I believe that a lot of our problems and misunderstandings about the Bible and Christianity would be solved if we read Bible passages in context. I love it when Greg Koukl reminds us to “never read a Bible verse.” He doesn’t mean never read the Bible, just never stop with reading just that verse by itself.
I’m continually reminding people in my congregation to read the Bible in context. But what does it mean to read the Bible in context? There are numerous contexts to take into account. Here are some contexts for us to consider when we are reading a Bible passage.
- What do the verses before and after the passage say?
- What is the point of the section that the verse is found in? This is called a pericope by scholars. It is a passage that is dealing with one particular thought.
- What is the purpose of that particular book of the Bible? What is the author’s main point?
- Did this author (the human one, not God) write anything else in the Bible? How does this passage fit with what the author has said elsewhere?
- What is the genre of the book? Is it history, a psalm, wisdom literature, a Gospel, an epistle or an apocalypse?
- Is it found in the Old or New Testaments? We don’t discount something just because it is in the Old Testament, but where it appears in salvation history matters.
- What was the historical, cultural or religious context in which the passage was written?
- What does church tradition and Christian theology say about the passage? Tradition and theology can be wrong, but it needs to be taken into account.
I would like to add one more piece of context. What is your personal context? What is happening in your life? That will not change the meaning of the passage, but it will affect how you read it. Being aware of your own preconceptions and personal struggles will help you to read it more clearly.
What other context would you include?