What saith the word?
Why Is Context Important?
As Christians trying to abide by the will of Christ (Col 3:16-17) we realize the importance of studying the scriptures so that we know what to believe and do (2 Tim 2:15). Unfortunately, today many people are teaching and practicing things contrary to the scriptures, but give verses to support their doctrines. Many state it is a difference in interpretation, but many times they are not rightly dividing the word of truth. Many of these problems are related to keeping verses in context. We have to remember as we read the scriptures today, that these scriptures were written to a different group of people who lived in a different time. Some passages are directed specifically to the Apostles, others to Christians in General, and others to non-believers. This does not mean that these scriptures are not applicable to us today. However, we must first understand God’s inspired message to them so that we can apply it to us today in a relevant way.
One cannot just take any scripture and use it to support their ideas. For example, one cannot take John 3:16 (KJV) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” and make this a support verse to include any person with a mental belief of Jesus. There are many people who think Jesus lived but was not the Messiah, and clearly this verse does not teach universal salvation.
The scriptures impose boundaries upon themselves just like we do in our language today. The authors of the New Testament make it abundantly clear that the Law of Moses and the old covenant are not bound upon believers in the new covenant (cf. Ephesians 2:11-18; Colossians 2:16-19; Hebrews 7-9). Yet, the Old Testament passages can be quoted to reinforce New Testament teachings, but it would be wrong for someone to impose animal sacrifice upon a New Testament Christian. Therefore, the importance of understanding scriptures as applied to us today is context. Clearly, God’s message was meant for both those living when it was written and for us today, but context shows us how to apply it in a time with different customs and manner of life.
Another example of this is when Paul was speaking to those in the first century who had received spiritual gifts from the apostles. There are no apostles today to give gifts as demonstrated in Acts 8:17. It would be incorrect to think that we have access to the same gifts (I Corinthians 13:10, James 1:25). When that which was perfect (complete) was come the gifts were done away with. The “perfect” or “complete” thing he was talking about is the “perfect law of Liberty” which is also called the New Testament. There was the written word to guide us, and thus there was no need for the miracles which produced faith in the messenger.
People have been speculating about the message of Revelation for their own day for the past nineteen centuries; and for nineteen centuries many have been wrong. Revelation was written directly to the Christian audience at the end of the first century and must be understood in that perspective. However, the lessons can be applied to us today. Any interpretation of Revelation that does not respect the original audience is not a Biblical interpretation! We must work diligently to not just read and quote Scripture but to do so in a proper and right way, which is keeping it in context!
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