesied that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:1–2).” Wrong again, and you’d discover that if you’d read the context. Those verses talk about a ruler who will turn back the Assyrians, who began conquering Israel in 740 BCE. Micah 5:9 says, “Your hand will be lifted up in triumph over your enemies, and all your foes will be destroyed.” Whose gospel story is this? Certainly not that of Jesus.

2. Belief in Jesus is mandatory. Back from the Dead?” is the hilarious tale of someone who visits hell during a near-death experience. In it, Jesus is quoted from John 14:6, “No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” “It’s Not Your Fault” quotes John 3:18, which makes a similar point: “He that believes not is condemned already.”

This is one where the whole Bible is the context. Romans 5:19 says, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” That is, we didn’t opt in to get the sin of Adam, and we needn’t opt in to get the salvation of Jesus. No belief is necessary.

Christians seem endlessly eager to harmonize ill-fitting verses like these, but they’re still ill-fitting. An omniscient Creator would have made sure that his message got into the world clearly and unambiguously.


See also: Christians’ Damning Refuge in “Difficult Verses”


3. Works don’t get you into heaven. God turns revenge to love in “The Hit!” Someone says, “The only way anyone gets to heaven is through faith in Christ alone” with a reference to Acts 4:12. This is standard Chick: making a statement and then backing it up with just a Bible reference. I’ll agree that this verse does back it up (“Salvation is found in no one else”), but it’s just a context-free reference.

A character in “Back from the Dead?” says, “You can’t make it [to heaven] by good works” and cites Ephesians 2:8–9 and Titus 3:5. In “It’s the Law” we read, “No … good works will not take away our sins!”

Consider the whole Bible, and we find the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31–46), which makes plain that those who make it to the Kingdom do so through their good works. There is no mention of faith.

4. God hates slavery.Kidnapped!” is about child slavery, and it tries to portray the Old Testament as anti-slavery by quoting Exodus 21:16, “And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him … shall surely be put to death.” (Unsurprisingly, Chick prefers the King James Version.)

Nope. God has no problem with slavery. In fact, biblical slavery was pretty much identical to American slavery.

5. God hates fags. In “Birds and the Bees,” a little girl lectures us about homosexuality. Referring to the people of Sodom: “Today those same kind of people are back, but now they’re called Gays!” with a reference to Genesis 13:13.

Sorry, little girl, read the story. The “sin of Sodom” was rape. Yes, that’s a bad thing, but it’s bad whether it’s homosexual or heterosexual.

Little girl then says, “But God still says being Gay is an abomination!” with a reference to Leviticus 18:22, but she needs to “never read a Bible verse.” Read more widely, and it’s clear that Leviticus 18–20 are full of ritual abominations. Don’t plant your field with two kinds of seed or wear clothing woven of two kinds of material (Leviticus 19:19); don’t cut your hair (19:28); don’t use fortune tellers (19:31) (and kill them, by the way—that’s in 20:27); the death penalty is the punishment for cursing your father or mother (20:9); and don’t forget your kosher food laws (20:25).

Today, we ignore these ritual abominations. You can’t go back to retrieve one you’re fond of.

6. Only through Jesus can sins be forgiven. A gang killing gone wrong is the tale in “Gomez is Coming.” In the thrilling conclusion, we are told, “Only someone who was sinless could pay the price for our sins” (1 Peter 3:18).

Not really. In Matthew 16:19, Jesus tells his followers, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Binding means to forbid and loosing means to permit, both by an indisputable authority. The parallel verse in John 20:23 is, “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

If Christians today say that the Great Commission doesn’t just apply to Jesus’s original disciples but applies to them as well (it doesn’t), perhaps they’re bold enough to tell us that they can forgive sins, too.

7. The Ten Commandments.It’s the Law” cites Exodus 20 and 34 in its references to the Ten Commandments. Whoops—here’s where being honest about the context bites them. Exodus 20 lists the original set of Ten Commandments. But remember that Moses smashed them in anger and went back up to get another set, which was put in the Ark of the Covenant. The second set is listed in Exodus 34, and it’s a very different set.

Never quote a Bible verse to pass along God’s position on a matter unless you’re certain that it is unambiguously what the entire Bible says on that subject.

Anyone who actually does everything the Bible commands
would be a criminal in every country on this planet.
— Aron Ra

Image credit: Kamil Porembiński, flickr, CC

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  • Michael Neville

    A character in “Back from the Dead?” says, “You can’t make it [to heaven] by good works” and cites Ephesians 2:8–9 and Titus 3:5. In “It’s the Law” we read, “No … good works will not take away our sins!”

    “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” James 2:26 NKJV

    The context can be found in verses 14 through 26.

    • Michael

      Talk about quote-mining (or proof-texting, as Christians say).

      • Michael Neville

        I must have missed the quote mine. Please point it out to me because I think the whole passage from verse 14 through verse 26 is simple and straightforward.

