About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Misunderstood Bible Passages


1 - Matthew 18;20 
2 - 2 Chronicles 7:14
3 - Romans 10:9
4 - Baptized Into Church
5 - Truth That Sets You Free 

6 - Romans 4:17 




In theological terms, the word hermeneutics speaks to the interpretation of the Bible.  There are certain common sense rules that must be incorporated into our Bible study.  Avoidance of these rules will inevitably lead to a wrong understanding of the Bible.  I won't detail these rules because I've done that elsewhere.  I'll just state two of them.  


Context is important.  None of us likes being misquoted when others take our words out of context.  Allow me to suggest that God isn't happy with us misquoting what He said when we take His words out of context.  We must first understand the context of any statement in light of the surrounding statements, then, in light of the book in which it was written, then, in light of the whole Bible, and then, in light of the historical setting in which the statement was written.  Ignoring context will certainly cause you to misunderstand the Bible. 


Some kind of original language study is also important.  The Old Testament was written in Hebrew while the New Testament was written in Greek.  Some knowledge of Hebrew and Greek grammar and the definition of words, and, how they relate to any given passage, are important to understanding the Bible. 


The following are a number of Bible passages that are commonly misunderstood, and I suggest, because of a lack of good hermeneutics and our dumbed down Christian mentality these days.  If the Bible is God's word to us as Christians claim, then we better take it seriously and spend time coming to a good understanding.     



1- Matthew 18:20


"For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:20 NIV)."  This verse is often quoted to encourage those who find themselves in a poorly attended Christian meeting.  Was Jesus really talking about poorly attended meetings?  


The words "two or three" in this verse have Biblical significance.  Job 33:29 says that "God does all these things to a person, twice, even three times (NIV)."  In context the things God does to a person two or three times are His attempts to restore a broken relationship with a person. 


Deuteronomy 19:15 states that a fact must be established by two or three witnesses.  Deuteronomy 17:6 states that a person cannot be condemned to death without the credible witness of two or three people.  The Apostle Paul affirmed this when he said that every fact must be established by the testimony of two or three (2 Corinthians 13:1).  Paul told Timothy not to accept an accusation against an elder unless it is established to be true by two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19). 


In Biblical terms, the validity of a thing must be confirmed in at least two or three ways.  With this in mind let's dig into Matthew 18:20 to see what Jesus meant when He said that where two or three come together in His name, He'd be with them. 


We need to put Jesus' statement in its context by backing up to verse 15 where Jesus told His disciples that if someone sinned against one of them he should point out the sin to the offender in the hope of restoring their relationship damaged by the sin.  If that doesn't rectify things Jesus said that two or three others should intervene to help restore the relationship.      


In verse 18 Jesus went on to say that whatever you bind or loose on earth will be bound or loosed in Heaven.  He wasn't talking about binding or loosing demons as some think.  The context of this verse tells us that Jesus was talking about binding and loosing relationships.  This tells me that our Christian relationships on earth have a direct correlation in Heaven.  Fractured relationships inhibit Heaven from effectively working among us while harmonious relationships enable Heaven to implement God's will among us.   


In verse 19 Jesus said "that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in Heaven."  Again, we see our earthly relationships impacting Heaven's interaction with us on earth.  The Greek verb "symphoneo" is translated into English as "agree" in this verse.  This word consists of two Greek words meaning "together" and "sound".  Agreeing in this context means "to sound together".  Our English word "symphony" comes from this Greek word.  A symphony is the harmonious blending of a variety of musical instruments.  It's various instruments sounding together in a harmonic unity.  It's this kind of symphonic harmony that is expressed in the word "agree" in this verse.  The Greek grammar suggests that Jesus wasn't talking about two people coming to a mutual understanding about a prayer request, but a mutually harmonic understanding about each other. 


The Greek verb "symphoneo" translated
as "agree" is an aorist active subjunctive verb.  A subjunctive verb suggests a measure of uncertainty in the action it represents.  So, Jesus was saying that "if" a broken relationship can be restored to a symphonic harmony, and that's not guaranteed due to human frailty, then the request "will be done" by the Father. 


