Ten Bible Verses Prosperity Gospel Preachers Need to Stop Misusing

Can you believe your way to health and wealth? Prosperity teachers say yes — and they misuse these Bible verses to convince millions of people that they’re right.

The prosperity gospel goes by many names: Word of Faith, Health and Wealth, Name It and Claim It. This “different gospel” teaches that God provides rewards, including personal happiness, financial wealth and physical health, for believers who have sufficient faith. Prosperity theology developed in America in the last century and has been called a “baptized form of capitalism.”

The preachers associated with the movement — including Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, and Creflo Dollar — have some of the largest congregations and best-selling books in the country, and they host television programs that seem to air at all hours of the night (and are some of the most-watched programming around the world).

But a number of prominent pastors, including John Piper, Albert Mohler, and Matt Chandler, have taken prosperity preachers to task, denouncing their teachings as a perversion of Christianity. As per a TIME cover story: “Prosperity soft-pedals the consequences of Adam’s fall — sin, pain and death — and their New Testament antidote: Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and the importance of repentance.”

Prosperity critics point out that in the Bible, Christians are assured persecution (2 Tim. 3:12) and suffering (Acts 9:16) and admonished toward self-denial (Mark 8:34). So which verses grant hope for new cars, job promotions and good health? Here are 10 verses prosperity preachers misuse to promise Christians health and wealth:

1. John 10:10 — “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

The signature verse of the prosperity gospel, John 10:10 is used to suggest that God loves his followers and wants them to have every good thing. But interpreting this verse to promise physical gain neglects the depth suggested by its context.

The preceding verses illustrate the parable of the sheep and their good shepherd, Jesus, who calls them by name. The sheep know the good shepherd’s voice and follow. Verse 10 contrasts Jesus with false shepherds who steal and kill and destroy. The abundance of life suggested here has to do with knowing and being known by Jesus, not material things. The Tyndale Commentary explains, “He does not offer them an extension of physical life nor an increase of material possessions, but the possibility, nay the certainty, of a life lived as a higher level of obedience to God’s will and reflecting his glory.”

2. James 4:2 — “You do not have because you do not ask God.”

This verse is used to bolster the “name it and claim it” part of the prosperity gospel — if you don’t “have,” it’s because you haven’t prayed enough. This interpretation ignores the verse that follows, in which James says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

Creflo Dollar says this of prayer: “When we pray, believing that we have already received what we are praying, God has no choice but to make our prayers come to pass.”

While prayer (including intercessory prayer) is crucial to the life of a Christian, using it to force God into appeasing the believer’s desires also goes against the very prayer Jesus prayed on the eve of his crucifixion: “Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

3. Mark 10:29-30 — “No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age.”

Prosperity preachers are known for their emphasis on giving, which on its face seems to line up with scripture. However, the motivation they teach — giving in order to get — distorts the biblical tradition.

In God’s Will Is Prosperity, Gloria Copeland writes of this verse, “Give $10 and receive $1,000; give $1,000 and receive $100,000 . . . in short, Mark 10:30 is a very good deal.” But of course, that’s not what this verse is promising. The reward indicated here is fellowship with hundreds and thousands of other believers. The following verse (10:31) provides further clarity: “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” This verse encourages ordinary, obedient discipleship, not personal gain.

4. Galatians 3:14 — “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus.”

Prosperity preachers apply this verse to their misinterpretation of the Abrahamic covenant found in Genesis, which they read as God promising financial blessings to Abraham’s descendants. In Spreading the Flame, Edward Pousson writes, “This Abrahamic inheritance is unpacked primarily in terms of material entitlements.”

Again, an entire portion of the verse is neglected. The Apostle Paul concludes 3:14 by writing that Jesus sacrificed “so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” David Jones, author of Health, Wealth and Happiness, writes that Paul is reminding the Galatians of the spiritual blessing that is salvation, not that of wealth in this life.

