The principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture has been employed as early as the Church Fathers. We’d do well to follow their lead of interpreting Scripture within its own context.
Here are a few other examples of passages that are commonly misinterpreted as a result of removing them from their biblical contexts.
“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
This verse, often taken as an expression of gratitude for the LORD’s provision of yet another sunrise, actually refers to the particular “day” of Christ’s accomplishing the redemption of humanity and overturning of the Genesis 3 curse (compare v. 22; Matt 21.42).
“‘For I know the plans I have for you’—[this is] the Lord’s declaration—‘plans for [your] welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’”
This coveted mantra is often applied generally to all believers and all circumstances. While a general implication of welfare for God’s covenant people may be drawn from this text, the specific meaning, address, and promise are “to the rest of the elders of the exiles, the priests, the prophets, and all the people Nebuchadnezzar had deported from Jerusalem to Babylon” (v. 1). The benediction pertains specifically to Yahweh’s “promise” (v. 10) to grant parole for exiled Israel and restore them to the homeland in which He had chosen to place His name (Deut 12.4-14; 1 Kgs 5.5; 1 Kgs 9.3; Neh 1.9) and from which He had expelled its prior inhabitants for the fullness of their iniquities, too (Gen 15.16). Some of today’s misapplications of this benediction conveniently omit the justly exiled/“disfellowshipped” condition of the original hearers, thereby redirecting the passage’s focus from God’s generous grace upon the unworthy to the 21st century individual who simply craves better circumstances.
This passage is very often quoted by one who—either consciously or not—is attempting to justify inappropriate or sinful behavior. The principle articulated by Christ both in the following verses (vv. 2-6) and in John 7.22-24 is that unrighteous, hypocritical, misinformed, uncharitable judgmentalism will be rewarded with the same lack of mercy by the righteous Judge himself. In fact, Christ himself commands contrary to any misinformed prohibition against “judging.” He instructs us, rather, to render “righteous judgment” (John 7.24).