Top 6 Bible Verses Often Taken Out of Context

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

What Bible verses do you see most often taken out of context? How does proper context change what people perceive verses to mean? What is one that you could add to this?

Context is Everything

When we take text out of their context we are stripping the meaning of the verses and give them a different, and usually a wrong meaning.

When we take text out of their context we are stripping the meaning of the verses and give them a different, and usually a wrong meaning.

Maybe you’ve heard it said that text taken out of context makes it a pretext and usually a false one at that.  This is true.  That’s how cults are started.  When we take text out of their context we are stripping the meaning of the verses and give them a different, and usually a wrong meaning.  Far too many people try and find one Bible verse and come up with a doctrine but that’s not the way to read the Bible.  When we want to take out or interpret Scripture properly, we need to read the entire paragraph, the entire chapter, and sometimes the entire book.  To take one verse and use it to build a belief system is highly fraught with error.  The result is that Bible verses are taken out of context and misapplied. Here are my top picks for the 6 Bible verses that I believe are most frequently taken out of context.

Matthew 7:1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

Let’s take a closer look at the entire conversation that Jesus is having here with His disciples.  After Jesus says “Judge not, that you be not judged” He goes on to say “For with the same 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.”

Jesus is not telling the listeners to not judge but to judge others after you have repented of your own faults and sins.  It’s like a hypocrite whose having an adulterous affair judging someone who just told a lie.  The hypocrite is right that telling a lie is sin but how can he or she judge someone else while they are committing adultery!?  It would be ridiculous.  Notice that Jesus is saying that the person should first judge themselves to make sure that they’re not committing the same or a worse sin.  Only when they take the speck out of their own eye do they have any right to correct a brother or sister.  Clearly Jesus is saying “take it out” of your own eye first and get your own house in order.   The word “judge” in its context is more like condemn and we are not to condemn others but if a person in the church is openly sinning, then that person must be put out of the church so you must make a judgment on this. Judging sin in the church is a command when the sin hurts the church (1 Cor 5; Matt 18:15-20).

Matthew 5:39 “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Jesus is not saying that we shouldn’t defend ourselves but He is using hyperbole or exaggeration.  What He means is that when others insult you, don’t retaliate.  Just turn the other cheek, not to have them slap you there…but to turn the other way and to leave vengeance to God (Rom 12:19. ).  Even Jesus “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet 2:23).

Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

This verse is taken out of context and ripped out of a paragraph.  This is about what to do when a brother or sister in your church sins against you. This paragraph begins in Matthew 18:15-19 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.  Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Notice that this is about church discipline and that if two or three of the witnesses (v 16) agree on the matter, then Jesus is also in agreement with them.  This verse has been misquoted to mean that you don’t need church but if there are “two or three…gathered in [Jesus’] name, there [He] is.”  The reason that is wrong is if you are born again, Jesus is already with you and you don’t need two or three others to join you in order for Him to be with you.  Matthew 18:20 is also taken out of context when people claim that if two or three are gathered then whatever they ask “it will be done for them by [the] Father.”  God may or may not answer that prayer the way you want Him to depending upon whether it’s the will of God or not, but it’s not a hard, fast rule that just by having 2 or 3 people getting together, only then will Jesus be there or whatever we ask for God will grant.

Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Paul is not telling the church at Philippi that they can do anything they want or can do all things that they want to do.  He is saying that we can do anything “through Christ” or “in Christ.”  The context is saying that we can do anything that is in the will of Jesus Christ because He is the One who will strengthen (enable) you do to it.  Paul is not saying that you can do anything you want or anything in Christ that is not His will but he is saying that we can endure all sufferings if we are in Christ because just before 4:13 Paul writes “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Phil 4:11-12).  Paul was writing this in prison and he was likely cold, hungry, and alone, yet he learned to be content in whatever state he was in…but only “in Christ.”  It might be better to think of this as saying “We can endure all things in Christ.”

Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’”

Anytime you hear Jesus say “You have heard it said” it indicates that He is referencing the Old Testament Laws. You will notice this in the Beatitudes where He lays out the Old Covenant (“You have heard it said”) against the New Covenant (“But I say to you”).   Jesus was quoting from the Mosaic Law which was found in Exodus 21:22-25 “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine.  But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life,  eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,  burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

What the “eye for an eye” meant was not that we should do to others what was done to us.  This paragraph (vv 22-25) dealt with if a pregnant woman was hit during a fight between two men and the child was injured, then they should pay for their crime.  If a child loses their life over this, then they should lose their life.  What is interesting is that this proves that a child is called a child even when in the mother’s womb, indicating that God considers the unborn as a living, breathing human being and whose life should not be aborted.

First John 4:16b “God is love.”

Yes, God is love, but that is only one tiny fraction of the manifold attributes of God.  This is like someone saying something about me to another person; “Jack is a cousin.”  Yes, I am a cousin, but I am also a husband, a father, a grandfather, a son, an uncle, and so on.  You cannot elevate one attribute of God to the exclusion of His other attributes.  Many say that a loving God would not send someone to hell because “God is love.” Yes, God is love but love and discipline go together.  Their “God is love” is a God created in their own image.  First and foremost, God is holy.  He cannot even look upon sin and that is why He turned away from Jesus, His only Son, at the cross.  I love my children and my grandchildren and I would discipline them if they ran out into the street to play because they could get hurt, or worse, killed.  My love comes with my discipline. It is exactly because I love them that I do discipline them, just as God disciplines every one of His own children (Heb 12:5-7).


What is a verse that you see taken out of context frequently?  One verse we know that is in context says it all for those who have repented and trusted in Christ.  Second Corinthians 5:21 says “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  If you have not trusted in Christ, then God sees you as having filthy rags and if you stand in your own righteousness before God someday, then you will die in your sins. No one is ever going to be good enough to save themselves.  Trust God, repent from your sins, confess them to God, and then trust in the only name that can save you from the wrath of God…Jesus Christ.  He is the one and only way to the Father (John 6:44) and there is no other way than through Jesus Christ (John 14:6).

More about the Bible: How to Interpret the Bible

Resources: New International Version Bible (NIV) THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide

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