5. 2 Corinthians 8:9 — “Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

Prosperity teachers read this verse to suggest that Jesus’ sacrificial death affords us temporal wealth. Most Christians agree that when Paul says that Jesus was “rich,” he’s referring to his status as the Son of God. And his becoming poor was his voluntary act of stepping into humanity — the incarnation.

Indeed, Paul was telling early Christians that because of the grace afforded them, they should empty themselves. The goal was equality, and in verse 15, Paul recalls Exodus 16:18, saying, “as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’”

6. 3 John 2 — “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.”

In a prosperity gospel context, this verse is read to claim that physical health is inseparable from spiritual growth — if a believer were truly faithful enough, he would be experiencing bodily blessings.

However, 3 John 2 is simply a greeting — it’s how John begins his letter to Gaius, similar to how any polite person might begin a letter with well wishes. It was not a promise to Gaius, and certainly is not meant to be taken as a promise that none of God’s people will ever fall ill.

7. Malachi 3:10 — “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse . . . and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

This verse is a powerful fundraising tool for prosperity preachers, manipulating believers into tithing more by saying God will return the favor exponentially. But as D. A. Horton explains, this verse has nothing to do with individual riches; rather, it arises from a particular historical situation for Israel: “The Israelites were robbing God by not giving enough food to the national storehouse that was used to feed the priests of Israel. So the priests were having to leave their priestly duties and take up farming to survive (see Neh. 13:10-13). God therefore exhorts Israel to test him by giving obediently. If they did, he would reward them as he did in the past.”

8. Isaiah 53:5 — “The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Whereas most Christian scholars see this verse as a prophecy that spiritual wounds (sin) are healed (overcome) by the atoning work of Jesus on the cross, prosperity gospel preachers interpret it to mean that abundant faith will result in physical healing.

Kenneth E. Hagin, one of prosperity gospel’s founders, writes, “It is the plan of Our Father God, in His great love and in His great mercy, that no believer should ever be sick; that every believer should live his full life span down here on this earth.”

9. Jeremiah 29:11 — “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

One of the most misunderstood verses by Christians more generally (see “Five Bible Verses You Need to Stop Misusing”), Jeremiah 29:11 is often used to promise good news, suggesting that God works every seemingly bad situation for our benefit in the not-so-distant future.

But this verse come amidst Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon, and it would be 70 more years before they would return to home. The verse is not a promise to Christians today who lose jobs or experience heartbreak of any kind. It was a promise to the Israelites that God, on his own timetable and plan, would restore his people.

10. John 14:14 — “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

Similar to James 4:2, prosperity preachers misinterpret this verse to suggest that God will answer the prayers of the faithful. But Christians praying for financial wealth should consider the words of Jesus from Matthew 19:24: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Jesus speaks the words in John 14:14 as a way of encouraging his disciples to spread the gospel of his kingdom. The verses before and after provide useful context: “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do” (14:12); and, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (14:15).

Image by Shutterstock.

Corrie Mitchell
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  • Luis Jovel

    Very good article. Sets the Bible in its proper setting.

  • ijayekunle

    The same way this person hold men of God responsible for misinterpreting God’s word, also occur earlier when they said moses married etopia woman( which is against the will of God). The same question God ask the people that stood against His servant I will like to ask you also.
    Are you the one that called them?, are they in your class? Where were you when God appear to them and gave them what they preach?

  • Daniel King

    I disagree strongly with this article. In John 10:10 Jesus says, “The thief (Satan) comes to steal, kill, and destroy, I have come to give you life and life more abundantly.” The Prosperity Gospel says that God wants to bless you, God wants to prosper you, God wants you to be rich.

    The opposite of the Prosperity Gospel is what I call “The Poverty Gospel” which says, “God wants you to suffer. God wants you to be satisfied with your lack. God wants to put a sickness on you to teach you a lesson.” The DEPRESSED & DESTRESSED GOSPEL.

    Which one of these teachings sounds like Jesus, and which teaching sounds like the devil?