The phrase "will be done" in Greek is a future subjunctive verb.  Remember, a subjunctive verb suggests some uncertainty.  This means that if the two can restore their relationship there's a good chance, but not a guaranteed certainty, their request will be realized at some "future" date, as the future tense dictates.  This measure of uncertainty tells me that there are other factors involved in the realization of our requests beyond harmonious relationships.  God's will is one important additional factor in this matter.    


Now we come to "Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."  The Greek word "synago" that is translated into English as "come together" is a perfect passive participle.  It consists of two Greek words meaning "together" and "bring", as in bring yourselves together in harmonic unity.  A perfect Greek verb is an action that takes place at one specific moment in time.  In this case, the one specific time is when the when two people mend their relationship and live in symphonic harmony.  At that point Jesus enters their relationship and is in their presence. 


Notice the Greek word "synago" that is translated as "come together" in the NIV.  This is a Hebrew word that found its way into Greek.  For Jews, "synago" which is related to their word "synagogue", was more than a building where they worshiped.  This word represented the community of God's people.  When Jesus spoke about coming together in Matthew 18:20 I believe He was thinking of the community of believers who gathered in His name, living in symphonic harmony with one another. 


I know this Greek grammar stuff confuses some of you but it does help us understand what Jesus was telling us.  Matthew 18:20 has nothing to do with a poorly attended Christian meeting.  It has everything to do with restoring damaged relationships in the Body of Christ and living in symphonic harmony so Jesus can live among us to accomplish His will.  As I always say, consider what I say as Jesus gives you the understanding in all things.


2 - 2 Chronicles 7:14


We all know that context is important when attempting to understand Scripture.  So, why do we ignore the context, and thus misunderstand 2 Chronicles 7:14.  "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sins and will heal their land". 


The common understanding among Christians today is that "my people" in 2 Chronicles 7:14 refers to either their country or the church.  This understanding stems from an anti-Semitic sentiment that permeated Catholic doctrine during the dark ages of history.  For the most part, the Protestant Reformation did not depart from this sentiment.  For this reason much of Christendom today believes that the prophetic passages of the Bible, including 2 Chronicles 7, do not apply to Israel but to the church or to so-called Christian nations.  
I recently heard it again.  "If America would repent as commanded in 2 Chronicles 7:14, God would forgive America and heal its land."  Does
the context of this verse suggest that God
was calling America, Canada, other nations, or the church to repentance?     


If we back up a few verses we'll note that God was speaking to Solomon about Israel's future.  In verse 13 God said; "When I shut up the heavens so there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land, or send a plague among my people "  The text doesn't say "if I shut up the heavens ..."  It says "when I shut up the heavens, when I command the locusts, and when I send a plague."  2 Chronicles 7:14, as well as the whole chapter, predicted the day when God's judgment would fall upon the wicked nation of Israel.  The only way out of judgment was for Israel to obey God and humble itself by seeking God and forsaking its wicked ways.     


The context makes it clear.  The words "my people" in 2 Chronicles 7:14 refers to Israelis.  Knowing this, can we use this verse to call America, Canada, and other nations to repentance?  There's no doubt that the sentiment expressed in this verse is applicable to our nations today.  Our nations do need to repent, seek God, and turn from their wickedness.  That being said, if we apply a secondary interpretation that permits us to substitute Israel with America, Canada, other nations, or the church, we're walking down a dangerous hermeneutical path.  If we apply a secondary meaning to support our theological biases here we'll do the same elsewhere, and that's exactly what we often do.  It's a mistake to ignore what the Bible clearly says in order to make it say something we want it to say. 


Let's not put our words into God's mouth.  If God is addressing Israel, let's not say He's addressing America, Canada, other nations, or the church.  If you insist on using 2 Chronicles 7:14 to call your nation or the church to repentance, you must first clarify that it was not directed towards America, Canada, other nations, or the church.  You must clearly state that it's a prophetic passage that predicted Israel's place in prophetic history.  Once making that sufficiently clear, you might be able to suggest that the sentiment expressed in this verse, but not the verse itself, has some relevance for your nation or the church.  Better still, I suggest that you use more appropriate Bible passages that call nations and the church to repentance.  



3 - Romans 10:9


"If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and if you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9 NIV)."  This is one well known Bible verse, but do we understand its finer, but vitally important implications?


