Hi there! What do you think of people taking scriptures “out of context”? For example, I was talking with my friends about Philippians 4:13, which is often used as encouragement. My friends said that it’s harmful to consistently quote that verse out of context, since that verse is, of course, part of a much larger story, but I say what’s the harm in someone using that verse for their own personal comfort and encouragement? Thanks!
Hey my friend, here are my general feelings about this.
1) Yes, Christians tend to take verses way out of context.
2) But most of us do it innocently without harm, because we just don’t know all the theology on that yet.
3) Certain Christians make a big deal about taking verses out of context, so they become the biblical equivalent of Grammar Nazis.
So if a superstar athlete wants to tattoo Philippians 4:13 all over his ribcage — well, why not? If a verse like Psalm 34:18 or John 3:16 can inspire someone and give them hope, then I say all the more power to them.
I would even suggest that most of us probably have entire chunks of the Bible all wrong. In other words, because of our human bias and our hazy filter of sin, I doubt any one person can properly contextualize the entire Bible at all times.
We have so many interpretive hermeneutics where everyone thinks “My camp is right,” but the older I get, the less I’m sure this or that guy has it totally right. I know dudes who are scholar-expert-level on the Bible but they’re total jerks, so it’s not working for them. I know others who are beginners at Scripture and still need the table of contents, but God has tenderized them with the little biblical knowledge they have.
When we get to Heaven, I can guarantee we will laugh at all the ways we misinterpreted Scripture and be shocked at what some passages really meant. And we’ve been doing that for hundreds of years already. Example: slavery.
Yes, certain verses need to be in context. It’s true that false teachers can twist verses to mean inappropriate things. It’s true that cherry-picking verses can lead to ugly triumphalist theologies where we’re secretly saying, “God is on my side and not yours.”
But I really don’t meet many Christians who are doing this on purpose to be bad people. They are simply misinformed or only on the first lap of faith. If I sit down and talk with someone who is obviously taking a verse out of context, usually they get it. No one but a false teacher actually wants to be a false teacher.
Personally, I am a literal Bible-reader who sees Scripture with a Christ-redemptive focus, so I try not to allegorize. I try not to make myself the “hero,” so Philippians 4:13 wouldn’t be about me. A storm is just a storm and not a “storm in my life.”
But then — these days I’m more often balancing rigid doctrine with our evident desire for the poetic and aesthetic. Humans have a need for beauty and symmetry and inspiration. There is tons of single-verse encouragement in the Bible. I need that sometimes. God does occasionally call us to be the hero. And I believe God speaks to the storms in our lives. So I’m not going to neurotically over-think how I am declaring certain verses. When life is tough, like on my face in tears with hands shaking and world breaking, usually all I can do is shotgun a verse or two over myself: and that is enough. That is God’s grace.