Friday, November 13, 2009

The Importance of Context When Reading the Bible





Question:  Which of these center circles is larger: the one on the left, or the one on the right?

What do you think?

While the center circle on the left looks larger than the one on the right, the circles are actually the very same size.  What is the difference between the two circles that makes them appear different?  Context.

Context is the information around the center circles that helps you interpret them. Because the context around the circles is different, you actually interpret them differently.  In this case, the size and position of the outer circles tricks your eye into interpreting them to be of different sizes.

How does this apply to the Bible?

When you read a single verse of scripture (which happens far too often) you may not have enough information (context) to correctly interpret the scripture. You may have heard it said: "Never read a Bible verse! Instead, always read a paragraph at least."  This is why.  You must interpret the verse in the context of the passage.  Gregory Koukl from Stand to Reason has a great article on this, so I won't repeat it...just share it:

Just the way our eyes are tricked by the circle exercise above, our minds can be tricked by seeing or hearing Bible verses in the WRONG context. This can happen when someone quotes scripture and doesn't apply the Biblical context, but rather puts it in the context of the point the author is attempting to convey. This can happen unintentionally, or perhaps even intentionally with a desire to deceive or pervert our understanding of scripture.

The solution is to go to the Bible --the source.  Attempt to understand the context in its original setting, THEN decide if the context provided outside of the Bible is accurate or mis-leading.  This is also why it is important to READ THE BIBLE!  Many folks try and cheat by reading books ABOUT the Bible.  There is a feeling that if a book quotes a lot of scripture, it is just the same as reading the Bible.  Not True!  Books that reference the Bible are great.  I read them all the time.  They often help me apply scripture to my life.  They offer insight and understanding.  BUT...don't take them for face value.  Go back to the source.  Make sure the author is properly applying context so that their center circle doesn't appear to be of a different size than the center circle in the Bible's context.