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Brief Interpretations of Common but Difficult Verses
Copyright © 2002, 2003 - All rights retained by author
Written by: C. W. Booth

Doctrines in a Nutshell

What we believe dictates what we do. Doctrine, for this reason, is of extreme importance. A doctrine is that which we believe. Therefore, a doctrine is the basis, the reason behind, the things we do. If our doctrine is incorrect, our actions will often be incorrect.

This article is a compilation of common or popular scriptures followed by a very short explanation of their correct interpretations. Often these scriptures are misinterpreted, and therefore misused to generate improper doctrine which in turn can lead to poor decision making. We would like to offer better interpretive alternatives to some of these often misunderstood passages.


Be Hot or Cold, not Lukewarm -- Revelation 3:13-22
God Causes All things To Work Together for Good -- Romans 8:26-9:5
Delight Yourself In the Lord and He Will Give You the Desires of Your Heart -- Psalm 37:3-6
Are You Released From A Wife? ... If You Marry, You Have Not Sinned -- 1 Corinthians 7:25,28
"You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High" -- Psalm 82
"Be still, and know that I am God" -- Psalm 46:10a
"Where there is no vision, the people perish." -- (KJV) Proverbs 29:18a
Future passages planned for this segment

Be Hot or Cold, not Lukewarm - Revelation 3:13-22

"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth."

The Common Misinterpretation

God wants us hot, on fire for Him, or cold, dead and overtly anti-God. But if we are lukewarm, only partly on fire for Him, He detests us more than the dead ones and will spit us out of His mouth.

The Textual Analysis

Historically, hot water is used for mixing medicinal compounds, steam-based inhalation applications, and serving nourishing soups.

Cold water is used as a refreshing liquid to quench thirst and to revive those who have succumbed to the heat due to over work.

Lukewarm water, on the other hand is rarely used as a liquid for consumption. In fact, lukewarm water is rarely used for anything, not even for washing hands.

Therefore, God is telling us that we, as Christians and as church groups, ought to be useful for the healing and nourishing of the church and the world in the way hot water is used. He is also telling us to be a cold refreshing drink, a reviving influence on the church and the world, giving relief and refuge to those who have engaged the world in the heat of battle.

However, those Christians who are doing nothing, neither feeding the flock, nor refreshing and encouraging the flock (giving a glass of cold water), these do-nothing Christians God will "spit out of His mouth". Since this message is to an entire local church, it is likely that to be "spat out of His mouth" means the church will be disbanded, and ultimately replaced by another.

The Proper Interpretation

This passage has nothing to do with the erroneous assumption that God would wish that people would either be unsaved (cold) if they were not going to sold-out zealots (hot). This passage means exactly what the words say, God wants us to be cold (refreshing to the saints) or hot (nourishing to the saints), but not lukewarm and doing nothing useful. Therefore, be useful. Do something, exert some effort, to support the church of God. A church that is doing nothing useful (is neither hot nor cold) will be disbanded by God (spit out of His mouth).

The Passage Quoted - Revelation 3:13-22

'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'

"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:

'I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore 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 will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.' "


God Causes All things To Work Together for Good -- Romans 8:26-9:5

"God causes all things to work together for good." Romans 8:28 abbreviated

The Common Misinterpretation

Those who stop with just the extracted phrase shown above in their examination or quotation of this commonly cited passage fail to see what God defines as being "the good". They also tend to impose on this passage unwarranted conclusions, such as one preacher who taught for four consecutive weeks that the primary interpretation and application of this passage is that "God just wants you to smile."

The Textual Analysis and Proper Interpretation

When you hear that God does things for our good, keep reminding yourself that Godís definition of good in this very passage is, "to become conformed to the image of His Son". This verse does not mean, "so you will be happy" or "so that you will smile".

It means God works trials in our life so that the outcome will be that we begin to obey Him and act like Him, and this is "good" for us. Such an interpretation is consistent with James 1 where we are told that trials produce faith, obedience, and righteousness through the mechanism of endurance. In fact, James tells us we have to "imagine" (reckon) the trial to be joy because no trial is joyful while you are going through it (see also Hebrews 12:7-11).

