I remember the first time I ever got to use the phrase “back in my day.” I was just 22 years old. Admittedly I am only now 25 years old. Still, it was a significant life milestone, ok? It happened when I explained to my sister that we used to have scripture mastery, instead of doctrinal mastery. For just a second, I got to feel old school.
We have favorite scriptures in the Church. What do you think of when I say obedience? Nephi didn’t come to mind, did he? What about the Sabbath Day? I think Isaiah had some “delightful” words to say about that, didn’t he?
But what happens if we use a scripture wrong? Does this ever happen?
Well, yes. Or there would be no point in writing this.
I do need to make one thing clear . . . I am clearly not the end-all for interpreting scriptures. Just like you, I get personal messages out of the scriptures that are intended for me, and probably no one else in the way I see them.
Sometimes though we collectively just get something a little bit wrong in scripture that doesn’t exactly line up with the context or the message. I am not saying that it’s not a correct lesson to learn, I’m just suggesting that we may need to tweak the ideas of certain scriptures that are go-to’s for us in the Church.
So here are the top 7 scriptures that we misunderstand or misquote the most.
1. Philippians 4:13
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
In the spirit of “Come, Follow Me,” naturally, I had to start with a scripture out of the New Testament. This is a favorite among the whole Christian world.
What we think it says: With the help of Christ, all things are possible for us personally. He will help us overcome everything we struggle with and help us develop strengths and talents we don’t currently have. All wrongs will be made right through Christ.
What it actually says: Taken in context, Paul was talking about his trials and tribulations while out preaching the Gospel. Just before he talks about how he knows what’s it is like to have plenty, and what it’s like to have nothing. But through it all, Christ strengthened Him. It is a declaration of how Christ will help us endure through everything we face in life. It is not a promise that all our weaknesses will become strengths, or that all our circumstances will be made whole. Eventually, we can be made perfect. But that does not come in this lifetime.
2. Ether 12:27
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their
weaknessesweakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble…” (emphasis added)
If you haven’t read it already, be sure to read: Ether 12:27: The Truth Behind Our Weaknesses
What we think it says: God gives us our weaknesses. When we struggle with certain temptations, are afflicted with certain diseases or even wrestle with addictions, it is an opportunity God gave to us to trust in Him and come unto Him.
What it actually says: Notice the plurality of the word “men” and the singularity of the word “weakness.” God did not give individual people certain weaknesses. He gave men as a whole, one single weakness. That weakness is being mortal, or as Randi put it (see above article), in an “unworthy and fallen state before God.” Our individual weaknesses come as a result of our single weakness that God did gift us, and our agency.
3. D&C 9:7-9
“…that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right…”
More than any other question that I have heard from my peers, questions about receiving confirmations of our decisions and specific answers to prayers are by far the most common.
What we think it says: As we strive to make decisions, we have to study them out in our minds and do what we can to figure them out. After we have made a decision, when we take it to God, He will tell us whether or not it was a good decision. The Holy Ghost will be present as a confirming witness to what was a good choice/thought.
What it actually says: This one is a little more tricky. I think most of us correctly understand this principle. It’s not necessarily that we are misinterpreting this scripture, certainly, the Holy Ghost will confirm in our hearts things that we should do, but it’s how often we apply this “test” to our decision. Often, we simply are faced with a choice that may or may not have one specific right answer. Sometimes, we mistake our overwhelming feelings of love and desire to be the confirmation for which we are seeking. This guide is not the ultimate guide to receiving revelation and answers. The Holy Ghost is manifested in so many different ways, that to limit Him to just an experience like this would be detrimental to our clear grasp of how revelation works.
4. 1 Nephi 14:9-10
“Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil.”
My friend just told me a story about an investigator, upon reading these verses, declared that “the Catholic church must be the great and abominable church… because they are the only ones that don’t talk about a great and abominable church.” I can see the logic. Obviously, he is way off the mark.
What we think it says: You belong one of two places, either to the church of the devil, or the church of the Lamb of God. The church of the devil may not be a single organization, but it can be an affiliation with anything that fights against Christ and His Gospel, along with the Plan of Salvation.
