Often in Scripture, things are not as they seem at first glance. Unfortunately, too many of us stop with the first glance.
We practice “Bible Roulette” and grab one verse at a time without considering what the author meant.
Context is the tool for this in Bible study. This is the second most important principle in understanding the Bible. The most important truth is the Bible was not written for us, it applies to us. But, that is for another post!
Context is reading five to ten verses around the verse in question. Ideally one would read the entire book or letter, but at a minimum the surrounding verses.
Sometimes, things change if we read one more verse.
Here are three examples where we see viewing only part of the picture is not an accurate representation.
1. Wives Submit to Husbands – Ephesians 5:22
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”
Much has been made of this verse in marital relations. Yet, we must consider one verse prior to this for the entire thought.
Verse 21 says “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Wives submitting must be considered in light of “all submitting to all.” This might bring multiple views on the marriage issue.
2. The Unforgivable Sin – Mark 3:29
“but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”
Countless Christians have worried they have committed the unpardonable sin.
Verse 30 shows that Jesus was addressing a specific situation, “for they had said, He has an unclean spirit”, referring to the accusations that his ministry was from the devil.
Of course no one would find forgiveness while believing this. With that view, you won’t get saved! (For a fuller discussion of this please read Have I Committed the Unforgivable Sin?)
3. I know the plans I have – Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
What a wonderful verse and promise! We see it on our refrigerators and our greeting cards. We must look deeper to see the true meaning. Look at the verse immediately preceding its famous counterpart.
Jeremiah 29:10 says, “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.”
The glorious promise of a hope and future is true! Yet the fine print tells us deliverance only occurs after going through 70 years of pain, difficulty, and captivity.
I wonder if some were familiar with the context of this verse if they would want it in their note of encouragement. We all want the blessings of God, but rarely want to go thorough the long journey to get it.
This is not to say that we can never have the Lord speak to us through a verse of Scripture. However, we do need an awareness of the fact that things are not always as they seem when we only read one verse.
Sometimes the answer is as simple are reading one more verse.
What others ways has context been helpful for you? Do you know any more examples, where reading more changes the interpretation?