Updated: Mar 4, 2022
There are some verses that tend to be taken out of their context more than others. This can easily happen when reading and interpreting the scripture. Allowing the Holy Spirit to give us the right perspective when we study God’s word is important.
First, let's define a term. What is context? The Cambridge English Dictionary defines the word "context" as "the text or speech that comes immediately before or after a particular phrase or piece of text and helps to explain it's meaning." (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/context)
Understanding context is one of the most helpful tools when reading, or interpreting anything. It is even more important when concerning The Bible. The Holy Spirit inspired the writings that the apostles, prophets, and others wrote. Careful attention to context is crucial when extracting the meaning God was conveying when He inspired these holy writings.
2Pe 1:20-21 "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
Language works in a particular way. God chose to convey particular meaning in the words that He told them to write and speak. He had a point to it all. Not one soul on this earth is invited to interpret scripture in their own way. Let's take a look at why context matters.
Context revolves around the setting, and the surrounding passages. Let's look at some elements of setting. These are in no way exhaustive, but you get the idea:
Who is speaking?
Who is the audience?
Why is this being said?
What is being said?
What are the definitions of the terms being used?
When was this written?
Under which overarching covenant was the passage written? (extremely important)
What were the circumstances around what was being said?
What is the overall theme of the passage/letter/book?
Are there circumstances surrounding what was said that may clarify the passage?
Does your interpretation of this scripture contradict other clear passages of scripture that are within the intended context?
How does the passage point to Jesus, or how does this passage read in light of the undeniable truths of the Gospel of Jesus? (John 5:39)
How is the book being delivered? (If it is a letter, it should be read and interpreted as a letter, etc.)
These interpretive principles are used for literally every literary work in the known universe. Why not The Bible?
Excuse me while I exalt scripture, but why do those of us who teach and study the Bible often feel the liberty to take passages of scripture out of context and use it in any way we see fit to suit our agendas? I believe the flesh can get involved in scriptural interpretation just like it can in anything else. Neither you nor I have the authority to twist scripture. There are clear guidelines for scriptural interpretation and we are to follow them.
Someone Else's Mail
Many times over the years, as my wife and I would move into a new apartment or house we would receive mail that was addressed to the previous owner or tenant. This has happened every time we move, and undoubtedly our mail gets sent to our old address from time to time.
What would you think of me as I take the mail that is addressed to the previous owner, open it and began reading it as if it were addressed to me? Additionally, as I'm reading, I take everything that was being said to this other individual personally as if it were being said directly to me. Then, with complete stubbornness to anyone's objection I proceed to rearrange all kinds of things in my own personal life to fit what I just read that wasn't even mine to read and apply in the first place.
Okay, first off, opening and reading someone else's mail is illegal and downright creepy if you ask me. Second, let's say the mail that was addressed to the previous owner had his name on it. Let's call him Larry. Let's also say that it was from His wife who is overseas (I know we don't really send letters anymore, but bear with me)!
Imagine with me that I, Tyler McGirt, am reading a letter that says, "Dear Larry," at the top and it has all of this nice language in it describing Larry and how much this other person loves Him. I am sitting at my kitchen table reading it and I am personally absorbing every compliment that Larry's significant other is saying about him!
As awkward as that story may be, I think it fits most people's method of interpreting the scriptures in the day and age in which we live. There are many things in The Bible that have absolutely nothing to do with you and I personally, but yet we will take it and apply it to our lives and even feel miserable when we fail to do so. Lunacy.
All scripture is profitable. Don't get me wrong. Please don't misunderstand me.
All scripture was written for us, but not all scripture was written to us.
Paul said to Timothy that all scripture is profitable. Profitable means useful, or beneficial. Obviously all scripture is useful in its proper usage or context. Allow me to go ahead and put some emphasis on a passage of scripture that is often take out of its context and used improperly.
2Ti 3:15-16 KJV - And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
(note: I am not planning on addressing the fact that this verse is usually taken out of context other than saying all scripture points to Jesus (John 5:39). That is the point of this entire passage. It points to His righteousness, Instruction in Christ, teaching about Christ, and reproof, or that by which a thing is proven or tested meaning Christ is proven and tested by the scripture, it reveals who He is, prophecy about Christ, fulfilling of the law, etc.).
The scriptures were written for our learning, encouragement, and exhortation.
1Co 10:11 KJV - Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
Rom 15:4 KJV - For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Written For Us But Not To Us
Here is my point in this: context is important. When I read things like how The Old Covenant was made in exodus 19-24 and when I read the law of The Old Covenant, I need to understand that God was not making that Covenant with me. He made it with Israel. He included me in The New Covenant.
When God told Noah to build the ark God wasn't telling Tyler McGirt to build the ark. When God told David that His throne would be established forever, God wasn't saying that Tyler McGirt's throne would be established forever.
When God told Abraham to move to a country He had never seen before, God wasn't telling Tyler McGirt to do that.
When God told Moses that He would never see the promise land, Tyler McGirt wasn't there in that instance.
Not every parable Jesus told was about you and me. Not every story in the Bible includes you and me.
Is there important truth I can learn from these things? Absolutely! Were they written to me? No. They were written for me. I am glad they are there. I love the stories of the Bible, but in their proper context. You and I are not invited to insert ourselves into every nook and cranny of the scriptures. We are not invited to throw out the meaning of what God wrote simply because we are trying to develop a sermon that includes "Ten Points On How To Be Humble Like Moses". God doesn't invite us to be like Moses. He invited us to live in Jesus, and to be complete in Him.
Jesus included you in The Gospel. Jesus included you in The New Covenant. Jesus included you in His family. That is awesome! Let's celebrate that!