Misused Passages (Part 1)

There are certain passages which are commonly misused.  I am speaking of passages which are misused by brethren, not the passages which are misused by the world at large.  These passages are sometimes used as crutch passages, to support a position which is otherwise weak.  These passages are sometimes used as catch-all passages, flexible enough to use to cover many issues, when other passages are more difficult to find.  These passages are sometimes used in ignorance of the true context.  In this writing, we will consider some of these misused passages.

1. “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22).

This passage is used to condemn any practice that one has personal scruples against.  Moreover, it is used by many to bind personal opinions on others.  I wrote a recent article on Easter.  I made the point that Easter should not be considered a special holiday.  We should honor our Savior by assembling for worship each first day of the week.  However, I did not believe that there was anything inherently sinful about children hunting colored eggs or eating chocolate bunnies.  A reader replied by citing the above passage.

It is true that one should not partake in anything that has an appearance of evil to one personally (Romans 14).  Moreover, it is true that we should be concerned about how things appears to others (2 Corinthians 8:21).  These things are true Biblically.

However, the passage under consideration does not teach what so many use it to teach.  The NKJV reads, “Abstain from every form of evil.”   James Burton Coffman comments, “Despite the traditional usage of this verse (as in the AV) to warn against ‘the appearance of evil,’ the actual meaning, in this context, is that having tested what is true and false, the believer should cling to the true and abstain from the false.”  J.W. McGarvey comments, “These words close the sentence; the full thought is this: despise no prophecy, but prove it; if it is good, hold fast to it, but abstain from every form of evil teaching or practice.”  Leon Crouch comments, “best taken as describing the false prophecy no matter what its form.”

2.  “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34).

This passages is used to deny various distinctions.  I wrote an article on what it means to marry “only in the Lord.”  I believe that this means that Christian widows, if they remarry, should marry Christians.  A reader replied by citing the above passage.  Others have used this passage to defend using non-Christians to teach or lead worship, and to defend women preachers, women deacons, and women elders.

However, the passage under consideration has nothing to do with these things.  The passage concerns the offer of salvation.  J.W. McGarvey comments, “There is to be no further national limitation to the gospel… It is a positive declaration that God respects not persons but character.”  This chapter is about the first gentiles receiving the gospel message.

3.  “Teach them, baptizing them, and teaching them some more,” is how some understand Matthew 28:19-20.

It is true that teaching is needed both before and after baptism.  Teaching is needed before baptism (Acts 2:36-38; 8:12; 8:26-38, etc.).  Teaching is needed after baptism (Acts 14:21-22; 15:36-41; 18:23; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2; 5:14; etc.).

However, this is not what the passage is teaching.  Dave Miller writes, “Observe that the English reader might be tempted to interpret Jesus’ command to mean that the apostles were first to make disciples… and then baptize them to teach them additional Christian doctrine.    However, the Greek grammar of the passage… weighs heavily against this interpretation… The main verb of the sentence, ‘make disciples.’ Is followed by two present participles that represent actions that occur at the same time as the action of the main verb” (Dave Miller, Baptism & the Greek Made Simple, p. 12).  The participles “baptizing” and “teaching” are both necessary to make disciples.  The order of these two things is not necessarily implied.  Consider: “Go clean the yard, mowing the lawn, raking the leaves.” (ibid).  Consider: He had mercy on the man clothing, housing, and feeding him.  The participles explain how he had mercy on the man, without necessarily implying order.

Some have used this passage to suggest that one should initially teach only enough to bring one to baptism.  The harder demands of discipleship should not be set forth up front.  Those things can be set forth afterwards.  This is not what this passage is teaching, and is contrary to what Jesus said about counting the cost (Luke 14:26-33).

4.  “Moderation in all things,” is how some understand Philippians 4:5.

This passage is used in a couple of different ways.  Some have used it to teach against overeating.  The Old Testament does teach against such (e.g. Proverbs 25:16).  The New Testament teaches the principle of self-control (e.g. Acts 24:25; 1 Corinthians 6:12b; Galatians 5:23; Titus 1:8; 2:2; 2 Peter 1:6), and stewardship (e.g. Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27; 1 Corinthians 6:20).

Some have used this passage to justify the moderate use of certain substances, such as alcohol and marijuana.  This is a subject for another time.

However, this passage is not addressing either of these things.  Consider: (1) The word “epieikes.”  It is translated “moderation” (KJV), “forbearance” (ASV), “gentleness” (NKJV), “reasonableness” (ESV).  Wayne Jackson comments, “The term suggests the disposition of one who is willing to forego his own ‘rights’ in the interest of the higher good of others” (Wayne Jackson, Philippians, pp. 79-80).  Thayer’s Lexicon says, “equitable, fair, mild, gentle.”  (2) The context.  Christians should not live only thinking of themselves.  Christians should be considerate of others (Philippians 2:1-8), Timothy (Philippians 2:1-8), Timothy (Philippians 2:19-21) and Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-30) are set forth as examples of those who lived thinking of others.

What is the origin of the phrase, “Moderation in all things”?  It is credited to the Greek poet, Hesiod (c. 700 B.C.).

5.  “In honor giving preference to one another” (Romans 12:10).

Many have used these words to teach that in association, and in business, Christians should prefer Christians.  I do believe that a case could be made for this principle (cf. Galatians 6:10).

However, this is not the point being made in this passage.  The word translated “giving preference” is “proegeomai.”  Thayer’s Lexicon says, “to go before and lead, to go before as a leader.”  J.W. Shepherd comments on Romans 12:10, “Instead of waiting around for others to honor us, we should lead them in the manifestation of esteem and respect” (David Lipscomb, Romans).  Roy Deaver comments, “The point is, in having the attitude of love and respect, and high esteem for others, Christians ought to be examples to each other” (Roy Deaver, Romans).  This seems to be the meaning, and this is a point clearly taught by Jesus (Matthew 20:20-28; 23;11; John 13:1-17).


About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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