Talking about the Apostle Paul who was a very educated man, the Apostle Peter said that some uninformed people during their days were distorting Paul’s letters in the same way that they were distorting Scripture (2 Peter 3:16). So it is today. People today continue to distort what the Bible is truly saying. Here is one example of how people are distorting Scripture today.
Example of Distorting Scripture: 3 John 2
Some people quote 3 John 2 which says in the King James Version: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.”
Many believers claim this as a sure guarantee—a promise from God for Christians to be always prosperous and to be always in good health for the rest of their lives. “Just have faith and you will have it,” they would say. “Name it and claim it,” some would say. Or, “declare it” and it’s yours—it will happen. But what does 3 John 2 really mean?
Getting the Context
Well, let us get the context. As a piece of literature, what is 3 John 2? What is its literary context? What kind of literature is it? Did the Apostle John write a song like Psalms? Did he write a historical narrative like maybe the Chronicles, Matthew or Acts? Or did he write a poem or a letter? Well, some do not know it but 3rd John is actually a letter—an epistle—just like most of the Apostle Paul’s writings are letters!
As a piece of literature, it is obviously a letter—definitely not a song, a poem or a historical narrative—and that has a lot to do with how this part of Scripture should be interpreted! By just figuring out that its literary context is that of a letter, we are able to interpret more properly and more accurately.
Greetings Not Promise!
While there maybe some slight differences in the way letters are written today compared to centuries ago, but don’t we begin our letters with some kind of greetings? And what is 3 John 2 in a letter? Of course a greeting! The elderly apostle John was writing to a certain Gaius and he began with some greetings! With this literary context and background in mind—that 3 John 2 is the introductory part (a greeting) of the Apostle John’s letter to a certain Gaius—a more accurate interpretation should come out which should be most faithful to Scripture. We should not therefore interpret this part of a letter as a sure promise from God. It is simply a greeting!
Elisha the prophet died of sickness
Let’s not forget that some righteous men of God were allowed by God to die from sickness even though they themselves healed others (2 Kings 13:14, 20-21). Others were allowed by God to die a martyr’s death. Yes, it true—it is God’s desire (as John also wrote) that we will prosper and be in health but in God’s infinite wisdom, sometimes he allows us to get sick and die of it too.
To be faithful to this part of Scripture in 3 John 2—following its literary context—it should be interpreted as a mere greeting and not a promise from God. Let us not preach false hopes and misuse this part of Scripture in 3 John 2.
More Accurate Interpretation
To interpret 3 John 2 as saying that God guarantees good health and prosperity (“health and wealth gospel” or “prosperity gospel”) for believers throughout their lives, all of the time, is to distort Scripture.
That’s not what it says if we follow its context. People who misuse this part of Scripture need to find some other proof text but not this one. They need to find other parts of Scripture because they cannot in all honesty and with faithfulness to this part of 3 John, use it to support their belief.
A Text Without Context is Pretext
It is therefore important for us to learn something about the various contexts in the Bible like: historical, grammatical, literary, cultural and other contexts. With Jesus Christ as our lens, our criterion and our basis in interpreting Scripture, through the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13), and learning something about the various contexts in the Bible, we will hopefully be led to a better understanding and appreciation of God’s Word, the Bible.