Backing up one verse to Romans 10:8 we note that Paul preached the word of faith.  The Greek word "rhema" is translated into English as "word" in verse 8.  Unlike the Greek word "logos" that simply means an idea put into a word, "rhema" is an idea that once put into a word produces some kind of result in the one to whom it is intended.  For example; if I say to you, "That's a dog" you probably won't have a reaction.  That's a logos style word.  If I say to you, "Here's a million dollars to do as you wish" you'd react.  That's a rhema style word.       


The Greek word "pistis" is translated into English as "faith" in the phrase "word of faith".  "Pistis" simply means "trust".  If you have faith that I can hold onto your million dollars without spending it, you trust me.  Faith is trust.   


The word of faith is the message about trust.  Once the message is carried by the Holy Spirit to your heart it gives you the ability to trust Jesus with your life. 


Now let's look at Romans 10:9.  Once the rhema word of faith gives you the ability to trust Jesus, according to verse 9 you confess that Jesus is Lord.  The word "confess" is translated from the Greek word "homolegeo" which means "to speak the same thing or to agree."  Confessing is in fact agreeing with God that Jesus has now become your personal Lord.  Merely mouthing the words "Jesus is Lord" isn't agreeing with God on this matter.  Anyone can say "Jesus is Lord."  When you agree with God that Jesus is Lord, you agree that He is the ultimate universal authority.  You, therefore, have no other logical choice but to hand your life over to Him.   


The verb "believe" in the phrase "believe in your heart" in verse 9 is translated from the Greek verb "pisteuo", the noun form of "pistis" that I defined above.  Believing that God raised Jesus from the dead is not a mental acknowledgement of the historical fact that Jesus rose from the dead.  Believe means to trust.  You trust, or give yourself to, the historical fact that Jesus is alive.  You can't trust a dead man with your life, but you can trust a living man with your life.          


Both Greek verbs translated as "confess" and "believe" in Romans 10:9 are aorist active subjunctive verbs.  Simply put, "only" when you agree with God by allowing Jesus to become your personal Lord, and "only" when you trust that He is alive to be your Lord, will you be saved. 


The Greek word "sozo", meaning to rescue, to deliver, or to heal, is translated into English as saved in verse 9.  The most important thing you are saved from is the wrath of God.  The phrase "You shall be saved" is a future passive indicative Greek verb.  That means your salvation, although instantaneous upon confessing and believing, is completed on the future day when Jesus transforms your mortal body into an eternal body. 


Romans 10:9 tells us that once the Holy Spirit plants the message of trust into your heart, that message enables you to make Jesus your personal Lord because He is alive for you to trust.  Only then are you saved.


My Methodist background taught me that I was to receive Jesus as my Saviour and at some later date make Him my Lord.  Romans 10:9 says differently.  First of all I don't receive Jesus.  He receives me when I allow Him to be my personal Lord.  At that point Jesus immediately becomes my Saviour.  The reverse to Methodist teaching is in fact true.  Jesus becomes my Saviour because He is first my Lord.   


We should also understand that inherent in allowing Jesus to be your personal Lord is the act of repentance.  You cannot serve your Lord when you are serving your sinful self.  Without acknowledging and leaving your sin you can't make Jesus your Lord and thus you cannot be saved.    


Understanding Romans 10:9 is not only important for our own spiritual health, it's vitally important for those we are trying to lead to Jesus.  We do an eternally damaging disservice by asking people to simply repeat a sinner's prayer, by having them mouth the words "Jesus is Lord", and by having them mentally acknowledge that Jesus rose from the dead.  Those things may be a step towards salvation but in themselves they save no one according to Romans 10:9.  God forbid that we cause someone to believe he is saved when he is not saved.   



4 - Baptized Into Church

"For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13 NIV).  The word "baptized" reminds us of water or Spirit baptism but in this verse Paul used the word in reference to being baptized into one body, that being the Body of Christ, the church.  Have you ever thought about being baptized into church? 


When Paul used the word "body" in the above context and in other similar contexts he was not thinking of a group of people like the Canadian parliament or the U. S. congress who are "a body" of elected officials.  He was thinking along the lines of a human looking body.  Ephesians 4:16 makes this clear when he said the body is "joined and held together by every supporting ligament (NIV)."        


In 1 Corinthians 12:27 Paul said, "You are the Body of Christ".  I know that many people view this body language metaphorically.  It's imagery, picture language describing the nature of church.  On the other hand, there are some, like me, who see this a bit differently.  


