Posts Tagged ‘scripture out of context’

The Misuse of Scripture: Examples from Romans and Ezekiel

July 1, 2010 Leave a comment

From recent Bible readings comes Romans 10:1, part of Paul’s discussion about Israel and God’s election in chapters 9 through 11.  The ESV translates the verse as, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.”  The NIV translates the “for them” as “Israel,” and though that apparently is not in the original texts, the context is clearly talking about Israelites.  Yet often that verse has been pulled out of its context and listed as a reference in a prayer list, for “the salvation of our loved ones.”

Perhaps such is a valid application.  I certainly cannot think of any other Bible verse to use if one wanted to list a Bible verse reference to go with the topic of praying for salvation for friends and family members.  Over the past few years I have noticed that the local church emphasizes prayers for salvation of loved ones in far greater proportion than the occurrence of such prayers in the Bible.  Often these prayers are especially said in regards to the many unsaved children — “God save our children.”  Some time back I blogged about this more passive parenting attitude in some churches, noting that the scriptures often teach the importance of proper training and discipline instead of that more passive, fatalistic approach to God’s sovereign grace.  I would now add that the Bible says nothing about praying for the salvation of our loved ones (children or others), unless one counts this prayer of Paul in Romans 10:1 — which is really talking about something quite different from general prayers for individuals.  Of course there’s nothing wrong with praying for lost loved ones, and as believers it is something we naturally do quite often — and yet it’s never mentioned in the New Testament, which focuses more on actions and behaviors, such as obedience of children to parents, slaves to masters, etc. as ways in which we “work out our salvation” and show our belief by how we live.

It’s really not uncommon, though, for people to reference a particular scripture and apply it to something completely unrelated to what the text is actually saying.  Given that even preachers do so, the layperson who applies Romans 10:1 to prayers for lost loved ones can be more easily excused.

Interestingly, many of the common misapplications of scripture, like Romans 10:1, involve texts that specifically deal with Israel — passages which Gentiles in the Church Age give other, unintended meanings to.  A great example of this is Ezekiel 37:1-10, a text clearly talking about the restoration of Israel, yet so often taught as being about the resurrection.

Spurgeon had some great words to say concerning this misuse of Ezekiel 37:  (Sermon #582, from 1864):

This vision has been used, from the time of Jerome onwards, as a description of the resurrection and certainly it may be so accommodated with much effect. … But while this interpretation of the vision may be very proper as an accommodation, it must be quite evident to any thinking person that this is not the meaning of the passage. There is no allusion made by Ezekiel to the resurrection and such a topic would have been quite apart from the design of the Prophet’s speech. I believe he was no more thinking of the resurrection of the dead than of the building of St. Peter’s at Rome, or the emigration of the Pilgrim Fathers! That topic is altogether foreign to the subject at hand and could not by any possibility have crept into the Prophet’s mind.

He was talking about the people of Israel and prophesying concerning them. And evidently the vision, according to God’s own interpretation of it, was concerning them and them alone, for, “these bones are the whole house of Israel.” It was not a vision concerning all men, nor, indeed, concerning any men as to the resurrection of the dead—it had a direct and special bearing upon the Jewish people. This passage, again, has been very frequently and I dare say very properly, used to describe the revival of a decayed Church. This vision may be looked upon as descriptive of a state of lukewarmness and spiritual lethargy in a Church when the question may be sorrowfully asked—“Can these bones live?” . . . But while we admit this to be a very fitting accommodation of our text, yet we are quite convinced that it is not to this that the passage refers. It would be altogether alien to the Prophet’s strain of thought to be thinking about the restoration of fallen zeal and the rekindling of expiring love. He was not considering the Reformation either of Luther or of Whitfield, or about the revival of one Church or of another.

No, he was talking of his own people, of his own race and of his own tribe. He surely ought to have known his own mind, and led by the Holy Spirit, he gives us as an explanation of the vision. Not—“Thus says the Lord, My dying Church shall be restored,” but—“I will bring My people out of their graves and bring them into the land of Israel.”