It is one of the things least often considered when it comes to the Bible, yet it is also one of the most important tools necessary to its understanding. The use of context is vital if one desires to truly understand the message the Lord is seeking to deliver in any given passage.
It has often been said, “A text, taken out of its context, becomes a pretext.” Man can make anyone say anything when they disregard the context in which it is being said. One can see this type of ignorance (willful or otherwise) protrude from the bushes of almost every aspect of life; whether it is journalists looking for a story, politicians looking for a punch line, members of an argument trying to get an upper hand, or people trying to make arguments in religion. It is readily evident that if the context is ignored, the meaning can be greatly skewed.
However, because God is the author of the Scriptures, he has laid before us both what he wants us to know and what he wants us to understand. There is a vast difference between knowledge of what someone has said and understanding of what was intended by that statement. Therein lays the difference in an individual knowing the Bible in a general way, and understanding the things taught in a specific way.
Consider some areas in which men have perverted the context of a passage and thus completely changed its meaning. In First Corinthians 2 Paul writes, “But as it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). Many people read this passage of Scripture and make application to Heaven. Therefore, as their thinking goes, we cannot have any true understanding of Heaven. Unfortunately, such an application refuses to take into account the context because this passage is dealing with the revelation of the Word of God. Paul is emphasizing the fact that without the Holy Spirit’s revelation, man would not know anything about God because eye has not seen Him, nor ear heard Him (1 Cor. 2:7-13). If it were not for God’s revelation, man would know nothing of salvation, Heaven, Hell, eternity, the Day of Judgment, and many other spiritual revelations made in Scripture. This beautiful passage is intended to give us confidence in the revelation of God, but we greatly diminish the individual’s ability to understand it when we take it out of its context.
Another such passage which is commonly taken out of context is the King James Version’s rendering of Isaiah 14:12. From this passage “everyone” knows that Satan’s name is Lucifer and that he was a fallen angel from Heaven… or so it is told. Unfortunately, such a rendering requires an individual to completely ignore the context. When one examines the context, he will find that this statement is made, not concerning Satan, but concerning the king of Babylon (Isa. 14:4). Combine that with the fact that this term translated “Lucifer” would, from the original Hebrew, be better translated “day-star” as it is in most other translations, and it removes any possible reference to Satan. Instead, it is a portion of a proverb Isaiah was commanded to give against the king of Babylon, not a depiction of who Satan is and from whence he originated.
The Bible truly is the most beautiful book ever authored, because this book was authored by none other but our Creator; but for it to be understood as it should be, careful consideration must always be made to, as a classmate of mine once said, “the verses that came before it, and the verses that will come after it.” If we would take this approach, we could not only know what God intended, but all men would understand the Bible alike.