Reading Out of Context

There are plenty of challenging texts in the Bible, when they are read out of context. When Paul says, “It’s all right to marry if you must, but I wish you could be as I am,” does he mean that married people are second class saints? No, put that statement it in its context. Similarly, why did Paul say, “I won’t allow a woman to speak in church” (1 Cor 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2:12)? And why does the Old Testament say, “You cannot boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (Exod 23:19; 34:26; Deut 14:21)? And then you turn to Judges and read about Samson, filled with the Spirit, killing a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass (Judg 15:15-17). You read about that fat king and the dagger that was thrust into him (Judg 3:15-28). And the dreadful story of the Levite and his Concubine (Judg 19:1-30).

One of the worst illustrations of reading the Bible out of context is a book called The Bible Unmasked. A man who’s avowed purpose was to destroy confidence in the Bible and in God, collected every unpleasant story of immorality and cruelty in the Bible and laid them end to end with the preface, “Would you mothers let your children read this sort of thing?” When I mentioned this book in one of my classes, a student came back with the best answer to this I have ever heard, “If you took the medical book and cut out all the pictures of disease and all the symptoms of disease and printed them all by themselves, it would be a useless, repulsive publication. The only justification for printing those things is that they are always presented in the setting of the remedy.”

The Bible is very candid in its depiction and description of sin. But it always presents sin in the setting of the remedy. Otherwise the Bible would not be fit to read. But that’s why we must read it as a whole. For example, did you know that there are two books in the Bible that don’t even mention God once? Not once. But if you take those two books, Esther and Song of Solomon, and put them in the larger setting of the Bible as a whole, they say wonderful things about our God. You see, to be fair with the evidence we must read it as a whole. After going through the Bible more than a hundred times, this is a summary of my firmest convictions about its purpose.

The great purpose of the Bible is to reveal the truth about our heavenly Father that we may be won back to Him in love and trust. This truth, this everlasting good news, is to be found in every one of the sixty-six books. But to discover this truth we must learn more than just what happened to Samson and Delilah, to David and Bathsheba, to Gideon and his fleece. The all-important question is, what do these stories tell us about God?
If one does not ask this question, much of the content of Scripture may seem unrelated to the plan of salvation, even perplexing, sometimes even contradictory. But when one learns to view the Bible as a whole, there emerges a consistent picture of an all-wise and gracious God who seems willing to go to any length to keep in touch with His people, to stoop and reach them where they are, to speak a language they can understand. And the further one reads on book by book, the more one is moved with love and admiration for a God who would be willing to run such risk, to pay such a price, in order to keep open the lines of communication between Himself and His wayward children.
God will save all who trust Him. But He has not asked us to trust Him as a stranger. The Bible–all of it–is a record of God’s revelation and demonstration of infinite trustworthy-ness.

This statement of principle will continue to guide the rest of our twenty conversations (chapters) about God. We want to look at all of the biblical evidence in this way.

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