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An exegesis of some commonly misquoted/misapplied verses
by Daniel H. Chew

In this day and age, many verses in the Bible have been ripped out of context and misquoted to support some agenda, theological system or others of such. Instead of deriving the meaning of the text from the context of Scripture, such proof-texting is often used so as to support the theological system that Man creates, instead of the other way around. In this article, we would look at some of the more commonly misquoted and/or misapplied verses in Scripture and exegete them in their contexts in rebuttal to the eisegesis offered by various theologians/systems, thus hopefully showing forth the truth of God's Word in this regard.

The following verses would be exegeted here: 2 Chron. 7:14, Jer. 29:11, Hab. 2:14, Mt. 7:1, Mt. 12:36-37, Mt. 18:18-20, Jn. 3:16, Jn. 17:21, Acts 5:38-39, 1 Cor. 9:22, 2 Cor. 3:6b, Gal. 3:28, Heb. 10:24-25, Heb. 13:17, Jas. 2:23-24 and Rev. 3:20, in that order.

2 Chron. 7:14

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chron. 7:14)

In teachings on the topic of prayer and intercession, the verse 2 Chron. 7:14 is often quoted as a proof text. From the text, it has been taught that if we as Christians (i) humble ourselves, (ii) pray, (iii), seek God's face, and (iv) turn from our wicked ways, then God will (1) hear us, (2) forgive our sins, and (3) "heal our land". Coming from a Third-wave charismatic background, I was taught to do these 4 steps especially during major prayer and fasting events, with the unspoken assumption that doing so would ensure that our prayers would somehow be more effectual and pleasing to God. The third promise of the healing of the land is furthermore claimed over our nation especially in the 40 days of prayer event leading up to [Singapore] National Day, in which we were to pray for revival to come upon our country, with some fanciful prophecies even being prophesied during that time period.

Nearly a decade later, I have the opportunity to revisit this verse. Does this verse actually teaches such principles of prayer?

As a Covenantal Theologian, it is my belief that the principles taught in the Old Testament are in some manner applicable to us today, since Israel is the Church in the Old Testament. 2 Chron. 7:14 is situated in God's promise to Solomon after his prayer to God in his dedication of the temple, and it is in this context that we must interpret this verse. Being God's promise to King Solomon under the Old Testament era, the conditions and promises are to be interpreted in a different manner in this Gospel age, which imply that their application is spiritual, for the Church rather than for some nation or territory. The conditions and promises are centered on the church and Christians in the church, not even Christianized nations per se. Therefore, to use 2 Chron. 7:14 as a proof-text to pray for the nation is not in line with the teaching of God's Word in this regard. The only way it could be "literally" physically applied in such manner is if one were to believe in some form of Israelism[1] or one is a Old Covenant restoring Judaizer.

What then does 2 Chron. 7:14 actually teach? 2 Chron. 7:14 is a promise to the Church that lays down the general principles that God requires in prayer: that we should (i) humble ourselves, (ii) pray, (iii), seek God's face, and (iv) turn from our wicked ways, following which God has promised that He would (1) hear us, (2) forgive our sins, and (3) "heal our land". God will most definitely hear us, but hearing does not necessarily mean saying yes to us. After all, God is sovereign and His sovereign will will be done. The idea that having longer and more fervent prayers would make the prayer more efficacious and pleasing to God is an act of sorcery — ex opere operato[2]. We must remember that God in Ez. 14:12-20 has said that he will not answer yes to the prayers and intercession of even the three most righteous persons in history when he has decided to punish Judah for her heinous sins, so to think that our prayers can manipulate God is unbiblical. God does sometimes ordain that certain prayers be answered after perseverance in prayer (Lk. 18:1-8), but such prayers is a time of pleading before God, not attempts to "blackmail" God because of the amount of time we have spent in prayer.

The promise of forgiveness of sin in this Gospel age (and even in the Old Testament era) was never to be taken to mean sins being forgiven through the instrumentality of prayer. Rather, it must be interpreted in the same way as the principle of forgiveness of sins in 1 Jn. 1:9, which is to say an experience of an established reality proving the genuineness of that same reality. In simpler terms, what this means is that true born-again Christians who have their sins forgiven will by nature confess their sins and pray to God in so doing. Such activities confirm that the ones practicing them have their sins forgiven, and the Holy Spirit uses such activities to bring peace and the sense of forgiveness within their hearts.

The third promise of the "healing of the land" is to be taken spiritually in the sense of spiritual healing of the individual and of the church. Prayer and fasting in this verse therefore profits the individual believer and the Body of Christ. As the Body of Christ comes together to pray, she is the one being edified first and foremost.

This brings us to the question: Does that mean that we shouldn't intercede for the nations and for all who are outside the Church? By no means! Such however cannot claim 2 Chron. 7:14 as a proof-text, but rather texts such as Gen. 18:23-33 and 1 Tim. 2:1-4. Prayers for nations etc if they are to be biblical must be for God's mercy and withholding of deserved judgment, for God to save people (not nations, but individual persons) in the nations out of darkness into His glorious light, and for God to grant peace so that the Gospel ministry may not be hindered. In other words, these should be the focus of our prayers if they are to be biblical; Gospel-centered prayers. If we pray for other issues such as the material prosperity of our nation and other such stuff not instructed in the Scriptures, then we are not praying according to Scripture. God may very well choose to answer them with a yes answer, but he is certainly not obliged to and such is not praying even according to God's decretal will and are therefore unbiblical.

Let us therefore learn the proper interpretation and application of 2 Chron. 7:14. May we not use it therefore for so-called "national intercession", much less invoking the verse to ask for material prosperity of a nation at the expense of asking God to grant repentance and faith to people in the nation. Amen.

Jer. 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)

In context:

These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. ... “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jer. 29:1, 10-14)

Jer. 29:11 has been used as a prooftext for so long, to indicate God's blessings to be with the person addressed, that it may seem strange to indicate that it has been often misquoted. In fact, precisely because it is used and abused so often that when its abuse is pointed out, those who do so seem strange and even wrong. However, reading it in context would show us the true meaning of this verse, and the glaring error in utilizing it as a general text of blessing.

The first thing we can and must see immediately is that it is addressed to Israel. It is not addressed to everyone in general but to the people of God in the Old Testament. Therefore, Jer. 29:11 cannot be a general blessing formula to be indiscriminately given to all, but only applicable to God's people.

Logically, we can see God's purposes of judgment on the wicked (Prov. 16:4) and his judgments on various nations and peoples throughout history. Can we say that there is a general blessing: that God has a good plan for all people? Not unless we believe in a God whose plans can be frustrated, contrary to the express teachings of Scripture in this regard (Ps. 115:3, Dan. 4:35).

The context of Jer. 29:11 is Jeremiah's address to the Israelite exiles in the country of Babylon. God has judged Judah for her wickedness, and sent King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians to eliminate Judah as judgment for her wickedness. The exiles are in severe hardship in their captivity in this hostile land, and it is in this situation that Jeremiah addresses the people.

The promise of God's blessing and favor upon the exiles in verse 11 thus comes in the midst of severe hardship, and thus is meant to comfort God's people of God's love and favor which is still upon them. Yet from this, we can immediately see that it is an untruth that God's people will not suffer merely because we are His. God indeed has a wondrous plan for His people, but that does not preclude suffering, as the life of Job demonstrates.

