Legalists often quote a partial verse, “man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart,” to prove they should maintain “standards” of dress and hair. This is a prime example of a partial verse quoted out of context to make a point that is nowhere near the intent within context.

In context, the verse isn’t talking about what to wear or not to, but it’s a warning against choosing leaders based on appearances:

1 Sam 16:6 When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the LORD’s anointed!”
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

In reality, the verse means nearly the opposite of how it is used in performance based churches, where people too often look at the outward appearance to make judgement calls, choose friends and leaders, and determine who loves and serves God and who does not. Eliab looked like the perfect choice to the prophet. So did every other of David’s brothers. But God wasn’t interested in human achievements or appearances. Why should we think this verse indicates that we should be?

Comments (1)

  1. I remember using this out of context version to shame my mom into thinking her belief in God was not enough. So sad. It’s probably no coincidence that this is one of the first scriptures I memorized in context after leaving the UPC.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *