Leaders of the word-faith movement, also known as the prosperity gospel, say they place a high value on Scripture. Unfortunately, their unique interpretation of God’s Word leads to unbiblical conclusions about God’s design for the Christian life.
A case in point: 3 John 2, which reads: “Dear friend, I pray that you may prosper in every way and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.”
As prosperity preachers like Kenneth Copeland and Joel Osteen would have you believe, this verse expresses the divine view that every child of God should enjoy financial blessing and perfect health. But is that what the passage really means?
Hardly. In the first place, the Greek word translated “prosper” means “to go well,” not to become rich. Secondly, John uses a common greeting to address his friend, Gaius, similar to salutations we place in modern-day letters.
As Gordon Fee writes in The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels, “This combination of wishing for ‘things to go well’ and for the recipient’s ‘good health’ was the standard form of greeting in a personal letter in antiquity. To extend John’s wish for Gaius to refer to financial and material prosperity for all Christians is totally foreign to the text.”
This is the third in a five-part series on the Prosperity Gospel.
The Word-Faith movement, also known as the Prosperity Gospel, is leading millions of people to embrace false teachings.
Consider the movement’s following errors:
The Word-Faith movement abuses the Bible.
While prosperity preachers proclaim the Bible as the source of their teaching, they consistently fail to correctly teach the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).
Specifically, they commit three common errors of biblical interpretation:
- They ignore the context. A single verse, such as 3 John 2, must be read as part of the full narrative, and the full narrative must be considered in light of the intended audience and in comparison with the rest of Scripture.
- They rely on extra-biblical experiences to establish their interpretations of Scripture. It is not uncommon to hear leaders like Kenneth Copeland say that God spoke to them in an audible voice or appeared to them in a vision. This is not to deny that the Lord may use dreams and visions to speak to people today. However, we must lay all experiences against the yardstick of Scripture. The canon is closed, and we must take pains not to add to or take away from God’s word.
- They begin with beliefs rather than with the Bible. Based on “dreams,” “visions,” “prophecies,” and other subjective experiences, they formulate new teachings that tickle the ear rather than lead to godliness (2 Tim. 4:3).
Previously: What is the Word-Faith movement?
This is the second in a five-part series on the Prosperity Gospel.
The central teaching of the errant Word-Faith movement is that God wills your prosperity and health; therefore, to be a Christian in poverty or ill health is to be outside the will of God.
There is great diversity within the Word-Faith movement, but below are doctrines that most prosperity teachers embrace. Please keep in mind that these are false doctrines, which we address in future columns.
For a more in-depth look at the Word-Faith movement, order The Apologist’s Tool Kit.
The following are drawn largely, but not exclusively, from Robert M. Bowman Jr. in The Word-Faith Controversy: Understanding the Health and Wealth Gospel.