Jer. 29:11 thus is a verse of comfort to Christians, especially to those in affliction, that God has a plan for them for their good. It is however not for those who do not believe in Christ, and neither is it a verse to promote the health-and-wealth heresy, as this promise does not preclude suffering in this life

Hab. 2:14

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Hab. 2:14)

It seems that this verse is used in Dominionist propaganda, as can be seen in the Domininist GDOP (Global Day of Prayer) vision statement[3]. Through concerted efforts via prayer movements and other such gimmicks, the New Apostolic Reformation through the promotion of prayer enlists unsuspecting pastors and churches to bring about the kingdom of God here in this world, having as their vision their interpretation of Hab. 2:14 — which is to bring about the coming of God's Kingdom on earth such that justice would be done, people turn to Christ, crime would decrease etc. This would be achieved through concerted unified intercessory prayer (which is what the Global Day of Prayer is about), in order to bring about synergy which "somehow" works for the advancement of God's kingdom here on earth.

It must of course be stated that the goal of making society a better place is indeed laudable, and prayer is a good thing. I have addressed the problems with the GDOP previously[4], and as such would not be talking about it here, rather focusing on one of the prooftext used to promote its Dominionism, Hab. 2:14.

Hab. 2:14 is situated in the prophetic books, and the verse comes in the middle of a prophesied judgment on the Chaldeans/Babylonians. Judgment is prophesied and will fall on the enemies of God. It is in this context that Hab. 2:14 can be found.

In context, the glory of God is indeed manifested in God's judgment on the Babylonians. This act of God manifest God's glory by making known His act of judgment of the wicked Chaldeans throughout the world. Through knowledge of this mighty act of God, the knowledge of God and His glory would thus fill the earth everywhere — as the waters cover the sea.

Hab 2:14 therefore teaches the mighty acts of God bearing witness to the knowledge of God's glory everywhere. In context, it applies only to the judgment of the wicked Chaldeans. In its application, it can only be used to tell us that the knowledge of God's glory will be seen in the mighty acts of God, and therefore to promote God's glory we are to proclaim the greatest act of God in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Nowhere do we see or can find any context whereby Hab. 2:14 is said to teach that we are to bring God's glory down in this place. The Dominionist interpretation therefore fails on three counts: 1) It makes the fulfillment of this verse dependent on Man instead of God, 2) It fails to see that the glory of God is manifested in the proclamation of God's mighty acts, and not "social transformation" done by us, 3) It makes the eschatological fulfillment of this verse happen in the heaven-on-earth kingdom which they are attempting to bring down now, instead of at the final judgment.

In conclusion, Hab. 2:14 is a verse misquoted by the New Apostolic Dominionists to promote their Dominionist agenda. Instead of proclaiming the mighty acts of God as they should be doing, such people embrace the lie that they can build heaven on earth and subtly change the form of the Gospel into a message of "salvation unto social transformation (and eternal life as an add-on)" instead of salvation unto eternal life in Christ.[5]

Mt. 7:1

Judge not, that you be not judged. (Mt. 7:1)

In context:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Mt. 7:1-5)

Of all the misquoted verses, this probably ranks as the number one misquoted verse used to silence criticism of any sort. In this post-modern age where everything goes, the last thing anyone wants is for someone to break up the party with the hard truth of what the Word of God actually teaches on any topic whatsoever, thus the blatant misuse of this verse.

This verse and another passage like it (Rom. 2:1-3) however is most emphatically not against judging per se. In context, it condemns hypocritical judgment (of which the Pharisees were famous for), that of passing judgment on another while the accuser/judge does the very same thing or even worse (having a log in his eye while he is criticizing the speck in another's eye). That we are to judge is taught even in this very same context whereby one is allowed to criticize the speck after removing the log from his own eye. Furthermore, Jn. 7:24 calls us to make a right judgment, which would be strange indeed if all judgment is wrong.

The irony in misquoting this verse is that it is the anti-critics who misuse this verse who are actually guilty of violating Mt. 7:1. They judge the critics for judging, yet think themselves as being non-judgmental in character. Mt. 7:1 is thus perfectly fitted for these modern-day Pharisees, who think themselves to be loving while they are not.

Mt. 12:36-37

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Mt. 12:36-37)

εκ γαρ των λογων σον δικαιωθηση, και εκ των λογων σον καταδικασθηση. (Mt. 12:37)

What is justification? With the Roman Catholics' confusion on the one side to "Protestant" infatuation with the New Perspective doctrine and Federal Vision on the other, the Church has came full circle back to the foundational doctrine of the Gospel — the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. That RCism in her blindness cannot perceive its truth is sad, but it is tragic that those who are supposed to be children of the Reformation are falling away.

Once upon a time, students of the Bible understand that context is key. The Christian would interpret the verse in context, and while the meaning and etymology of the word in the original language may be helpful at a deeper level, they cannot and should not overturn the basic contextual meaning of the verse in context. Such is to commit an exegetical fallacy, of which the most common encountered so far is the fallacy of unwarranted adoption of an expanded semantic field or abuse of the field of lexicography, as described in D.A. Carson's book Exegetical Fallacies[6]. When using a reliable translation of the Bible, we can trust that we have God's Word with us, and therefore we can read the Scripture for ourselves and learn what it desires to teach us.

The historic Protestant doctrine of justification is "the gracious act of God the Father through the perfect work of Jesus Christ whereby I have been pardoned and made right before God"[7]. It encompasses the process of double imputation as its logical corollary, whereby our sin is counted as Christ's, while his righteousness is credited to our account, so that we are considered righteous before God and acceptable unto Him though we are still materially sinful and God is holy. This understanding of Justification flows from a look at the book of Romans, as shown by Dr. James R. White in his book The God who Justifies[8].

Being biblical, we know that Scripture proclaims for itself inerrancy and especially verbal plenary inspiration and authority[9]. Since that is the case, all of Scripture must be systematized into a coherent whole, for God does not lie so contradictions cannot exist. The doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is so explicit in Romans that the only way to avoid its teaching is either to attempt to subjugate its message using counter proof-texts as what RCism traditionally has done, or to shift the entire reading and hermeneutical framework as what New Perspectivism has done.

In Mt. 12:36-37, the fallacy of reading acontextually all forms of the dikaio- word groups to refer to legal justification seems to be involved. However, if so, then what exactly is Mt. 12:36-37 teaching if not legal justification? Since it alludes if not refers to the last Day of judgment, shouldn't the context be referring to justification before God in the legal sense, and thus justification has a future aspect to it as well?

To address this issue, we will look to the immediate context of the verse, and then to the larger context of the Scriptures using the Analogy of Faith (Analogia Fide).

Immediate context

The context of this passage is the teachings of Jesus regarding various sundry issues in Jesus' contention against the false teachings of the Pharisees. In the immediate context however, the teachings of Jesus in verse 33 on the good and bad tree (echoing back to Mt. 7:17-20), and verses 35 on the treasures indicate for us an emphasis on practical Christian living. This can be seen in verse 34 which states that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks". Therefore, the entire focus of the immediate context is on the practical manifestation of Christian living.

Verses 36 and 37 should thus be interpreted in this light. The "justification" here is the manifestation of the nature of genuine faith in true Christians, while the condemnation is the manifestation of the judgment of God against sinful men.

Entirety of Scripture or Systematic Theology

When one looks at the entirety of Scripture, it can be clearly seen that justification is a one-time event when a person exercises faith in Christ, a fact defended by Dr. James R. White in his book The God that Justifies.[10]

Jn. 3:18 teaches that condemnation is already a reality before the final judgment even now for all Man unless they are saved. The parallelism, which is very striking in the Greek, thus hints that conversely, justification in this verse is something which is a present reality in people even before the final judgment.