What it actually says: While most people understand that the church of the devil is not a single organization, what most fail to realize is that this scripture isn’t really a commentary on any organization at all. The term church meant something a lot different in Nephi’s day than it did in our day. What is really being described is the characteristics of individuals (and perhaps entire organizations, but rarely) that are set to destroy the faith, hope, charity, and agency of man. Belonging to the Church on record does not necessarily exempt us belonging to the church of the devil, just like anyone who is not a part of the Church does not mean they are excluded from belonging to the church of Lamb of God. The angel was commenting on individual desires and morality, rather than real, established organizations. Good versus evil, wherever they are found.
5. D&C 130:20-21
“And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”
God is infinitely merciful. He gives us everything in the first place, and then He blesses even further as we obey His commandments
What we think it says: As we strive to live God’s laws, we will receive blessings because of our obedience. Specific blessings derive from specific obedience to specific laws. God is bound when we do what He says, and without obedience, He cannot bless us. The blessings He has in store for us lay in wait until we are obedient to specific laws.
What it actually says: God does not wait to bless us until we are obedient. He doesn’t hold specific blessings until we can prove to Him that we deserve them. Blessings are not earned. Rather, the blessings are always available, and obedience to His laws is the gateway for these blessings. It’s like striking a match. The potential energy for fire and light is always present, but it can only be obtained by actually striking the match. We did not earn the light or fire in the way that we earn promotions and rewards. As Elder Renlund put it in the last General Conference, we just qualify for blessings by performing the actions (i.e obedience to God’s laws) that allow them to come about in our lives.
6. Ether 3:1-5 (2:23-25)
“…therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared…”
Just like number 3, here’s just another example of the many questions we hear and have about how God answers prayers.
What we think it says: In this instance, God waited until the brother of Jared came up a solution himself, and then he answered by doing what the brother of Jared asked him to do. It was a great display of faith. Often, God waits to answers our prayers until we come to Him with ideas and plans. Essentially He needs us to show our faith first before He can effectively answer them.
What it actually says: First of all, this was not as random of a decision as we make it out to be. The brother of Jared was using what he knew had worked with Noah’s ark (see When a Jew Reads the Book of Mormon). We often forget the part of the story that precedes the stones. God told the brother of Jared not to use fire in the vessels, and not to use windows for light because they would be going underwater. THAT IS PRETTY SPECIFIC INSTRUCTION. God is eager to help us. He has no specific guidelines to how He will answer them, or why He waits sometimes. But He will guide us through everything we need because He loves us.
7. D&C 132:19
“And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise…”
Of course, I had to include a scripture about marriage. Our view on marriage, and what it means in the eternal perspective is unique to the world.
What we think it says: Marriage is the crowining ordinance and new and everlasting covenant that God has restored and promised to us. This is the exalting ordinance. Only through marriage will we be able to enjoy the blessings of exaltation.
What it actually says: Well, technically everything is right about “what we think it says.” That view is much too limited, however. Of course, marriage is the ordinance of exaltation. Exaltation comes in partnerships, between a man and a woman. Most of us understand that the “new and everlasting covenant” includes all covenants that are done by the priesthood and sealed by “The Holy Spirit of Promise.” Too often, however, we talk about marriage as an end goal. The scriptures tell us to endure to the end, not to endure to the wedding. When we partake of the sacrament, we are renewing both our temple AND baptismal covenants. We need both to be exalted.
As we read, ponder and teach from the scriptures, the stories and principles come in different ways and at different times. We will be guided to know the truth of the Gospel “by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 10:4). Understanding scriptures, however, requires understanding the context in which they were said, and the nature of God and His Plan. Sometimes its easier to use scriptures to support our point of view and personal ideas, rather using the scriptures to alter our ideas and point of view (aka Repentance). True scripture power comes in the changes we make in our lives to better align our wills with God’s.
What other scriptures do you think we often misquote or misunderstand? Let us know in the comments below!