Dig Deeper {2} context

Once upon a time there was a man who decided to do everything the Scriptures said. He picked up his Bible, flipped it open and read the first verse his finger landed on.

he went away and hanged himself. Matthew 27:5

“Wait!” he cried, “This can’t be right.” He shut the Bible firmly then opened it again and read the words his fingers lighted upon.

And Jesus said unto him, Go, and do thou likewise. Luke 10:37

He slammed the book shut and put his head down. “I don’t know what is wrong but I will try one last time.” For this attempt, he opened far away from the mistaken verses. His eyes tightly closed, he placed his finger on the page. Slowly raising his lids, he read:

I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands. Psalm 119:60

With a sigh he set down his Bible and left it. “It must be that the Bible is not to be taken literally,” he told the world and proceeded to live however he saw fit. 

I don’t remember where I first heard that story. It’s one that has been repeated in the church for many years. I’ve heard it with different passages used but always the same outcome: the verses don’t make sense so the reader walks away.

The reason, of course, is context.

Have you ever been quoted out of context? My husband recently quoted me as saying, “It’s a good thing I didn’t marry one of those intelligent guys.”

Sounds terrible, eh? (I promise, it wasn’t!)

Pulling statements out of context can be quite humorous in everyday life but with Scripture it can be downright dangerous.

Not paying attention to context is the first step toward believing false doctrine. Its okay to quote a single verse but it is never okay to build doctrine on that one verse.

Did you know there are layers to context?

Correct hermeneutics utilizes all five layers of context. Never should an interpretation “conflict” with the next layer. In may deepen, it may grow, but it must never conflict.

Let’s take, for instance, the verse from our story.

he went away and hanged himself. Matthew 27:5

  1. Immediate surrounding verses

We’re talking about Judas Iscariot. He says, “I have sinned” and the priests (basically) reply, “who cares?” Judas throws down thirty pieces of silver and goes away to hang himself.

  1. Previous chapter, following chapter

Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested. Peter denies Christ. Judas was “seized with remorse” and goes back to talk to the priests. They push his sin back on his own head. He hangs himself. Jesus dies and is raised from the dead.

  1. Complete book

Matthew is the Jewish look at the life of Jesus. Things are addressed under the Jewish law. Judas was a Jew. One who looked like he was following Jesus but loved his money more than his God—thereby making his money become his god.

  1. Complete Testament (Old or New)

The New Testament is the New Covenant: a chance for all to step out from under Jewish Laws and into a life of grace. But it is an option, not a requirement. Every person gets a choice.

  1. Entire Bible

The Bible is the story of God’s redemption of mankind. Created in His image, fallen, and redeemed by the blood of Jesus. We all can be saved: if we choose Christ.

Now, with all that context, do you want to know what I think that verse means?

Sin, when it is full-grown, produces death.

The idea that this verse could possibly mean that someone should go out and hang themselves is wiped out with step one. Of course, this is a simple illustration. Some are not so easy. But before we attempt to make doctrine out of a verse we need to look at the complete context.

Ways to Dig Deeper {2}:  pay attention to context.

Read surrounding verses and passages—in different translationsand use commentaries!

{Note on Commentaries: Unless you have a PhD in Jewish History, there are probably things you don’t understand about the time period when the Bible was written. The Bible is the only inspired Word of God but commentaries can help us grasp a bit of culture and to pull together ideas.}

I mostly use Bible Gateway for my research. Do you have any resources that you use to help establish context? 


2 thoughts on “Dig Deeper {2} context

  1. Good Afternoon Natasha!
    I feel like I could’ve eaten this post up with a spoon, I enjoyed it so! Perhaps it’s because I want more, more, and more Bible in my own life! God’s Spirit is making me hungry for it. Thank you for sharing the wisdom He has given to you sister. Yes, I happen to use Bible Gateway as well. Blessings to you, as I continue to ponder in my heart. ~ Amy


  2. Pingback: Wise Things I Learned From My Dad - Kindred Grace

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