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.
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