“Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you.” 1 Peter 3:15
First Peter 3:15 tells us to have a defense for the hope that we have in Christ. Theologists call biblical defense apologetics. Regretfully, many believers do not have a defense. They cannot explain why they believe what they believe apart from the basic premise of the gospel. The lack of understanding is why many Bible verses are misused and taken out of context, especially if someone from a different faith confronts you.
How would you answer if a Muslim, Buddhist, or a Jewish person, or even a child asked you about Jesus’ parables or being slain in the Spirit? What if they asked how God works all things for good? Would you know how to answer?
Let’s look at a few common verses as well as a few lesser-known ones. You may already be misquoting them without knowing it, so you might be surprised to learn what they really mean. In Part One, we will discuss six of them and conclude with the other five next week, including arguably the most commonly misquoted verse.
Misquoted Verse #1: Knocking on the Door
Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”
Preachers often use Revelation 3:20 when they give an altar call. The idea is that if anyone hears Jesus knocking on the door of their heart, and they open the door, Jesus will come in and live within them. As beautiful as that is, and perhaps correct, that is not what this verse means.
The third chapter of Revelation is Jesus’ letter to the Laodicean church, which the Bible calls the lukewarm church. It had become complacent in its faith. They neither rejected Christ nor developed a zeal to spread the gospel. Consequently, they became known as hypocrites, professing to know Christ but not living it out in everyday life.
Their tepid behavior prompted Jesus to address the issue. They can either return to Him or get spat out like the polluted water running through their city (v16).
Jesus reminds them that He stands at the door of the church, not our hearts, knocking to see if a true believer will open it. Only a true believer who is willing to repent can open it. If he does, Jesus promises He will enter in and restore fellowship with the church.
Revelation 3:20 is not about personal salvation but the entire church’s obedience to Christ, though one might say that both lukewarm believers and lukewarm churches share the same fate.
Misquoted Verse #2: God’s Thoughts Toward Who?
Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
The Lord has thoughts about each of us (Psalm 139:17-18), no question. That fact is a great source of comfort and encouragement. But, just like Revelation 3:20, the Lord is not talking about individual believers; He is speaking to the Israelites who were being held captive in Babylon.
In this verse, through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord encourages the Israelites to seek Babylon’s peace and pray for it (v5-9), especially since their well-being depended on it. God then promises Israel in verse ten that after seventy years, He will bring them back to the land of their fathers.
Verse eleven now makes more sense. God was assuring the Israelites that He had not forgotten them. He pledged that He would bring about blessings in their future if they obeyed Him, which is why He says in verse twelve,
“Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek me and find Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity.”
Indeed, God wants us to have hope and a future with Him, but that is not what Jeremiah is conveying in this verse. His message, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is one of encouragement to His chosen people while they were in captivity, that He had not forgotten them. Not then, not now, or ever.
Misquoted Verse #3: Working All Things Together
Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
The original manuscript of the Bible states Romans 8:28, “We know that God causes all things….” Indeed, He does. In His sovereignty, God coordinates every moment and every event, whether good or bad, to bring about our best benefit, both now and eternally. But God’s greatest blessing is reserved for a special group.
Most of us stop in the middle of Romans 8:28, but it is essential to continue reading. It says He works or causes things to work together for “those who love God.” Then there is a comma to clarify the meaning. God works things together “to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Who is called according to His purpose? All of us! But those whom God has elected through the calling of salvation receive a special blessing. In other words, God is working things out for good for those who love Him and have accepted His gift of grace. These are not “super-believers.” The blessing is for all believers.
Does it mean God will not bless nonbelievers or allow them to experience goodness? No, not at all.
It means His greatest blessing, which focuses on the eternal, is reserved for those who put their faith and trust in Him. God assures us that no matter what we experience, in both joy and suffering, He will bring something good from it as a part of His faithfulness to us and His glory as part of the eternal realm.
Misquoted Verse #4: An Eye for a…Baby?
Exodus 21:23-24, “But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”
Too many people, including those of non-Christian faith, take Exodus 21:23-24 as a justification for revenge. Whether the infraction was personal or against God, some people believe they have the right to avenge the wrong. But revenge has nothing to do with what God is saying here.
We must always read the Scriptures in context, which means we must back up to verse 22.
“If men fight and hurt a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine.”
This portion of Exodus concerns protecting pregnant women. If anyone should harm a pregnant woman, even if unintentionally, the elders will rightfully punish him. Indeed, it says a life must be given for a life if either the unborn baby or mother dies (note that God is establishing that a fetus is a person here). But this does not automatically mean that this is the manner of behavior for every harm done to anyone.
It does not apply if someone has crashed into your car. It does not apply if you catch your spouse cheating on you. And it does not apply if someone insults God. This Old Testament law is simply there to protect pregnant women and their unborn children.
It is important to note that this is an Old Testament law. This law no longer concerns us because Jesus established a covenant of grace with us through His death and resurrection. Nevertheless, it does not give us the liberty to act in revenge when someone offends or hurts us.
God said vengeance is His alone (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:17-19). We are never to take matters into our own hands.
Misquoted Verse #5: Judging Others
Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
People often use Matthew 7:1 as an admonishment that we should never judge others because we risk judgment in return. The unfortunate result is that no one is held accountable, and everyone lives their way (“you do you”). Clearly, this is a misapplication of God’s word and entirely taken out of context.
God is not telling us to refrain from judging others. There are times when believers should exercise righteous judgment with careful discernment.
“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)
God never condones unfair, self-righteous, and hypocritical judgment. Such judgment tears others down. Righteous judgment, however, is given in love to help build others up. It is better to come alongside others rather than openly condemn them for their sin, which is why Jesus encourages us in Matthew 7:3-5,
“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ and, look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First, remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
We should never judge others by pointing out their sin. God, who is righteous, supports believers exercising righteous judgment that helps others and points them to Him.
Misquoted Verse #6: Holding Your Peace
Exodus 14:14, “The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”
Some believers take this moment during the Red Sea crossing to mean that we should stay silent and let God fight our battles. Perhaps there are times when we should, but for today’s Christians, we should be anything but quiet.
The New Testament tells us repeatedly that we need to speak up when facing opposition, whether personally or circumstantially, and trust that God is with us.
Matthew 10:27, “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light, and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.”
Ephesians 6:19-20, “And for me, that utterance may be given to me that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”
Colossians 4:3, “Meanwhile, praying also for us that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ.”
Matthew 10:19-20, “But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak, for it is not you who speak but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”
The Lord is our protector. He is always helping us fight our battles, but we should never stay silent in the middle of them. When we face attacks from the enemy, God reminds us to speak up and speak out the name of Jesus without fear, for He promises He will give us the words to say through the power of His Holy Spirit.
These are just a few of the many misquoted and misunderstood verses in the Bible. In Part Two, we will look at a several more, including arguably the most commonly misquoted verse. But for now, it is obvious how important it is to read and study the Bible and not simply assume its meaning based on what we have heard others say.
We must read Scripture in context and as part of whole passages and not just individual verses. Otherwise, we cannot adequately give a reason for the hope we have in Christ.