I thought I had seen books like this before…
When I received a copy of this book from a friend, I was skeptical at first. I’ve seen so many books that take on typical misunderstandings. I wondered what could be so good that I am receiving this book?
Immediately upon looking at the contents, I knew that this book was different. It casts light on accepted passages that are quoted constantly within church walls – yet without the understanding of what they mean or to whom they were intended. In simply seeing the contents, I knew I was in for a treat! I hadn’t seen this book or heard these treatments before. The verses chosen were ones that could start a bonfire or a conversation.
In The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, Bargerhuff addresses some of the most pervasive thinking underlying much of Evangelicalism: Identified by the emphasis on the self and the individual as the focus of our faith. Some of these verses may be seen as ivory towers to some; to others, verses of hope and faithfulness. Either way, be sure you know where the verse comes from, the events and principles surrounding the passage before you cling to closely. Some of these may hit home.
The theme of the book is CONTEXT!
You can always shed more light on a passage by evaluating it in its context, and Bargerhuff does just that. In doing so, it changes the view of many verses, both in application and in meaning. I pray that people would approach this book in openness and willingness to be educated on proper hermeneutical principles. Bad hermeneutics lead to improper applications, and ultimately a misunderstanding of the intention of the passage.
A primary example of this is the passage in Jeremiah that I have heard over and over;
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV)
This passage is used many times to show the lovingkindness of God and His faithfulness to his people (American Christians, usually). It is used to show that God has a purpose and a plan for your life, and you are special to Him. Now, all this is true. However, you have to look at the context.
Bargerhuff breaks down the passage to show that it was given from God to the nation of Israel as a corporate promise. The timeline of this promise was just before God’s judgement of Israel in allowing Babylon to destroy Jerusalem, defeat Judah and take the nation captive. The promise is given in the midst of the pronouncement of judgement! In addition, Jeremiah and the prophets knew that the generation being carried off in captivity would not return.
Thereby, this promise is being made to the descendants of those to whom would experience the judgement and defeat. Again, it is a corporate statement specifically to the nation of Israel, and specifically to their descendants that would ultimately return and rebuild Jerusalem.
The danger is the application
This is the focal point of much of the verses that are examined in this book. That is: While the statements in the verses are true, the modern church has to be careful in the application of specific, corporate promises and statements made directly to the nation of Israel and to specific individuals in Israel. You have to be careful in taking a specific, historical promise to a specific person/people and appropriate it to your life. While it is good to meditate on this verse and to take joy in God’s faithfulness and sovereignty to His people, we cannot take a verse completely out of context and make it apply to our lives and our situations if it was not spoken and delivered in such a way.
Bargerhuff develops his life application in this way:
As a believing New Testament Christian then, I can still use Jeremiah 29, but I must apply it appropriately. Without a doubt, a future “heavenly hope” exists for those who have placed their faith and trust in Christ alone for their salvation. This, to me, is the best application of these verses for one who lives by faith today. But this doesn’t mean that everything about it is reserved for our future in heaven. I would argue that a whole host of blessing and prosperity can come to us in the here and now. But these are primarily spiritual blessing – blessings like reconciliation, forgiveness, peace with God, fellowship in the church, and love. Blessings like the fruit of the Spirit, answers to prayer, and joy in worship.
But if we make the mistake of redefining the phrase “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future” with our own preconceived notion of what that ought to look like for our lives today in the material sense, then we’ve overlooked and hijacked the context to suit our own human needs and desires.”
From another Old Testament Passage (2 Chronicles 7:14) Bargerhuff gives his warning of this type of misuse:
My hope is that now you can see how this Scripture verse has been plucked from its context and misused. Though the spiritual principles of humility, repentance, prayer, forgiveness, and healing are still relevant for us today, the binding promise of this passage was for another people in another time and another place. It is not a promise for any other nation besides the nation of Israel, those who could rightly be called “God’s people.”
Eric Bargerhuff does an excellent job of gently disarming the reader’s defenses about passages that they may be holding on too tightly with a modern application, without a complete historic or theologic understanding. With every passage he gently opens up the rest of the chapters or the book, showing the historic context of the passage. He then compares the passage to similar passages throughout the Bible. He then uses the opportunity to present a larger view of the passage and the focal point of the teaching as a whole.
By developing his case this way, the reader is disarmed as they see the light of the passage, and not their single hold on a specific verse. Eric shows that there is a greater meaning in the greater context, and one that is far more beautiful.
I highly recommend this book, and if you are curious as to which verses are addressed here are a few of my favorites:
- Judging Others – Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”
- Where Two or Three are Gathered – Matthew 18:20 “For where there are two or three gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”
- Working All Things Together For Good – Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (**my favorite)
- No More Than You Can Handle – 1 Corinthians 10:13 “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted behind your ability.”
- Lifting Up the Name of Jesus – John 12:32 “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
As you may see, there are some verses that will definitely cause resistance at first – these are stronghold verses that are clung to by many members of the church. However, I found that Eric Bergerhuff has enabled a deeper understanding of these verses, as well as a deeper appreciation of the One who gave them.