Tag Archives: Context

Reading without Verses

As we read the Bible it is easy to get too caught up in the divisions of chapters and verses which were not originally in the texts of Scripture, thereby missing the big picture of what is being communicated. Though the divisions into chapters and verses are intended to help reference and remember the things stated, the focus of the text is often lost because of the breaking of thoughts, conversations, and even individual statements of Scripture.

Therefore, it is of great value to take the time to read passages of Scripture without the “aids” of chapters and verses, and thereby retain the flow of the message as intended. Some of the greatest areas of advantage for such an approach is seen in the sermons of Scripture. The power and beauty of the lessons presented by Jesus, the apostles, and others are magnified when examined in their entirety, without hindrance.

For the purposes of this article, consider Paul’s sermon in Antioch as recorded in Acts 13. The inclusion of history, multiple Old Testament Scripture references, and application to the people of his day makes this sermon a very powerful one when uncluttered from the barriers often placed within our consideration. Notice his words (quoted from the ESV):

So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said:

“Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’ Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ Therefore he says also in another psalm, ‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’ For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about: ‘Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.'”

Consider all of the meat of Old Testament history and New Testament application that Paul inserts into this brief lesson; yet much of it often goes unconsidered due to the intrusion of too many aids and dissections of text intended to consider every nuance.

Let us never get so caught up in one verse, phrase, or word that we neglect to take the time to consider its context as a whole and the beauty of the information as it was originally presented. The value of taking such time will bless our studies and our lives.

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The Importance of Knowing the Context

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.

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