Putting the two lines of thought together would yield us the correct Protestant interpretation of the verses — that the words we speak reveal or manifest our nature as believers or unbelievers; whether we are righteous or unrighteousness, justified or condemned. We are not justified by our words or works as taught in Mt. 12:36-37, but we are shown to be previously justified at the final judgment.

There is therefore no future aspect of justification. God knows His people and as Sovereign, does not need to defend and contest with anyone who his justified elect are, and the validity of the justification process in any one individual. When we are justified, we have already been justified (past tense), and move along the golden chain of salvation (in Rom. 8:29; not the exact Ordo Salutis) to the next step so to speak, which chronologically is glorification. When believers stand before God, God does not have to check his "record-book" to confirm that any believer is indeed justified (past tense), but he would welcome us in without any need of assessment, giving us glorified bodies fit for our new habitat and status.

In conclusion, Mt. 12:36-37 does not teach legal justification or anything of the sort. Context matters, and when the texts are interpreted in context, the true biblical meaning always surfaces. Despite mention of the day of judgment, Mt. 12:36-37 does not teach legal justification by works at all. Amen.

Mt. 18:18-20

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (Mt. 18:18-20)

In context:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Mt. 18:15-20)


Mt. 18:18-19 is situated in the context of verses 15 to 20 — a passage primarily focused on the issue of conflicts in the Church due to personal sin against another. The larger Matthean context for this passage is the issue of people and relationships, and thus verses 15-20 focuses on the aspect of conflicts within the Church.

In verse 15, Jesus starts narrating to us the scenario of such an interpersonal conflict. This conflict is not caused by doctrinal errors of any sort, which are treated differently and more severely (cf 1 Tim. 5:19-20, Titus 1:13b; 3:10), but rather of personal practical sin of one Christian against another ("sins against you"). Such sins are non-public in nature since if they are public, then by definition the offender would have sinned against many people in public, whereas the context here talks about personal sin.

In the context of such personal and private offences, the offence should be settled privately and personally. Verse 15b calls one to tell him his fault and settle the issue between the both of you. Obviously, this is to be done with love as all other actions are to be (Mt. 22:39, Jn. 13:34), but the issue must be resolved, not glossed over.

Verse 16 continues our Lord's dictate in the case when such a person refuses to listen and repent of his sin. Such a one is to be confronted by two or more people being there as witnesses. This is to create witnesses of the obstinate brother's unwillingness to repent is such was to happen, and also to ascertain whether it is indeed true that the fault lies in the other brother's unrepentance. Verse 17 continues with the scenario that such a brother is still unwilling to repent. The whole church is then brought in to exhort him to repent. Further unrepentance causes the judgment of the church to be passed on the person, and he is to be regarded as an unbeliever not to be fellowshipped with but to be called to repentance as if he is an unbeliever, yet in so doing with the hope that he finally repents and is saved (1 Cor. 5:5).

It is in this context that verses 18-20 are to be interpreted. Verse 18 follows verse 17 and thus the subject matter is with regards to church discipline. Binding someone is accomplished by church discipline and excommunication from the Church due to his unrepentant sin, while loosing is the converse act of accepting the penitent back after he has repented of his sin (cf. 2 Cor. 2:5-8). The binding and loosing in verse 18 operates therefore with regards to being inside and outside the Church. The Church is to to represent Christ on this earth (1 Tim. 3:15, Eph. 2:20; 3:10 cf Acts 15:6, 1 Tim. 3:1-5), and thus what the Church does is to be like as if Christ Himself has actually pass the same judgment. The judgment of binding and loosing by the Church is to therefore function as if Christ Himself has actually did the same.

Practically, this means that someone who is legitimately excommunicated from the Visible Church is de facto similarly not regarded as being in the Invisible Church of believers, and apart from repentance, such a one is lost. Unrepentant excommunicated professed Christians therefore prove themselves to be not true believers at all, since true believers are saved while unrepentant excommunicated professed Christians are not.

In this modern time with high mobility and low church and denomination affiliation bonds, the text of Mt. 18:18 should sober us Christians. The idea that one is fine merely by changing church at the first sign of trouble, or that even after being excommunicated one can join the next church down the road who will welcome him with open arms, goes against the plain teaching of the Scriptures here. The latter attitude, especially if one scorns the legitimate sentence of excommunication from a true church, may well be a symptom that one is in fact unregenerate and not saved. With regards to the former, if in fact this passage teaches anything at all which we must remember, it is that conflicts of any kind with fellow believers should be attempted to be resolved, and that leaving at the first sign of trouble is not the Christian way.

This correlation between the judgments of Christ and the church occurs only when the judgments are legitimate and true according to the proper application of God's Word, for God does not contradict Himself. The Pharisees who function as the rulers of the OT church wrongly threw out the man born blind (Jn. 9:34-35), which shows that false judgments by the church are not binding and are no more correlated with the judgments of Christ than the Pharisees' judgments were.

Mt. 18:18 thus does not teach sacerdotalism, or the belief that the Church or the leaders of the Church (Bishops, Priests etc.) function in some sense as mediators between God and the normal laity. In fact, Jn. 16:2 teaches us that false judgments by people who claim to act on behalf of God in the church would happen, thus falsifying sacedotalism. Mt. 18:18 teaches the work of the Church when she functions exactly as how she should be functioning as the representative of Christ, and her judgments are to be treated seriously as true and binding on all Christians insofar as they are true and legitimate according to the Scriptures, and are to be ignored if they are not. Scripture's message to the modern "church shoppers" therefore is that judgments of the Church are to be taken seriously, while its message to the sacerdotalists is that such judgments are not true by fiat and thus they do they act ex opere operato.

A most appalling eisegesis of verse 18 can be heard in some charismatic circles which couple verse 18 together with Mk. 3:27, and then appropriate this verse for the purpose of spiritual warfare. Needless to say, the context is not even close to the topic of spiritual warfare, so wrenching this verse out of context and connecting it to Jesus' teaching of the binding of the strong man (which depict Satan) is definitely in error.[11]

Verses 19-20

Verses 19-20 are two verses that have been used as an encouragement for prayer, especially in teaching us how God will be with us in corporate prayer since "two or three are gathered" in His name as per the dictates of Mt. 18:20 so He will hear our prayers.

Now, certainly praying together with other believers is definitely good and is in fact taught in Scripture (cf Acts 2:42. See the numerous examples in the OT of corporate prayer), but that is not what the passage here is teaching in context. Verse 18 is on the subject matter of the judgments of the Church and church discipline. Verses 19-20 therefore are telling us that God will be with His church as they pray for His wisdom and will be with them as they pass out the judgments of the church. It is a promise of God to His Church that He will be with them in their judgments and deliberations as they pray to Him in this regard. Following on with the "representative of Christ" idea as seen in verse 18, this means that the promise is not meant to function ex opere operato ("will be done for them"), as if God will rubber stamp whatever proceedings and judgments that the Church passes, but that the Church when functioning properly will experience God's promise of His aid and presence among us in this regard.

Such being the case, Mt. 18:19-20 cannot exactly be used to promote prayer except in a very loose inferred sense. To use them as proof-texts to promote corporate prayer is therefore not optimum.

Jn. 3:16

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (Jn. 3:16)

Ούτως γαρ ηγαπησεν ό θεος τον κοσμον, ώστε τον υίον τον μονογενη εδωκεν, ίνα πας ό πιστευων εις αυτον μη αποληται αλλ εχη ζωην αιωμιον. (Jn. 3:16)

John 3:16 is one of the most misquoted verses in the Bible. From a beautiful text that teaches the love of God in saving sinners, the synergists have made it into a proof-text for the universal love of God towards all and every sinner, even to the unrepentant reprobate.