Finally, Paulís own reaction to his own theology is found just a few verses later, where he declares, "that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart." God does cause all things to work together for good to those who love Him, but the good is that we become conformed in obedience to His Son.

The Passage Quoted - Romans 8:26-9:5

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for {us} with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to {the will of} God.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to {His} purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God {is} for us, who {is} against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED."

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, {separated} from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the {temple} service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.


Delight Yourself In the Lord and He Will Give You the Desires of Your Heart Ė Psalm 37:3-6

Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

The Common Misinterpretation

There are two common errors that result from the out-of-context use of this verse. One, is to assume that this is a stand-alone command to "delight yourself in the Lord". The second error is to assume that the desires of your heart are some type of wish list we keep as personal life objectives (health, home, riches, companionship, children, Ö). In short, when this verse is used out of context some people believe that so long as they reach some type of emotional high-point during their worship of God (delight), God is obligated to grant them one or more wishes (desires).

The Textual Analysis and Proper Interpretation

In the context of Psalm 37:3-6 (and ignoring the broader context of the Psalm) we are told that:

If we trust in the Lord,
And if we do good,
And if we cultivate faithfulness toward God,
And if we delight in Him,
And if we commit our way to the Lord,
Then He will give us the desires of our heart (which are desires for righteousness)
And He will also give us discernment as enlightened and penetrating as the noon sun. (Psalm 37:4-6 paraphrased)

Psalm 37:3-6 is a conditional promise from God. It is conditional in so much as we do not get the benefit of the promise unless we trust, do good, exercise faith, delight, and commit our ways to Him. We must do all of these activities together. The beneficial outcome is that God will give us discernment, which is in reality what the righteous man really desires in his heart.

The Passage Quoted - Psalm 37:3-6

3. Trust in the LORD and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
4. Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.
5. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
6. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light And your judgment as the noonday.


Are You Released From A Wife? Ö If You Marry, You Have Not Sinned -- 1 Corinthians 7:25,28

The Passage Quoted - 1 Corinthians 7:25,28

Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is.

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.

The Common Misinterpretation

When quoted out of context, which it so often is, this passage can be made to appear to nullify all that Jesus said when He declared that a remarriage (following a divorce) is adultery (Matthew 5:32, 19:9, Mark 10:11, Luke 16:18). This verse is said to invalidate what Jesus said about adultery, exonerate all divorcees, and provide blanket permission for all divorced persons to remarry as many times as they like without the remarriage being labeled a "sin".

The Textual Analysis

Since Jesus calls remarriages the sin of adultery four times in the Gospels (Matthew 5:32, 19:9, Mark 10:11, Luke 16:18), we must assume that Paul is not contradicting the commands and opinions of the Lord. We know this to be true of Paulís intent because Paul says in verse 25 that Jesus never offered a commandment on the topic Paul is about to discuss. Since Jesus did offer a command on remarriage following divorce four times, Paul must be discussing some other subject. So if Paul is not contradicting Jesus, and he is not referring to the remarriage of divorced people, what did he mean?

In context, Paul says he is actually talking about virgins (v. 25). Virgins who have husbands and virgins who have wives, and virgins who have been released from marriage obligations. The word virgins as used in v. 25 is in the neuter, so he is decidedly discussing both male and female virgins. And we know that Jesus never gave a command about virgins making or breaking engagements, which verifies Paul's comment about offering his own opinion without overlapping on any command of Jesus.

How can virgins have husbands and wives, and worse, be divorced from their husband or wife? This is an especially confusing question in light of the custom of Jewish marriage; on the day of the wedding, the marriage is consummated, meaning married couples are not virgins. So how can Paul be discussing virgins who have husbands and wives?

Everyone should recall that Joseph was called the "husband" of Mary while they were merely engaged, betrothed (Matthew 1:18,19). "Wife" and "husband" were titles given to those who were engaged, but not yet married, just as it is also used for those who have already been wed. Even in the Old Testament an engaged virgin women is also called a wife (Deuteronomy 22:23,24). A virgin who is engaged (betrothed) is not yet married, but is called a husband or wife. And one method of dissolving the engagement was with a divorce similar to what Joseph attempted to do with his engaged wife, Mary (Matthew 1:19).

