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Bible Ah-Ha! #4

If I had one chance to give one insight that has helped me better understand the Bible, I think I know what it would be. I would not emphasize that the Bible is the inspired word of God. Nor would I use my one opportunity to emphasize the importance of studying grammar, or the differences between history, poetry, letters and apocalyptic sections of the Bible. I wouldn’t even take my one opportunity to emphasize the Christ-centeredness of all Scripture, or the big story of the Bible. As important as all of these are, I am convinced that the most obvious principle of interpretation is also the most ignored. I’m referring to:

The rule of context

As well known as this principle is,

1. Countless errors of understanding occur by quoting the Bible in a way that we would never want to be quoted or understood– out of context, so that the meaning we intend is changed.

2. No other principle has helped me get insight into difficult passages or resolve apparent contradictions in the Bible.

3. And when I watch skilled teachers of Scripture, I find that all of them use context to open up passages the way we use a key to open a locked door.

So what do we mean by context? At the very least, we mean finding the Bible’s own story behind its statements. Any of us can begin doing this by looking carefully at the words and ideas preceding and following any statement of Scripture. Only by doing this can we begin to find the flow of ideas that determine what a text means.

By starting here we can take the most important step in letting the Bible speak for itself rather than using it to support anything we want to say.

I’ll bet if we take the chance, and without naming names, we can give some pretty good examples of how honoring or ignoring context opens up passages– or subjects them to misquote.

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3 Responses to “Bible Ah-Ha! #4”

  1. lysager says:

    I recall some years ago when reading Alfred Edersheim’s book “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” provided a wake up moment. He explained what was involved at the Feast of Tabernacles and the water ceremony going from the Pool of Siloam and the temple. After reading this, John 7 and specifically verse 37 made much more sense. Previously one could almost see Jesus as being slightly out of step with what was transpiring around Him. He stands and with a loud voice talks about “living water” flowing from Him etc. I thought it was a nice metaphor, but why did he do this. When you understand this beautiful ceremony, using a golden pitcher, a procession of people along with the priest, pouring out of the water,etc. you have Jesus’s words in context. Now Jesus standing up and speaking about living water makes perfect sense. The context is a Jewish ceremony where water is highly symbolic. Jesus’s words are now perfectly in harmony with the occasion. I recall finding this very fulfilling. What had previously seemed mysterious was now much clearer, and all because of now having His words in context!

  • Mart De Haan says:

    lysager, that’s really good thanks. It’s an example of something I want to write about later: that Jesus fulfills not just the predictions of the Bible, but all of it’s word pictures, rituals, laws, and history.