Whatever happened to context? You know, that old fashioned idea of studying a Bible verse in the light of what surrounds it…that out dated method that was good enough for your old Mennonite grandfather, the one whose feet were always firmly planted on the Rock no matter which way the winds of adversity were blowing…
PRINCIPLE: Context always rules in interpretation, whether you are studying a single word, one verse or a larger section of Scripture. Always check to see who the “neighbors” are!
Context is the setting in which something “dwells”. If you take a fish out of water, it doesn’t function well! This principle holds for any passage of Scripture which is taken out of context.
In simple terms, context is that which goes with the text, the “neighbors” so to speak — that which comes before and after.
Webster says that “context” is “the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning”.
The English word context is derived from com = with and texere = to weave or braid, and thus means to weave together! (…)
Any time we break into the middle of a book, a chapter or a paragraph, we need to look at the surrounding context. When you interpret Scripture, whether it is a single word, a verse or a paragraph, you must always consider the Scripture in light of the surrounding verses, chapters and book in which it is found and finally in the context of the entire Bible. Your interpretation should never contradict the context of the book, chapter or paragraph you are studying. If you ignore context, the accuracy of your interpretation will suffer. Remember that a text taken out of context potentially can become a pretext (a fictitious reason given in order to conceal the real one – Example = “He gave plausible reasons for his conduct, but these were only a pretext to conceal his real motives.”) which is how many of the cults have originated (click example).
One of the early reformed theologians Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) emphasized the importance of context, declaring that pulling a passage from its context “is like breaking off a flower from its roots.”
SOURCE: KEEP CONTEXT KING
Many Christian training and retreat centers today are forgetting that a biblical passage is only fully understood and applied when studied in the light of its context. Instead of using this biblical method of meditating, studying the scriptures, and applying God’s Word, they are tossing out context and using the method of Lectio Divina. As mentioned last week, here is one such example from the Mark Centre:
Receiving and Savoring the Word
Invitations from God
“Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” (I Sam 3:10)
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Mark 4:9)
“Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. (Isaiah 55:2)
• This prayerful reading of Scripture is complimentary to Bible Study, but meant to be an experience of receiving words from God in the here and now.
• Lectio Divina has been compared to “Feasting on the Word.”
• Practicing this regularly can help “the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” (Col 3:16)
• In a quiet setting READ the PASSAGE out loud at least twice.
• PAY ATTENTION to the word or phrase that grabs you.
• In silence, allow God to use that word or phrase to speak to your heart.
• Don’t try to figure out the whole passage, enjoy and savor what God is saying to you.
• What is the word or phrase stirring up in your heart? Write down your ideas.
• Read the passage out loud again. Pause for another minute of silence while you ponder the question: “If what I have been meditating on is true, then what?” “What is my response?”
• If you are in a group, give opportunity to talk to each other about what God is saying to each of you.
They may not even realize it because it can seem new, easy and exciting, but those who practice this ‘ancient’ method of ‘holy reading’ are actually throwing context out of the window in favor of a mystical experience called “inner knowledge.”
Those who take this supernatural approach to the text can disconnect it from its context and natural meaning and use it in a subjective, individualistic, experiential, even name-it-and-claim-it way for which it was never intended. Here is where lectio and gnosticism dovetail into one. Christian gnosticism is the belief that one must have a “gnosis” (from Greek Gnosko, “to know”) or mystical, inner knowledge obtained only after one has been properly initiated. Only a few can possess this mystical knowledge, limiting the number of those “in the know.” Naturally, the idea of having inside information is very appealing and makes the “knower” feel important, special and unique in that he/she has a special experience with God that no one else has. The “knower” believes that the masses are not in possession of spiritual knowledge and only the truly “enlightened” can experience God. Thus, the reintroduction of contemplative, or centering, prayer—a meditative practice where the focus is on having a mystical experience with God—into the Church. Contemplative prayer is similar to the meditative exercises used in Eastern religions and New Age cults and has no basis whatsoever in the Bible, although the contemplative pray-ers do use the Bible as a starting point.
Further, the dangers inherent in opening our minds and listening for voices should be obvious. The contemplative pray-ers are so eager to hear something—anything—that they can lose the objectivity needed to discern between God’s voice, their own thoughts, and the infiltration of demons into their minds.
–What is Lectio Divina?
This is dangerous ground, as false teachings and heresies in the church always begin with the practice of taking verses out of context and perverting the doctrines of the Bible. That’s why Context always trumps Lectio Divina. If you truly want to discern what God is saying to you through His Holy Word, try prayerfully studying using the context approach, not the experiential so called ‘holy reading’ approach of the contemplative mystics. The ‘spiritual directors’ and trained ‘mentors’ in contemplative spirituality might tell you otherwise, but in order to hear God’s voice, you do NOT need a repetitious, ‘ancient,’ ‘holy reading’ method called Lectio Divina, you just need to regularly read the ancient book called the Holy Bible. All of it.
Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.
Why is it important to study the Bible in context?
What is inductive Bible study?
The Whole Counsel of God
We must teach what Christ commanded to be taught; not what people consider “relevant”
by Bob DeWaay
Lectio Divina: What it is, What it is Not, and Why It is a Dangerous Practice