11 of the Most Misinterpreted Bible Verses You Probably Quote (Part 2)
“Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you.” 1 Peter 3:15
First Peter, chapter three and verse fifteen, tells us we should always be ready to explain what we believe about God. It is more important now than ever in this post-modern world when people are commonly confronting and persecuting Christians. Nevertheless, believers often feel unprepared because they have fallen too easily for false truths and teachings. The lies, however small they may be, often lead many to misunderstand, misquote, and, unfortunately, misapply God’s word.
In Part One, we looked at six verses regarding God knocking on the door of our hearts, God’s thoughts toward us, working all things for good, an eye for an eye, judging others, and letting Him fight our battles. Now let us look at a few more common verses and their true meanings so we can accurately and genuinely defend our faith.
Misquoted Verse #7: Slain in the Spirit
Certain denominations of the Christian faith believe in what they call being “slain in the Spirit.” Typically, it refers to the idea that the Holy Spirit overcomes a believer during a time of worship, causing that person to fall to the ground and, sometimes, pass out. We know intense worship does produce an overwhelming feeling, but this is not being slain in the Spirit. In fact, according to Acts 5, that is the last thing a believer should ever want.
Acts 5:1–11 tells the story of Ananias (not the one who met Paul just after His encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road) and his wife, Sapphira. Continuing from the end of Acts 4, the church was in the process of selling their possessions and giving the money to the apostles to support their missionary journeys. Like everyone else, Ananias and Sapphira sold a portion of their land, but instead of giving all the money to the apostles, they kept some back for their own use.
Peter confronts Ananias first, not about withholding the money but about lying to the Holy Spirit. Scripture does not tell us, but apparently, Ananias had promised the Lord that he would give the entire amount. And Peter must have known about it because he says to Ananias, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? You have not lied to men but to God (v3–4).”
Verse five tells us that Ananias immediately died after hearing Peter’s words. Likewise, Peter confronted Sapphira when she arrived, and she, too, immediately died. They were both slain in the Spirit. It was the ultimate divine punishment by God Himself for their blatant presumption that He would overlook their sin.
Being slain in the Spirit has nothing to do with worship; it has everything to do with disobeying and breaking your word to God because you think He will not notice or care. Acts 5 assures us that He is indeed watching and cares very much.
You never want to be slain in the Spirit. Your fate would be unimaginably awful and eternal.
Misquoted Verse #8: Praying for Your Country
2 Chronicles 7:14, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
Believers commonly cite this verse as a plea to God to heal their country after a call to repentance. As patriotic as it is, it is not what God was saying to King Solomon. To understand it, we must back up a chapter.
In chapter six, Solomon has finished building the second temple. He dedicates it to the Lord and appeals to Him to remove His hand of judgment from Israel. His prayer continues into chapter seven, after which God appears to Solomon in verse 12 and says, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place [the temple] for Myself as a house of sacrifice.”
In the remaining verses, including verse 14, God answers Solomon’s prayer point by point, detailing all the conditions Israel must meet to gain forgiveness. He ties each point to previous covenant promises.
God did not intend 2 Chronicles 6 and 7 toward all nations throughout all time. He directed it only at Israel for that moment in its history. We know this because of Solomon’s specific references to Israel in chapter 6, verses 14, 16, 17, 21, 24, 25, 27, 29, 32, and 33. Therefore, God’s use of “My people” in 7:14 cannot apply to all believers.
Greg Koukle, founder of Stand to Reason, an apologetics ministry, illustrates this meaning beautifully.
“If you made a pledge to your son in a letter that opened “My child,” your daughter born later couldn’t claim the promise simply because she was also now your child. Your original intention was to a specific individual under a specific set of circumstances. Any other use would be abuse. It’s simply not what you had in mind when you wrote the letter.”
Though 2 Chronicles 7 is only directed at Israel, it does not mean we as a nation should stop praying for our country. Just as God showed mercy to Nineveh in the book of Jonah, He will also show mercy when a nation humbles itself and repents.
Misquoted Verse #9: The Good Samaritan
In Luke 10, Jesus encounters a certain lawyer who asks, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replies, “What is written in the law?” to which the lawyer astutely recites the Greatest Commandment.
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37–39)
Jesus tells the lawyer he answered correctly. But evidently, the lawyer was more interested in knowing how to attain eternal life on his own.
