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10 Popular Bible Verses Taken out of Context

10 Popular Bible Verses Taken out of Context

The last straw for us was the sermon series immediately following Easter – “What Jesus’ resurrection gives to you”.  My wife and I left the church before the end of the 6 week series.  I think we made it through “Victory”, “Freedom”, “Power” and “Joy” before we could no longer stomach the concept that Jesus suffered and died to make us more happy and comfortable.  To me it felt as dirty as when I finished going through the Titanic exhibit, only to be forcibly routed through the gift shop profiteering off the deaths of hundreds of passengers.

Megachurch consultants had recently been hired to rejuvenate that aging church.  Much had changed – discipleship and local missions were disbanded, worship music became a concert, the kid’s ministry was converted to Romper Room, and teaching focused on what God does FOR “me” and not what God requires OF “me”.  Throughout the post-Easter sermon series the pastor fed us a steady diet of Romans 8:28 and Jeremiah 29:11 but failed to provide context to those verses – not mentioning the adjacent verses that qualified those promises.

That church, like most today, worries that it won’t survive in this day and age if it fails to attract and retain members.  Therefore, pastors are more careful about the words they use and the scripture passages they read.

As the measuring stick for “success” has become more size-based than impact-based, the filter through which churches process every decision has shifted from “how do we make them disciples” to “how do we get them to commit to Jesus and our church.”  We count professions and baptisms but as we discussed last week, the buck shouldn’t stop there.  Jesus wants us to make sold-out, transformed disciples – however, pastors and staff have in effect already moved on the next unsaved person once a new believer comes to Christ.

Yes, we are saved by grace through faith but I doubt the sincerity of a profession of faith if that person’s life doesn’t change significantly.  Given the magnitude of the gift Jesus gave us and how much He suffered on our behalf, shouldn’t we be transformed by His grace?  Wouldn’t we want to serve others eagerly and share our good news widely.  How can so many go back to business as usual, cussing a little less but keeping their newfound salvation to themselves outside their circle of Christian friends.

We’re left to wonder whether nominal or carnal Christians are really Christians at all.  Are they truly saved?  Yet churches in America implicitly approve of converts living as they did before by making discipleship, repentance and sanctification optional out of fear of asking too much of people that they want to come back next Sunday.  As a consequence, recent studies have found that Americans don’t believe their Christian neighbors live or act any differently than their non-Christian neighbors.

It’s a disservice to churchgoers everywhere and to the Lord to regularly quote attractive-sounding verses while withholding the less alluring context of those passages of scripture…

10 Popular Verses & Their Overlooked Counterparts

1. Romans 8:28And 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 8:29 – “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”

Context – Jesus defines “those who love Him” in John 14, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching”.  Obedience and discipleship are joined at the hip.  The latter part of verse 28 and verse 29 are typically avoided because they reference calling and predestination, a touchy, uncomfortable subject for most churchgoers – we’d prefer to have control than leave it in God’s hand.  “Conformed to the image of His Son” is also challenging because Jesus was first and foremost obedient to the Father.

2. Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Context – These two verses seem at odds, but though salvation is a free gift, we should respond by exhibiting the same mercy and grace we have received in how we treat others.

3. Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Hebrews 11:2-40 – Examples of how the great heroes of faith did more than believe, but acted in dramatic fashion on that belief.

Context – Faith is not just belief; it is belief that inspires action.  As James says in 2:18, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”

4.  Matthew 6:33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Matthew 5 and 6 – We prefer the 2nd half of 33, getting “all these things”, and rarely analyze what “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” really means, which is explained in detail by the long sermon Jesus gave “on the mount” in chapters 5 and 6.

Context – Verse 6:33 is rarely connected back to the sermon it concludes, meticulously defining how Christ’s followers are expected to behave.

5.  Romans 12:3-8 – Pastors routinely cite these verses about using our spiritual gifts (parts of the Body) to serve the (institution of) church.

Romans 12:1-2 – “In view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Context – Pastors don’t often relate vs. 3-8 to the verses that precede them, more willing to tell us what we should do for the (collective) church than how we should undergo (individual) transformation.  Likewise, they put in place more support structures around the former (internal ministries) than the latter (discipleship).

6. 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 – “Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.”

1 Corinthians 9:15-27 – Whereas 13-14 refers to pastors and church staff, Paul goes on to describe the responsibilities, training, dedication, and endurance necessary to live out the ministry calling every Christian shares as the embodiment of church (the “called out ones”; “those belonging to the Lord”).

Context – Few churchgoers want to hear how hard they would have to work to win the Great Commission “race” or “boxing match” Paul refers to in those verses.

7.  Philippians 2:1-2 – “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”

Philippians 2:12 – “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.