In a video of his[12], Dr. James White shows through exegeting the verse itself that John 3:16 does not teach universal saving love. Rather, from the Greek πας ό πιστευων (pas ho pisteuon), the phrase that is translated "whosoever believes" in many English versions is actually better translated "every believing one [who continue believing]" or "everyone of those with saving faith". There is no Greek word for "whosoever", and the term πας which can be translated as "all" or "every" is a modifier for the participle ό πιστευων. Therefore, the group of people indicated by πας is restricted by the phrase it is modifying, and not indicative of every single person in this world at all. John 3:16 does not thus teach a form of universal redemption in any sense, as even the context makes it clear:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (Jn. 3:16-18. Bold added)

It is simply illogical to believe that God has a universal saving love for all men, and simultaneously to believe that there are still men who remain condemned, if God is truly omnipotent and unchanging.

John 3:16 can be better translated as follows:

For God loved the world in this way: that He gave his only unique Son, that every believing one should not perish but have eternal life.

Jn. 17:21

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (Jn. 17:20-21)

Jn. 17:21, located in the midst of Jesus' High Priestly prayer, has Jesus praying for the unity of all believers, that they may be one. It has thus been used by the ecumenically minded to promote their ecumenism, supposedly to fulfil Jesus' prayer that believers will be one.

It cannot be denied that Jesus did indeed pray that believers are to be united, and we are exhorted to maintain the unity in the Spirit (Eph. 4:3) and have unity of mind (1 Peter 3:8), living in harmony with each other (Rom. 12:16). Unity therefore is a good thing that Christians are to have.

As we look into the context however, we can see a few points which undermine the ecumenical movement, and show us the biblical way in which such unity is to be achieved.

The first thing to note in the context is that such unity is to be achieved and grounded in the truth (Jn. 17:17). Therefore, taking a stand on God's truths is important and is in fact the basis of the unity Jesus prayed for.

Secondly, Jesus in His High Priestly prayer makes a sharp distinction between those who are His (the elect) and those who are of the world. Jesus explicitly states that He did not pray for the world (v. 9), and therefore the prayer of unity only encompasses believers (those who are His) and not unbelievers (the world). The call for unity therefore presupposes that those involved are truly believers, as the world is NOT to be united with. Elsewhere in Scripture, we are told to separate from the world and all ungodly partnerships (2 Cor. 6:14-18). This leads us to two sub-points with regards to the call to unity.

  1. The ecumenical movement err in attempting to find common ground with the world of unbelievers.

  2. Discerning whether the other party is a Christian is logically prior to seeking unity with that party. For if the other party is not really a Christian, then attempting such unity is not in line with Jesus' prayer in distinguishing believers from the world.

Lastly, true biblical unity is to be maintained, not created. Jesus in His prayer is heard by the Father and since He perfectly knows God and His will (Mt. 11:27), his prayer is in line with God's will and will be answered. And even if it is to be created, the prayer is offered to God not to us, so God the Father is the one who will answer and fulfil the prayer request. Nevertheless, Scripture tells us that this unity is indeed already present in Christ and we are to maintain it (Eph. 4:3), not to create it. The ecumenical movement therefore is in error for seeking to create a semblance of unity instead of preserving the already present unity in the Body of Christ, around the common confession of the Faith (Eph. 4:5-6).

John 17:20-21 therefore does not in any shape reformed support any form of ecumenism. Rather, we are to strive to maintain the unity around the truth with fellow believers, not attempting to create bridges where there are none and are forbidden.

Acts 5:38-39

So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, (Acts 5:38-39)

In context:

But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:34-42)

Acts 5:38-39 is often used as a prooftext for Neo-Evangelicals and others like them to "counsel" people against refuting error. Following the advice of Gamaliel, they call on such "hotheads" to cool down and let things run its course. After all, shouldn't we trust in the sovereignty of God? As Gamaliel states so clearly, if the movement, plan or undertaking is of man, it will fail, but if it is of God it will thrive. Worse still, we would have been found to be going against God Himself! However, does this verse actually give us this advice?

In context, it can be seen that the Apostles were arrested for preaching the Gospel in public by the High Priest and the Sadducees, and brought to trial before the religious council, the Sanhedrin. When commanded not to preach the Gospel (v. 28), Peter and the apostles openly defied them and say that they will in fact do so, thus making the Sanhedrin furious and murderous.

It is in this light that the counsel from Gamaliel was given, which defuses for a time the anger of the Jewish leaders against the apostles' manifest defiance of their commands. Through an appeal to the sovereignty of God, Gamaliel persuaded the Counsel not to go ahead with their intentions to murder the apostles there but to release them, letting God do the judging instead.

Now, it is a sure fact that in God's providence, Gamaliel's advice did in fact save the apostles at that time. It is also true that God is sovereign and that He is in control, thus nothing can happen without His permission. In all this, Gamaliel was in fact quite right. However, do all these facts therefore make Gamaliel's advice right?

An understanding of God's revealed will (His precepts) and God's sovereign will would be of great help here. God commands various things in line with what would be pleasing in His sight, yet we all know that not all and in fact most of them do not come to pass. God is against sins of any kind, yet we all know that men sin everyday. Thus, it can be seen that God's will of command is often frustrated, and thus not come to pass.

If God is indeed sovereign however, then all that He desires to come to pass will be indeed accomplished (cf Dan. 4:35 etc). In this we speak of God's sovereign will or His will of desire. Nothing can ever thwart God's desires, for such is the very essence of what it means to be totally sovereign.

Knowing this, we can see that Gamaliel's advice alludes merely to the sovereignty of God or God's sovereign will. However, are we to follow the commands of God or the sovereign decrees of God? God summons us to obey His commands (for that is the very definition of the concept of 'command'), while His sovereign will is not our domain to discern and attempt to accomplish (cf Deut. 29:29). God calls us to obey His Word and we are to do them. In the case of exposing errors, that is the command of Scripture especially in Jude 1:3. Therefore, we are to follow God's commands in this respect i nstead of attempting to discern God's will based upon the successes or failures of any person/ ministry.

One other error in misquoting such a verse to teach fatalism is that it assumes that God will in fact do such and such. In the biblical context, is it always the case that a plan of God will succeed while a plan of men will fail? If such is the case, then isn't Islam the true religion, after all having conquered the heartlands of ancient Christianity (by the sword) and now being well on its way to overrun Europe in the near future? Who or what determines failure and success? Biblically, without the full revelation of Scripture, did the plan of God fail when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian Empire? Was the Davidic Covenant made void when the last king of Judah was executed with his sons? It would certainly seem that way for the people living at that time.

God sovereignly allows things to pass that may not be what seems good to us, for example the captivity of Judah. Therefore, Gamaliel's advice, while it may be generally correct, is flawed. Further proof can be obtained if we were to think what is actually involved if such a fatalistic attitude were to be implemented in all of life and not just ministry: Vaccines are not necessary because if you are destined to fall sick, you will regardless of whether you have the vaccine or not and vice versa; Medicine do not need to be taken too to cure an illness, since the disease may be from God and vice versa; etc. Gamaliel's advice is therefore absurd when applied to "practical" life issues, so what more spiritual issues that are more real than the present world?

