Finding Hope in Misinterpretation

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It has always bugged me that 2 Chronicles 7:14 suddenly shows up on Independence Day. Back up a few verses. America’s got nothing to do with it. And those wedding announcements that quote Psalm 34:3? That would be David rejoicing when he escaped Abimelech. And then there’s Jeremiah 29:11, which in case you didn’t know, is directed to exiles and not to high-school graduates.

Is it wrong to misunderstand the meaning of a verse and find hope in the misunderstanding?

This question was posed online several months ago, and I haven’t quite pushed it out of my mind. Maybe because I face misinterpretation of Scripture on a regular basis. And more often than not, it’s my own.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume we’re talking about Christians who unknowingly misinterpret Scripture. Whether you think you’re a hermeneutics whiz or whether you’re prone to select a graduation card with Jeremiah 29:11 inside because you believe God has plans to give your grandson a hope and a future, here are some thoughts for your consideration.

Truth doesn’t change. There is only one proper interpretation of Scripture, and it’s not going to change. While there may be varieties of application, the Scripture’s intended meaning does not adjust from person to person or with every new trend or line of thinking. If I say a given passage means one thing and you say that same passage means another, one of us is wrong. Which is why I hesitate to say, “The Bible says . . .” unless I’m merely quoting the Bible itself. And which is why I greatly hesitate to tag phrases or verses of Scripture to any given aspect of life as if to say, “This passage aptly fits here.” I’m sorry, but Philippians 1:3 doesn’t belong in every thank-you card.

Hope in misinterpreted Scripture is false hope. So to answer the second half of the question . . . Yes, it is wrong to find hope in the misunderstanding. The only hope we have in this life is in God, in what he says, and in what he means. Whether or not we understand it properly, his Word is hope. If we don’t understand it properly, that misunderstanding does not deserve to be accredited to God. So while we think we have hope in a particular interpretation, we may still have nothing more than our sure and steady hope: God, what he says, and what he means.

Finite minds fail. To answer the first half of the question . . . Yes, it is wrong to misunderstand the meaning of a verse. And we will. We’re going to get it wrong. Misinterpretation will happen. And often. This doesn’t mean we should give up altogether or resign ourselves to poor study habits. Rather, the failings of our own minds ought to increase our yearnings for the mind of God.

God uses misinterpretation for his glory. As with all things, God can use even our unbiblical conclusions and misplaced Scripture quotations for his glory. But the proper response is not fear or indifference. The proper response is to read and study the Word as if our lives depended on it. We must weed out the lies and be content only with the truth. This is our task and our joy until all is made right. For in that day, truth will prevail and misinterpretation will cease. Our hope will no longer by misplaced, because, to those minds once finite, God and his glory will be fully and rightly understood.

How I long for that day.

 [image  credit: wikipedia.org]


21 thoughts on “Finding Hope in Misinterpretation

  1. Good thoughts! We can remember too… Rom_15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. And…2Ti 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
    2Ti 3:17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

    It’s kinda complicated sometimes…I certainly don’t have this all figured out. Where do we draw that line? Can we claim Jer. 29:11 for our own lives? If not, why is it there, except so we would know God promised this to somebody? But yeah, good post!

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    1. Thanks, Kristin. Yes, I think we can “claim Jer 29:11 for our own lives,” but it must be through the lens of its intended meaning for its intended audience. It’s not that its meaning is not true for us, it’s just that we can’t apply it directly {based on this one passage} because it wasn’t written directly to us. We can learn from it, but we shouldn’t place ourselves in the position of the original recipients {especially with the OT, as NT Christ-followers}. So, yes, I think it is preserved for us for more reasons than just so we would know God promised it to somebody. What are those reasons and proper interpretations? That’s what we have to find out! 🙂

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  2. What an interesting post and then the comments add more…then additional posts. I have had these same questions in my mind over the years. I know that God is trustworthy and His Word is Truth, the only Truth. Taking verses out of context or misinterpreting them and setting them out there as truth has been a stumbling block for me, especially when I was a new Christian 23 years ago.
    As I mature in Christ, I am still learning. BUT…the more time I spend with Him, the clearer my eyes are and the less stumbling I do.
    I am going to head off to those other post to see their angles of all of this.
    Thanks for being forthright.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

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    1. May we read His Truth with eyes open to the Holy Spirit that we may know the Truth and be set free. The blessings that come from walking in His ways are varied and completely dependent upon God. We cannot set a “blessing” ourselves as we are not the Giver in this case. God’s blessings may be financial, but they usually are far more spiritual than a material blessing.
      We must be careful in all of this.

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  3. When a scripture is difficult to understand – – I find it helpful to read it from several different versions. Bible Hub.com is a good place to find a verse with several versions all on one page. Thank you for sharing with us here at Tell me a Story.

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  4. I agree, especially the mis-application of Jeremiah 29:11 . That scripture is so much more powerful when read in the context of exile rather than quoting it alone. And I think that is true of most of the well known, beloved scriptures that we quote or write on posters; we should first understand it in context, then when we quote it, we will be more likely to apply it in its full meaning.

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  5. “If we don’t understand it properly, that misunderstanding does not deserve to be accredited to God.” I love this point. I also love this post…misinterpretation–for good or evil–is common and should not be advocated. Along these lines, I am so often disappointed at people who quote the Bible, but have no understanding of what was happening contextually at the time a particular book was written to understand the meaning (which may be completely different when one understands what was happening historically). Thank you for sharing this very thoughtful post. #FridayFrivolity

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  6. Jeremiahs 19:11 and 2 Chronicles 7:14 are so widely misinterpreted. Very frustrating. I hadn’t thought about it until I attended a conference with Voddie Baucham and now I think about it anytime I hear those 2 passages “claimed”.
    Context… context… context! We like to pull one verse out of a passage without looking at the original context.

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  7. Hi Lydia, Excellent post! I think people often don’t discern that some scripture is specific to the nation of Israel and other scriptures are directed to the Church, the Body of Christ. My husband, Dave, has a fairly new website that you and your readers may find of interest – http://www.truthcontinuesabsolute.com. 2 Peter 1:20 – “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” Blessings, Janet

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