If you have spent any time studying the art and science of biblical interpretation (commonly known as Hermeneutics) you know one thing very well: it all comes back to context. Everything. If you forget that aspect of biblical interpretation, everything falls. Neglecting context means that we fail at preaching the full counsel of God and only look to what we “feel like” talking about. If we ignore the forest for the trees, we end up thinking the Bible is all about somethings other than Jesus.
For instance, it is easy to pull out many verses on the “issue” of Homosexuality and teach what God feels about it, but if you focus only on those verses, you miss the love and grace of God and the fact that Jesus is the center of the Scriptures and not just a fun story that appears in the second act. If you forget context, it is easy to make the Bible about you or anything other than Jesus.
Jared Wilson has a great post on legalism (here). In it, he writes:
Legalism ISN’T any preaching of the Law or of moral exhortations (in their biblical context). But it IS preaching “do’s and don’t’s” as if they are the essential message of Christ or of the Bible.
Amen! We must remember the context of every verse or else fall to legalism. For more on this, see Paul.
This concern for proper context should be shown everywhere, we shouldn’t make it a habit to just take a phrase from someone and judge them for that one phrase. However, as Mike Wittmer (author of the phenomenal book, Don’t Stop Believing) wrote on the interpretation of the Koran and the Bible recently:
The Koran does not tell a developing story, as does the Bible, but arranges its chapters by length, from larger to smaller. So unlike the Bible, where it is inappropriate to pull a verse from Leviticus to say that Christians shouldn’t eat Gulf coast shrimp (God gave us common sense for that), there is no such context in the Koran. How can you take something out of context that doesn’t have a context?
There will be times when certain things don’t offer an actual context. It’s times like that when we need to exercise wisdom in our reading and interpretation.
How else can context affect the way you interpret? What else should we be careful about?
Update: 8/24/10: A great video about how the Bible is about Jesus- he is the context of everything.