Last weekend, I read a helpful book by Eric Bargerhuff titled The Most Misused Verses in the Bible: Surprising Ways God’s Word Is Misunderstood (Bethany House, 2012)Eric takes the reader through 17 often misquoted verses and helps us see their proper meaning and application.

Since some of these misinterpretations are more damaging than others, Eric doesn’t recommend we run to correct people who innocently mis-apply the passages. He does recommend, however, that pastors and teachers take special care to avoid the common mistakes that lead to misuse.

I should note that pastors and scholars don’t always agree on the meaning and application of some of these passages. Personally, I found myself appreciating Eric’s analysis of some of the more rampant misunderstandings that come from these verses without necessarily agreeing with all the particulars of Eric’s interpretation. Still, the book is a helpful tool that resembles F. F. Bruce’s Hard Sayings of Jesus.

Here’s a look at the “most misused verses” Eric writes about in his book:

What are some other verses that you see commonly misused? How can we as pastors help people interpret the Bible rightly?

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35 thoughts on “The 17 Most Misused Verses in the Bible”

  1. Good subject! In more conservative, fundamentalist corners, I’ve often heard 1 Thessalonians 5:22 misused. Paul wrote: “Abstain from all appearances of evil” (KJV). The popular application of this verse suggests that it teaches us to avoid anything that looks like evil. Yet this is not what the verse means in context. “Evil” in verse 22 is contrasted with “good” in verse 21. “Good” is used with reference to prophetic utterances (mentioned in verse 20) which upon examination (verse 21) are found to be genuine. In this light, “evil” likely refers to counterfeit prophetic utterances. It’s very important that we examine the immediate context for the intended meaning before jumping to applications. This is what pastors should teach people to look at when studying Scripture (see: http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2007/05/05/how-do-i-interpret-scripture/)

    As to the misuse of I Thessalonians 5:22, many things have been condemned by using this verse as an isolated injunction commanding us to abstain from anything that looks like evil. Certainly, the New Testament commands us to “abhor (or hate) what is evil and cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9), but this is an example of a more general command of Scripture. Defining evil should be based on explicit biblical commands specifically naming evil.

    The danger of misapplying I Thessalonians 5:22 becomes even more significant when one remembers that Jesus condemned the Pharisees for judging based on appearances. They were quick to label and condemn people based on superficial evaluations of appearance.

    On one occasion, Jesus exposed this tendency by saying, “John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking; and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man, and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners!’” (Luke 7:33-34). Jesus rebuked the Pharisees saying, “You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15, NLT).

    God rebuked this tendency long ago when He said to Samuel, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). It’s much too easy to allow this form of Pharisaic judgmentalism to enter our hearts! We must reject the tendency of hastily arriving at judgmental conclusions based on superficial evaluation of outward appearances.

    1. LG says:

      Yes, yes, yes. I was about to comment and say the same thing — it’s my misused-Bible-verse pet peeve. And wouldn’t the verse probably be better translated as, “Avoid every form of evil” or “Avoid all kinds of evil” or something similar?

  2. Marvin says:

    Jeremiah 29:11 and Jeremiah 29:13

  3. Keith says:

    I used to go to a church that was influenced by dominionism, and a popular verse there was “Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13). They meant “occupy” as political conquest, as in Germany occupying France.
    And to cite an example from another response, the phrase “friend of sinners” has been used to justify fellowship (for its own sake) with the lost. Not that that’s always wrong, but proponents usually leave out the part about Jesus calling the lost to repentance when He reached out to them (Luke 5:32).

  4. kevin peterson says:

    I know someone who had Ruth 1:6 as their “wedding verse”.
    All because of the phrase, “Where you go, I’ll go.”

    And 3 John 1:2, used by Oral Roberts as proof that God always wants you healthy.

  5. jm says:

    “You shall not murder” most often quoted as “you shall not kill” with an accompanying anti-war sentiment.

  6. Jason says:

    John 3:16 didn’t make the list?

  7. Reg Schofield says:

    How about Malachi chapter 3:10 . Every time in the past my home church needed money , someone would stand up and speak this verse and guarantee material blessings from heaven . Totally ignoring the context that this blessing/curse was directed to covenant Israel. Thankfully this has stopped .

  8. Philip Meade says:

    “Behold I stand at the door at knock. . .” Revelation 3:20

  9. Phoebe says:

    Psalm 46:10 (“Be still and know that I am God”) is a favorite among those who teach mysticism and contemplative prayer.

  10. Miguel says:

    I couldn’t agree more about 1 Corinthians 10:13. I’m sick of that one being crammed down peoples throats as a trivialization of their suffering. Sometimes we do need to depend on grace, something outside us, because we are not enough in and of ourselves to face the trials God brings into our lives. This is why He does it.

    But I’m not entirely sure how “two or three are gathered” or “repent and be baptized” are abused. Is the first one abused in a charismatic way and the second in a sacramental? Because honestly, I feel these two verses are often UNDER used, or explained away instead of allowing their truth to confront us and inform our practice of spirituality.

    1. kevin peterson says:

      Where I hear the Matt 18 “two or three are gathered” misused is by my singing-pastor who tells the congregation, “we are glad you are all here today, for the Bible says where “two or three are gathered” God is with us.”

