Commonly Misinterpreted Bible Verses
Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount
Christians can't judge. The Bible says so...or does it?
Matthew 7:1 (ESV) - "Judge not, that you be not judged.”
This verse is probably one of the two or three most misquoted, misused and completely misunderstood verses in all of Scripture. You can hear both theologically conservative and liberal Christians misuse and abuse this verse. You can hear unbelievers quote this wrongly. And even the atheist will at times quote this verse when arguing with a Christian, borrowing our own world view (in an errant fashion) in order to justify or defend themselves.
Why is this verse so problematic? Let’s start by looking at it in its proper context before we continue.
This comes from the famous Sermon on the Mount which is covered in Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7. The entirety of Matthew chapter 6 has to do with how we live out our faith in public versus in private. Jesus gives a series of examples of hypocrisy, being defined as one putting on a performance publicly to deceive others into thinking you are more holy or spiritual than you are.
The reason a Jew of Jesus’ day, or a Christian of today would do this is for the admiration of the world or of other believers. Jesus lets us know that our motivation should be holiness and godliness, not the recognition and admiration of others. If we use our faith solely for worldly purposes, our reward in heaven will be exchanged for a temporary earthly gratification.
Jesus transitions the sermon in chapter 7 to how we live out our faith practically with one another; to how we recognize false believers and hypocrites among the believers; and finally concludes with how we respond to His own words to us.
Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV)
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.”
A superficial reading of this passage would lead a person to wrongly conclude that Jesus is condemning any judgment of thoughts, words, or deeds. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Hypocritical judgment or righteous judgment, what's the difference?
In Matthew 7:15-20, during the same sermon, Jesus tells us to beware of false prophets and that we would know them by their fruit (a judgment of thoughts, words and deeds), and even that we should be judging which fruits are good and which are bad (a judgment).
Jesus and the apostles had many instances in fact where they commanded a judgment be made on a person’s thoughts, words and deeds (see Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Pe. 4:1; 1 Co. 5, etc.).
This is also one of those passages where people think they find a “contradiction”. Again a superficial reading from an unbeliever or any Christian who is not truly seeking to know the Lord through His word would probably result in this assumption.
God has instructed us to judge a righteous judgment (John 7:24). The context of hypocrisy being defined for us in chapter 6 as attempting to appear as superior to - or more holy than we really are is how we should go into this chapter.
Jesus is telling us that it is unacceptable that the judgments we render be done out of hypocrisy. When we are guilty of the exact same sin, we need to be sure we have dealt with that sin (or are actively doing so) before we start attempting to correct our fellow believers. And when we do help turn our brothers and sisters from an error, we should be seeking to do so with love, gentleness and humility with our motivation being to restore them in their fellowship with God (Gal.6:1-3).
Let’s all remember that Jesus has commanded us to judge certain things. However, let us also remember that there are certain judgments reserved only for God Himself. Those judgments are when we attempt to assume we know a person’s heart motivation, or that we assume it is up to us to condemn a person to hell. We are to seek to make disciples, discern the truth, and help one another maintain our relationship with Jesus Christ.
An example of the love of money - Creflo Dollar and Leroy Thompson dancing on money
The prosperity gospel has nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ at all
Is Money Really the Root of all Evil?
The next most commonly misunderstood verse on the list is 1 Timothy 6:10.
This has got to be one of the top three or four most confused and misinterpreted Bible verses there are. I remember as a child hearing people frequently say that money is the root of all evil. You would hear unbelievers; Christians and occasionally even preachers bemoan money, possessing money or the enjoyment of any kind of luxury. It was as if they thought that the Bible condemned both money and wealth.
Here is the actual verse from 1 Timothy 6:10 (KJV)
"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."
My friends money is just a tool. It’s paper and coin that have only the value that people attribute to it.
What God addresses here is not whether money, which is inanimate, is evil. God is addressing the love of money. And in particular God takes those to task who would love money so much that they would put it on a pedestal before God.
