Tag Archives: Context

A LOOK BACK: Context is Everything

Read 2 Timothy 3:14-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalms 119:18)

Context Is EverythingWhat if I were to tell you that the Bible says that “there is no God”? What if I were to tell you that the Bible comes to the conclusion that “everything, including life, is meaningless, like chasing the wind”? What if I were to tell you that the Bible says that God wants people to endure slavery because God put the slave masters in authority over them? Or that God punishes generations of family members for the sins of their ancestors. Or that women are inferior to men and should be silent in churches as they are not fit to teach? Or that the Bible says that women are saved through childbearing?

On the one hand, the Bible does say such things. The words “there is no God” can be found in Psalm 14:1; the words “everything is meaningless” can be found in Ecclesiastes 1:2 and elsewhere in Ecclesiastes; God wishing people to remain slaves can be found in Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, Titus 2:9-10, and 1 Peter 2:18. That God punishes the descendants of sinful ancestors is found in Numbers 14:18, among other places. That women are inferior to men, are to be silent in churches, are not fit to teach and are saved through child bearing can be found in 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

On the other hand, each one of these verses has something in common tying them together. That common thread is that they’ve all been taken out of context, perhaps in different ways, but they are definitely all out of context. In Psalm 14:1, the Psalmist is ACTUALLY saying that “the fool says in his or her heart that ‘there is no God.'” The words “there is no God was taken textually out of context. Ecclesiastes 1:2 is the opening to a philosophical treatise on how life, and all of its trappings, leads to emptiness and that, at the end of the day, people need to “fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13). While Ephesians and Colossians do state that slaves are to obey their masters, the historical context of this passage shows us a Christian community that is reacting to accusations that Christians are inciting slaves to riot against their masters (which was one of  many accusations that Romans were levying against Christians of the time period). That doesn’t justify the passage, but helps us understand it so that we don’t fall into the same trap.

It was a common tone in the ancient world that if you make God angry, God will punish you. Some of these texts were written in times of tribulation, such as the Babylonian Exile where people were wondering why they had been exiled to begin with. What had they done to deserve such an awful fate…or what had their parents or their parents’ parents done? This understanding is less “God’s word” as much as it is people grappling with their circumstances, though there certainly are many unintended and far reaching consequences to sin. And the bit on women is also a reaction to the fact that women, up until that point, had played prominent roles in the church (e.g., Romans 16:1-4, 7) and the Romans were levying that against Christians as yet another example of how Christians were vile and against Roman order.  Again, this historical context (plus Paul’s commendation of women leaders) helps us to discern and affirm that indeed God DOES call women into ministry and leadership, and that they are saved equally and in the same manner that all human beings are: through faith (Romans 3:19-25; Galatians 3:28).

This is not an exhaustive discussion of those particular topics, but hopefully makes the point that CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING. The Bible is THE MOST IMPORTANT, and INSPIRED, source of our faith; however, it can be made to say anything when the context (textual, socio-economic, and/or historical) is missing. Don’t just read your Bible, but study it. Get into a good Bible Study that dives deep into the texts and gives you a good foundation not only on what the Bible says (keep in mind that we are not reading it in its original languages), but the context behind what it says. Buy books that delve into the Bible and provide the context behind it. Today’s challenge is for you to begin to not only read the Bible, but to build up a solid means of understanding it so that you can relevantly apply it to your life in a way that is true to the Spirit of the Word.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Context is worth 80 IQ points.” – Alan Kay

PRAYER
Lord, guide me in my studying of Scripture so that I may grow, not just in knowledge but also in understanding. Amen.

Understanding Paul, part 3

Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work.” (Philippians 4:1 NLT)

SAN PABLO10When we read the Christian Scriptures, what has become known as the New Testament, we tend to read it as one narrative written either by the hand of God, or by hands that were dictated to and put into motion by God. In fact, all of the Bible is really read that way. While it is certainly true that the authors of the Bible were inspired by God and by there relationship with God, I think that the way we typically read the Bible takes away from the richness of the individuals who wrote it, as well as their individual contexts and communities. This is no more true than it is with Paul and his letters.

When we read Paul’s letters we read them as Scripture. We look to them for authoritative doctrine and structure for the church. We read them looking for how God wants us, as the church, to live and act. We look to them for the boundaries that make up “the church”, and we look to define what is Christian and contrast it to what IS NOT Christian. When someone says or believes something that seems to go against the rubric of the Pauline Scripture as we interpret it, we tend to distance ourselves from that person and his or her beliefs. Often time the word “heresy” will get thrown away and the label of “false teacher” or “false Christian” will get thrown around.

While I am not saying that we shouldn’t be looking toward Paul’s letters for spiritual guidance, and I am not saying that Paul’s writings aren’t authoritative or useful as a rubric against false beliefs, I am also cautious about using any Paul’s writings, or any Scripture, that way. Paul, at the time, was doing what I like to call “Situational Theology”. He had started a number of Christian communities around Asia Minor and other parts of the Roman Empire and, like in all churches, conflicts and theological disputes arose between different factions (aka cliques) in the church. In the Galatian church, he had Jewish Christians not wanting to accept uncircumcised Gentile Christians into their church community. In the church in Rome, he was dealing with Gentile Christians who were being inhospitable to the Jews in their community, among other things. In another letter, Paul is letting Philemon know that it is not cool to own slaves and that Philemon should let his slave, Onesimus, go free.

