You've heard the warning: Do not read the Bible out of context!!
Yes, indeed, we want to make sure we always consider the context of any verse or passage we stumble upon. Failing to look at the context is probably the number 1 reason for misinterpreting Scripture!
Understanding Textual Context
There are two types of context. The first is textual context, which means the text surrounding the passage or verse. A verse taken out of context can be completely misunderstood.
Here is an example:
Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” If you read this verse on a bumper sticker or overheard somebody mention it, what conclusions might you draw? It says “all things.” Does that mean you can fly to the moon or get a promotion? If you don’t look at the context, you might easily demand success at anything you do and be irritated with God if He doesn’t bless your endeavor.
Once you look at the context, however, particularly the preceding verses, you will notice that the author, Paul, is talking about suffering for Christ’s kingdom. When you are enduring hardship because you are serving Christ, you can be sure that He will give you the needed strength through Christ. Do you see that textual context makes a big difference?
Paying attention to context
Whenever you read a passage, look at the previous verses or the preceding story. Depending on how familiar you are with the portion of Scripture you are studying, you may be able to take a look at the previous passage’s heading. Do the same for the passage or story that follows immediately after.
Besides the direct context, it helps to know where in the overall story of the Bible you are reading. Did you just open the Bible to the Israelites journey in the desert? When reading in the period of the kings, is a good or bad king currently reigning? Having an understanding of the overarching message of the Bible helps us understand the portion in front of us.
The second type is historical context. We need to understand the customs of the day to better understand the meaning of a passage.
Here is an example:
1 Corinthians 11:5 says “And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head - it is just as though her head were shaved.”
Now, does that mean that it is a sin for all women to pray without having their heads covered? Few denominations today believe this. Most Christians look at the historical context and understand that Corinth at the time viewed a woman with an uncovered or shaved head as a disgrace. Is that the case for us today? No.
The verse itself gave us a hint of this historical context, comparing prayer with an uncovered head to shaving one’s head. Do you hear the implication that a woman with a shaved head would be shameful?
Sometimes, the text or immediate context does not provide us with facts about the historical context. We may look elsewhere in Scripture for information or use outside sources. You can find a quick guide to commentaries here.
Digging Deep into Scripture Made Easy
Today's blog post is an excerpt from the free ebook offer, "10 Steps to Approaching the Bible with Confidence." Find out more about this ebook by clicking on the link below.
Next time you come across a beautiful verse on social media, be sure to open up your Bible app and read the verse in context. It's a brilliant habit!
Do you have an example of a passage that can be easily misinterpreted when taken out of context? Tell me about it in the comments below.