Proper Interpretation

Therefore, Paul is counseling engaged virgins that if they break their engagements it is not a sin. Nor, in Paul's opinion, is it a sin for them to marry someone else at a later time. Of course, they are also free to remain engaged and complete the marriage, but, as with any married person, that creates conflicts of time and focus regarding their personal ministry. Nonetheless, virgins who dissolve their engagements with a divorce are not committing adultery, or any sin, if they choose to marry a different person at a later date.


I said, "You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High" -- Psalm 82

"Has it not been written in your Law, 'I SAID, YOU ARE GODS'?" -- John 10:34

The Common Misinterpretation

These passages are, to be very certain, difficult passages to grasp. However, instead of relying on the Scriptures to interpret themselves (that is to assume that the Bible never contradicts itself), too often these verses are used in an attempt to either elevate man up to god-hood or to lower true Deity to manís humble state. Such attempts often assert one of the two following errors:

1) that man has available to him supernatural powers that originate from inside himself, if only he learns how to use them (deification of man)

2) that "God" is actually just a fallible person who in some way overcame much of his sinful humanity and is our example whom we can follow into god-hood (humanization of God)

The Textual Analysis

If we assume that the Bible in inerrant and never contradicts itself, we can use it to self-interpret these passages. Start with just a little of what we know of God:

All who have read the ending of Job (chapters 38-42) know that God decisively humbles mankind and practically mocks the arrogance of man for thinking he knew more about justice than God, when in reality man lacks even the smallest parts of His knowledge. We know that He declares that He alone is the Creator, for man was not yet created. We know God declares Himself to be the judge over man. So, we know that man never had, does not have, and never will have the attributes that make God the sovereign Deity.

What then did Jesus mean, and what did the Father mean, when he called men, "gods"? In what possible sense can powerless men be called "gods"?

Start with the context of John 10. Jesus is answering the charge of blasphemy because He had just told the crowd that He had the power of granting eternal life and that He and the Father were one and the same. The crowd accused Him of claiming God-hood. Rather than deny this, "Jesus answered them, ĎHas it not been written in your Law, 'I SAID, YOU ARE GODS'? If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'?"

Jesus said that the ones whom are called "gods" in Psalm 82 (from which He quoted) are those "to whom the word of God came". In other words, these men called "gods" were the prophets, just as Jesus was also known as a prophet. If we go to Psalm 82, we should be able to verify that the "gods" were simply the prophets of Israel.

This Psalm starts with God stating that He Himself stands in the midst of the "gods" ("elohiym" or "rulers") passing His judgements. In other words, the "gods" are men who are supposed to be representatives of God, passing along Godís judgements to the people. But did these men do this? No, God says they judge unjustly, show partiality to the wicked, lack understanding, walk in darkness, and bring upheaval to the land. And yet, these are the ones God calls, "gods".

In what sense is such a wicked man a "god"? Obviously not in quality or essence. Such a wicked man was only god-like is so much as he was supposed to obtain judgements from God, and as Godís representative--as if God were in their midst--he was supposed to pass righteous judgement along to the people. This one god-like responsibility, to pass righteous judgement, was what God, and Jesus, referred to when they said, "you are gods". In other words, these were the ones to whom the word of God had been given, prophets.

As a final note, these "gods" who were wicked, died the death of all men and of all princes of the earth. And then they too, these "gods", suffered the judgement of the one God.

The Passage Quoted - Psalm 82

A Psalm of Asaph.
1. God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers [gods].
2. How long will you judge unjustly And show partiality to the wicked? Selah.
3. Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute.
4. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.
5. They do not know nor do they understand; They walk about in darkness; All the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6. I said, "You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High.
7. "Nevertheless you will die like men And fall like any one of the princes."
8. Arise, O God, judge the earth! For it is You who possesses all the nations.

The Passage Quoted - John 10:24-39

The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, "How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.

