Thursday, July 22, 2010

Most Misused Scriptures

Those of us well-versed in the art of biblical exegesis – historical-critical style – have all been struck from time to time by a groan-inducing, double-take inspiring, eye-roll instigating misuse of Scripture, too often from the pulpit, unfortunately.

Here’s my top 3 most misused Scriptures.

1. To support how “biblical” American democracy is.
Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
2. To quietly contemplate God’s being God.
Psalm 46:10a Be still, and know that I am God.
3. To support the use of the mind and reason in Christian circles.
Isaiah 1:18a Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD
So, what’s the problem? Context. The larger context of these verses do not support the traditional popular interpretations. Galatians 5:1 is talking about spiritual freedom or freedom from bondage to sin, not national freedom or democratic freedoms. Psalm 46:10 is probably my favorite of these. The larger context is about God’s power and v. 10 is meant as a call to fearful awe in the face of that power, not quiet contemplation on God. Here’s Psa 46:6-10 for context. “Be still” is probably better translated with the idiomatic “Shut up.”
6      The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 
7      The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.   Selah 
8      Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. 
9      He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. 
10      “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
For Isaiah 1:18, I’ve heard it applied to support the use of reason in defending the faith, so I really wasn’t surprised to find an apologetics ministry using the phrase as its name or a book on logical thinking titled Come Let Us Reason. The problem is that I’m not convinced the Hebrew root יָכַח really carries the connotation of logic or reason in the usual Western post-Enlightenment sense. The typical Hebrew use is closer to “rebuke” or “correct” or “argue.” It might be close with the sense of “argue”. The verb is fairly rare in the Niphal stem (passive), but I’m pretty sure understanding it as “reason” in a modern philosophical sense is anachronistic.

There are many many other texts taken completely out of context and badly misused by preachers. This is just a small sample of three that consistently have bothered me over the years. For more bad exegesis, there’s plenty to peruse in Scott’s Youtube channel with crazy preachers like Steven Anderson, John Crowder, Paula White, Jack Van Impe, and more.


  1. I think it might be a possibility that at the end of my life regardless of what academic work I do, or what I accomplish, most people in the biblioblog community will remember me best for the videos I posted on my blog! ;)

  2. Scott, you've compiled an amazing archive of the worst preaching in the history of mankind. That's something to be proud of.

  3. I wonder where Philippians 4:13 would fall on the list.

  4. Jason, that's another good one. I don't think it literally means we can do "all things" through Christ, but Christians often use it as an "I think I can" sort of mantra for personal empowerment.

  5. Doug: You're right. Obviously Paul was speaking of the sufficiency of Christ to enable him to endure in the midst of prosperity and adversity.

  6. I agree, Jason. Btw, I added your blog to my reader today and will add to blogroll shortly.

  7. Doug: Thanks--hopefully you'll find it worthy of your time! I've been reading yours for a while now and always enjoy it. I've been somewhat interested in the use of the OT in the NT lately, so I'll be perusing your archives to read your thoughts on the matter.