Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Out of Context? How to Ensure Accurate Use of Bible Verses

Photo by: Arvind Balaraman


Here are some well-known and often quoted verses: 
  1. The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another (Genesis 31:49b).
  2. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end (Jeremiah 29:11).
  3. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive (Matthew 21:22).
  4. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28)
  5. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me (Philippians 4:13).


Let’s take each verse and look for its context: 
  • To whom is it written/spoken?
  • What is the historical setting?
  • Where does this particular verse fit in the context of the whole picture?
  • Are there other Scriptures that shed light on this one?


We’ll examine the verses at the top of this post.

The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another (Genesis 31:49b). Laban said this to Jacob, his son-in-law, when Jacob had taken his wives, servants, and herds away from Laban. Laban followed, and then they made an agreement to go their separate ways—and that Jacob would take no other wives. This lovely statement was Laban’s farewell response. No other Scriptures apply to this one, but we know that God’s blessing was indeed on Jacob as they were absent one from the other.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end (Jeremiah 29:11). This was a letter written by Jeremiah to the Israelites in captivity. Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders which were carried away captives, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon (Jeremiah 29:1). So, the historical setting is a message from God to Israel at that time. Can we claim this lovely blessing today? What other Scriptures might shed some light on this one? Psalm 139:17-18, How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee. Psalm 5:4 For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. Lots of verses speak of God giving people peace. Here’s one of them: Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). Can we claim this verse for ourselves? Yes, because God never changes. He desires peace and a wonderful end for every believer. He thinks of us constantly. What a blessing!

And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive (Matthew 21:22). Jesus spoke this verse to His disciples. Does this verse mean that whatever we ask God for, we’ll receive? Anything? How about a new Maserati sports car? A mansion? A Chanel dress? What is the context of this verse? It comes after Jesus cursed the fig tree and the disciples noticed it had completely withered away. Jesus told His disciples they would do greater things than that, and that anything they asked they would receive. Another few verses clarify this one: And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him (1 John 5:14-15). If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you (John 15:7). The lesson is that God will honor prayers that are according to His will.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). These words were part of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. The context is Jesus interceding for believers’ prayers and that believers will be conformed to the image of God. I found several verses that go along with this one. 2 Timothy 3:17 is about the Bible’s purpose; That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. James 1:2-4 says, My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. God works all circumstances together for our good, and He works in us as we’re instructed by the Bible. This is a verse to cling to.

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me (Philippians 4:13). This is a “Superman verse” at first glance, but let’s look further. Paul is writing to the church at Philippi from prison. Clearly, Paul would have been limited in what he could do—merely by his circumstances. The context is key to understanding this verse. Let’s read it in its context. Paul has received a care package from the believers. He is thanking them. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction (Philippians 4:11-14). This verse is about being content in the midst of suffering. It’s about going through the hard times in joy. (Read the first part of chapter 4. It’s incredible!) This verse might be better translated “in Christ” instead of “through Christ.” Paul’s position in Christ enables him to be joyful in prison, to be content even though he has needs, and to be grateful to believers for the little things they did to help him be more comfortable. What a lesson and a challenge for us today! A companion verse is: But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19, the same chapter!).

………………………………………………….

I wonder how often we pull Bible verses out and use them inaccurately? I know I have. I’m learning to look up details, to see the verse in its context, and to look up key words to see what they mean in Greek or Hebrew. I’m also looking for other verses that shed light on the verse I’m studying. These simple steps can save us from wrong interpretations.

Study to shew thyself approved unto God,
a workman that needeth not to be ashamed,
rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
  

2 comments:

Please share your thoughts.