        • adam

          “I must have missed the quote mine.”

          it is the direct quote you used that disagrees with the ‘meaning’ Michael quote mined out of it.

        • Michael Neville

          Obviously I’m missing something but, in the immortal words of Rhett Butler, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

        • Mister Two

          Supposedly many Baptists don’t think James belongs in the Bible. In the denomination I was in, it was taught that both good works and right beliefs were required. Not that I believe any of it any more, but I don’t get why the concept is so hard for people. Just because you have to do something, or live a certain way, doesn’t mean you actually earned anything. It’s like a participation trophy!

        • Michael Neville

          Still not seeing how I did a quote mine.

          I was replying to Jack Chick’s claim that only faith, not works, is necessary for salvation. I don’t give a damn about what some Baptists believe should or shouldn’t be in the Bible. So they should take it up with Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria in 367 who declared, essentially by fiat, which books belonged in the New Testament and with Jerome who wrote the Vulgate, the first Latin Bible.

        • Mister Two

          I wasn’t responding to whether you quote mined. I don’t know what he’s talking about. I was agreeing with you, basically, that the Bible supports the idea that works are necessary, and that many Christians believe works to be necessary. While some (“Baptists,” I suggested) insist that people can’t play any part in their own salvation, this is one area that doesn’t seem inconsistent to me in the NT. Right actions PLUS right beliefs are required.

          I feel a little silly talking about it, though, since it’s all BS.

        • Michael

          Oh sorry, I meant Chick was quote-mining, not you.

    • Jim Jones

      Go to Hell or Heaven Decision Tree

  • busterggi

    ” read the entire paragraph to understand the context.”

    Except that the bible wasn’t written with paragraphs – or chapters & verses for that matter. That’s all later interpretation just like adding guess-your-own vowels to the OT.

    • Greg G.

      They didn’t use punctuation or even spaces between words.

      • Uzza

        Punctuation matters

        Praised be Jesus, Christ, who died for us.

        Praised be. Jesus Christ, who died for us?

        • Incromulent

          I helped my Uncle Jack, off a horse.
          I helped my Uncle jack off a horse.

        • Michael Neville

          Eats shoots and leaves.

        • Thought2Much

          Let’s eat Grandma!
          Let’s eat, Grandma!

        • Thought2Much

          And I’m also a big fan of the Oxford (serial) comma:

        • Jim Jones


          God is now here.

          God is nowhere.

        • Greg G.

          Word emphasis matters, too.

          I didn’t say we should kill him.
          I didn’t say we should kill him.
          I didn’t say we should kill him.
          I didn’t say we should kill him.
          I didn’t say we should kill him.
          I didn’t say we should kill him.
          I didn’t say we should kill him.

    • Right. It does make sense, though, when modern editors have added paragraph breaks to connect logical thoughts together.

      • busterggi

        Anything can make sense if you re-write it enough.

  • Uzza

    The context is not just the entire bible, it’s literally hundreds of so-called Holy Books, all filled with different and contradictory accounts of … well, everything… and all a means for some cult to gain power.

    • Greg G.

      They get their suckers coming and going. If they do X, that’ll cost them an unblemished goat. If they do not-X, that will cost them three chickens.

  • Joe

    Where did the word ‘chick tracts’ come from? It sounds oddly like ‘Chick lit.’ to me, and I can’t imagine evangelical Christians reading Jackie Collins. At least, not in public.

    • poetrymafia

      The author’s last name, believe it or not…

    • adam

      It was Cheap Tricks, but the marketing guy didnt think that would sell?

      • MNb

        Did the Marketing Guy Surrender because I Want You to Want me?

    • T-Paine

      This may sound sarcastic but you didn’t google “chick tracts” before you asked this question?

      • Joe

        No. Do people not ask questions anymore?

        • Solitha

          They do, which is why Google exists, really. FAQs, too. I don’t know the answer to the question, but now I’m curious enough to go look it up. 🙂

        • T-Paine

          Well typically people ask questions in situations where they can’t find the answers for themselves faster than the persons being asked.

        • MR

          Well, I see you two got off on the wrong foot.

        • T-Paine

          How long would it take to post a question that you can easily google yourself, then sit back and wait for someone to google it and give you the answer you seek versus how long would it take to get the answer you seek by googling it your damn self?

        • Joe

          Why don’t you google it and find out?

        • T-Paine

          Why? Do people not ask questions anymore?

    • The author is Jack Chick.

  • My favorite one that people quote at me is Psalm 14 “The fool says in their heart ‘there is no God.'” This is wrong because a) I don’t say that*, and b) read the rest of the verse – cause you’re calling me evil and corrupt when you quote that at me.

    *Being an agnostic atheist, I don’t believe in gods, but I don’t claim there aren’t any.

    • Uzza

      c) “whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hell fire.” (Matthew 5:22)

  • Michael

    Well in the tract, girls are kidnapped for child slavery so the verse applies (while we could argue it lies by omission, that’s another matter).

    Binding and loosing has been cited by Catholics as the basis of papal authority. We can imagine what the fiercely anti-Catholic Jack Chick thinks of that.

  • Mister Two

    Ah, but they use “the whole Bible is the context” when what they read contradicts what they believe. When “the LORD” is depicted better than the other gods in one place (like Exodus 15:11), suddenly it doesn’t have to mean what it says because in Isaiah 45:5 The LORD himself is supposedly saying that other gods don’t even exist.

    Of course, this doesn’t show that the Exodus passage is simply “confusing” and the “whole Bible context” clears it up, what it shows is that the Bible is not consistent, and that the writers didn’t all believe the same thing. The problem, I think, is that when you start with the idea that the whole thing is/must be consistent, then you have to find ways to explain away the parts that don’t agree with what you believe. They could just as easily say that Isaiah 45 is hyperbolic language, and that the LORD there is actually saying that the other gods just aren’t as powerful as he is, not that they literally don’t exist.

  • Lucy

    Did you notice that one of the Chick Tract links mentions that Christians should hand those comics to kids on Halloween because “kids love cartoons”? I don’t know about you, but I find those comics to be super creepy, and I don’t imagine a kid would be happy to receive one of those particular comics. In fact, they would probably get nightmares from those comics. Of course, evangelical Christians think it’s a good idea to give kids nightmares now so they may be saved from the depths of Hell later. Oh well.

    • Yes, most of them seem to be violent and scary. (There are 250 total, so that’s just my evaluation from reading a few.)

      It’s weird how fundamentalist parents are squeamish about kids learning about sex in school, but they have no problem telling their Christian horror stories to them.

      • Michael Neville

        It’s not just Christians who have horror stories:

        Who Will Be Eaten First?

      • MNb

        “It’s weird …..”
        It’s rather logical. In the Vale of Tears called Eartly life people aren’t supposed to be happy, to enjoy life. They are supposed to postpone that to afterlife. Hence enjoying sex is counterproductive.
        Radical christianity in a nutshell: suffer now, hope for the best after you die. And that’s a theme that’s as old as christianity itself.

        • Michael Neville

          It’s radical christianity in a nutshell: suffer now, hope for the best after you die.

          “The Preacher and the Slave” by Joe Hill

        • Dannorth

          It’s not just Christianity. Islam has the same of ideology.

          In Hinduism the world is called an illusion that you have to work your way out of by keeping to the rules of your caste, Very convenient to keep the lower castes in their place.

          Budhdism resemble Hinduism in that regard.

          So in the most relidions of the world you must eat crap during your life in order to be rewarded afterwards.

      • Jim Jones

        Weirder still how fundamentalist parents are squeamish about kids learning about evolution in school, but they have no problem telling their Christian magic stories to them. Talking snakes and asses? Blindness cured by spit? Yeah, sure, but vaccinations are evil.

        • God demands genocide? Sanctions slavery? Drowns the world? Not a problem.

      • Uzza

        Word. I knew what it meant to be drawn and quartered or broken on the wheel long before I knew what it meant to fuck.

        • And the crazy thing is that if you mentioned this to them, they’d say, “Yeah–so?”

          Artificial violence is OK but natural sex isn’t.

        • Greg G.

          Nor is artificial sex.

        • Annerdr

          It is weird. I protected my kid from violence because it tended to give him nightmares. Sexy stuff was either gross or interesting, depending on his maturity at that moment.

    • Rt1583

      You’re comment reminds me of a rather disturbing article I read on Patheos.

      Complete with this statement: “Who doesn’t love it when a youth director shows up at soccer games and concerts?”

      None of these people actually see that what they are doing is preying on kids.

      • MNb

        What a creep.

        “Faith comes us in conversation with me because it is very important to me.”
        So it’s about him and his faith, not about the games the kids play. When I show up at soccer games and concerts of games I don’t plan to talk about my atheist, philosophical and political views.

  • evodevo

    “Consider the whole Bible, and we find the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31–46), which makes plain that those who make it to the Kingdom do so through their good works”
    Not to mention James 2:14-26, which I love to quote to fundies ….

  • Eo Raptor

    Rats! I thought you were going with the atheists, on average, know the Wholly Babble better than Christians (again, on average), and much better than the average fundagelical.

    I love the threads where a Xtian troll quotes some passage as authority/proof of his point, and promptly gets his ass handed to him by the more knowledgeable atheists.

  • Kevin K

    I thought the whole point of the Catholic confessional was that the priest was authorized to forgive sins (after the appropriate atonement, ie, filling the collection plate).

    Of course, Chick thought Catholics were in league with the devil.