The Need for Context in Bible Study

I heard a great quote the other day while listening to a podcast of the Vineyard Church of Columbus, OH; “A text without a context is a pretext.” As I was reading in the January issue of “Christianity Today” a stark example of pretext leapt from the ‘Quotation Marks’ column, “The injunction of Jesus to love others as ourselves is an endorsement of self-interest.” The quote is credited to Brian Griffiths, member of the British House of Lords, and advisor to Goldman Sachs International. For the context of the text Mr. Griffiths references, see Matthew chapter 22. In all fairness, the entire text of Mr. Griffith’s speech does not appear in the column, though his advisor-ship to a world-wide retailer does lend the notion that he endorses self interest in a light not intended in the Gospel.

Excerpting and skewing Bible texts to serve even noble self interest certainly is not new, and it certainly continues to be most dangerous to the self, and to others. I have heard “Blessed are the poor” (Matt. 5:3) used to promote social justice issues. I have no opposition to social justice, as this is a strong and pervasive teaching of God throughout the Bible, but the above quote is a partial reading completely removed from its context, which is immediately the entire ‘Beatitudes passage, and more fully, the entire ‘Sermon on the Mount’, which is Matthew chapters 5-7. When we read the Word of God, whether in a personal devotion or larger group context, we must always practice at least two disciplines; pray for God’s Holy Spirit to lead and teach us, and keep all texts in context!