Have you ever read the comment section of an article on social media? It’s my guilty pleasure… These sections are filled with keyboard warriors, miss information, trolls, and lots of angry people. One thing you can’t help but notice is the difference between those who actually read the article and who are just reacting to the title. I love it. But it reveals a deeper reality we face. We react before we understand the whole story.
I wish I could say that this reality only exists in the comment section on social media. It doesn’t. We take this same mindset into our reading and understanding of the Bible. We love the quick soundbite or the one verse that proves our point. So we just spout off the one verse we know while ignoring the rest. In doing so we are ripping the Bible out of context and causing a lot of damage along the way.
We need to stop taking the Bible out of context.
The Dangers Of Taking Scripture Out of Context
Maybe you are thinking, what’s the danger of taking scripture out of context? It’s not REALLY a big deal right? Actually I think it’s a really big deal.
The obvious danger of taking the Bible out of context is that we end up with the wrong message. And our culture is saturated with the wrong ideas about the Bible, Jesus, and Christianity. But I don’t think that’s the extent of the dangers of taking Scripture out of context.
Often times when we take scripture out of context we remove the “we” and insert “me”. We’ve made verses all about ourselves. We read the Bible as if it’s a personal letter addressed to us. The problem is the Bible isn’t written to you. It’s written for you, but not to you.
When we ignore the context we miss the original meaning. We read the Bible for what we can get out of out, and not what God wants for us. The Bible has something for you, but it’s not written to you.
Our culture has made reading the Bible a very “I” centric thing. But much of the Bible is written with a “we” centric theme. We are going to look at a few verses in the next section that show just that.
The point is we need to read the Bible in context. We need to pay attention to the surrounding verses AND who those verses were written to.
Taking The Bible Out of Context
So let’s look at some examples. These are some verses that are commonly taken out of context. As we go through these pay attention to how we’ve made them very “I” centric when the original message was centered around the community or God’s people.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
This verse is often used as a personal motivation to get through something tough. We use it as a rallying cry to win the game, get through a tough test, deal with a breakup, get that promotion, achieve a record workout, or finish a project. But when Paul wrote this verse that’s not what he had in mind. In fact, it’s not even close.
The context of this verse tells us this, but because many just read this single verse the real purpose of this passage. Paul is actually talking about being content whether hungry or full, having plenty or little, in prison or free. He’s saying that God will get us through the seasons that God brings him too. Not that you can accomplish whatever you want.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
This verse is often quoted during a difficult season in life as a promise that God has a specific plan and will bring us through it. Many read this verse and think that if we trust God, then not only will we be brought through it, but we will prosper. In other words, we read it kind of like the prosperity Gospel for ourselves. If we follow God then we will have a good life, the money we want, a nice house, and plenty of vacations.
The problem is that this verse is a specific promise to specific people, Israel. The promise is for deliverance by ending the Babylonian exile. During this time there were a few false prophets that were claiming that God was going to release His people soon. If you were to read the surrounding verses in Jeremiah 29, you would see God denounce the false prophets, tell them they are going to have to wait (70 years) and tell them while they are there to seek peace and prosperity.
This verse is meant to encourage that despite things not going the way the Israelites wanted, God is still in control. The Israelites are told to trust God, even though things probably aren’t making much sense to them. That’s faith, isn’t it? Believing now, what will only make sense in hindsight.
For more on what this verse means check out: What Jeremiah 29:11 Really Means
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
If I had a dollar for every worship pastor that has misquoted this verse…
This verse is often used to say that because there are more than two people in the room God is there. The problem is this interpretation isn’t anywhere close to what’s actually going on in the verse. Plus, when we use the verse this way it infers that when there are not two or more than God is not there. I know most people don’t believe that, but that’s how we use this verse.
If you read the surrounding verses in Matthew 18 you would see a different message. Jesus is actually giving instructions on what to do when you have a conflict with a person. When you have a disagreement with someone you should go with other people. It’s a passage about how to deal with conflict, not a blanket statement about God’s presence.
Context Is King
If you only remember one thing from this article remember this. Context is king.
In other words, the verses around the verse you are reading will tell you a lot about the verse you are reading. If you ignore the context you will likely end up with a skewed view of the Bible. Context is king.
The context of a verse is one of the most crucial elements of Biblical exegesis. And it’s also one of the easiest things to do. It only takes a few minutes to look at the context in which something is said. If we spend just a few extra minutes on the above verses we would easily arrive at the intended meaning of the passage.
This isn’t just a principle for Biblical interpretation. Imagine if you actually read that article or listen to what that politician said. Rather than jumping to conclusions based on a one-sentence soundbite. Context is king. It tells us the whole story.
If you take a sentence out of context you can make anyone say anything you want. That’s the danger of taking scripture out of context. You can make the Bible say anything you want if you ignore the context. You HAVE to pay attention to the context of the Bible. Context is king.
What You Can Do To Stop Taking The Bible Out Of Context
Hopefully, at this point you understand the importance of reading the Bible in context. Which should leave you with the question, okay what do I do now? How do I actually read the Bible in context?
Let me give you 3 things you can do that will help you.
1. Look at the surrounding verses
This is the easiest step and one we already touched on. But I want to put it in again because it’s so simple yet makes such a big impact.
Take the Matthew 18:20 passage from above. This is one of the most commonly misquoted verses I hear. I even hear pastors misuse this verse regularly. If all you do is read serval verses before and several after you will have a better understanding of what Jesus is talking about. It literally only takes one 1-minute. But so many people don’t even do that and keep misusing this verse.
If all you do is this step it will vastly improve how well you understand the Bible.
2. Look at the who
Remember the Bible wasn’t written to you. But the Bible was written for you. The Bible was written to specific people that lived in a different culture at a different time. To read the Bible in context means understanding the context in which the words were penned.
This takes a little more effort but will help you greatly. If you are wondering how to learn more about the audience a great first step is getting a GOOD study Bible. These are full of great information about each book of the Bible and offer insights into specific verses. They are very easy to use and will add depth to your studies.
Here’s the one I recommend:
If you want to go a little deeper here’s a free online resource: Free Bible Study Resources
And if you want to go even deeper get a good commentary. Here are a few I use that are easy to understand:
3. Look at the larger narrative
This last step is to look at the verse you are reading from a higher viewpoint. You take the specific passage you are reading and see how that passage fits within the narrative of the entire book or the Bible.
This one is the most involved step. But as you do this it will become easier and more natural. It will require some extra thinking and meditating on what you read alongside a few good resources such as the ones listed above and below.
The dangers of taking scripture out of context are many. But if we just pay a little closer attention to the context in which verses are written we will avoid the misuse of the Bible and come to a deeper understanding of God’s word.
I’d love to hear from you! Drop a comment down below!
Get Access To 3 Exclusive Articles (for FREE)
Want articles like this one delivered straight to your email? Sign up for Rethink Updates and you’ll also get access to 3 exclusive articles! Put your email in the box below!
Resources For Reading The Bible
To help in this journey we need good resources to help us understand who wrote the Bible and the setting in which it was written.