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Most Misused Passage in the Bible

Luke 21:1-4

By Gary F. Zeolla


      Many sermons have been preached on Luke 21:1-4, claiming it is about “sacrificial giving.” But that interpretation completely misses the point of the verse. It is in fact part of Jesus’ condemnations of the Scribes and Pharisees and their religious abuse of those under their authority. I explain this in my book God’s Sex Plan: Volume Two. The passage is excerpted below:


Luke 21:1-4:

      1Now having looked up, He [Jesus] saw the rich [people] putting their offerings into the treasury [fig., collection boxes]. 2Then He saw also a certain poor widow putting [in] there two lepta [or, two very small copper coins]. 3And He said, “Truly I say to you*, this poor widow put [in] more [than] all. 4For all these out of their abundance [or, surplus] put into the offerings for God, but this [woman] out of her poverty, all her livelihood which she was having, she put [in].”


Matthew 23:13:

            13“But how horrible it will be to you*, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you* devour the houses of the widows [fig., illegally cheat widows’ out of their property] and in pretense [or, with a false show] are long [in] praying, because of this you* will receive more severe judgment [or, condemnation].” (ALT3).


      Luke 21:1-4 is one of the most commonly misused passages in the Bible. It is often quoted as an example of sacrificial giving, with the preacher who is quoting it using it to encourage his hearers to do the same. But in fact, Jesus is advocating nothing of the sort. To aid the reader to understand what Jesus is actually teaching, I have quoted a parallel passage from Matthew.

      What both of these passages have in common is Jesus is chiding the religious leaders for taking advantage of the vulnerable in the society, which includes widows. In the Matthew passage, the religious leaders are taking advantage of widows by cheating them out of their property. In the Luke passage, they are cheating widows out of their money.

      Think about it. How would you react if your widowed aged mother told you she just donated every penny she had to a televangelist? Would you commend her for her great faith and sacrificial giving, or would you immediately get upset, knowing she had just been cheated out of her life savings, all that she had to live on? It most certainly would be the latter. In fact, you would probably hire an attorney and sue the televangelist to try to get her money back and to keep the televangelist from scamming other vulnerable poor widows. And that is what Jesus is doing in these passages.

      Jesus is showing His compassion for women once again by trying to protect them when they are at their most vulnerable, when they have lost their husbands and are subject to scam religious leaders who are trying to bilk them out of their property and money.


The Context:

      When I wrote the preceding for my Sex Plan book, I failed to take the next important step in Biblical interpretation, that of checking preceding and following context. But when I did so later, it reinforced that my interpretation of Luke 21:1-4 was in fact correct, while the “sacrificial giving” interpretation was completely off base.

      The preceding context is in fact the parallel to the passage I quoted from Matthew. The final verses of Luke chapter 20 are:


            45Now all the people hearing, He [Jesus] said to His disciples, 46“Be watching out for [or, Beware of] the scribes, the ones desiring to be walking about in long robes and affectionately loving greetings in the marketplaces and [the] first seats [fig., most important places] in the synagogues and [the] first couches [fig., places of honor] at the banquets, 47the ones devouring the houses of the widows [fig., illegally cheating widows’ out of their property], and in pretense [or, with a false show] are long [in] praying. These will receive more severe judgment [or, condemnation].”


      Here, Jesus is clearly condemning the religious leaders for their religious abuse, for them being excessively “showy” in their religious devotions for personal attention, while again, bilking widows out of their property. As such, would it make any sense that Jesus would then commend a widow for giving every penny she has, all that she has to live on, to these very same abusive religious leaders? I think not.

      Some might respond by saying the widow was not donating her last pennies to the religious leaders per se, but to the upkeep of the temple, and that is an important and valid spiritual consideration.

      However, starting in the very next verse, Luke 21:5, Jesus begins a long discourse predicting the destruction of the temple. Thus, I must ask, would Jesus commend a poor widow for giving everything she had to live on to the upkeep of a temple He knew would soon be destroyed anyhow? Again, I think not.

      It makes much more sense that Jesus first condemns the religious leaders for their extreme showiness in their religious devotions, then He condemns them for cheating widows out of their property, then He condemns them for cheating widows out of their money, then He predicts the destruction of the center of the religious system that those abusive religious leaders had corrupted to benefit their own vanity and financial profit (Luke 19:46).


God’s Sex Plan
Volume Two
What the New Testament Teaches About Human Sexuality

The above article first appeared in Darkness to Light newsletter.
It was posted on this website July 1, 2021.

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