6 Bible Verses You Are Probably Reading Wrong
Open a dictionary and you will find many common words often have different meanings. For example: The man hit the bat with a bat. The first bat is a nocturnal animal, and the second is a sports accessory. We know by its placement and usage which is which. The meanings of words, phrases, and sentences are based upon how they are used in different contexts.
What Is Biblical Context, and Is It That Important?
For correct biblical interpretation, we must heed contextual clarification. Every Bible student understands a critical part of Bible study is consideration of context. Lay-students of the Bible often misinterpret Scripture because they miss this very important principle: Context rules. It is of vital importance when interpreting Scripture.
Biblical context encompasses four areas which have to do with a passage of Scripture:
1. Surrounding words, sentences, and paragraphs
2. The chapter
3. The book
4. The whole of the Bible
One must also compare similar passages for clarification and research the historical, cultural, and grammatical context.
Is it hard work? Yes. Eternally important? Absolutely.
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Six Passages Commonly Taken out of Context, and the Correct Interpretation of Each
As we investigate each verse, we will look at its context to help discern the author’s intent:
1. Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
Some people use this short verse as a proof text to justify their desires for worldly gain (health and wealth).
Contextually, the Psalms speak of God’s actions in creation and history, and Israel’s history. Their purpose? To prompt proper worship of the Lord God. David wrote Psalm 37, and it is addressed to man. In it, David speaks of man’s ways as contrasted to God’s, and David exalts God throughout it.
Delight yourself in the Lord.
This first part of the verse directs our attention to God. To delight in Him means when we Christians find our pleasure and our joy in God, we spend precious time with Him in His Word and in communication with Him through prayer. We can’t help but know Him more as we do. We are changed (Romans 12:2). We love Him (1 John 4:19) and we want to please Him and (this is the caveat) we become more like Him (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18) and know what He wants of us (1 Corinthians 2:16).
So, knowing all of this, the second part of the verse – “and He will give you the desires of your heart” — means the desires of our hearts become His desires, and no longer ours. What a wonderful transformation!
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2. Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
This verse has been emblazoned upon everything from billboards to bumper stickers. It’s been taken by the general populace (even unbelievers) to mean God has plans for them to prosper (usually regarding finances).
From 627-586 B.C., the prophet Jeremiah wrote words of judgment and promises to an impenitent, wicked Judah (Jeremiah 29:1) before and during their captivity. Jeremiah repeatedly warned the nation of coming judgment if they did not repent.
Yes, there is hope scattered throughout the book, but God had Jeremiah write about how He would unsettle the nation’s selfish plans and quash their dreams.
The Assyrians had taken much of Israel captive to Babylon. Those who were left in Jerusalem felt God blessed them and cursed the captives. Jeremiah also prophesied God would re-gather them to their land, but not according to their desired timetable. Instead, their return from exile would happen in God’s timing, plan, and purpose. Israel’s repentance was key. It was unthinkable to the Jews that God would “save” them through captivity and bless them in it, even though Jeremiah’s message was clear.
Jeremiah 29 deals with God’s promised blessings to the nation, and “these blessings are a reversal or suspension of the covenant curses in Deuteronomy 28:30–34.” God promised to bring them back, and this is the important context of verse 11. According to Kevin D. Gardner in Tabletalk Magazine, “The context of Jeremiah 29:11 indicates that it is not meant as a blanket promise of worldly blessing.”
Is this message for us? The blessing is not directly to us. The message of Jeremiah 29:11 was first for the Jews both in exile and in the relative safety of Jerusalem. Our sovereign God was going to fulfill His promises as they looked toward Jesus — something God knew but the Jews obviously did not. But because Israel will be blessed, and we as Christians are grafted in as God’s people, we will share in the ultimate future fulfillment of God’s blessing in Christ.
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3. Isaiah 53:5: “But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.”
Many interpret this beautiful verse about our Savior Jesus to mean Jesus brings physical healing to us (on earth) because He took all our wounds upon Himself.
Isaiah was a prophet to the southern nation of Judah from 739-686 B.C. during a time of their spiritual decay when the northern and southern kingdoms were divided. His prophesies include those about the future kingdom and of Christ. The shining centerpiece of Isaiah’s writing is chapter 53 regarding the slain Lamb of God, wherein we find the verse of note.
This verse points to spiritual healing, not physical healing. Jesus’ is a spiritual healing wrought by His perfect sacrifice, and we fall in His grace and redemption by faith and obedience (1 Peter 2:24). We are cleansed from sin; that is how we are healed! No more death because we will be resurrected to eternal life. That is when our physical bodies will be glorified.
4. Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
The Apostle Paul wrote this epistle to the church in Philippi while under arrest. Philippi was a Roman colony, and the church took satisfaction in being citizens of Rome. They faced much satanic opposition, but still helped to financially support Paul. Two of the reasons he wrote this letter were to inspire them to unity and to combat false teachers. Stoicism played a vital role in the philosophy of the Roman-ruled environment, and this philosophy parlayed a belief that adherents could control their circumstances in order to provide contentment.
In the verses which immediately precede verse 13, Paul speaks of his contentment in whatever befell him — whether brought low or abounding, he learned “the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Paul taught contentment is not predicated on one’s current situation.
Paul submitted to the believers how we are supposed to respond when we face adversity of all kinds. Where is the victory? And can it be attained through suffering? Paul said we can prevail (have the victory) over any situation and be content by trusting in Christ and His strength and sufficiency.
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5. 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
Almost everyone has heard the statement, “God won’t give me anything I can’t handle.” That reasoning puts human understanding in the way of how God operates in His economy.
Let’s unpack this meaningful verse.
1 and 2 Corinthians were written by the Apostle Paul to the church in the Roman province which included Corinth in probably A.D. 55. Corinth was so wicked that when someone called a people “Corinthianized,” they meant debauched and corrupt. The church was unable to fully break from the encroaching culture and Paul addressed their failings with admonitions, commands, and encouragement.
Chapter ten begins with Paul reminding the Israelites about their contentious forty years in the desert while they journeyed between Egypt and Canaan. John MacArthur states, “They greatly abused their freedom and lapsed into idolatry, immorality, and rebelliousness, disqualifying themselves from receiving the Lord’s blessing.” God guided them through the wilderness, and, because of their relentless disobedience, He allowed only two men over the age of nineteen to enter the Promised land. Thus, Paul continued to remind them from where they had come by the grace of God. They had previously fallen to their own sinful temptations, and many had fallen into the same sort of depravity in Corinth.
Paul strikes the heart of the matter when he reaches verse 13. We are all sinful men, and our temptations are common to us. Temptation as it is used here, can also mean trials. God does not bring sinful temptations, but He does allow them to test our faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).
He allowed the Corinthian church to be tested, to be tried by the pervasive wickedness of its surrounding culture.
But look at the remainder of the verse, “God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
The key — and this is important — is that God provides the escape from temptations. It is not a blanket promise to remove temptations, and nowhere does it say we will not endure pain or loss (including death). Widows and widowers or parents who lose their children will tell you that every day the loss is beyond what they can handle. No way could anyone get through those losses with peace unless he or she knows Jesus, and our focus should always remain on Jesus and His work in and through us. As David said, “The Lord is my strength” (Psalm 28:7).
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6. Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me.”
Common misinterpretation of this verse claims it’s Jesus knocking on individual’s hearts. It’s not.
The Apostle John recorded Jesus’ words to the “seven churches which are in Asia” (Revelation 1:4) during his time of exile on the Isle of Patmos (circa 95 A.D.). One of the churches to whom Jesus speaks is the one in Laodicea, which received no words of commendation — only rebuke and a charge to repent. The Laodicean church foundered so badly that Jesus wanted to vomit them out of His mouth because they were lukewarm — "self-deceived hypocrites” (John MacArthur).
They said they were rich and needed nothing. Jesus told them they were “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). Jesus counseled them to get all they need from Him, not from anything of the world.
Verse 20 reveals a startling truth. Jesus has been locked out of His own church. Ligonier Ministries says, “This knock is a knock of discipline and judgment on a church that has forgotten its mission,” and “the church in Laodicea was relishing its prosperity and abandoning the gospel. Its ministry was full of pride and self-confidence, lacking dependence on Jesus for spiritual life and witness.”
There was not one believer in the Laodicean church. Jesus stood outside, knocking, and if they would just invite Him in (that is, make Him Lord of their lives), they could partake of His blessings – which outweigh anything the world has to offer.
Hermeneutics (the science of biblical interpretation) is a must for any serious student of the Bible. The term may sound as if it’s only for scholars, but aren’t we Christians all to be scholars of the Word? How else may we discern and apply the correct interpretation of the Scriptures? (For there is only one correct interpretation of every verse of the Bible.)
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Lisa Loraine Baker is the multiple award-winning author of Someplace to be Somebody. She writes fiction and nonfiction. In addition to writing for the Salem Web Network, Lisa serves as a Word Weavers’ mentor and is part of a critique group. She also is a member of BRRC. Lisa and her husband, Stephen, a pastor, live in a small Ohio village with their crazy cat, Lewis.