Mondegreen Theology

First of all, an apology for the extreme delay in having a blog up. July has went by in a heartbeat with so much happening, getting keys to our apartment and preaching in my home church. Less than nine weeks till the big day so, while I would love to sit and write every other day for whoever reads these, I promise nothing!

This is something I had been thinking about doing for a while, so, here it is…

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands

Do you ever listen to a song and completely mishear the lyrics? I’m sure you have, it happens to us all, certainly to me! It can lead to embarrassment, especially in the context of singing in a car/at a concert/in public, where your pitiful lack of knowledge on the lyrics of a song is laid bare for all to see and scoff at! The shame!

Here are a few examples of lyrics that are commonly misheard!

Let’s pee in the corner, let’s pee in the spotlight / That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight. REM – Losing My Religion.

What a nice surprise, when your rabbit dies / What a nice surprise, bring your alibis. The Eagles – Hotel California.

A year has passed since I broke my nose / A year has passed since I wrote my note. The Police – Message in a Bottle.

This is called a mondegreen and is not strictly limited to songs or music. In fact, it is the basis for a lot of comical sketches, particularly this one, one of my favourites.

I even read of a child who asked his parents after church one Sunday who Good Mrs. Murphy was. The parents looked confused and asked the child to explain. “Surely Good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Psalm 23 was read out that Sunday. What was “goodness and mercy” had become “Good Mrs. Murphy”. That, my friends, is a mondegreen.

Named after a line in the poem “The Bonny Earl of Murray”, in which the line laid him on the green can be misheard for Lady Mondegreen, a mondegreen is described as “a word or phrase that is misinterpreted as another word or phrase, usually with an amusing result.” Certainly it can be amusing (as anyone who has seen the Friends episode with “hold me closer, tiny dancer/hold me closer, Tony Danza will admit) but it got me thinking – do we have “mondegreens” in our theology? When we read our Bible, how often do we misinterpret words or phrases as something completely different as to what was intended?

Mary’s little lamb. It’s fleas are white as snow.

It has surely happened before, so we must take care and not merely dismiss this as something that will never affect us ourselves. I know there have been times where I have read the Bible, and a certain passage has jumped out at me, but from speaking to others (and praying to God), I’ve realized I had the wrong end of the stick!

We can but look through the pages of history and see that this can lead to situations a lot more serious than a simple “I though he said ‘Excuse me while I kiss this guy.’” Wars have been waged, blood has been shed, families have been broken and lives have even been lost because people want to vociferously defend their beliefs. Which is all well and good, but our imperfect view of the Bible can lead to imperfect beliefs.

We can, consciously or subconsciously, read what we want from the Bible and not what is actually intended.


While I was preparing for preaching in Belfast City Mission on Thursday past (looking at 3 John), I read verse 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.” (3 John 2, NIV)

Many people in the “Prosperity Gospel” movement say that this passage teaches that it is God’s will for us to always be healthy and wealthy.

Why wait until Heaven to get your mansion?

But the fact is we can’t take a passage and turn it into something it isn’t. It can’t mean what it could never have meant for it’s original readers.

The best way to guard against misinterpreting a work is to speak with the author and get understanding and clarity. The same goes with our Bible. We need to make sure we are speaking to God and with God, and to make sure He is speaking with us so that we know what He is trying to say to us through His Word, and that we are not just merely hearing what we want to from it.

Remember that nothing is more powerful than the Word of God accurately applied to a situation!

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Hebrews 4:12 (NASU)

Just a thought, but I would definitely recommend How to Read The Bible For All It’s Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, for they are far better qualified and learned to instruct on reading the Scriptures than I am!


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