Misinterpreted Bible Verses: 4 Common Mistakes That You Absolutely Need to Note
About Misinterpreted Bible Verses
The Bible is not a list of truth propositions, although some parts are so. As such, there are misinterpreted bible verses when people treat the Bible as such. From my own experience, there are a number of reasons why people would have misinterpreted bible verses:
- Reading the Bible devoid of historical and literary context
- Reading the Bible ignoring the genre
- Reading our own culture and meaning into the Bible
In this post, I would like to highlight 4 common misinterpreted Bible verses that we would normally quote from.
1. Hot, Cold or Lukewarm in Revelation 3:16-17
Is it ok to be hot, cold or lukewarm? Most people, when talking about lukewarmness, will say that it is not good to be lukewarm. After all, Jesus said in Rev 3:16-17 that he will spit out the lukewarm water that is the Laodiceans. But is it ok to be cold? The point is that while we can make a case on being hot for God, the people have no or little explanation why Jesus would spit out those who are lukewarm but not those who are cold. And therefore, this becomes of the most commonly misinterpreted bible verses.
The answer to this question lies with its historical context. You see, if you start reading the Bible without a sense of socio-historical context, we start having problems with our interpretation.
The fact is that the adjectives ‘hot,’ ‘cold,’ and ‘lukewarm’ are not taken to describe the degree of spiritual zeal. The explanation has to do with the water supply of Colosse, Hierapolis and Laodicea. First, Colosse had a perpetual supply of cold water with an excellent taste flowing in a torrent out of the mountain and into the spring.
On the other hand, Hierapolis, 15 miles away on the hillside, may have had potable water, but it was certainly not so palatable as that in Colosse. As a matter of fact, the primary purpose of the waters in Hieropolos seems to have been quite different. As a resort area the warm and hot springs with their heavy mineral content provided the ideal place for those seeking relief from certain kinds of ailments to come and find relief basking in those hot mineral baths.
By comparison to both Hierapolis and Colosse, Laodicea had a water problem. The water arriving for use in Laodicea was mineral laden and hence nauseating, not very tasty. The transfer of water through the long aqueduct from sources in the area that were almost universally warm springs would have meant that the water arriving in Laodicea was similar to the waters at Hierapolis, only instead of being hot and mineral laden, they were lukewarm and mineral laden. Consequently, Laodicea became reasonably well known for its tepid and revolting water, which almost everyone found repulsive.
Hence, what Jesus was really saying here is that the Laodiceans, like their water supply, were disgusting and not palatable in his eyes. This sets the context for their repentence, not because they were ‘lukewarm’ in their spiritual zeal.
2. Word from the Mouth of God in Matthew 4:4
For those who have been teaching new believers on the importance of reading the Bible, Matthew 4:4 would have been one of the standard verses used to illustrate the point that the Bible is spiritual food. However, I do wonder whether Jesus really meant that when he used Deuteronomy 8:3 to rebuke the tempter’s tempation.
However, interpretation of this verse has to account for the context of Deuteronomy 8:3. Moses had reminded the Israelites that God had led them in the desert for 40 years to humble and test them. The outcome of the test is to ascertain whether Israel is willing to trust, follow and obey the lead of God and whether they would take God at His word that He would care for them.
Fast forward to Jesus’ temptation in the desert, the Accuser was actually challenging Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. The first conditional statement in Matthew 4:3 indicates that there is no doubt that Jesus was the Son of God, but whether he was the Son of God who truly obeys and trusts God is another issue. Hence, it gets to the core of Jesus’ personal trust in the Father’s leading.
A more accurate interpretation of this verse should be this: that the believer has to trust God’s leading and guidance and obey God at every step of the way, instead of trusting in material gains. Of course, the trust entails a trust and dependence on the Scripture for guidance but the application is actually broader than what we would normally interpret it to be.
3. Training a Child in His Way in Proverbs 22:6
What can go wrong in a proverb that teaches its readers to teach the child in God’s way? How can this be one of the misinterpreted bible verses? At the very least, this is how many people would quote Proverbs 22:6. An article from Crosswalk would have talked about this before.
However, contrary to popular usage, this is not about training the child in God’s way. This is seen in two ways. Firstly, the literary context (i.e. the verses before and after the verse) does not talk about God’s way but the ways of the wicked (Proverbs 22:5). Secondly, the Hebrew pronoun in this verse translate as “his” and is in no way referring to God.
Hence, the verse would go to mean that if we start a child according to his foolish ways, he will not depart from it when he grows old. Of course, the implication is the opposite, that we need to train a child in the correct way before it is too late. However, to use this verse to directly teach that we should parent in God’s way is simply not the right way to use this verse.
Hence for parents, this is an exhortation not to allow kids to continue their “wicked” ways. So if they are dishonest from young, it is the parents’ responsibility to teach them to be honest.
4. Walk, Stand or Sit in the Ways of the Sinner in Psalms 1:1
The misinterpretation in Psalms 1:1 is actually quite a common one. The standard way of reading this is that there is a progression of the one who associates with the wicked, sinners and scoffers. But saying that there is a regression of the one from walking to sitting is ignoring the parallelism that Hebrew poetry uses to make the points.
Parallelism refers to the correspondence which occurs between the phrases of a poetic line. Many times, Old Testament poetry uses parallelism to repeat a point in different ways so as to emphasize the particular point.
Therefore, in Psalms 1:1, one might be tempted to interpret the verse as someone who decided to progress from walking, to standing and finally sitting. However, a more proper way of reading it is that the poetic parallelism sets up a mirror image, where subsequent lines get more specific than the previous one. Paralleling the general category of “wicked” are the more particular categories of “sinners,” the same group but viewed religiously, and of “scoffers,” the same group but focusing on their speech. Paralleling the activity of “walking” are the polar postures of “standing” and “sitting.” Paralleling the “counsel” or beliefs of the wicked are their “way” or behavior and their “seat” or company.
I hope that this simple article will draw attention to us on how these misinterpreted Bible verses should be read. At the very least, it calls for us to be more careful in our reading of the Bible and not let our own views be read into the verse.
So are there any other misinterpreted Bible verses that you know of? Do share them in the comments and I might do further studies on them and do a follow up on them.