He says that He will have no other gods (little “g”) before Him (Exodus 20:3). We are called or commanded by God to make Him our number one priority and follow Him (Deut. 6:5; 18). The rest of the details of our lives will flow from a simple attitude of humility, faith and obedience to God (Matt. 6:24; 33).
There are plenty of verses in Scripture that talk about money as a blessing, or the godly use or stewardship of it (Prov. 11:1; 11:24-25; 21:5; 21:20; 24:4). And there are also other verses where Jesus makes it very clear that an attitude where Jesus is second in your life to money or materialism (or anything) will keep us from God and can keep someone from receiving eternal life in heaven (Matt. 19:21-29).
That is a shame. I pray that we never let money and material possessions come between us and our commitment to our Lord; and especially not between us and our faith in Him.
One Perfect Life: The Complete Story of the Lord Jesus
You shall love your neighbor as yourself
“…'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'…” Mark 12:31 (ESV)
This verse is often misunderstood in a much more subtle way than the others. It is usually misinterpreted by those who actually are trying to adhere to it and honor the God who commanded and has exemplified it. And as such, it can be more difficult for us as brothers and sisters to see when we are starting to stray.
As always we need to look at the immediate context of the verse before going further.
Mark 12:28-34 (ESV)
“And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'
The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." And the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."
And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.”
Clearly we see that the Jewish scribe after hearing Jesus reasoning with the Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees wanted to glean wisdom from the Lord. And we clearly see that he was very concerned about which command carried the greatest weight.
The Jews were given the Mosaic Law by God (to point to the need for Jesus as Savior). And they were highly concerned with how to earn their way to heaven.
How much of a good person do I need to be? Which laws do I have to focus on? Which laws are most important? What do I have to look/act like? These were the types of questions a Jew would be compelled to ask.
Jesus gives the scribe the context of our verse. We are to love God above and beyond everything and everyone else, with all that we are and all that we have.
That means we are to love and choose God over our families if it ever came to that. It means that we choose God over our friends, our jobs, and our hobbies. We choose God over our pets. It means that we are called to choose God over our skin color, sexual practices and attractions, our politics, and our sports teams. Nothing at all trumps or takes precedence over our commitment to our Lord. We are called to love Him even more than our own lives.
So that was the first or most important command. The second one, much like the first, is the subject of our discussion today.
Some Christians may be surprised that Jesus was quoting the Old Testament here (Lv. 19:18; 34). This is what God said from the beginning, when He gave the Law, not just when Jesus spoke this in the Gospels.
In Leviticus 19 God is expounding on the Ten Commandments (Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8-13). And in these two verses specifically He is instructing us not to seek revenge and for the Jewish people to not only take foreigners into their country but also into their covenant faith community of believers.
Jesus takes this beautiful passage and makes it very simple for us. All of the commandments can be summed up in two. Give God our full love and priority, and our neighbors to be treated and loved as equally as ourselves.
This is hard to argue with on a humanistic level. And of course it is impossible to argue with on spiritual level.
From a practical perspective, as a Christian we cannot fully or properly love others our even ourselves if we do not have God in the proper place and priority in our lives. And if we do, the love of our neighbor will follow.
The confusion comes when believers think that they have to be a doormat for other people. We see verses about patience (long-suffering), turning the other cheek, peacefulness, gentleness, self-control, etc. and feel a sense of burden or guilt if we do not tolerate or even enable any behavior that we are faced with. It’s almost as though we’ve become confused into thinking that godliness and obedience involves preserving someone else’s ego, physical comfort, or delicate feelings more than it does seeking their actual best interest spiritually.
It’s a question of perspective. The Biblical definition of love requires us to seek the highest and best good for whoever we are near, we interact with, or whom we think about. In other words a person’s salvation (justification) or faith in Christ would be the absolute top priority. The second would be their holiness (sanctification) which is the process of our thoughts, words and deeds being brought into conformity with those of Jesus Christ. It’s a process, not instantaneous. However, it is a greater priority than food, feel-good emotions, or fun. And obviously physical needs would be a very close third. God lets us know that it is nothing short of shameful to not help with our brother or sister’s needs when we are capable.
