Oversimplifying Bible Passages

Text: 2 Peter 3:16

In teaching the Bible, we should strive to do so in a manner that is simple so that others can understand. However, some “distort” or “twist” the Scriptures by making them say something they do not. One of the ways this happens is by oversimplifying certain Bible passages. They assert something that seems reasonable when we do a cursory reading of the passage, but the point asserted is different from the point being taught in the verse. How is this done? Context is ignored (immediate/remote), words are defined as we desire, and implications are not considered. This lesson will look at some passages which have been oversimplified by many.

John 3:16

  • Oversimplification – we must simply believe to have eternal life; Jesus said nothing about obedience/baptism
  • Context ignored – we must be born again to see the kingdom (John 3:3, 5); if we do not obey, we will not see life (John 3:36)
  • Words redefined – believe does not mean believe only (James 2:24); it is used in its comprehensive sense

Ephesians 2:8-9

  • Oversimplification – we are saved by grace and no obedience (works) is necessary
  • Context ignored – we have been created for “good works” (Ephesians 2:10); these are found in Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
  • Words redefined – works does not mean works given to us by God (Ephesians 2:10); they are works about which we may boast (Ephesians 2:9) because they are of our own invention or we are seeking to earn salvation (Matthew 7:22-23; Luke 17:10)

1 Corinthians 1:17

  • Oversimplification – baptism is not one of the requirements given in the preaching of the gospel
  • Context (remote) ignored – Paul baptized people (Acts 16:15, 33); the Corinthians were baptized (Acts 18:8); Jesus, Peter, and Paul connected baptism with salvation (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21; Acts 22:16)
  • Implication not considered – the implied point is that we must focus on preaching, not numbers; we are responsible for planting and watering and let God take care of the rest (1 Corinthians 3:6)

2 Corinthians 5:21

  • Oversimplification – while on the cross, Jesus became the vilest of all sinners; the embodiment of sin
  • Context (remote) ignored – Jesus’ sinlessness qualified Him to be a sacrifice (1 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 7:27-28); even while on the cross, He was without sin (Hebrews 7:26)
  • Words redefined – to be sin does not mean the embodiment of sin, it means a sin sacrifice; this is a figure of speech called metonymy (the name of an object/concept is replaced with a word associated with it; ex: cup used for fruit of the vine in 1 Corinthians 11:26); used this way throughout the OT (cf. Leviticus 4:25-26; same word for sin and sin offering)

Matthew 27:46

  • Oversimplification – the Father turned His back on the Son while on the cross; forsook Him
  • Context ignored – Jesus was quoting from Psalm 22 which prophesied of this event (Psalm 22:16-18)
  • Implication not considered – Jesus appeared to be forsaken (Psalm 22:1-6); but the Father never forsook Him (Psalm 22:22-24)

Matthew 19:9

  • Oversimplification – no put away person can remarry
  • Context ignored – Jesus was asked about the lawful cause for putting away (Matthew 19:3); He was discussing individuals who had been bound to one another by God (Matthew 19:6)
  • Words redefined – put away does not mean civil divorce actionapoluo means to repudiate, dismiss, depart, let go (Thayer); word used 43 times in KJV, only once is translated divorce (Matthew 5:32); to send away (Matthew 15:39), dismiss (Acts 19:41), depart (Acts 28:25), or set free (Acts 26:32) in marriage requires no civil procedure
  • Implication not considered – the rule established by the exception (Matthew 19:9) is that one may put away their bound mate for fornication and remarry without committing adultery


  • The Bible is meant to be simple and explained simply – but some passages are oversimplified to promote error
  • Some passages are more difficult (2 Peter 3:16) – therefore, they are abused more than others
  • But we can understand the truth by respecting the context, letting the Bible define its own terms, and accepting what is implied
  • If we will do this, we can all “speak the same thing” and have “no divisions” among us (1 Corinthians 1:10, KJV)

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