Context, context, read all about it. Have you noticed the lack of context in the news, social media posts/shares, politicians, and even in the church? There may be some context, but often times it is only half true. We live in a culture today that jumps to conclusions before they get all the facts or the rest of the story. Then, when you confront the lack of truth, there is no response because they have already drawn their conclusions and in a sense, there is no turning back. Am I the only one who has faced this?
Do people not understand the significance of context or do they simply not care? I’m sure both…need to promote your agenda after all…but I digress. For this post, lets focus on Biblical context. I had a man once give me a study concerning a certain topic. And with this, he was trying to show me the error of my ways. As I read the paper, it sounded great. I thought, “maybe I’ve been wrong this whole time…maybe I can be normal.” But as I do with most things, I put it to the test, so to speak. After several hours of study, what I discovered is that the study given to me, was mostly void of context. This was from mainstream Christianity.
Context is one of the most important things in Biblical studies right behind the original language of Scripture. There are three major areas of context…textual, historical, and cultural. I will place some information about each at the end of this post. Within the last couple weeks, I had someone say that you study the Scripture precept upon precept and line upon line. My response was…well, actually let’s take a look and see why context in so important.
In Isaiah 28:9-13 (go read the entire passage), we see Isaiah saying that the people have turned the word of God into precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little. He is REBUKING the people for this. Why? Because they had become so obsessed with a single commandment upon commandment and measure upon measure. Jesus confronts this as well when he says, “For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” (Matthew 23:23). What God wanted was for them to give rest to the weary, but the people were so focused on the individual things, that they could not see the bigger picture. Instead they oppressed the weak and began counting the commandments and measuring everything. (Go read the post The Fine Line concerning this.)
In other words, the people had boiled down the instruction of God into just few commandments here and there. What do we do today? We take a verse here, half a verse there, little bit here, a little bit there, this command or that command and we have a “revelation” void of context. We miss the entire meaning of what God wants from and for us by doing this. What is the end result? False doctrine or at least a doctrine steeped in half truths. Isaiah finishes his prophecy in verse 13 by saying, “That they go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.” Ouch…let’s not lose sight of the BIG PICTURE!
The Bible is not a book that you can pick and choose what portions you like and what portions you don’t like. It is the living word of God! Let’s make sure we have all the facts, the whole story, the big picture before we jump to our final conclusion. Even if you do jump, and then find out you were wrong, be able to admit your mistakes, repent, and keep walking. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved (2 Timothy 2:15). Until next time, continue your journey with joy.
Here are the examples of context…textual, historical, and cultural:
1. Textual Context – You have to not only look at the verse and the surrounding verses, but you have to take the verse in the context of the entire Bible. It is a one book, book. Example…Hebrews 9:3. Compare that to Numbers 17:10; Exodus 16:34; 2 Chronicles 5:10; 1 Kings 8:9.
2. Historical Context – You have to understand what was happening historically at the time it was written or spoken. There are things that God spoke to the Hebrews of that day that they would have immediately understood with no further explanation, but today we do not understand.
Example Exodus 23:19; 34:26; Deuteronomy 14:21 – “Do not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” This was an ancient fertility custom to the Canaanite god and they would have understood that God said, “Don’t be like the pagans,” without further explanation.
3. Cultural Context – You have to look at what was happening in the culture of that day. Does this change the context compared to the culture today? By no means. Culturally there are word puns or idioms that each society uses that other societies would not understand.
Example: 1 Kings 18:3 – Obadiah was over the household. This doesn’t mean he was a butler and looked after things, but means he was a prime minister, so to speak…he was number 2 in charge behind King Ahab.