Context is King
If, as we established in the last post, the Bible is one seamless story it follows that no section stands apart from the others. There are certainly some sections of scripture that can be helpful on their own but even then to properly understand them we must have an idea of their context. There’s a saying in real estate that the three most important things are location, location and location. For scripture, it’s not far off to say the three most important things are context, context and context.
What do we mean by context? Context is knowing where the verse or passage fits in relation to the chapter, where the chapter fits in relation to the book and where the book fits in relation to scripture as a whole.
Christian apologist Greg Koukl goes so far as to say “never read a Bible verse.” Of course he doesn’t mean never read a verse at all but never to read it in isolation. I quoted this statement from Koukl while preaching one time in South America and the translator didn’t want to translate it until I explained that I was not discouraging people from reading their Bibles but from reading just a verse apart from the context in which it’s found.
We sometimes forget that every single verse, no, every single word, in the Bible is there because God chose to put it there. Every sentence is set in relation to the sentences around it in just the way God intended. So when we read our favorite passages or verses apart from the text appearing before and after them, we are missing some of what God intends to tell us with that passage.
In their excellent book “How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth” by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stewart, they say this about context:
“This (Literary context) is what most people mean when they talk about reading something in its context. Indeed this is the crucial task in exegesis, and fortunately it is something you can learn to do well without necessarily having to consult the “experts.” Essentially, literary context means first that words only have meaning in sentences, and second that biblical sentences for the most part only have clear meaning in relation to the preceding and succeeding sentences.” (How to Read the Bible for All it’s Worth, p.27)
And nothing helps us with what Fee and Stuart characterize as the crucial task in exegesis more than reading the entirety of God’s word.