In our actions, we are to obey God's commands in everything (not just in the area of discernment), and not to attempt to "follow God" through deciphering God's intention through providence or any other ways. Even if God had actually decreed a certain evil end, it is right and proper for us to follow God's commands in Scripture to work against that evil end. For how do we know God's intentions — that He may use us as an instrument to halt that evil? Our actions are to be guided by the precepts of Scripture, not garnered through sinful enquiry into what God is actually going to do or not to do!

In conclusion, these two verses are merely descriptive of Gamaliel's advice which was useful providentially, but they are not prescriptive for God's people. Gamaliel's advice is therefore not biblical, and we should therefore treat it as the narrative it actually is rather than grounding our conduct on it.

1 Cor. 9:22

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (1 Cor. 9:22)

When it comes to the issue of contextualization, this particular verse is the most utilized verse for prooftexting. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with trying to reach out to others, or presenting information in an understandable way, or removing stumbling blocks to belief? What does this verse actually teach, and can it be used to promote contextualization, however defined?

The context of this verse outlines what Paul did in reaching out to the Jews who are under the Law, and the Gentiles who are outside it. In other parts of Scripture, the Law with its rituals and ceremonies have been stated to be abrogated with the coming of the New Covenant (cf Col. 2:16-17; Gal. 5:2-6, Heb. 8:13), and therefore participating in these rituals are rendered not necessary at all. However, it is not sin to take part in these rituals per se.

In contrasting being "under the law" and "outside the law", we must realize that the Law here refers especially to the ceremonial aspect of the Jewish religious law. Paul is thus advocating accommodation on something which is not necessary for salvation or the Christian life. Among the Jews, he continues keeping the form of these rituals so that he would not needlessly antagonize them. Among the Gentiles, he lives like a non-Jew who do not observe the Jewish religious laws, since they are not necessary anyway. In both of these scenarios, Paul brings himself to their level by adopting either neutral lifestyle which are both spiritually proper.

In light of this, the type of accommodation and "contextualization" that is biblical is one in which the options are ethically and spiritually neutral. Whatever options made can never violate the biblical rules of conduct — that we should be holy as God is holy (Lev. 11:44-45, 1 Peter 1:16). Paul is manifestly not an antinomian, and it is a mistake to interpret the word "law" as meaning anything other than the religious code of the Old Covenant. Neither is the phrase "by all means" meant to be taken as an absolute, as if prostitution is also a legitimate means (To win prostitutes, we should be one as well?), but the phrase is to be understood in context as referring to all valid means possible.

In conclusion, 1 Cor. 9:22 teaches that we should as much as possible find ways to relate to others. However, such does not give us license to compromise the Christian faith and message, or be a pragmatist who thinks that the ends justify the means. Contextualization that compromises the Christian faith and message cannot therefore utilize 1 Cor. 9:22 as a prooftext, for the context does not lend itself to such an abuse.

2 Cor. 3:6b

For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor. 3:6b)

In context:

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor. 3:4-6)

In mystical and especially charismatic circles, 2 Cor. 3:6b is used to promote their anti-intellectualism. Equating the letter with the written words of Scripture or the "logos Word", these mystics contrasts those "dead words" with the living Holy Spirit or the "rhema Word". Therefore, the important thing is to keep close to the Spirit, and not to allow "dry" doctrines and theology to interfere with the Spirit's voice. Coupled together with this theory is the assertion that the sin of the Pharisees was that they were too knowledgeable and doctrinal, conveniently omitting Scripture such as Jn. 3:10 for example that shows that the Pharisees were actually spiritually ignorant.

The words logos and rhema has been shown to be essentially the same with huge semantic overlap between them[13], thus the charismatic confusion on this matter is lamentable. Yet, the focus here is not so much refutation of the charismatic position but rather the interpretation of 2 Cor. 3:6b.

When we look at the context, it should be immediately seen that the words "letter" and "Spirit" are not just referring to themselves. The whole context of 2 Cor. 3 is on the New Covenant, and in contrasting the Old Covenant with the New. Following from verse 5 and 6a therefore, we can see that the "letter" is analogous to the Old Covenant that was fixed and rigidly carved on stone, while the "Spirit" is analogous to the New Covenant with its fuller reality of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the phrase should better read thus:

The Old Covenant kills, but the New Covenant gives life

Far from it therefore for the "letter" to refer to "soulish" doctrines and theology, while the Spirit represents the "spiritual" knowledge given by the Spirit. The verse is actually contrasting two covenants, and thus two ways of life. We should not be living by the "letter", as that would be to go back to the Old Covenant, but we should be in the New Covenant, and thus living by the Spirit.

In conclusion, 2 Cor. 3:6b in context is actually on soteriology, not mystical knowledge. Doctrines are indeed good and necessary, and we should never think of divorcing the Word and the Spirit. Amen.

Gal. 3:28

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28)

In context:

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (Gal. 3: 23-29)

Gal. 3:28 is indeed a precious verse when understood correctly. Misinterpreted, however, and it becomes a tool for devastating the Faith, as has happened in the hands of the feminists and their egalitarian allies.

Gal. 3:28 is located in a discourse in Galatians on the topic of salvation. More specifically, the topic is with regards to the historical unfolding of the Gospel of promise which bring an end to the former era of Law (capital 'L') in redemptive history. In Paul's view, the era of the Law placed the people of God under bondage which is necessary to create the ground for the Gospel to take root, the Law functioning as our pedagogue (v. 24) to lead us to Christ through our being justified by faith.

It is in light of the dawning of the Gospel promise that the Apostle Paul make this amazing statement in Gal. 3:28. Traditional Jewish culture tends to look down to women, yet Paul here makes the clam that men and women are alike as to salvation (which is the immediate context). Through the use of merisms, Paul states that all of humanity is encompassed in God's plan of salvation through the promise of the Gospel. Gal. 3:28 therefore functions to proclaim the universality of the Gospel promise unto any and everyone who believes and are thus made one in Christ.

As it has been seen, this verse has to do with the equality of all people in salvation. The feminists and their egalitarian allies, in their attempt to wrest this verse to promote the abolishments of any differences in roles between men and women are thus reading a concept alien to the context (and alien to Scripture too) into the verse. The feminist and egalitarian misuse of this verse to promote their errant theory is thus wrong

Heb. 10:24-25

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb. 10:24-25)

This passage is one of the proof-texts I have seen used to push for inclusion in a Local Church, and especially regular church attendance. However, does this passage actually teach that, and if so, in what sense?

On the surface, the verses themselves call upon us to

1) Stir each other to love and good deeds

This means that believers are exhorted to be actively provoking or stirring up each other as we meet, that such is to be geared towards growing in love and the doing of good deeds. We are to encourage each other towards godliness, through the practical outworking in being more loving towards the brethren and others and doing good to all.

2) Meet together for encouragement

Believers are exhorted to meet together for encouragement, which is to say that our meetings are not just a social gathering for catching up with each other, but we would also be intentional in desiring to help and encourage our brothers and sisters in their spiritual walks with God. The outflow of love which we have in Christ must be first and foremost directed towards our brothers and sisters in Christ, to seek their good.

3) Do so regularly

Believers are exhorted to meet together regularly to encourage each other in our respective walks with God. We are to do so eagerly, as the text says, especially as the Last Day approaches.

Does the passage therefore speaks about the necessity of regularly going to church? Not directly, for the passage does not tell us how often and in what manner are we to meet up as such. The eagerness to meet up with our brethren however would mean that we would meet up as much as able. To use this to apply to regular Sunday attendance is too restrictive for this passage, yet it certainly should not be less than that. After all, how can it be said that we are eager to meet up and encourage each other if the most basic of gatherings on the Lord's Day is not maintained?

