There are some Bible passages to which we apply a convenient interpretation. A passage, or verse, might lend itself to a convenient interpretation if it appears to state a principle that we hold generally true. In many cases, perhaps, such convenient interpretations originated long ago, have been passed down to us by brethren we hold as being sound in teaching, and we have never questioned the position taken. As D. L. Carson said, in his book, Exegetical Fallacies, “It is all too easy to read the traditional interpretations we have received from others into the text of Scripture” (pg. 17).

Certain things are true in their own right, and some passages may state that truth conveniently, in our thinking. The point that we are trying to make may be absolutely right, and so we apply a verse in that sense whether or not the context of the verse sustains it. This may fall into the category of what D. A. Carson called, “Unwarranted associative jumps,” which he explains this way: “It occurs when a word or phrase triggers off an associated idea, concept, or experience that bears no close relation to the text at hand, yet is used to interpret the text” (Exegetical Fallacies, p. 115).

A good example of this is Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” There is no verse that appears more often in a study of divine providence than Romans 8:28. We give it a convenient interpretation because it appears to teach a principle that we know is true. The truth is, however, that we make it say what we want it to say, that is that all things, good or bad, work together for good to those who love God. This all sounds good. Typically, commentators will labor long and hard in applying this verse to the hardships of this life, and the trials that a Christian might face. But, were these things even in the mind of the inspired apostle as he wrote? It is true that God is sovereign and that “all things” are known to him who can work all things together for our good. We may or may not see the good in tragedy depending on our attitude toward it. God brings good out of bad things (Gen. 50:20; Phil. 1:12-18). The point is, however, that Romans 8:28 does not teach it. To use a passage out of its context is to misuse it, even if our intentions are good. Every Bible passage had an immediate application to persons and circumstances peculiar to the time that it was written. Guy N. Woods said, “Passages must be allowed to have their original significance, and that alone; and any other usage is a deceitful handling of God’s word” (How to Use the New Testament Effectively, pp. 75-76).

The “all things” of Romans 8:28 are the things necessary for our salvation which were planned and worked out through the centuries, and put into action by God. That is the working of all things according to the plan of human redemption in Christ. Romans 8:28-30 applies to redemption in Jesus Christ through God’s eternal purpose to redeem us in him. The same purpose is mentioned in Ephesians 3:10-11. This includes God’s plans in bringing it to fruition. The “all things” of Romans 8:28 would include the types and their resultant antitypes, the Old Testament prophecies and their fulfillment, as well as the facts, commands and promises of the gospel. These things have worked out for the good of all who love God (Jn. 14:15; 1 Jn. 5:3), and obey the gospel to be saved in Christ (2 Thess. 2:14). To apply this verse to every conceivable event, no matter how traumatic, that can occur to a Christian is to misuse the passage. “All things” does not include accidents, calamities, tragedies, illnesses and death as is so often interpreted by Christians, and misapplied by preachers at funerals.

by Dennis Gulledge