I was looking at a popular verse that I was given to teach on, at a local Christian High School chapel service today. Along with the verse, I was given a theme. The theme and the verse are compatible, and it was a fun task. But the proposition reminded me of a great lesson in bible teaching, something that is very important as we seek to understand truth, whether biblical or otherwise.
It’s about context.
People take verses out of the bible and quote them for all kinds of applications that have nothing to do with the actual meaning of the text. Preachers do it, reporters do it, and politicians do it all the time. They take a line, a quote, or a truth, and misquote it out of context and they use it for their own purposes… sometimes even evil purposes.
For example, I remember teaching through the book of Philippians when I saw a boxer with “I can do all things”-Philippians 4:13 tattooed on him. I remember thinking, “oh yeah, that’s what Paul was talking about -athletic achievement! Christ will strengthen you to knock out your opponent.” No, if you go back and read his letter, he was talking about finances, and his ability to be content whether he had little or much in the way of financial provision. Now it is true that Christ does strengthen us for many more things than just contentment, but if we are going to understand the words of others properly, context matters, and in that case Paul was teaching a much more important and valuable lesson about Christian living.
Or, take the shortest verse in the bible: “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)
Well, if we didn’t look at the context, we might assume he was a crybaby. Or, maybe He just ate a jalapeno! I’m joking. But seriously, if you look at the context, you will see why He was weeping. And no, I don’t think it was because Lazarus died.
If you look closely at the context you will get the clues, I’m not going to give it away… you look and see. Be a Berean!
I don’t know who said it first, I heard it from an old teaching cassette, and it has served me well as I have sought to understand the scriptures:
“A text without a context is a pretext.”
This is a timeless truth, and understanding it will lead to a better understanding of much of what we read and hear. The definition of pretext is an interesting one:
“a purpose or motive alleged or an appearance assumed in order to cloak the real intention or state of affairs” – Merriam Webster
We see there, that a pretext actually hides or cloaks the truth.
So, when you see those verses, taken out of context, don’t always assume that they are being applied accurately or fairly. Often times, they are not.
Now as for the media and politicians… assume that all quotes are taken out of context. 🙂