    In reality, the Poverty Gospel is no gospel at all. The word gospel means “good news” and telling people that God wants you to be sick and poor is not very good news at all.

    I have traveled to some of the poorest nations on earth and I believe that poverty, suffering, famine, and sickness does not come from God. Jesus says, “I have come to give you abundant life…” Abundant health, abundant finances, abundant wisdom, abundant joy, abundance in every area of your life.

    Several years ago, I went to Juba, Sudan to do a Gospel Festival. We were able to give away 53 tons of food to hungry people. The food arrived on eight massive trucks and we almost had a riot as we passed it out. The food that we gave away cost a lot of money, but we were able to purchase it because of the generosity of some people whom God has blessed.

    The poverty Gospel does nothing to put food in the mouths of hungry children. It just says, “Be content in your suffering. Know that God is with you in your suffering.” But the Prosperity Gospel provides the resources to be able to help others.

  • RMHarris

    So basically the proponents of the fatalistic poverty gospel do not believe the Bible, nor believe Jesus. Notice that none of the poverty pimps like Piper, Mohler, Chandler, et al. are associated with tiny churches or are poor themselves. This article presents a complete mischaracterization of Gods Word, and what is taught by Copland, Hagin and Dollar.
    John 14:12 is a very good verse in this regard. “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do.” If you believe in Jesus you WILL lay hands on the sick and they WILL recover. I have never seen or heard of Piper, Mohler, Chandler or other anti-Word types do such.
    Isaiah 53 is pretty clear on both salvation and healing. Reading the Hebrew in context will prove this out.
    No one teaches that illness and poverty and suffering will never attack you. People who believe that are stupid. People who claim that Copland, Hagin or Dollar teach that are stupid. What the Bible teaches is that these things have been defeated as they are part of the curse of the law of sin and death. Jesus redeemed us from the curse. The entire curse has been broken. So when sickness afflicts your body, Christians have the right to kick it out. Christians were redeemed by the blood of Jesus.
    Psalms 107: 19-21, 19 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    19 And He saved them out of their distresses.
    20 He sent His word and healed them,
    And delivered them from their destructions.
    21 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness,
    And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
    Notice please that fools (the unsaved) cried out. They were then saved from their distresses, healed by His Word, and delivered from their destructions. Thus they can and should and would thank GOD for his works.
    Poverty pimps would have us believe that GOD did not and does not heal according to His Word.
    I choose to believe GOD’s Word. Not the theology of men who do not believe GOD’s Word.
    I encourage the readers to do the same.

    • Peace Kearse

      So Christians who have been redeemed shouldn’t die from cancer? Or pneumonia? Or anything of that nature? Christians shouldn’t die of starvation, or be burned alive by terrorist groups. The whole message that God has promised you these “things” so they will happen, is a blatant disregard of the New Testament. Namely the lives of Christ as well as the disciples. People like to stretch and make it seem like if we don’t believe in the false doctrine known as the prosperity gospel, then we either lack faith or believe God wants to punish us instead of save us. I completely believe in healing, and know it to be true. So does Chandler and Piper. Chandler was diagnosed with cancer not to long ago, and he is still alive lol. What is being taught by those guys isn’t a message that says God doesn’t want to bless us, but a message that challenges our ideas of blessings biblically as well as motives. They look at the constant trouble and suffering the apostles were put through and how they still lived good lives. How they were completely content not with being rich nor being poor but having God, which ultimately gave God glory. The prosperity gospel leaves too much room for people to try to climb the holy ladder to success. It gives us a God-and instead of us being content with God. Nobodies saying that healing is wrong, we’re saying that healing is ultimately based on God’s will and his perfect plan for your life. Nobodies saying wealth is evil, we’re saying that it isn’t guaranteed nor should it be a primary basis for our faith in God. How do we skip over so much when coming to some of our conclusions about what God wants for us. We will all suffer, we will all struggle, and through it we will all grow in our joy IN CHRIST and passions for the things of Christ. Sickness may take the life of someone who is a saved born again believer in Christ. Their are currently billions of people living in poverty right now on this planet, many of them Christian. There are millions of Christians in Asia being persecuted for their faith right now. These things don’t glorify God as much as one prospering with great health, finances, and relationships according to the prosperity gospel. But not according to the bible though.