Context – In verses 3-11, Paul goes on to define the love of Jesus referenced in verses 1-2 – in humble obedience to the Father and putting the interests of others above your own.  The challenges of obedience and selflessness are so counter to our natures that in the verse that follows (v. 12) Paul describes the ongoing process of sanctification (and discipleship) as one that involves “fear and trembling”.

8.  Galations 5:22-23 – “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…”

Galations 5:24 – “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

Context – Without the transformation in Christ’s image that accompanies being “crucified” such that “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me”, we can’t bear the fruit of the Spirit.  Churchgoers also don’t want to hear the list of terrible sins and dire consequences outlined in the immediately preceding verses (vs. 19-21), knowing they may be guilty of a few.

9.  Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (NASB)

Philippians 4:12 – “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

Context – Pastors and churchgoers prefer the NASB translation because it stands alone, delinking from the prior verse about being content in every situation.  The NIV phrases v. 13 as “I can do all this”, referring directly to Paul enduring hardships as a result of living out his faith no matter what the cost.

10.  Jeremiah 29:11 – “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 29:12-13 – “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Context – The book of Jeremiah leading up to chapter 29 is about Israel’s disobedience and God’s punishment.  In fact, chapter 29 is written to the exiles in Babylon, who were there because of disobedience (see chapter 25 and 27).  The promises in chapter 29 are for restoration following judgment understanding that discipline will bring obedience (vs. 12-13).

It’s Your Turn

What other verses have you heard churches take out of context, offering cheap grace and a better life without any need for repentance or discipleship?


45 Responses

  1. Thanks for this reminder on the importance of keeping God’s truth in context. God’s Word is most definitely to be revered, and those of us who preach and teach should fear and tremble at the thought of being guilty of taking the Words of God Almighty out of context.
    I would have to say that the worst “out of context” I have heard is when John 3:16 was used to convince people to give. The message was “God so loved that He gave” See! God is the greatest giver ever, so we are never more like God then when we give.
    This message shifts the focus completely away from the love of God which caused Him to give up His Son. The subject in the verse is God, and the action is loved.
    Thanks again for the reminder to keep our message in context.
    Pastor Jim S

    1. Lo que pasa que en esas megas iglesias, con tendencias a la teología de la prosperidad, les conviene llenar los edificio (no templo por que el cuerpo es el templo) por que entonces entrará mas dinero y por otro lado, miden el éxito por la cantidad de personas y por edificios opulentos, aunque el corazón de las personas siga siendo pequeño en espíritu, y vacíos emocionalmente. una iglesia grande por el numero y pobres en espíritu. Es lo característico a los de tendencia de la Teología de la prosperidad y teología de la retribución.
      Yo creo que en pleno S. XXI, es necesario e indispensable, con mas uso de la razón acompañado de una buena cucharada de fe, para que su permanencia sea mas solida, aunque no se crezca en numero.

  2. James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (NIV)
    This verse is often taken out of the context given it by the preceding verses:
    James 1:3-4 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

    To understand James 1:5 insert the word “But” at the beginning, as some versions do. You see then that James 1:5 is a continuation and progression of the verses before it, discussing the maturing of your faith through enduring trials.

  3. Some very good (common) passages on the list. One of my greatest pet-peeves is Romans 7:19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (ESV) Used to defend sinful behavior in a “believer” without the context of Romans 6 (vv1, & 22 for example), or Romans 7:5 & more, and Romans 8 (particularly v2) that clarify the context of 7:19 as referring to those under the Law.

  4. John 3:16. the most famous verse ever, and most taken out of context. Masses of people have based their entire faith platform, and salvation, on that ONE verse. And they have not remotely considered the depth of the meaning of the word ‘Believe’. Football fans have seen the John 3:16 sign waving in the end zones for decades. And, sadly, they only ascribe to the surface meaning, or the Western cultural context. Belief in our cultural context means little more than mental acknowledgement of a fact. Nothing more. Do you really believe that Jesus only meant mental acknowledgement of who He was? The true meaning of belief, means you would stake your life on it. Not just agreeing that it happened. True belief takes action based on that belief.

    1. Exactly! Also see
      John 3:36 (ESV): Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey (some versions repeat believe although it’s a different Greek word meaning obey) the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

  5. Matthew 25:31-46, specifically verse 40: “Assuredly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it [fed, clothed, housed] to one of the least of these [who are] My brethren, you did it to Me.”
    Typically this is used to raise money for charitable works which are disbursed willy nilly with no vetting of the recipients, as if Jesus is declaring anyone in poverty to be His brother, regardless of whether or not that person is a citizen of the Kingdom. Those who typically misuse and abuse this passage ignore the question of who is to be considered as Jesus brothers.
    But Jesus Himself addressed that issue earlier in His ministry when He declared that only those who do the will of God can rightly be considered His brothers [and sisters] in Matthew 12:48-50.