Paul said, "You are the Body of Christ".  He didn't say "You are the symbolic Body of Christ."  Think of it this way.  When Jesus was on earth all of who God is lived in Jesus' human body (Colossians 1:19).  Once Jesus returned to Heaven (Acts 1:10 - 11) God was no longer on earth in human form.  He, therefore, returned to earth by His Spirit to live in the believers (Acts 2:1 - 5), otherwise known as the Body of Christ, the church.  In one real sense of the word church is God's present day earthly human body in which He lives.     


Paul said that we were baptized into the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:13.  Our English word "baptized" is transliterated from the Greek word "baptizo", which means "to submerge or immerse".  Baptizo wasn't a religious Greek word.  If you lived in first century Judea and you washed your tunic in the Jordan River , you'd be baptizing your tunic in water.  


When Paul said you "were baptized into one body", the phrase "were baptized" is a Greek aorist passive indicative verb.  Aorist means that at one specific moment in time you were immersed into the Body of Christ.  Passive in this context means that the Holy Spirit was the one who submerged you into the Body of Christ.  Indicative means that your baptism into the Body of Christ was a literal, undeniable, experience. 


The word "baptized" in this verse might lead to some confusion since we relate baptism with water or Spirit baptism.  English translators could have translated "baptizo" as "immersed" or "submerged" in this verse. The text could correctly read, "You were submerged into the Body of Christ," thus eliminating any possible confusion with water or Spirit baptism.       


I'm not convinced that Paul was speaking symbolically when he said that the Corinthian believers were baptized into the Body of Christ.  I certainly don't believe he was talking about joining an organization we call church.  Neither do I believe he was talking about going to church or having casual Christian acquaintances.  He was talking about being immersed into the lives of those to whom the Holy Spirit has joined us by immersion into the Body of Christ.  Once submerged into Christ's body we become vital parts of the body, performing our bodily functions and responsibilities with those to whom we have been placed alongside.  This is Paul's point throughout 1 Corinthians 12.    


Our western world individualistic approach to life and church makes it difficult for western Christians to view and experience church as being immersed into the lives of people. We think in terms of being joined organizationally, not joined relationally.  This impersonal, non-relational, approach to church distances us from those to whom we are immersed into.  It defeats the purpose for the existence of church.  If we could grasp and implement Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 12 it would transform the western church into the Body of Christ it was meant to be. 


I believe our western world's individualistic approach to church will change.  Many people believe another revival will produce this change but I don't believe it will.  Western world Christendom has experienced many revivals over the last few centuries, none of which have brought lasting change to church structure.  I was very much involved in the Charismatic Movement of the 1960's, 70's, and 80's where "body ministry", as it was called, was an important aspect of the movement.  It didn't take long for body ministry expressed through personal relationships in the Body of Christ to evolve into denominational style organizations. 


I do believe change will come.  As each year passes our western world anti-Christ culture is demanding with more intensity that we conform to its unbiblical lifestyle or else pay the penalty.  This, along with God's judgment on our western nations will force us to live as those who have been immersed into the lives of each other.  This will be the means of the church's survival and purification.  It may be a painful process, as it has been for believers in places like China and Iran , but for those who make the change, they'll never want to return to our western world, often unbiblical, individualistic traditions of church.  


Truth That Sets You Free


Our western world judicial system has traditionally upheld the ideal that if we know the truth the truth will set us free.  This cherished ideal, which I believe is engraved on a wall in the United States Supreme Court building, was written into the pages of our Bible.  Jesus said; "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).  These words presuppose that Jesus is the ultimate universal truth (John 14:6) and thus knowing Him will set us free, but set us free from what?


Jesus wasn't talking about political or social freedom as the Jews who heard His words thought.  "We are Abraham's descendents," they said, "and have never been slaves of anyone.  How can you say that we shall be set free" (John 8:33)?  Their response was utterly ridiculous.  In past centuries Jews had been enslaved by Egypt, Assyria, Babylon , Persia, and Greece. As they stood before Jesus on this occasion they were under Roman domination.  Jesus clarified things when He said; "Everyone who sins is a slave to sin."  Jesus was talking about being free from sin and its devastating consequences. 