Paul, in essences, is writing Christian theological responses to specific situations within specific circumstances. As a Pharisee-turned-Apostle, he is using his understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, in light of Christ’s death and resurrection, to address the behaviors, conflicts and situations in the local church communities he established. I do not, for one minute, believe that Paul ever foresaw his letters being called “Scripture.” Nor do I think he’d be comfortable with that, especially in light of how his words have often been interpreted.

Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying that Paul’s letter’s aren’t Scripture. They are because Christians have and continue to be divinely guided by Paul’s words. Nor am I saying that Paul’s words have no relevance to the church today. They obviously do, and they will continue to for all time. What I am suggesting, however, is that we need to understand the context of Paul’s letters, we need to understand the key theological components of Paul’s central and core beliefs as a Christian Apostle, in order for us to be able to appropriately interpret them in today’s time and context. As with all Scripture, it is not enough to just take the word’s of Paul literally and apply them in heavy-handed and graceless ways; rather, we need to be prayerful and open in our approach to understanding the divine wisdom in the words of Christianity’s most influential theologian.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:25 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, raise me up into a messenger such as Paul. Fill me with your hope and send me to proclaim that hope, the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all who are hunger and thirst for it. Amen.

Context Is Everything

Read 2 Timothy 3:14-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalms 119:18)

Context Is EverythingWhat if I were to tell you that the Bible says that “there is no God”? What if I were to tell you that the Bible comes to the conclusion that “everything, including life, is meaningless, like chasing the wind”? What if I were to tell you that the Bible says that God wants people to endure slavery because God put the slave masters in authority over them? Or that God punishes generations of family members for the sins of their ancestors. Or that women are inferior to men and should be silent in churches as they are not fit to teach? Or that the Bible says that women are saved through childbearing?

On the one hand, the Bible does say such things. The words “there is no God” can be found in Psalm 14:1; the words “everything is meaningless” can be found in Ecclesiastes 1:2 and elsewhere in Ecclesiastes; God wishing people to remain slaves can be found in Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, Titus 2:9-10, and 1 Peter 2:18. That God punishes the descendants of sinful ancestors is found in Numbers 14:18, among other places. That women are inferior to men, are to be silent in churches, are not fit to teach and are saved through child-bearing can be found in 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

On the other hand, each one of these verses has something in common tying them together. That common thread is that they’ve all been taken out of context, perhaps in different ways, but they are definitely all out of context. In Psalm 14:1, the Psalmist is ACTUALLY saying that “the fool says in his or her heart that ‘there is no God.'” The words “there is no God was taken textually out of context. Ecclesiastes 1:2 is the opening to a philosophical treatise on how life, and all of its trappings, leads to emptiness and that, at the end of the day, people need to “fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13). While Ephesians and Colossians do state that slaves are to obey their masters, the historical context of this passage shows us a Christian community that is reacting to accusations that Christians are inciting slaves to riot against their masters (which was one of  many accusations that Romans were levying against Christians of the time period). That doesn’t justify the passage, but helps us understand it so that we don’t fall into the same trap.

It was a common tone in the ancient world that if you make God angry, God will punish you. Some of these texts were written in times of tribulation, such as the Babylonian Exile where people were wondering why they had been exiled to begin with. What had they done to deserve such an awful fate…or what had their parents or their parents’ parents done? This understanding is less “God’s word” as much as it is people grappling with their circumstances, though there certainly are many unintended and far reaching consequences to sin. And the bit on women is also a reaction to the fact that women, up until that point, had played prominent roles in the church (e.g., Romans 16:1-4, 7) and the Romans were levying that against Christians as yet another example of how Christians were vile and against Roman order.  Again, this historical context (plus Paul’s commendation of women leaders) helps us to discern and affirm that indeed God DOES call women into ministry and leadership, and that they are saved equally and in the same manner that all of human beings are: through faith (Romans 3:19-25; Galatians 3:28).

This is not an exhaustive discussion of those particular topics, but hopefully makes the point that CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING. The Bible is THE MOST IMPORTANT, and INSPIRED, source of our faith; however, it can be made to say anything when the context (textual, socio-economic, and/or historical) is missing. Don’t just read your Bible, but study it. Get into a good Bible Study that dives deep into the texts and gives you a good foundation not only on what the Bible says (keep in mind that we are not reading it in its original languages), but the context behind what it says. Buy books that delve into the Bible and provide the context behind it. Today’s challenge is for you to begin to not only read the Bible, but to build up a solid means of understanding it so that you can relevantly apply it to your life in a way that is true to the Spirit of the Word.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Context is worth 80 IQ points.” – Alan Kay

PRAYER
Lord, guide me in my studying of Scripture so that I may grow, not just in knowledge but also in understanding. Amen.