My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one."

The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, "I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?" The Jews answered Him, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God."

Jesus answered them, "Has it not been written in your Law, 'I SAID, YOU ARE GODS'? If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'? If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father."

Therefore they were seeking again to seize Him, and He eluded their grasp.



Be still, and know that I am God -- Psalm 46:10a

The Common Misinterpretation

When someone wants to end all discussion on a matter, draw an early end to a debate, or prematurely cut off analysis or examination of a theological point they call attention to the following partial verse from Psalms: "Be still, and know that I am God" Psalm 46:10a.

What they mean to imply with this quotation is that by all parties being "still" with their tongues and discontinuing their active dialogue, they will be able to hear the small quiet voice of the Lord which will make plain and clear the answer to the matter. If however, one is inclined to continue working on the matter, they will miss this "knowing" and will miss the answer completely.

The Textual Analysis and Proper Interpretation

"Be still" (KJV) means "to stop", or, as it is more accurately rendered in the NAS, "cease striving". Stop striving? What does striving mean in this instance? Does it mean verbal disagreement over a point of theology? No, it means literal international warfare. Stop conducting international combat and recognize Godís sovereign rein over all the Earth.

Consider the context:

6. The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered; He raised His voice, the earth melted.
7. The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.
8. Come, behold the works of the LORD, Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
9. He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire.
10. "Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."
11. The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.

The nations roared (flexed their military muscles in battle) causing various kingdoms to totter and fall. Then God raised His own voice (roared back at the nations) and instead of kingdoms falling, the very Earth itself melted, bringing desolations on the combatants. In so doing, by raising His own voice back at the nations, He makes wars end and destroys their weapons of war (archery equipment, spears, and chariots).

Then He declares with His voice, "Stop warring and know that I am the God who rules the entire world, all the Earth is My Kingdom and I will preserve My people by cutting short your violent intentions."

Using this passage to muzzle debate and dialogue regarding deep theology is an improper misuse of Godís clear promise to protect the nation of Israel from the armies of her enemies.



Where there is no vision, the people perish. (KJV, Proverbs 29:18a)

The Common Misinterpretation

As is so often the case, this passage is misinterpreted because it is taken out of context. However, the KJV also offers a particularly poor translation into modern English of this passage. Therefore, even today, most Christians believe this verse means:

Where there is no guiding set of goals for the future, and no visionary individual setting the pace, the people lose interest and their passion dies.

Additionally, some in the Charismatic movement have interpreted this verse to mean the following:

Where there is no gift of prophecy and where there is no prophet, the church loses its mission and its passion.

The Textual Analysis

It is not possible to study this verse unless it is properly translated, quoted completely, and studied in context.

Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law. Proverb 29:18

Without a vision, the people are unrestrained (set loose; as in, set loose to pursue their own way without rules or self-control). But happy is he who keeps the law. It is the law that causes the people to be restrained. Therefore, to be unrestrained means to be "loosed from the law of God". In other words, to be an unrestrained and uncontrolled sinner.

So what does the vision have to do with this? The vision is what causes the people to be "restrained". Take away the vision, the people are unrestrained. How is this possible when we just saw that it is the Law that keeps people restrained, and that without the Law, the people are unrestrained? This is a self-answering question and a self-interpreting verse. The vision is the Law itself.

In context, all the verses around verse 18 describe how the disobedient have no regard for the Law or for discipline. However, as the surrounding verses state, when people see discipline as a real possibility, they restrain themselves from their sinful inclinations.

The Proper Interpretation

Where there is no expectation of discipline under the law in sight (because even the judicial system ignores enforcement of the Law), the people become unrestrained in their sins, however, the one who obeys the Law is happy. (paraphrase of Proverb 29:18)

The Passage Quoted

Proverbs 29:15-19

15. The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.
16. When the wicked increase, transgression increases; But the righteous will see their fall.
17. Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; He will also delight your soul.
18. Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law.
19. A slave will not be instructed by words alone; For though he understands, there will be no response.


Future passages planned for this segment:

"For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst." - Matthew 18:20

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. - 1 John 4:18



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