So it does seem that this passage teach us the necessity of being involved in a community of believers, in their lives, and of coming together regularly, which should not be less regular than the weekly Sunday services. That said, there are a few cautions we should take note of when applying this text, which would distort it into a weapon used against believers.


1) We must understand these exhortations in light of their previous indicatives

The larger context of this passage talks about how Christ has come to offer the perfect sacrifice for sins once for all (Heb. 10:14), and how we therefore can have full assurance of faith because of Christ's perfect sacrifice on our behalves. This background of what Christ has already done FOR us (indicative) is what give rise to the imperative to come together as brothers and sisters in Christ in encouraging each other and stirring each other to love and good deeds. The exhortation does not exist in a vacuum and is therefore not a moralism which we must do merely because it is the correct Christian thing to do.

The indicative always comes before the imperative. The danger here lies in trying to short-circuit the process and calling on believers to come to church because the Bible says so (often with self-serving reasons ie tithing). The Scripture is abundantly clear that we join a Local Church, participate in it and come regularly for service and even perhaps more, not because of duty and obligation, but because we want to and love to.

What this practically translates to in teaching and biblical counseling of those who have lapsed in church attendance etc is not hammering them with the commands of Scripture for regular church attendance, probably bringing in the 4th commandment also to strengthen our case. The Law can be of help in showing the standard, but it can never function as the impetus for correction. Ministers and leaders who use Heb. 10:24-25 as a club to promote Church attendance are not preaching the Gospel, but Law, and the Law brings death. We must therefore reason from the indicatives of Scripture to exhort believers to come together regularly, and make the Gospel real to ourselves and to others instead of proclaiming loudly the Christians' duty to join a Local Church and attend regular services, as if anyone will ever be converted by the Law!

2) The call to meet does not give any visible church the right to command absolute fidelity to that church

We are called to meet together for encouragement and exhortation, and such commitment would necessitate commitment to a Local Church. Yet such does not give any particular visible church the right to demand of its members absolute commitment and fidelity to the church such that all members MUST go for all prayer meetings, and cannot contemplate change in church without what the leaders think are good reasons (ie going abroad to study or work etc) without "incurring the curse of God" and possible excommunication.

The Church exists for her members, not the other way around. The pastors/elders and lay leaders (if any) in the church should be desirous of building up the Kingdom of God and of feeding the sheep in their particular fold, not in building their own kingdoms and/or "Gospel Empire"! Therefore, their concern should be of what is best for the spiritual health of the sheep, not the possible impact any decisions have on their coffers and their pet [ministry] projects, or worse still their reputation.

This therefore means that pastors/elders are to even recommend that a particular sheep in the church who has doctrinal differences or irreconcilable conflicts with certain people in the church, who have exhausted all other means of reconciliation, to leave the church and join another Bible-believing church. If such people decide to leave for another church even without exhausting all possibilities of reconciliation, the pastors and elders are to release them and guide them to another biblical church where they can settle. In all things, the spiritual health of the sheep is to be considered. The church that is only interested in "keeping people" at all costs, or even cursing all who leave for what they consider errant reasons, have abused their authority as undershepherds. Heb. 10:24-25 cannot be used to support such lording over Christ' flock, and any who do so distort the text in support of their anti-biblical agenda.


In light of all this, let us desire to spend time with our fellow believers in encouraging and exhorting each other towards "love and good works". Yet let us do so with the proper motive of the Gospel rather than of legalism. For church leaders, do so with the proper motive of care for the flock instead of self-aggrandizement. Amen

Heb. 13:17

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Heb. 13:17)

Perhaps the most pertinent verse relating to our conduct to our spiritual leaders; those who are placed above us by the Lord, this verse is at one time important for us Christians yet also easily abused. Due to the very very practical application of this particular verse and thus the immediate impact of it on all Christians, it would be good before I start to state what I am not arguing for. I am NOT arguing that we should rebel against our leaders nor am I am arguing for forcing our personal preferences down the throats of church leaders and expecting everybody to conform to our idea of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. It is expected that my enemies would slander and libel me as stating any of such errors, but this is totally not the case, and I disavow believing any of these errors.

In discussing this verse, it would be good to look at what it positively teaches and then at its abuse.

What it teaches

This verse teach us to obey and submit to our leaders. That is for sure. However, how are we to do it and why?

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. ...

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you (Heb. 13:7; 17)

As it can be seen, the context of Heb 13 especially verse 7 sheds some light on the meaning of the verse, and how we should go about applying it. The teaching of this particular verse can therefore be stated in the following points:

1) We are to obey our leaders and submit to them because God has commanded us to do so.

2) Such obedience and submission should be done in considering their godly lives and imitate their faith.

3) One aspect of our submission to our leaders can be seen in 1 Tim. 5:17, where we are to respect our leaders and give them the honor due to their labor in the Lord.

4) According to 1 Tim. 5:19, we are not to entertain frivolous accusations against leaders in the church. All such accusations are to be proven via objective evidence and/or the verbal evidence given by two or three witnesses of the sin, otherwise the accuser is to be rebuked.

5) Coming back to Heb. 13:17, the rationale for such obedience, honor and submission is that the leaders as good shepherds are watching over the souls of the sheep entrusted to their care. Taking care of the sheep is not an easy job, and as part of our love for our leaders, we are to make their job easier.

6) Leaders whose service is a joy would be of benefit to the sheep, as that would make it easier for them to love the sheep and serve them better.

As it can be seen, godly obedience and submission to church leaders is a good thing which God has commanded us to do. Those who refuse to obey and submit to biblical authority are living their lives in violation of the commands of God.

What it does not teach

1) Church leaders are above any form of criticism

This line of argument is better known by its "sacred" form: "Thou shall not touch the Lord's anointed!" That Heb. 13:17 is not against criticism of churches, church leaders, Christian organizations and entire denominations can be easily deduced from Scripture. The context in Hebrews already gave us one solution to this problem as it talks about Christian leaders who are keeping watch over our souls, and of speaking the Word of God. Therefore, those who are not keeping watch over our souls (in the sense of shepherding it) but are instead lording over the flock, and those who do not speak the Word of God, cannot be considered true Christian leaders (Modus tollens).

We are exhorted in Scripture to judge and discern false teachers and false "christs" (1 Jn. 4:1; Jude 1:4), and such people will indeed enter the church (Acts 20: 29-30, 1 Jn.2 :18). We can see such episodes in the narrative of the early churches most especially seen in Paul's strong denunciation of the Judaizers in the epistle to the Galatians, and most certainly the Judaizers were calling themselves Christians, and Christian teachers and leaders at that!

Therefore, Christian leaders are not to be above criticism, though as we have stated, we are not to be frivolous in accusing others. We are not to be trigger-happy in our criticism and try to intentionally find fault with our leaders. However, if these leaders are in fact in error, they are to judged severely and publicly as an example to all (1 Tim. 5:20), "so that the rest may stand in fear". Leaders are the public face of the Church in its institutional form, and as such are to be held to strict standards.

2) Only church leaders can criticize other churches and church leaders

To a certain extent, such has often been the case in the early church and the history of the church. Criticism and charges of heresy etc were often made by leaders within the institutional Church. However, is this more the case that those who know enough about the Bible will be able to see the errors and identify false teachers, and such people would predominantly be found within the Church as leaders as the people recognize their gifts?

