Top 5 Most Misused Verses in the Bible
The Bible is a sharp, double-edged sword — able to pierce 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.
Here are the top five Scriptures, in my opinion, that get misused in the church today — with a brief description of the original context.
I invite you to comment on each one or to provide additional passages you think should appear in the top five. Also, just to be clear, I don't think referencing these passages in a slighlty different context is a biblical felony — if it was, I'd probably be doing hard time — but it's always good to know the heart of the original meaning.
1. I Can Do All Things.
I can do all this through him who gives me strength. — Philippians 4:13 (NIV)
This short verse is often quoted by sports teams, bumper stickers and taglines as a rally cry to accomplish great things like running a marathon, climbing a mountain, winning the championship, finishing the remodel on the kitchen, etc.
However, this short — and powerful — passage gets its meaning amidst the context of contentment. Paul is writing this letter to the church in Philippi to let them know that God has taught him to be content in times of plenty and in times of desperation (he’s writing this letter in prison).
So, in its proper meaning, this verse is a tribute to a man who learned to follow God in any circumstance. Whatever came Paul's way, he handled with faith. It could be stoning, prison, shipwreck, beatings, etc. This passage is not a clarion call to go out and accomplish great feats of strength, but a beautiful reminder to pursue faith and trust God in the midst of the ups and downs of a life given fully to the cause of Christ.
So, if you get put in prison for preaching Christ, beaten, and learn to live with little food or possessions, and you find yourself content because you have Christ, well, this verse should definitely be quoted.
2. Plans to Prosper.
“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 29:11 (NIV)
This verse is often quoted during a trial to encourage or inspire — pointing us to the promise that God has specific plans to help us prosper so don’t worry!
However, in context, this verse is dealing with a particular promise given to Israel from God; the promise points to the end of their Babylonian exile in specific terms — 70 years (verse 10). So, the word prosper doesn't refer to money or material blessings, but physical and spiritual salvation.
But, someone might say, God still wants us to prosper, right? Well, in terms of salvation, yes. In fact, this passage is a great reminder of the fulfilled prophecy and the perfect Word of God. This is an amazing story that points us to a greater release and redemption for all of God’s people.
So, taking away our specific, individually focused application doesn’t subtract the awesomeness from this passage. In fact, it enhances it and reminds us of the collective salvation of God’s people in history and in the future, still to come.
3. Where Two or Three Are Gathered.
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” — Matthew 18:20 (NIV)
This verse is often used as an encouragement that God is with us in tough circumstances — all we need are two to three people in a prayer group and we’re set. In fact, you don’t even have to say the full verse, just start it out: “Where two or three are gathered … ” and other church members will shake their heads in agreement.
However, this passage really deals with building a testimony in the context of church discipline. A proper, and reliable, testimony was extremely critical in the Jewish context. This passage was an encouragement to the church leaders during difficult times of confrontation and church discipline — that God would be present with the witnesses as they sought to make matters right and restore a fallen member.
So, it’s pretty safe to say that unless you’re in the midst of church discipline, you’re taking this verse out of its original context.
Is God still with us when two or three are gathered? Yes, of course. He's also with us when it's just one or one thousand.
4. All Things Work for Good.
And 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 8:28 (NIV)
This passage is often used to encourage another believer who’s going through a tough time — reminding them that it will eventually work out for something good in their life. In other words, don’t worry about getting fired — God has something better in store for you … all things work out for good, remember?
There are two major issues in this passage to deal with to keep it in context.
First, the passage deals with those who love him. That’s an important distinction. It’s not for everyone, but specifically for believers.
Second, the “good” that’s described in context is our ultimate conformity to Christ, not our comfort. So, the good here leads us to sanctification and our ultimate glorification and not the turnaround of our circumstances from bad to good. Things might get better after the job loss, they might not. Ultimately, we have redemption to hope for — and that's the ultimate good.
5. Where There’s No Vision.
Where there is no vision the people perish, but happy is he who keeps the law. — Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)
Your church will not perish without a vision statement. I think vision statements are fantastic — and helpful, but this passage isn’t a divine reminder for pastors to build a better brand direction.
This verse is often used to remind leaders that if they don’t have a compelling vision, and dream big, their people will be lost. The key word in this passage, “vision,” is actually the word revelation and it points to the Word of God or the revelation of God.
In other words, a more accurate interpretation could be: Where there is no revealed Word of God the people perish, but happy is he who obeys God’s Word.
This verse is a great picture of what happened in Nehemiah. The people rediscovered the Word of God and read it for everyone to hear and understand. The result: revival. It had nothing to do with Nehemiah’s catchy core values or the Venn diagram of his mission statement — it was the Word of God that brought life to the people.
So, this passage isn’t necessarily apropo for the building project or the five-year plan for your life center, but it is a fitting reminder that God’s Word gives us life — especially when we obey it.