Context Matters

Ask any of my students what my most repeated mantra is and without a shadow of a doubt, and hardly a moment to think about it, they will answer – correctly – “context determines meaning”. My congregation also smile whenever I mention the word context because they are so familiar with it.

I make no apologies for being so predictable because I am convinced it is the most important key to correctly understanding Scripture. In fact, I am fairly certain that more nonsense is preached and taught from pulpits and platforms because of disregarding context than because of deliberate heresy.

You have probably heard the old adage:

a text without a context is a pretext

Well, let me give you my version:

a text without a context is a con text

Over the next few weeks, each Friday morning, I plan to post an article on why Context Matters, and show how when context is ignored the true meaning of Scripture can be misinterpreted, misunderstood and misapplied. We’ll look at some of the best known and most quoted verses of the Bible and show how they are, more often than not in my experience, interpreted incorrectly.

Let me begin with this non-Scriptural example that was in the news a few months ago.

The journalists had a field day with this picture, dishing out scathing comments on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s (seated on the right) rudeness in putting his foot on a table while being hosted by President Macron of France.

However, the full video shows that Mr Johnson was responding to a joke by his host about how the tiny table could also function as a footstool. The journalists, of course, knew this all along; they just couldn’t resist a chance to attack the PM.

But it provides a good example of the golden rule, not just of interpreting the Bible but indeed all literature: Context Determines Meaning.

Check back in next Friday for some more Context Matters.