Do You Make The Single Biggest Bible Study Mistake?

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Bible and quote - "Do you make the single biggest bible study mistake?"

Over the past few days, my bible study has focused on the book of 1 Corinthians.


One of my previously published blog posts reveals lessons learned through in-depth bible study.

While I was learning to fully understand the bible for the first time, I realized a mistake most Christians make.


A mistake that’s so huge, but so often overlooked.


They accept a bible verse taken out of context.

[Tweet “When it comes to truly understanding scripture, context is key.”]

Just because a tweet quotes the bible doesn’t necessarily mean the verse is one you should live your life by.


If we don’t take the time to seriously mediate on the entire passage, not only one verse, we’ve put ourselves in a precarious position. Especially when we’re establishing church rules or setting guidelines for how “good” Christian ought to live.


Reading through 1 Corinthians, I found a verse that is all too often quoted out of context.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
– 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

Many of you could quote this passage word-for-word from memory. I’ve been able to since I was about 16 years old.

But here’s the danger – every time I’ve heard these verses, it’s been either a warning against a certain activity or a condemnation for past “sin.”

Alone, they’re a beautiful couple of verses.


We are God’s temple, His Spirit lives in us, and He will destroy the one who hurts His temple.


We are sacred.


Let’s look at the verses in context now. I won’t transcribe the entire chapter, but I encourage you to look it up for yourself.

Take some time to read the entire chapter, and leave a comment letting me know if you believe my interpretation is correct or if I’ve taken the passage out of context myself.


Why? Because

[Tweet “The words themselves might be Spirit-spoken, but the context could be dangerously misrepresented.”]


First, a bit of backstory. 1 Corinthians is a letter written by Paul to the church in Corinth. In the first two chapters, Paul gives his greetings, discusses the wisdom of choosing Christ as Lord and the danger in saying one was baptized “in Paul,” opposed to “in Christ.”

After all, Paul is simply a man. Paul, Peter, Apollos, Cephas, myself, Beth Moore, Matt Chandler – we’re all simply human beings sharing the good news (not to put myself on the same level as these great teachers, but merely to prove a point).

When someone teaches in Christ’s name, they are doing so by His Spirit, not by their own power. As Paul articulates, “I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:1-2).”

He then spends the first half of chapter 3 discussing further divisions in the church, again circling back to arguments regarding Paul and Apollos. Specifically, which one of the two was a “better” teacher. As Paul explains, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow (1 Corinthians 3:6).”

Now, a wider picture of our two verses.

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple. Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness: and again, “The Lord know that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
– 1 Corinthians 3:10-23

Long story short: the verses are about humbling ourselves before The Great Builder.

The one who, by His grace, builds on the foundation he has helped us lay. The one who builds up with Himself and His Word. If one of us builds with gold or straw, it will be tested in the fire and quickly burn up.


By His great mercy, we would still be saved. However, we would be cheating ourselves out of a great reward.

When we lay His foundation and allow Him to build upon it, the foundation becomes a great temple.

A temple that He destroys for. A temple that protects us from ourselves. A temple that reveals His reward.


They truly are beautiful verses.


There is nothing condemning in these verses. There is a warning, but it’s not against earthly trivialities like tattoos and monitoring your alcohol consumption.


It’s a blessing.

It’s a promise of protection, not a threat of eternal condemnation.


So as I said in the beginning, as you’ve heard me say before and I can promise I’ll say again,

Look at the context.

If a verse sounds “off,” read the passage. If any part of God’s Word is used as a condemnation or a punishment, look at the entire chapter – the entire book, if you have to.

I’ve found the more I study the Word for myself, the more I’m overwhelmed by His grace and infuriated by blatant attempts to twist His gospel into something never intended.

[Tweet “It’s very easy to twist the meaning of a verse taken out of context.”]


So I implore you: learn for yourself.


Allow Him to transform your heart through the renewal of your mind.

“Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2).”


Photo Credit: Ryk Neethling found through Wylio


Do you make the biggest bible study mistake? Having read the entire chapter, what’s your interpretation of these two verses? Leave a comment with your own thoughts!

And don’t forget to subscribe!

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  • Angela

    You make good points about context. This passage is also about God’s house– the corporate body of Christ, and not destroying that — which is what the Corinthians were doing — taking a butcher knife to Christ with their divisions. So often Americans take the ‘you’ as singular– for the individual. It’s a plural ‘you,’ the local body that is the Temple of God that is being built, not just the individual Christian.

    • MeganInTheRealWorld

      That’s a great point, Angela! That’s another very important point Christians in general tend to forget. We’re meant to look at the Church (the entire body of believers) as one. Fighting between denominations or even within our own church does nothing but cause divisions within the Kingdom.