One of the land mines of responsible, healthy biblical interpretation is taking things out of context. Many of us have heard it said that we can get the Bible to say anything we want it to say if we divorce verses from the larger contexts in which they're embedded. In other words, as we read the Bible, understanding the larger context of verses is both important and valuable.
I was reminded of the value of reading things in their larger context earlier this week.
I was reading through the end of Matthew 11 with a group of guys, and came across a statement of Jesus that is both bold and true: "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" (Matthew 11:27). This statement isn't that complicated: For us to know God the Father, we need God the Son to choose to reveal him to us. Simple? Yes. Strong? Very.
If I stopped reading there, I would grasp a true statement about the centrality and exclusivity of Jesus Christ. But I would likely miss something as well. I might misunderstand the centrality of Jesus as divine stinginess. I might equate the exclusivity of Jesus only with rejection.
But Jesus didn't stop speaking at the end of verse 27, and so I shouldn't stop reading at the end of verse 27. To fully understand and appreciate what Jesus is saying in verse 27, let's be sure and let him finish his thought - and for that we need to keep reading through verse 30. So let's zoom out just one notch, and see what Jesus says in Matthew 11:27-30:
27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Look at this passage again. How does Jesus follow up his bold, true statement reinforcing the centrality and exclusivity of who he is (verse 27)? The very next words (verse 28) are "Come to me...and I will give you rest! Jesus doesn't understand his centrality and exclusivity in a stingy, rejecting, sort of way. No! Jesus teaches on his centrality and exclusivity (verse 27), and then extends an INVITATION (verse 28) - "Come to me"!!
So is verse 27 true? Is Jesus really that central, and does someone need to "go through Jesus to get to God"? Yes. And yes and yes.
And is verse 28 true? Does Jesus cast his invitation broadly, and can anyone who comes to him learn from him and find rest? Yes. And yes and yes.
Reading these verses together in the context they've been handed down to us is so valuable and sheds fresh light on the richness and beauty of God's Word. Keep reading the Bible, and keep reading it in context!
In your own words, why is reading the Bible in context so important? I'd love to hear either broad concepts, or insights from specific passages that have taken fresh life as you've looked at the broader context.
5/27/2015 07:13:39 am
I stand by a quote from CS Lewis “We do know that no person can be saved except through Christ. We do not know that only those who know Him can be saved by Him.”
5/29/2015 12:58:31 am
Thanks for the comment, Bruce. One of my big issues with inclusivism (which is what this C.S. Lewis quote seems to leave the door open to here in this quote) is the missionary impulse we get from the lips of Jesus (Matt 28:19-20) and see in the early church (see Acts 1:8, for e.g.). If people can be saved BY Jesus without needing to KNOW him personally, why the drive to go to the ends of the earth to tell others about Him?
5/29/2015 04:03:50 am
I know what your saying. I held to that way of thinking for a long time. As I got older I just couldn't justify that exclusivist way of thinking anymore. I don't know....I just felt that there had to be another way of looking at this. I'm in no way advocating universalism by the way but I'd like to think there is a middle ground somewhere. I think this is something everyone thinks about now and then. Did I win the cosmic lottery and the devout Muslim or Jew who loves God and shows it more in his daily walk is still condemned because of the culture they were born and raised in.
5/29/2015 11:16:53 pm
It is a tough one - in the sense that this is definitely something that goes against our 21st century Western cultural sensibilities. (As we seek to understand the biblical context, it's also good to be aware of our own, and how our own context can color the lenses we read the Bible with, if that makes sense...)
3/27/2020 10:46:32 am
Doubting Thomas had the felt the need to see to believe...Jesus told him "...blessed is he who has not seen yet believe. That was for all of those who receive Jesus through his holy spirit.
5/29/2015 05:38:16 am
Also regarding context. I don't know how many times if I would have just read a little further I would have gotten the proper meaning of what was being said. Or read the previous versus or chapter. But there is also the larger picture of looking at the cultural context that a piece of biblical writing was originally set against. For instance our Hebrew biblical writers had a similar cosmological outlook as other
5/29/2015 11:05:51 pm
Amen to all of this on context, Bruce! Literary context, historical context, and cultural context are all important to keep in mind as we read. Thanks for this good reminder!
3/27/2020 11:00:40 am
In your comment about the muslim people believing in God , trust me theirs is Not the Jesus God. You cant separate Jesus from God and once you do you creat your own god that differs from the one spoken about here. The muslims only believe OF Jesus as a prophet not IN Jesus as born of the I Am God. The I AM is who offers the rest... Any other god cannot give that rest.
3/15/2021 10:28:13 pm
That is the most important factor. The God to whom one prays to! I am a servant of Jesus Christ. I wear his yoke and his burden is light. He teaches me how to live. Muslims do not follow the teachings of Jesus. That is why we have to keep on extending the Gospel to ALL!
8/30/2021 11:43:57 pm
Just Me I read your comment posted on 3/27. Have you talked with some Muslim friends to see what their viewpoint is RE: this? Would be curious to hear from their perspective. Blessings.
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