The Scripture Interprets Itself: In the Context

The Scripture Interprets Itself: In the Context

     In this Keys to Biblical Research series, we’ve looked at specific ways the Scripture interprets itself in the verse. Now we’ll look at another way the Scripture interprets itself: In the context.
     Thinking about context reminds me of John Adams, the second president of the United States of America. He stood for freedom of religion and was known to family and friends as “a devout Christian.” In spite of that, some who question the validity of the Bible have quoted this statement that he made, “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.” That sounds like Mr. Adams was advocating a godless society, which seems contradictory to what is known about his background. This quote is correct, but is that what he meant?
     In this case, we can’t know for sure the enveloping idea that he was expressing without the context of his words. The quote is from a letter Mr. Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson in 1817 in which Mr. Adams mentioned two men that he knew, Bryant and Cleverly, who often disputed about religion. In the letter, Mr. Adams wrote, “Twenty times, in the course of my late reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out [crying out], ‘This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it’!!! But in this exclamatic I should have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean hell.”
     Now we know what Mr. Adams really meant. In his frustration with things he had been recently reading, he was tempted to say that the world would be better off if there were no religion in it. But his reasoned opinion was just the opposite. A world without religion, or as we would put it, a world without the truth of God’s Word in it, would be, in Mr. Adams’s opinion, hell.
     Look at how John Adams’s true intent is sometimes misunderstood because of one remark taken out of context. As important as he is to the history of the United States, these are the words of a man being misconstrued. What about God’s Word? We certainly don’t want to misunderstand His will!
II Peter 1:20:
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.

     The first thing God wants us to know is that no scripture is of any private interpretation. That means no one has the right to guess at its meaning. The Word of God interprets itself, and one key to understanding the meaning of a scripture is to look at the verse in its context. Reading the scripture in the context gives us a clear understanding of God’s Word and will so that we can then effectively believe it and carry it out.
     First, let’s look at what is meant by Biblical context and why it is an important step in allowing the Word to interpret itself. In a modern English dictionary, “context” is defined as “the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning.” Webster’s 1828 dictionary mentions the Bible directly when it defines context as “the passages of scripture which are near the text, either before it or after it. The sense of a passage of scripture is often illustrated by the context.” Understanding the context is an important step in allowing the Word to interpret itself because the context is that which makes up the whole story, the enveloping idea.
     The Word can appear to say something completely opposite of its true meaning if the context is disregarded. In a bookstore, I recently saw an example of this on a plaque that read, “And we know that all things work together for good…(Romans 8:28).” With only part of the verse displayed, this appears to say that all things, whether negative or positive, work together for good. But is that what God’s Word is saying? Let’s first read the entire verse in Romans 8.
Romans 8:28:
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to
his purpose.
     By reading the rest of the verse, we see to whom “all things work together for good.” This promise is to those who “love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” We also note the first word of this verse is “And,” which indicates it is a continuation of a passage. Let’s look at what immediately precedes verse 28 to allow the Word to interpret itself in the context. Romans 8:26 and 27 deals with prayer—specifically praying in the spirit, or speaking in tongues, which is perfect prayer.
Romans 8:26-28:
Likewise the Spirit
[God] also helpeth our infirmities [infirmity]: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit [the gift in manifestation] itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
And he
[God] that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit [the gift in manifestation], because he [it] maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to
his purpose.
     When believers pray perfectly by speaking in tongues, they can know that “all things” are being set in order to work together for good. Not all circumstances in life work together for good. We know from other parts of the Word that there is a thief, an adversary, who opposes the true God and His children; but sons of God who pray perfectly and act on God’s Word can bring God’s power to bear in life….

This is an excerpt from the January/February 2006 issue of The Way Magazine.
Copyright© 2006 by The Way International. All rights reserved.
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