Reading the Bible Yourself – Part 2David Tavender
It is quite likely that 90% of the problems that face us when attempting to understand the Bible occur because we have not accurately considered the context of a particular passage. In other words, it is unwise for us to single out verses of Scripture and draw conclusions based upon them if we have not considered the following:
What? Word for word, what has been written in the verse?
Before What has been written before this verse?
After What comes after this verse?
Who? To whom is the verse addressed? and/or
Who is referred to in the verse?
When? When in Bible history does the verse appear?
Why? Why does the verse appear in Scripture?
Have your Bible handy as we expand a little on these points.What?
To illustrate a point, answer the following question without looking up the references given. Then compare your answer with that given in Scripture:How many wise men (or Magi) visited the baby Jesus in the stable?
The answer will be provided in a moment. Firstly open up your Bible to Matthew 2. Verse 11 tells us that Jesus was visited by the wise men in a house – not the stable! Verse 11 also tells us that they saw the “child”, not “baby”. The “newborn infant” was likely to be almost two years old by this time (see verse 16). Now read verses 1 & 7 for the answer to the above question. You will note that we are not, in fact, told how many wise men visited our Lord as a child.
This may be considered an unimportant example, but we can see how easy it is to build up a set of beliefs which don’t agree with Scripture, when we don’t compare these beliefs with the Bible itself. No doubt we will continue to receive Christmas cards with three wise men visiting the baby Jesus in a stable – and all because someone misread Scripture once and no-one else double checked to see what the Scriptures actually said, word for word.Before
Open your Bible to Luke 19:12-27 – the parable of the Ten Minas. It is not our place at this time to study this parable in depth; however, two points should be noted:
“While they were listening to this he went on to tell them a parable (Luke 19: 11a)
It is obvious that this parable is linked with what the Lord had just said. Therefore, the passage that appears before this parable should be looked at in order to give us a better insight to the meaning of the parable itself.
“… he went on to tell them a parable because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” (Luke 19: 11 b)
Here we have the very reason for the parable being told. If we simply look at the parable itself, and ignore what is written before it, we will most likely miss the point.After
Looking at another parable we find that some important information appears after the passage concerned. Look up Matthew 21:33-44, the parable of the tenants. Again, it is not our intent to closely examine this portion of Scripture; however, look at what verse 45 has to say regarding this parable.
“When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.”
This informs us that the parable is not merely about “good and bad people”, but that it concerned the chief priests and Pharisees; yet we are only shown this in the text which appears after the passage in question. Once again, if we looked only at the parable itself we would probably miss its message.Who?
When we see words like “you” and “they” in the Bible, we should take the time to determine who is being referred to. The book of Isaiah opens with these words:
“The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw …” (Isaiah 1:1)
This tells us that what we read in this prophetic book will mostly concern “Judah and Jerusalem”. We should be careful when looking at such a book not to take the bits out that we might like to apply to us, just because we want them to apply to us. Take, for instance, the following verse:
“those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
These lines are often quoted in order to promote the virtue of “hoping in the Lord”. Whilst we probably all agree that our hope should be placed in the Lord, is it correct to apply these verses to us (believers today)? We know already that Isaiah’s prophecy concerned Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 1: 1), and Isaiah 40:27 emphasizes the Jewish context of this particular passage:
“Why do you say, 0 Jacob, and complain, 0 Israel”
Since “Jacob” and “Israel” are definitely not the same as the church of today, it can be seen that not all verses in the Bible are addressed to you and me. Care should be taken not to hastily apply such verses to ourselves. However, it would be wrong of us to completely ignore those Scriptures which are not directly addressed to, or about, the believers of today. We are reminded that:
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
The Prophets & Levitical laws (along with other writings in the Bible which were originally addressed to Jews) can teach non-Jews much about the Lord’s plans, His dealings with mankind and our responsibilities as Christians today. This is just one demonstration of the principle that all Scripture is given for us, but not all Scripture is about us.When?
As we have just stated, the Israelites were given the Laws, and they were to keep them. One of the reasons for these laws was to separate them from the other nations.
“If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession”. (Exodus 19:5)
However, when we read the later writings of the New Testament, we see that:
… here there is no Greek or Jew (Colossians 3: 11)
In other words, what applied to the Israelites in previous times no longer applies because of events which have happened since then. More will be said about this later.Why?
The Old Testament book of Esther contains no references to “God” or “the Lord”. So why should it be included in a book of writings supposedly about God’s plans for mankind? The reason is that the book of Esther is about the survival of God’s people of that time (the Jews). Their very existence was crucial in order that the plan of God could continue to be carried out. You’ll notice that one of the promises given to Abram in Genesis 12:3 was that:
“… all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
How could this promise be fulfilled if there were none of Abram’s descendants left?
It will help us greatly to determine why a particular verse or chapter has been included in God’s word if we consider its place in God’s overall plan.