      Romans 8:18 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

      This message is literal poison to the body of believers because it plays to what we WANT. Its a message rooted in how God has promised us what we wanted in the first place. I mean who doesn’t want to be healthy, who doesn’t want to be healed from there bodily issues, who doesn’t want to be blessed with more stable finances. We are raising up a body of moochers who want God for his stuff rather than resting in his magnificent love. We’ve entangled our fleshly idea of a good life with God’s perfect plan for our lives. We aren’t giving the full context of the narrative, we’re pimping out the parts that people like, and even on parts they don’t like we are dangling that blessing over their heads for motivation. Thats not the gospel. People aren’t becoming lovers of God they’re becoming lovers of self. Hiding it behind their own religious view that God wants what they want. That God revolves around their lives. I mean look at the story of Job. God has authority over everything. He allowed Job to be stripped of everything, and the glory wasn’t in the fact that after that Job got all his stuff back and was in good health. The glory was that in all of his sufferings Job held fast to the notion that God is ENOUGH !!!!

      Your salvation doesn’t ensure you prosperity lol

      • Heidi Mann

        Amen, Peace Kearse! You nailed it!

  • Erik Manning

    While I agree with many of these criticisms, the context in 2 Cor 8:9 is very clearly finances. The entire 8th and 9th chapter discusses giving and receiving. And Matthew 8:17 refers to Isaiah 53 in the context of Jesus’ bringing physical healing. While many popular Word of Faith ministers overstate their case and stretch the scriptures to go too far, I wonder if we’re not throwing out the baby with the bathwater and hyperspiritualizing things a bit.

  • Dan Waits

    The “Depressed & Distressed gospel”? You can’t be serious? So because your version of scriptural interpretation is disagreed with, name calling is your response? And you believe you are being godly? And because I refuse to promise (on God’s behalf) earthly riches, that automatically means I want and teach that God WANTS people to be sick and poor? Are you listening to yourself Daniel King? Your response is in NO WAY a reflection of the LOVE that believers are supposed to be known for. In fact, that is the ONLY thing Jesus said the world could verify HIS claim to be authentic, is by the way we LOVE each other. An abundant life is found in love, not money. True that the Bible teaches about blessings being locked behind the submission of our finances (that’s a submission issues, not a get richer issue), but no where does Jesus say that because a preacher can quote something is He obligated to give you earthly treasure. In fact, he said just the opposite; if your treasure is here on earth, you have already received your treasure. How incredibly heart breaking that this kind of teaching (FALSE teaching according to the rest of the Bible) is being taught and defended with such anger-filled words. Interestingly both Jesus and Paul warned of this very thing…I wonder…

    It’s great that you have traveled the world, and have been able to feed many many people because of generous people (although bragging about it seems to be a bit over the top. Maybe I mis-read, if I did, I apologize). But you are saying that me and all the other pastors that give our lives to small communities of faith, and do not live lavish and money filled lives, are less “blessed” than you. And I wonder, why does all this “prosperity” only seem to be evident in the ministers that teach it? I watch it on T.V. and I see ministers dripping in expensive suits, rings, jewelry, shoes, and whatever else in a church filled with people that look just like me, average. Your prosperity doesn’t seem to work the same with them as it does with the ones teaching it. Why is that?

