It amazes me the lack of Bible understanding among church leaders who spout Bible verses profusely without even a basic grasp of the context of the verse or what the author was trying to communicate. There is always an appearance of deep spiritual insight and Biblical authority, but a closer look at the scriptures suggests they need to go back to the basics of the Word before attempting to teach others.

That’s not to say I have it all figured out, by any means. I’ve never claimed such. But that’s the thing; they have. They have claimed for decades to have the Holy Spirit’s guidance into “all truth,” while everyone else is claimed to NOT have that benefit. So when you make a claim like that, you better have a rock solid exegesis of the Scriptures to back up your claims.
The following are just a few sample verses that are taken wildly out of context:

1 Thessalonians 5:22 – Abstain from all appearance of evil.

This out of context gem is perhaps one of the most far-reaching distortions of Scripture used by this church. It is misapplied to create all kinds of unbiblical teachings, such as not going into a movie theater, not buying alcohol, even for cooking purposes, etc.
The only problem is that this isn’t what Paul’s saying at all. He isn’t saying to avoid the “optics” of looking like you’re participating in something evil, but was teaching the Thessalonian church to abstain from the actual evil itself. In other words, when evil appears, don’t partake in it. Abstain from it.
What’s sad is that this faulty interpretation could have been so easy to discover and correct decades ago. Merie actually taught that the American Standard Version (1901) of the Bible was acceptable in addition to the King James Version (can I get a show of hands of who didn’t know that?). That changed in later years, I’m assuming after her death, probably because they had already formed doctrines based on misunderstandings derived from archaic King James grammar. Since the ASV wording called into question the doctrine, they threw out the ASV rather than even consider the possibility that their interpretation could have been faulty.
Here’s what the ASV says:
1 Thessalonians 5:22 – abstain from every form of evil. (ASV)
Kind of changes things, doesn’t it? It’s not “optics” that Paul is concerned about, it’s the evil actions themselves we’re to abstain from. 

This obsession with appearances has led to a church culture that thrives on optics: How one looks on Sunday morning; whether a man is allowed to be seen wearing shorts or blue jeans; whether anyone sees you buy alcohol, or if you order beer battered fish for dinner, making sure everyone knows there’s no alcohol in it; making sure one looks spiritual, even if takes gossiping about the latest so-called “fallen away Christian” to do it; making sure the church always comes off looking unified, even if everyone knows it’s a facade of forced unity, etc.

Could these practices fit any more perfectly the Pharisees that Jesus so often laid into? I contend that God is far more concerned with the heart, and not at all with all of these foolish attempts to look righteous via outward appearances. He doesn’t care a whit whether you ladies wear nylons on Sunday morning. Just saying.

Anyone ever heard the story of the disheveled college kid who showed up for church?

Isaiah 62:2 –  And thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name.

This is probably simultaneously the funniest and saddest example of an out of context verse. It’s quoted in Merie’s Church Lesson, which was a standard curriculum for me as a child getting indoctrinated into their line of reasoning. It appears under the heading “Does it matter what the church is called?” Presumably, we’re supposed to realize that “Yes, it does matter.” The only problem with shoehorning this verse into this topic is that God told Isaiah just a couple of verses down what that new name is, and I’ll give you a hint; it’s not Church of Christ:

Isaiah 62:4 – Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah…

That’s right. The new name that the mouth of the Lord shall name is “Hephzibah” according to the prophet Isaiah. I have yet to see a May Meeting consensus that the name of the church ought to be changed to Hephzibah. 🙂

Acts 4:12 – Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

This is another misapplied verse from the Church Lesson. Like Isaiah 62:2, it is cited under the heading of “Does it matter what the church is called?” So we again assume, “yes, it matters” and look up this verse to support the argument that the church MUST be called “Church of Christ” (after all, the Church Lesson was written as a cheat sheet of verses to use while knocking on doors defending the church’s claims).
The only problem is that this verse comes from Peter’s defense before the leaders of the Jews that there is no salvation in any other name but the name of Jesus. There is nothing here at all about the name of the church, so it is absurd to quote it in that context.
Let me take this a step further: There is not one verse in the Bible naming the Lord’s church anything, much less “Church of Christ,” and if you find one, as Merie liked to say, I’ll eat every page of it.

2 Timothy 2:15 – Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

This one has been quoted countless time in Bible classes to exhort members to crack open their Bibles and study for class. It means no such thing. That’s not to say we shouldn’t come prepared for Bible studies with some actual knowledge of the subject material, but to use this verse in this way is grossly out of context. They didn’t even have a compiled Bible to study at this point, just occasional letters being passed around to churches. No printing press. No concordance. No Internet to do an exhaustive word search. Just some basic teachings about Jesus being passed around from church to church.

The misapplication actually comes from a rather simple misunderstanding of the archaic English word “study,” which means “be diligent,” not “crack open the Book.” What’s so fascinating about their KJV-only teaching is that you can get the correct understanding from the KJV if you educate yourself on English definitions and grammar. Ironically, they just choose not to “be diligent” in doing so.

Just for kicks, here’s the verse in the ASV:

2 Timothy 2:15 – Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth. (ASV)

1 Corinthians 11:27 – Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

This verse is a frequently quoted out of context verse used incorrectly to suggest that members need to by “worthy” before taking the Lord’s supper. At risk of sounding like I think it’s okay to be sinful all the time, which I’m not at all saying, let’s at least deal honestly with the proper exegesis of this verse.

First, I’m not criticizing the use of KJV, because you can get the correct understanding of the verse right here in this version. Any understanding of English grammar tells you that a word ending in “ly” is an adverb, right? An adverb modifies the “manner” in which the verb is performed. Simply put, Paul is saying that whoever partakes of the Lord’s supper in an unworthy manner is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

So what’s the manner in which the Corinthian church was participating in the Lord’s supper? A quick reading of 1 Cor 11:17-34 tells us clearly that they had turned it into a common meal, a potluck of sorts where some had food and others didn’t. Some were even getting drunk on the fruit of the vine (yes, that means they were using wine).

They were not setting it apart in their minds as the Lord’s body (discerning the Lord’s body). When Paul said to examine yourselves, he nowhere said to examine all your sins for the past week. He was telling them to examine their conduct during the Lord’s supper and make sure they were giving proper honor in their minds to what it meant.

Here’s the verse in the ASV, but I recommend reading the entire passage in context.

1 Corinthians 11:27 – Wherefore whosoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.

They were clearly “not discerning the Lord’s body” and acting quite unlovingly toward their brothers and sisters in the process. Think what you want about public confession on Sunday morning, but don’t use this verse to support it. It was never a practice in the first century.

And no one is ever “worthy” of standing before God. We are all worthy of death and deserve to be separated from God forever. It’s only because of his grace that we can stand before him spotless wearing the righteousness of Christ.

Note about the use of concordances

I’m convinced that the practice of removing verses from their context comes from the church’s over-dependence on concordances in “studying for class,” something everyone is taught to do without fail, for fear of getting rebuked. Don’t get me wrong…it’s great to come prepared for a Bible study being familiar with the material ahead of time. What’s not so great is making a list of verses you can share in class by consulting your Young’s Concordance, Thompson Chain Reference Bible, or Dixon Bible, without having read the entire context to know if the verses mean what you’re using them to mean.

Sure, you get to share your verses in class and thus don’t get rebuked for “not studying,” but then the whole church now has a wrong understanding of what that verse means. A little more diligence in personal Bible study is in order.

h/t to CB for catching my error on RSV 1911 vs. ASV 1901

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