Using Context in the Bible
Context in the Bible
Facebook includes lots of images (memes) showing encouraging Scriptures from the Bible. Most are accurate quotes of a verse but is the concept they suggest Biblically sound? What about the people who quote a single scripture as a “proof” of some doctrine? Is that proper? What could be wrong if they have a Scripture to back them up? To find out, we need to learn how to “correctly handle the word of truth.” Read the entire second chapter of 2 Timothy to learn more:
2 Timothy 2:15, Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
There are some defined rules for studying the Bible. Dr Tremper Longman III has posted his “Seven Keys to Understanding Scripture” while Ron Rhodes and Richard Anthony have “Eight Rules of Bible Interpretation.” Both of these lists (and many others) are great tools for guiding us in the proper methods of studying God’s Word. Although there might be slight differences of opinion between the lists, one thing that is common in virtually every guide is to consider the CONTEXT of each verse.
Google’s definition of context:
con·text ˈkäntekst/ noun
1) the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.
2) the parts of something written or spoken that immediately precede and follow a word or passage and clarify its meaning.
When reading a verse of Scripture, we must consider the verses prior to and following the verse – and how that concept is covered in other parts of the Bible. Rarely can a verse stand on its own without us having to weigh the other verses in the chapter where it is found. And, always, a verse must be taken in the broader context of the entire Bible. If a verse seems to “conflict” with other verses, we must try to ascertain why and attempt to resolve the difference.
Look at Matthew 4:6 (the temptation of Jesus), where the devil says to Jesus, “it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ” This verse appears to be accurately quoted from Psalms 91:12 which, (I believe) has application for all of God’s people. But, the devil said, “throw yourself down. For it is written…” In other words, the devil was saying, “I challenge you to PROVE that God will protect you!” But Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’ ” (v.7).
The devil failed to take the FULL Scripture into account. Psalm 91:1 says that if we live under God’s shelter, we can rest in the knowledge that the Lord “is my refuge and my fortress” (v.2). Verse 3 says, “Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.” God certainly is our “fortress” but we are not saved from EVERY problem or sickness. A snare is a trap set for a bird (or, in this case, you or me) and we do not choose to face a deadly pestilence. It is in the unintentional and unexpected tragic events that God will be our fortress – not those events of our choosing. Jesus correctly interpreted these Scriptures and refused to put God to the test. [Note that this same type of error (taking Scripture out of context, e.g., Mark 16:18) has led some Christians to handle snakes in their worship services.]
The bottom line is that we must see the context of a verse before we accept it as “proof” of anything. And, although the Facebook memes (images, videos, text, etc. that are copied and spread rapidly by Internet users) may be accurate quotes of a verse, there is no guarantee that they are accurate doctrinally. Each must be viewed in context – which they never are when they are presented in meme form.
Likewise, there are some books of the Bible that must be read in context to properly understand them. Next, read our article on “Understanding the Book of Ecclesiastes.“