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  8. Romans 10:9- NIV
    That if you confess with your mouth, that Jesus is Lord, and believe in heart that God has raised us from the dead, you will be saved. Easily taken out of context, for Paul is addressing the Christians in Rome, this is commonly used as a salvation verse, leaving verse 10 hanging in the balance concerning justification. “Believe and are justified” from your inner being holds more true to me, than walking up front to repeat a religious prayer, and relying on clergy, pastors…By grace through faith that for your basis of salvation, on the perfect, atonement through Christ our Lord!

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  11. Another verse that is used out of context is Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three gather in My name, I am there in the midst of them”. I’ve heard this verse quoted so many times during programs where attendance was not that great, as if to encourage people that Jesus is there and that’s all that matters, but the context has to do with discipline and instructions on how to deal with a “brother” that has sinned against you and is not willing to hear you out when you confront him.

  12. Lately Ive been contemplating the whole ‘Verse of the Day’, or worse, the ‘Life Verse’ concept, that is so popular among Christians, and authors and publishers of Devotionals. But, in reading through the entire bible multiple times, I cannot help but notice that Jesus never taught using only one sentence or verse. He either taught with a Parable/Story, or an entire sermon. (Sermon on the mount)

    Now whenever someone mentions or posts their ‘Verse of the Day’, or posts their ‘Life Verse’, it makes me cringe. Does ANYONE actually read the bible, or do they simply skim though it in order to cherry pick a handful of favourite verses taken wildly out of context??

    Ask the average American Christian their favourite verse, and I guarantee you that at least 50% of them will quickly choose either John 3:16, or Jer 29:11. Instead of a favourite verse, why not a favourite PASSAGE. Instead of a life verse, how about a Life Passage? Alas, that would never work, because most can’t be bothered reading more than a verse or two of Scripture. Ironically, they will read an entire silly novel about a fictional shack, but all they can handle of the bible is a verse or two.

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  20. John 3:11 please explain the context
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  24. I think this is a very poor written article. For example, the tithe mentioned in Malachi was to go to the sons of Levi… yet pastors today love to reference it while also telling church goers that Jer 29:11 is only to captive Israel (like this article says). The church is filled with people who quote the Old Testament at their own convenience. Many of the scriptures referenced in this article have the “contradictions” built into them, such as the reference to Galatians…”…with self control” (re:the fruit of the spirit). If that is included what more need to be said? Romans 8:28 also says… “…to those who love God”. He who loves God obeys His commandments”anyway”, so all the obedience stuff is already contained in its context. Another nit picking article that overlooks the “foolish disputes” we are told to avoid.

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  29. I read a Wall Street Journal post about 412 Murrieta: an evangelical church in Los Angeles with an interesting addition to their statement of faith that caught the attention of many including the media. They firmly stand against the Covid-19 vaccine and use 1 Corinthians 6:20 to back it up.

    ““Honor the Lord with your bodies.” (1Cor. 6:20) Some vaccines, like certain Covid-19 vaccines, have not been sufficiently tested and are known to cause harmful side effects for some. We believe that the Bible encourages Christians and Jews to abstain from contaminating one’s body with substances that may be threatening to one’s bodily health. . . . until long-term research can prove that use of Covid-19 vaccines are safe and efficacious, we consider such vaccines unclean.”

    The context for this verse comes from a portion of scripture in which Paul warns the Corinthians about sexual immorality. The latter half of verse 13 states that “the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” and Paul reemphasizes this theme in verses 15-16, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined[d] to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.'” Paul gives a command in verse 18, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin[e] a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” Finally, he ends the section with these two verses: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

    While this passage is very blatantly regarding the issue of sexual immorality and the dangers of sinning against one’s own body, I’ve seen the verse used out of context several times in many of the churches I’ve attended. I’ve heard people argue this verse for the avoidance of tattoos and piercings of any kind. I’ve sat in a Sunday School lesson using this verse to justify how we as Christians should exercise and eat vegetables. The topic of modesty has also been assigned this verse, but, while there is plenty of support throughout the Bible for modesty, this verse does not apply to even that context. Paul’s sole purpose for this passage is clearly to urge the Corinthians to flee this particular sin of sexual immorality.

  30. Thanks for sharing this great article! Sorry to comment on an old post, but I love these types of articles, and these Bible verses are perfectly suited for my next Sunday School lesson. I think this is a great resource for churches!

  31. This is a very helpful resource, especially for writing a paper about how the Bible is often taken out of context. Thanks!

  32. These Verses Taken Out of Context was so eye-opening! It was a great reminder to be careful with the way we interpret scripture and not take verses out of context. I’m grateful for the insight provided in this article, as it is so important to ensure we truly understand God’s message to us through His Word. Thanks for sharing this valuable resource!

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