What does loving your neighbor as yourself look like?
The Biblical definition of love also requires self-sacrifice. In context to our passage here in Mark 12, it would be that we do not seek our own needs and desires as superseding our neighbors. Our possessions, knowledge and time ultimately belong to the Lord to be used for benevolence to our neighbor.
See the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The Samaritan man was the victim of racial prejudice and profiling, as well as a sort of religious prejudice as well. He was seen as a lesser human being, nearly equivalent with a dog to a Jew of the time. The man risked his health, his ceremonial cleanliness, and possibly his reputation. And the man also gave of his time, his resources, his mind and efforts, and even his own money in an extravagant way. This is the picture of ultimate love and graciousness to our neighbor (and also our enemies).
Jesus, being God in the flesh, was and is our perfect example of this. He was able to temper grace and forgiveness with direct and confrontational truth with believers and unbelievers alike. He called Peter (a believer) Satan at one point as a means of correcting Him. Jesus was still being the perfect example of true love. Peter needed that more than he needed his ego stroked or his feelings protected.
Jesus called out the woman at the well on her sexual immorality. He told the adulteress woman to go forth and sin no more. And Jesus had scathing confrontations with the Pharisees and other religious men in Jerusalem during the Passion Week especially.
Jesus told us to turn the other cheek and yet he had a righteous anger and chased out the money changers in the Temple twice. He overturned the tables and on one of the occasions actually fashioned a whip of sorts. Love was still on display here. First the priority and love Jesus had for God superseding that of man; and secondly the fact that a true and righteous love of man could not tolerate such spiritual injustice.
Jesus showed love to countless men and women when he healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, made the lame walk, fed the hungry and raised the dead. And to all of those same people it was paramount to His purpose that Jesus made sure to proclaim the Gospel and glorify God in every circumstance. Jesus did not waste any act of kindness or compassion as a means to glorify God and proclaim repentance and salvation for sinners.
Until the time that God had appointed for the crucifixion came, Jesus did not let the men who wished to seize or kill him touch him. He did not lay down and comply with their every request to appease them.
Though Jesus taught obedience to the law (civil law), He did not show reverence for political and religious leaders to puff up their egos and cushion their pride. He spoke more highly of John the Baptist than of any other man born of women, and yet John the Baptist was highly confrontational to Herod and the religious leaders of the Jews.
We know that we do not need to be politically correct. We do not need to be overly concerned with offending people with the truth.
Our primary concern should be that we are seeking God’s glory and the greatest good of our neighbors, not simply self-interest.
I’ll leave with a quote from Charles H. Spurgeon:
“Sometimes our spirits are overwhelmed, and our hearts are grieved, when we see the wickedness of our streets. The common habit with the harlot or the profligate, is to drive them out of society as a curse. It is not right, it is not Christian-like. We are bound to love even sinners, and not to drive them from the land of hope, but seek to reclaim even these. Is a man a rogue, a thief, or a liar? I cannot love his roguery, or I should be a rogue myself. I cannot love his lying, or I should be untrue; but I am bound to love him still, and even though I am wronged by him, yet I must not harbor one vindictive feeling, but as I would desire God to forgive me, so I must forgive him. And if he so sins against the law of the land, that he is to be punished (and rightly so,) I am to love him in the punishment; for I am not to condemn him to imprisonment vindictively, but I am to do it for his good, that he may be led to repent through the punishment; I am to give him such a measure of punishment as shall be adequate, not as an atonement for his crime, but to teach him the evil of it, and induce him to forsake it. But let me condemn him with a tear in my eye, because I love him still. And let me, when he is thrust into prison, take care that all his keepers attend to him with kindness, and although there be a necessity for sternness and severity in prison discipline, let it not go too far, lest it merge into cruelty, and become wanton, instead of useful. I am bound to love him, though he be sunken in vice, and degraded. The law knows of no exception.”
I pray that you consider this, and God bless!