    Anyway, you can call names. You can deride and “strongly disagree,” that’s fine if it works for you (I would just humbly suggest you read the rest of your Bible). No one said “agreement” across all things was a necessary for the Kingdom to be advanced. But try expressing a little more love for those who faithfully work and give their lives regardless of money, riches, and fame. Do you pray for your fellow ministers that are faithfully bringing the good news of love, mercy, and acceptance of Jesus to the poor, under-valued, sick, oppressed, and imprisoned (which is what Jesus said to do in the parable of the sheep & goats)?

    while I will admit that I agree far more with this particular article that I do with you, what is far more disturbing to me is your response; whether you admit it or not, your response is filled with anger. And according to scripture, James 1:19 & 20 I believe, anger does NOT produce the good things of God.
    Blessings,
    Dan Waits

    • Daniel King

      I would be happy to stop using the “Depressed and Distressed” label as soon as prosperity critics stop using terms like “Health and Wealth”, “Name it and Claim it,” and “Blab it and Grab it” terms in a derogatory fashion.

      God blessed Abraham, promised physical blessing to Israel (Deut 28), and blessed Solomon. Jesus healed “every sickness and disease” (Matt 4:23). Are you telling me that a God who uses bricks of gold for pavement wants His children here in this earth to live in poverty? The poverty gospel is no gospel (good news) at all. The poverty gospel represents the complete opposite of God’s character in the revealed word of God.

      And as a brother in the Lord, I am not angry at you, just deeply saddened that some people would attribute the works of satan to the good God that I serve.

      • Lance Robinson

        The good news has nothing to do with any of that stuff. Our sins have separated us from God, and now God has provided Redemption to us. THAT, all by itself, IS the good news. It used to be all that was needed to be received, to qualify as good news, whether the hearer was enjoying air conditioning, or meeting in secret, like the video footage we see from China, where those people are afflicted, oppressed, and poor yet still seem awfully happy with this good news, so much so that they just want to hear more and more of His Word, and they treasure it. Beautiful. Of course God did not want ANY of this to befall us, which is why he gave Adam and Eve all of the information required to prevent all of this. With sin, came sickness and death. I don’t think that the level of riches or physical status are the things that He wants to matter to us. I think that what He wants to matter to us is what He has said matters to Him, that we love both Him and each other (His self-proclaimed greatest commandment), and that all be saved (Which He , Himself, expressed in those words). All of these labels on each side, Salvation/Restoration is the REAL Gospel label here.

        • Lance Robinson

          I don’t see a bit of poverty in what I just typed, either

    • P.G.

      I agree with Daniel King right on brotha Call it what they want our Lord is a Prosperous God Period .

  • David Kinlay

    Let’s try to remember the tension between the now and the not yet. If only the claims of the faith teachers were a correct exegesis of the texts quoted.

  • Heidi Mann

    Very well-done, Corrie Mitchell! I expected to read in your bio that you were a seminary student — perhaps Lutheran! :) But of course it’s very possible to be well-versed in Scripture and theology without having studied at a seminary! You are a fabulous demonstration of that! Carry on!

  • Jim

    Christians claim to hold the one truth, and yet, as the comments indicate, they cannot agree among themselves on the nature of God or on what many Bible verses mean.

  • Steve

    Jesus is much more concerned with our eternity rather than our temporary. What good is it that we help people with their physical needs and don’t address their spiritual need? Jesus first said to the lame man that was lowered through the roof- your sins are forgiven, after that healed his physical need. He fed 4000 and 5000, but he knew their hearts and rebuked them saying that they all only followed him because they ate their fill and wanted more of that. Jesus then says that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood- to know Jesus intimately, and that is where they drew the line. I’m not saying that God doesn’t want our physical healing, but more importantly to him is our eternity.
    There is nothing wrong with prosperity- I will not deny that God blesses people with financial wealth, but we are also called to be a blessing to others for the sake of God’s kingdom and not our own. God gets glory when we spread those blessings for the sake of His name. Prosperity Gospel preachers have people believing that worldly wealth is a blessing from God that you keep for yourself, or turn over to them. Then, on the day of Judgment, many people will have been fooled into thinking they receive eternal life, and God will say to them “I never knew you”. That is the danger- that people are following these preachers, getting worldly wealth, maybe even being a blessing to others but never really knowing God and stepping into an eternity of punishment rather that an eternity of abundant life.