When one looks through the Scriptures and the historical record of the Church, one finds quite a few people who are not church leaders in the proper sense of the term. Old testament prophets like Amos were not of the priestly order for example, Amos being a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs (Amos 7:14). In church history, Peter Waldo was certainly not a church leader, while during the Reformation era, besides Luther, Zwngli and Calvin and maybe a few others, almost none of the non-Anglican reformers were ever Christian leaders until they started preaching and planting churches. An extreme example of such would be the Baptist preacher John Bunyan, who became a pastor simply by preaching and planting a church as people turned to Christ through his preaching. Yet he was never seminary trained or ordained in his entire life. This view is therefore not biblical and in error.

One effect of such a distortion of Heb. 13:17 is that it creates a false distinction between the clergy and the laity, and deny to the "laity" what it gives to the clergy. Also, it does not take into account the fact that the epistles written to the churches with their warning of false teachers were to be read to the entire church, not just the church leaders.

3) Disagreement with church leaders and the church's or their vision is rebellion

In many modernist business model churches with pastor-CEOs, such a particular distortion of Heb. 13:17 would invariably come up. Instead of seeking to follow the Scriptures, leaders would rather follow the business world and her methodology. The pastor-CEO's vision would then be imbued with almost the same amount of authority as the Bible, and those who oppose the vision and especially the entire methodology would be thought of as being in violation of Heb. 13:17. However, nothing can be further from the truth. As we have seen, the biblical imperative concerns Christian leaders who are following God's Word, not leaders who are intentionally or unintentionally leading the sheep astray. To follow God's Word even in defiance of the dictates of any Christian leader is never a violation of Heb. 13:17, if we are indeed following God's Word and the leader is not. If however, both are within the bounds of Christian liberty, then we should of course obey our leaders in that respect.


We have seen in some detail the teachings and the possible abuses of Heb. 13:17. May we therefore learn to properly apply this verse and have a heart to obey and submit to our church leaders, yet do so in a way that is consistent with Scripture, never allowing it to be abused so that Christian leaders become de facto dictators. Amen

Jas. 2:23-24

and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” —and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:23-24)

In its larger context:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” —and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:18-26)

Although not on the list of misquoted verses, this common passage of Scripture is often misquoted to support the false notion of salvation by faith and works. Certainly, verses 23-24 by themselves seem to teach that justification is not by "faith alone" but by faith and works done in faith. However, is that really the case?

Context of James 2

James 2 is located in the context of the epistle of James, which historically as a letter from James is supposed to be read in one setting. The practical bent of this epistle is easily seen in the epistle itself, thus showing it as written more for practical Christian living rather than doctrinal instruction. As the introduction to the Epistle of James in the ESV Study Bible states[14]:

Literary Features


The most pervasive technique in the book of James is the proverb or aphorism, in the mode of ancient wisdom teachers. Next in frequency is the rhetorical device of direct command, expressed in the imperative mood of the verb (e.g., “be doers of the word, and not hearers only,” 1:22). In fact, there are over 50 imperatives in the book's 108 verses. This abundance of commands is a signal that the writer has a practical bent and is interested in action rather than mere belief as the distinguishing characteristic of Christians.

The most important aspect in biblical interpretation is the context of the verse; it has been said that the three most important things in the interpretation of a text is context, context and context! The context in James therefore shows the entire letter to be of a most practical nature, one more interested in examining the lives of Christians rather than the particular of their beliefs.

Viewed in context, James 2 teaches that true faith will lead to good works. Practically speaking, anyone can profess to have faith, and thus true and false faith is indistinguishable from each other in terms of profession. James in his epistle therefore takes on the concept of how to differentiate between true and false faith, which lies in the area of good works. Just as Jesus says, a "healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit" (Mt. 7: 17), James challenges the person who claims to have faith to show forth his "fruit". In the words of James 2:18

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2:18)

It must be noted that even here, James does not inject any form of works righteousness. James challenges the professed believer to show forth his works, but he state he will show forth his faith by his works, not show forth his faith and his works. Works is the method of proving the genuineness of faith, not a separate element which may or may not be present where faith is present.

As the ESV Study Bible remarks on this passage (James 2:14-26)[15]:

James 2:14–26 Faith without Works Is Dead. James continues the theme that hearing/faith must lead to doing/works. Although it may seem as if James is contradicting Paul's “by grace you have been saved through faith . . . not a result of works” (Eph. 2:8–9), in reality there is no dichotomy between faith and works, for Paul and James would agree that the basis of salvation is grace alone through faith, with works not the basis but the necessary result thereof (Eph. 2:10).

The issue of the quotation of Gen. 15:6

A RC apologist may counter that the quotation of Gen. 15:6 in James 2:23 proves that legal justification must be in view here in some sense. After all, doesn't Gen. 15:6 teach legal justification, and is quoted as such in passages such as Rom. 4:3 and Gal. 3:6? Since such is the case, shouldn't we interpret James 2 as teaching a legal aspect of justification here?

God = Zeus?

Such a hermeneutical gymnastics leads one to a parallel in Paul's sermon to the Athenians. Consider this excerpt from Paul's sermon:

that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

(Acts 17: 27-28)

The first quote "appears to be from a hymn to Zeus by Epimenides of Crete" (c. 600 BC), while the second quotation is from the poem Phainomena by the Stoic poet Aratus (c. 315–240 b.c.). In both of these cases, the original meanings applied to Zeus, the mythological Greek father of the gods.

Now, since the Apostle Paul utilizes verses from these pagan hymns and poems to describe God, therefore can it be said that God (YHWH) is co-extensive and similar to Zeus in some sense? Of course not! The mere quoting of a phrase does not mean that everything it teaches is necessarily endorsed and taught. Rather, the context determines why any particular text is quoted and to what effect, and then only is the issue of the correspondence of the sentence to the way it is utilized asked.

In the case of James 2:23, the key phrase there are the words "Scripture was fulfilled". Going along with the practical bent of James, James 2:23 quotes Gen. 15:6 as an example of what righteousness really is. In other words, James is saying: "If you want to know what true faith and righteousness is, look at Abraham's life". True faith manifests itself in good works, and the very point of quoting Gen. 15:6 in Jas. 2:23 is not to make James 2 into a passage on legal justification, but of how a person who is truly justified will behave.

Exegetical fallacy: Illegitimate Totality Transfer

The chief fallacy involved in the RC argumentation is the fallacy of an unwarranted adoption of an expanded semantic field, otherwise known as illegitimate totality transfer or abuse of the field of lexicography, as described in D.A. Carson's book, Exegetical Fallacies[16]. Just because the dikaio- (δικαιω) word group is used in James 2 does not mean that legal justification of any sort is taught and mentioned.


James 2:23-24 teaches that true believers have a living faith, not a mere professed faith which does not work. Against the Romanists among other synergists, James 2 does not teach any legal justification, and neither does Jas. 2:23 through its quotation of Ge. 15:6 teaches that either. Gen. 15:6 was applied in James' argument as stating that Abraham was righteous and this is how righteousness functions, which is to say the nature of righteousness in Christian living rather than the reason(s) for it. Truly, we are not justified by a faith that is alone but by a living faith alone. Amen

Rev. 3:20

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Rev. 3:20)

In context:

And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation.

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (Rev. 3: 14-22)

This verse is probably the most misquoted verse used during evangelism. Typically, it is used in a Gospel invitation near the end of an Evangelistic message or tract to ask people to "invite Christ into your heart". As it is normally presented in a well-known tract[17]:

Law 4: We need to personally RECEIVE Jesus Christ as our SAVIOR and LORD, then we can KNOW God personally and experience His LOVE.


