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4 of the Most Misquoted Bible Verses

To Christians, the Bible is the word of God. It’s the best-selling book of all time and an ancient source of wisdom and encouragement. Some parts of the Bible are so well-known that people love to quote verses even without truly understanding what they’re supposed to mean. In this blog post, we’ve taken two of those verses and put them into context.

Philippians 4:13

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Why it’s quoted a lot

This verse almost reads like the best motivational poster in history. You can do all things because Jesus Christ is giving you the strength to do so. It’s not a coincidence this is such a widely quoted verse; many Christians do find a strength in Jesus that they wouldn’t be able to find in themselves, and it does enable them to do things that they otherwise couldn’t have done.

Out of context, this verse is very powerful and it looks like it can be applied to all areas of life. It’s a normal affirmation from a Christian perspective. You can almost picture someone standing in front of the mirror giving himself a pep talk before an important meeting. “You can do this.”

But if it can be applied to everything in life, there’s a risk that the meaning of the message gets lost. If you’re having a rough week, you can remind yourself that you can do all things because Jesus gives you strength. But what if you’re running a half-marathon and you need a second wind for the last mile? What if you’re in bed and it’s hard to get up in the morning? What if the reason it’s hard to get up in the morning is because you’ve been drinking the night before? Does Christ still strengthen you to do all those things, too?

Why it doesn’t mean what you may think it means

This verse comes from a letter that the apostle Paul (and his companion Timothy) wrote to the church in Philippi, an ancient city in what is now Greece. The letter is about finding joy in Christ, being humble, and even the gift of ‘suffering for Christ’ (Philippians 1:29). Not quite the stuff motivational posters are made of.

Paul never means that you can do anything because Jesus makes you able to do them. He is telling you that you’ll be able to do all the things he talks about in his letter by finding strength in Jesus. You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength, but those things will be suffering for a good cause, staying humble, and finding joy in those things that aren’t valued in most of the world.

Matthew 7:1

“Judge not, that you be not judged.”

Why it’s quoted a lot

There are many stereotypes about Christians. Some will picture Christians as the two grumpy old men watching the Muppets, some will see them as naive, but one of the most popular stereotypes is that Christians are buzzkills. They know what’s good for you and won’t hesitate to point out what people should and should not be doing. And when you think someone tells you not to do something, it’s easy to feel like they’re judging you. That’s where this verse is pretty handy to have ready. It’s where Jesus tells everyone that they shouldn’t judge, and that must mean that people shouldn’t judge you.

This verse sounds like the perfect defence. Whenever someone calls you out on something they don’t like about you, you can always reply with, “But Jesus says you shouldn’t judge.” If you’re holding a microphone, you can even drop it and walk away with a smirk. Another argument won.

Why it doesn’t mean what you may think it means

Just like so many other Bible verses, this line is most easily misused out of context. The full paragraph is a bit more complicated:

Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 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? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Ouch. That sounds a bit different to the simple out-of-context version. But still, Jesus tells people not to judge others, right?

Well, there’s more to it than that. First of all, he’s telling people not to judge others before they have truly examined themselves and have come to terms with their own faults. That’s not an escape from being judged by others, but a reminder that you’re probably falling short on your own standards.

Speaking of standards, this verse comes about two-thirds into the Sermon on the Mount, a famous teaching by Jesus. The three chapters that form the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, and 7) are often seen as the core of Jesus’ teaching. In that sermon, he sets the standards that all people should live by.

If you take that broader context into account, this verse isn’t simply telling people that they can’t judge others. It’s another high standard you should live by. In fact, you could even suggest that he calls you to live a life that makes it impossible for people to judge you.

To reach such a high standard, you’ll need the accountability of others as well. So not only does this verse call you to look at yourself and remove the wrongs from your own life, in a way it even sets you up to involve others in your life so you can raise your own standards. Now that’s worth a mic drop.

1 Timothy 6:10

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

Why it’s quoted a lot

In this letter by Paul to Timothy, a familiar phrase suddenly pops up halfway through the sixth chapter. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Many people probably stopped reading after that, and then never tried to actually remember the phrase, because there’s a good chance you know it by its short version: money is the root of all evil.

We’ll get back to the inappropriate shortening of the verse a bit later, but first let’s see what’s appealing about this verse. For one thing, it ties money to evil. If you’ve got a lot of money, that’s not necessarily a positive note, but most people simply don’t have a lot of money. Being poor and evil is one thing, but if there’s a phrase in the Bible that tells you that being rich is evil (spoiler alert: it doesn’t), maybe being poor makes it easier to be a little better.

On a second note, it helps people understand the world. There’s a lot of unfairness in the world we live in. We can’t help but see how this unfairness most clearly plays out in terms of money: the difference between rich and poor can already be critical in the Western world, and things get even worse in other countries where the differences are even greater. If (the love of) money is the basis for the injustice, then the fault lies with the people who have the money. It makes life so much easier to understand.

Why it doesn’t mean what you may think it means

Or it would make life easier to understand, if only that idea wasn’t wrong. The Bible never views life as easy or uncomplicated. Even though it provides many guidelines on how to create an equal and fair society, it also places a lot of emphasis on helping the poor, almost as if it’s a given that people will always live in a broken and unfair world.

And then there’s the rest of the text. The people’s popularized version ‘money is the root of all evil’ is quite different from what the text actually says. The first difference is that the letter talks about the love of money. To love money, you don’t actually need to have it. In fact, you can be poor and so obsessed with money, that it can corrupt your heart.

Now, the Bible can be pretty clear that money can get in the way of living a good life. And the rest of the text seems to imply that as well, when Paul says that, “some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” The some he is talking about here let their greed (love for money) get in the way of their salvation. That’s a serious issue, but it’s a lot more complicated than the simpler version of this verse would have you believe.

Luke 11:9

 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

Why it’s quoted a lot

This might just be the most exciting promise in the entire Bible. Jesus is preaching his sermon on the mount, and when he’s talking about prayer, he tells his audience that if they ask, it will be given to them. No wonder this one stuck around; that’s an exciting message if you ever heard one.

If you could get anything you would ask for, what would you pray about? Clearly, if this passage is true, that’s all there is to prayer. It’s almost too good to be true, but to exciting to ignore. So why ignore it if it doesn’t hurt to ask?

Why it doesn’t mean what you may think it means

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In spite of what the slick preacher on television might tell you, Jesus isn’t promising you the world if you would only ask for it. He’s promising you the answer to the questions that would arise after he’s talked about the model for prayer he introduced.

Right before this passage, Jesus talks about the Lord’s Prayer. It’s the most famous prayer in the world, and it’s Jesus’ example of how we should pray.

So He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Our Father in heaven
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.”
(Matthew 6:1-5)

When you compile a mental list of all the things you want and check it against the list of Jesus’ example of praying, there’s a good chance you can see a difference in what Jesus says you should ask for.

That shiny car you were hoping for? Hardly compares to the daily bread Jesus meant. Being popular in school or at work? Why not focus on getting your sins forgiven first? Because if you ask for those things, they will be given to you. And in the end, that’s just as exciting a promise.

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