      But Matt 18 at that part is not about church worship services, but about church discipline.
      Make sense?

      1. Miguel says:

        I not so sure. Just because the context is about church discipline, this does not mean that the truth of Jesus word does not extend beyond it. He is most certainly present with His people when they gather to worship, this has been the understanding of the church for centuries, which is why worship in many traditions begin with the invocation: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” We recognize we are in the presence of the sacred when we gather to hear his word and give thanks. I think Jesus especially present with His church whenever they gather to pray, not just to give them the authority to excommunicate. This special presence, contextually, adds authority to the process of church discipline, but I propose that this authoritative presence is not limited to correctional discipline, but also applies to whenever a called and ordained servant of the word proclaims the Gospel to the saints. There is positive discipline, or discipleship, that happens in worship.

        1. kevin peterson says:

          It is true, that where Xians gather, God is with them, just as it is true that when Xians are alone, God is with them. And where there are no Xian, God is there too. Many verses in the Bible make these points clear: God is everywhere. Omnipresent.

          But if the context of the verse is church discipline, then it’s just strange to me to start using it in other context just because it sounds good.
          For example, you’d never take Luke 22:36 to mean that Jesus wants all his followers to buy swords. The context doesn’t imply that.
          Same thing here.

          1. Matt says:

            I think the irony behind the misuse lies in the fact that often times the one using the verse is justifying Christians who meet in groups of 2 or 3 and forgo joining a church which actually practices the ordinances and discipline. i.e. “I don’t have to go to one of your ‘man made’ church structures like a legalist, because wherever 2 or 3 are gathered God is there.” well not quite, in fact the context being about discipline, it reinforces the authority of God’s called elders and the necessity for membership and accountability, rather than diminishing it as unnecessary or “man made.” Where 2 or 3 are gathered, they have the Lord’s authority to exercise discipline in God’s Church. He is backing up the previous claim that what the church binds on earth will be bound in heaven(or loosed)

      2. Daniel says:

        Although Matthew 18:20 may be connected to the previous thought, it is also possible that the verse begins a new thought on God’s presence within the Christian community. This fits nicely with statements in the Talmud which state that YHWH’s shekinah glory resides with two or three who read the Torah.

    2. Frank says:

      As Matt and Kevin pointed out, the first has to do with church discipline, not with prayer gathering. The second verse is abused by saying that baptism is necessary for salvation.

  11. Chris Land says:

    Revelation 3:20 is another. I think we need Christians getting into good study Bible and commentaries to help interpret scripture.

  12. Alex Costa says:

    I’m curious about Proverbs 22:9. How is it misused by people? I see it as a reminder to raise up kids to love God. Am I wrong or do other people use it in wrong ways?

    1. Dan Benitez says:

      “Train up a child according to his way…”

  13. Dan Benitez says:

    A few more for the list:
    Proverbs 18:24
    Job 23:10
    I Samuel 17:29
    Haggai 2:7

    1. Dan Benitez says:

      Prov. 18:24 A man that has friends will be destroyed.
      Job 23:10 When God tries me, He will find out that I am innocent.
      I Samuel 17:29 “was it not but a word”
      Haggai 2:7 desirable things (plural referring to treasure not Christ)

  14. Terry says:

    2 Chronicles 7:14

    If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

    1. CAYCE says:

      The Key here is where he says if MY people which are called upon MY name. This was talking about the “followers” not the world. I dont really think this is a mis-interpretation, the question is, are his people called upon his name humbling themselves, praying and seeking his face? Are they turning from their wicked ways. (Previous chapter explains alot though.) Every promise that we stand on has a stipulation to it, if we are not seeing results does not mean the Bible is wrong. I do agree that some of these verses are misused but some of them i have seen are PROMISES. If we dont do what he tells us to do to receive the promise thats our fault. Alot of these problems are lack of Faith and not having Gods understanding. We try to put our feeble minds to work to figure out how it all works which goes against faith.

      1. CAYCE says:

        But the Comforter, [which is] the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
        John 14:26

      2. Frank says:

        Cayce, you are right about the previous chapter being a key. 2Chr 7:14 is a direct answer to Solomon’s prayer in chapter 6

  15. Carl C. says:

    Matthew 23:37, as making a soteriological statement. “‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”. It is decidedly NOT this kind of statement, easily seen by its context as addressing the Jews’ rejection of Messiah during that age.

  16. Andrew says:

    “He who is without sin among you cast the first stone”

    This is often used to justify committing sin/wrongdoing. Also used to point out hypocrisy among Christians.

  17. Dave says:

    Philippians 1:21-24 (“to die is gain”) as a way of denying the pain surrounding death.
    1Chronicles 4:9-10 “The Prayer of Jabez”

  18. Daniel says:

    Proverbs 29:18 KJV. “With vision, the people perish.”

    1 Cor. 2:9. ““What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard,
    and what no human mind has conceived—the things God has prepared for those who love him—”

  19. Jim says:

    A little late to the party but I include 1 Cor. 2:9, “What no eye has seen…” has nothing to do with heaven. The next verse says, “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit…”

  20. James says:

    Matthew 25:31-46
    This passage is not about social justice, but how people treat the church

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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