“But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?” (v29)
Jesus then launches into the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Most of us know this famous story. A Jewish man is hurt and sitting by the side of the road after enduring a brutal robbery attack. Both a Jewish priest and a Levite pass him by, but a third man — an enemy, a Samaritan — stops to help. He takes the hurt man to an inn and tells the innkeeper he will pay for the man’s stay.
One of the parable’s main points is we should love our neighbors–friends and enemies alike–and be generous in that love. But there is another point to Jesus’ story.
Remember that the lawyer was trying to find out how to get to heaven on his own. He wanted to justify himself. But Jesus challenged him, telling him that he must love his enemies every day in every circumstance. His point is that self-justification is unattainable because it is impossible to love our neighbors as He does. We are entirely incapable.
Our justification before the Father and hope for eternal life come only through Jesus and the grace He offers. Only in Him do we have any hope of heaven.
We cannot escape the obvious message of kindness, compassion, and forgiveness for others in the parable of the Good Samaritan. But it is disingenuous to gloss over the lawyer’s initial question about self-justification.
We must remember Jesus’ more significant point — eternal life can only be found through His unconditional grace. We need to exercise that same grace to others no matter who they may be.
Misquoted Verse #10: It’s Not About a Positive Attitude
Proverbs 23:7, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.”
It is unfortunate that the Bible’s verse numbers and subtitles often break up the meanings of its teachings. God did not intend for us to read His word that way. He meant for us to read it in continuous passages, which is why many misunderstand the true meaning of Proverbs 23:7.
On its own, it appears this verse is saying if you are a good person in your heart, it will show on the outside. Your positive mental attitude will be evident to others, and it will shape who you are. We cannot deny there is some truth in this viewpoint, but that is not what this Scripture means. To understand its context, we must back up to verse six and read through verse nine.
“Do not eat the bread of a miser nor desire his delicacies. For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. ‘Eat and drink!’ he says to you, but his heart is not with you. The morsel you have eaten, you will vomit up, and it will waste your precious words.”
The proverb writer is not telling us to have a positive attitude. He is cautioning us against selfish and self-centered people. Their egos will not allow them to be honest and authentic, so do not keep company with them. Do not try to compliment them or be their friend. It will be a wasted effort, and you may harm your good reputation as a follower of Christ.
The MacArthur Study Bible says this proverb also speaks to those who hoard their riches and seek every way to take advantage of others to increase their wealth. Though they seem gracious and generous, they are liars and hypocrites.
Either way, Proverbs 23:7 is clearly urging us to be cautious of such people and walk away because their hearts are not genuine, regardless of a positive attitude.
#11: The Most Misquoted Verse of All
Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Matthew 18:20 is arguably the most misquoted verse in the entire Bible.
Most people believe Jesus is talking about prayer. If two or three people pray together, He will be among them. But this presents a problem: Where is He when we pray alone?
We can clear all the confusion when we understand that Jesus was not talking about prayer but how to handle misbehaving church members.
Let us read the entire message in context, beginning in verse 15. Here, Jesus instructs us to do four things if we have a problem with someone in the church.
- Talk to him (or her) privately about it.
- If he refuses to repent, grab two or three friends — people you trust — who will back you up when you talk to him a second time.
- If he still refuses to say sorry, take your friends with you and speak to the church about the issue.
- If the church confronts him, and he still refuses to apologize or make things right, then you have permission never to have anything to do with him again. In other words, you can symbolically kick him out of the church.
Your friends are your witnesses to the offense. They are your “two or three.” They are not there to pray with you necessarily; they are there to offer evidence of your character to the church elders, a practice based on Mosaic Law found in Deuteronomy 17 and 19.
“Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness.” Deuteronomy 17:6
“One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses, the matter shall be established.” Deuteronomy 19:15
Jesus amends this Jewish law in Matthew 18:20, reminding us that He will be with us through the resolution process.
“…I am there in the midst of them.”
Just as He is with us when we pray, Jesus is also a spiritual witness to our integrity, testifying it before the Father. He is one of our “two or three” witnesses.
The next time you pray with a group of people, and someone mentions “two or three,” you may want to pull them aside and tell them what Matthew 18:20 really means, as well as the other ten misquoted verses mentioned here. With gentle teaching, together, we are better equipped to defend our faith and give a reason for the hope we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15).