We receive Christ by Personal Invitation

[Christ is speaking] "Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him." - Revelation 3:20

The tract or message then uses this text to call sinners to ask Jesus into your heart. For Jesus is outside knocking on the door of the sinner's heart, and wants to dine with the person, if only the sinner would open his/her heart and allow Christ in, then s/he would experience the fullness of life promised by Jesus to all who believe in him (cf Jn. 10:10). The Gospel invitation is then given and the sinner is asked to respond to the Gospel so proclaimed. It all sounds reasonable, or is it?

First of all, this would NOT be an analysis/critique of the 4SL as commonly presented, but rather an analysis of the use of Rev. 3:20 as a proof-text for the Gospel invitation. Suffice it is to say here that the Apostles and most of Church History knows not this form of presenting the Gospel.

The context of Revelations 3:20 is the message of Jesus through the Holy Spirit to the Church of Laodicea. The Church of Laodicea was a lukewarm church that was neither passionate for the Lord (hot) nor refreshing others (cold), and thus it incurred the wrath and judgment of God on her disgusting lukewarmness (v. 16). She thinks herself rich and prosperous (v. 17), which she most definitely is materially, but in spirituality she is wretched and poor. In a parody of her boasted condition, her Lord call her to get true riches, spiritual riches, as opposed to the outward material riches she has and boasts in.

It is in this context that Rev. 3:20 is situated. Rev. 3:20 therefore is addressed primarily to the Church of Laodicea to repent of her lukewarmness; that she by her lukewarmness has removed Christ her lord from her midst. Yet Christ IS the head of the Church (Eph. 5:23, Col. 1:18) and as such He is pleading with the wayward Church of Laodicea to return back to him and allow Him back into their midst, for their disgusting lukewarmness has chased Him away.

It can be seen immediately that there is a problem with applying this verse to the context of salvation and the Gospel call, not the least is which the contexts are different. The biblical context is towards people in the Visible Church as opposed to unbelievers, corporate as opposed to individual, and the call is to return back to their professed faith as opposed to calling unbelievers to repentance and faith. Such a major difference immediately invalidates such an application as committing a case of eisegesis. And pragmatism is no substitute for fidelity to the Word of God. There is no mitigating factor for misquoting the verse even if it somehow works, as if we have the power to convert anyone in the first place.

In fact, dare I say it, but that the application of this verse to evangelism actually demeans Christ. It reduces our sovereign Lord to be the helpless and often rejected beggar always so "meekly" knocking on everyone's doors, and most of them will reject Him anyway. It dethrones God and elevates Man, as if Man is the center of all things. Such an Arminian methodology compromises the person of Christ and the Godhead, and therefore dishonors the Lord we claim to worship.

With regards to the Gospel invitation, why can't we just use the method of the Apostles, of which we have apostolic warrant even? Let us look at Peter's Gospel invitation:

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:37-41)

Peter's Gospel invitation does not require him to dethrone God. Instead, the focus of the invitation points to what is known as duty-faith: Man's duty to repent of their sins and therefore turn to Christ. God through the Apostle Peter commands the Jewish sinners present at Pentecost that it is their duty to repent of their sins and thus save themselves from their crooked and perverse generation. As Jonathan Edwards preached, sinners are in the hand of an angry God whose wrath is kindled against them for their many sins. All sinners are obligated to repent of their sins, as fallen creatures owe to their righteous Creator His due. THIS is the biblical basis for the Gospel invitation, and we should proclaim the Creator's right over the sinful creature and of his duty to repent. Of course, this would mean that a more complete Gospel presentation would be needed, but whoever said that the Gospel was just the presentation of a few points based on disjointed verses which do not seem to cohere with each other?

So therefore, let us STOP using this verse out of context, and re-evaluate how we should be presenting the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. And may God be pleased to bless us and use us for the furtherance of His Kingdom. Amen.


We have examined the indicated passages, and have exegeted the verses and contrast their true meanings and applications with the misquotation and misusage of these verses in the contemporary churches. May this therefore be of help to show us the proper interpretation of such verses against popular abuse, and reject the false interpretations given by others. Amen.


[1] Israelism is, according to Wikipedia, the belief that is the belief that people of Western European descent are also the direct lineal descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, and it is often accompanied by the belief that the British Royal Family is directly descended from the line of King David. (

[2] Daniel H. Chew, On the efficaciousness of Prayer Does prayer operates Ex Opere Operato? (

[3] GDOP Singapore — Purpose, Vision, Mission ( Accessed Nov 29th 2009.

[4] Daniel H. Chew, Prayer Meeting on May 31st: Short Sharing ( Accessed Nov 29th 2009

[5] I have nothing against working for social improvement, but that is neither the Gospel nor a work of the Gospel! That should be rather placed under the Creation Mandate which all men Christians or not participate in, not the Great Commission.

[6] D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Baker), pp. 60-61

[7] James R. White, The God who Justifies (Minneapolis, MI, USA: Bethany House, 2001), p. 31. Emphasis original

[8] White, pp. 137-252

[9] Daniel H. Chew, Sola Scriptura: The necessity, sufficiency, authority, preservation, perspicuity of Scripture (

[10] White, The God Who Justifies

[11] This interpretation is in line with that of Matthew Henry in his Commentary on the Whole Bible, who states regarding this passage:

First, In their sentence of suspension; Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. If the censures of the church duly follow the institution of Christ, his judgments will follow the censures of the church, his spiritual judgments, which are the sorest of all other, such as the rejected Jews fell under (Rom. xi. 8), a spirit of slumber; for Christ will not suffer his own ordinances to be trampled upon, but will say amen to the righteous sentences which the church passes on obstinate offenders. How light soever proud scorners may make of the censures of the church, let them know that they are confirmed in the court of heaven; and it is in vain for them to appeal to that court, for judgment is there already given against them. They that are shut out from the congregation of the righteous now shall not stand in it in the great day, Ps. i. 5. Christ will not own those as his, nor receive them to himself, whom the church has duly delivered to Satan; but, if through error or envy the censures of the church be unjust, Christ will graciously find those who are so cast out, John ix. 34, 35.

Secondly, In their sentence of absolution; Whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Note, 1. No church censures bind so fast, but that, upon the sinner's repentance and reformation, they may and must be loosed again. Sufficient is the punishment which has attained its end, and the offender must then be forgiven and comforted, 2 Cor. ii. 6. There is no unpassable gulf fixed but that between hell and heaven. 2. Those who, upon their repentance, are received by the church into communion again may take the comfort of their absolution in heaven, if their hearts be upright with God. As suspension is for the terror of the obstinate, so absolution is for the encouragement of the penitent. St. Paul speaks in the person of Christ, when he saith, To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also, 2 Cor. ii. 10.

Now it is a great honour which Christ here puts upon the church, that he will condescend not only to take cognizance of their sentences, but to confirm them; and in the following verses we have two things laid down as ground of this.

Accessed on CCEL at, Nov 29th 2009

[12] James R. White, Pas ho pisteuwn: 'everyone believing' not 'all can believe' ( Accessed Nov 29th 2009.

[13] Cf. Gordon H. Clark, The Johannine Logos (Jefferson, Maryland, USA: Trinity Foundation, 1989), p. 46, 51, 57

[14] ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL, USA: Crossway Bibles, 2008), p. 2389

[15] ESV Study Bible, p. 2394

[16] Carson, pp. 60-61

[17] Campus Crusade for Christ, What You See is NOT All you get (Singapore, Singapore: Campus Crusade Asia Limited, n.d.), p. 10