The hippies of the 1960's cultural revolution preached their brand of truth which allowed them to freely express a social morality not seen in such openness in our Reformation influenced western world.  Jesus and the hippies were miles apart on this issue.  According to Jesus, His truth would set people free from sin.  According to the hippies, their truth would set people free to sin. 


The 1960's are a fast fading memory but its philosophical approach to life remains with us.  Many hippies of yesteryear are today's social political leaders.  For them, truth is relative. It's not absolute and universal.  Truth varies from person to person, place to place, time to time, and culture to culture.  Judges 21:25 says it well.  Israelis forsook the absolute authority of God and by so doing individual Israelis did what seemed right in their own eyes.  In other words, each individual defined truth for himself.  What was right or wrong for one wasn't right or wrong for another.  This leads to cultural chaos.     


The concept of freedom didn't originate with the hippies, the American Constitution, Martin Luther, or even Jesus' remarks in John 8:32.  It originated with God at creation.  "And the Lord commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die (Genesis 2:16 - 17 NIV).'"  


Note that before God gave the command He told Adam that he was free.  God created man to be free in all aspects of his existence, but, freedom had boundaries as seen in the command.  When Adam sinned by stepping beyond freedom's boundaries he opened the floodgates of death, decay, and destruction that invaded every molecular structure of creation.     

Ever since Adam overstepped these boundaries there has been no real freedom apart from the submission to God, the absolute truth.  Our western world has stepped beyond these Biblical boundaries, into the same world of death, decay, and destruction that Adam entered.  It's a world of chaotic conflict.  Our daily news reports prove that to be true. To put it bluntly, the west is committing cultural suicide.  No civilization is free when it is dead.   


6 Romans 4:17


The Apostle Paul said that God "gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were" (Romans 4:17 NIV - 1984 edition).  Why do some Christians use this verse to support their practice of calling things that are not as though they were?  It's often called speaking things into existence through your positive confession of faith. 


Those who claim to speak things into existence by their positive confession say that they call things that are not as though they were.  If they want a new car, for example, but can't afford one, they call a new car, that which is not in their driveway, as if it were already in their driveway.  They claim, visualize, or speak, as if they already have the new car even though they don't have it.  I view this practice as being Biblically problematic as it relates to the verse at hand.   


The specific wording of Paul's statement clearly states that it is God who calls things that are not as though they were.  Paul said nothing about us calling things that are not as though they were.  To suggest differently goes beyond the scope of the text and makes it say something I don't believe Paul meant.          


The context clarifies that the things God calls that are not as though they were are Gentile believers.  "The promises come by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all of Abraham's offspring - not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith ofAbraham.  He is the father of us all.  As it is written, 'I have made you (Abraham) a father of many nations'" (Romans 4:16).  In other words, God calls the Gentiles who have faith, those who are not traditionally His people, as though they were His people.  That is all Paul is saying.  It is poor Biblical interpretation to interpret a secondary meaning to this verse when there is no hint of one.


Those who use this verse as a proof text to support their practice of speaking things into existence are incorporating a humanistic positive confession practice into their Christian belief system.  It's sometimes called visualizing your desires into reality.  It's what Oprah Winfrey and others like her have been preaching for years.  This practice can be traced to the later half of the 19th and early 20th century when metaphysics became popularized in our western culture's philosophical approach to life.  E. W. Kenyon (1867 - 1948) is often noted as introducing metaphysics into Christianity.  


Metaphysics is the branch of philosophical theory that concerns itself with the first principles of things; abstract concepts such as existence, being, knowing, cause, identity, time, space, and other such subjective concepts.  Incorporating such humanistic philosophies into our Christian beliefs and practices corrupts our Biblical based beliefs.  It's spiritual adultery; no different than Old Testament Israel corrupting their faith with paganism.  For Christians, it replaces the Holy Spirit with human effort.   


Replacing the Holy Spirit in our lives with human effort is something Paul denounced in Galatians 3:1 and 3.  "You foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you?  Are you so foolish?  After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?"  Human effort, no matter how it is disguised, disables the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian which in turn destroys what being a Christian is all about. 


As much as possible, let the Bible speak for itself.  It is God, and He alone, who calls things that are not as though they were.  Christians, therefore, trust their God to do as He wishes with them and their lives.    



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