Lectio Divina vs. Context

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.”


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:

Lectio Divina

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.
Acts 20:26,27


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

Also see:

Centering Prayer Method – True Prayer?

Lectio Divina: What it is, What it is Not, and Why It is a Dangerous Practice


3 thoughts on “Lectio Divina vs. Context

  1. RE:
    Lectio Divina vs. Context

    If Christians have a desire to grow in “Divine Knowledge”, we do not need “Lectio Divina” nor any other man designed method to grow in “Divine Knowledge”.

    Jesus said “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”Jon. 8:31-32. Jesus is admonishing those who “believed on him” to continue in His Word. So often believers are very committed and love the Word of God, but “when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word by and by he is offended”,Mt.13:21b. These believers believed for a time, but they did not continue in God’s Word. Is this not what we see in the Church today. Some have turned from Divine truth and many are turning unto fables. This is our present day tragedy. Is History really repeating itself where God’s people turned from trusting God and His Word, to trusting learned men, and following their teaching?

    Jesus also said “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” Jon.14:21. That is, Jesus promises to reveal himself to those who “keep” His Word and truly “love” Him. But Jesus does not promise to reveal himself to those who do not continue in His Word.

    The apostle Peter writes “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:” 2Pet.1:3. What a precious promise. Divine illumination is promised to those who truly know Jesus Christ and obey His Word. This is achieved by thorough study of God’s complete Word not just individual words or verses that are repeated again and again.

    What will our MB leaders do? Trust in the, Lectio Divina method OR the Word of God method?
    If we trust in the Lectio Divina method we may be, as Solomon writes, “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered” Prov.28:26. How marvelous that we may choose. No one can force us to choose ‘fables’.

    Let us ask God to help us to trust the Eternal Word of God. “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:” Col.2:9-10. “And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.” Ps. 9:10.


  2. Pingback: Can Stepping out of the Traffic lead to Idolatry? | Menno-lite

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s