Biblical Interpretation (Part 1): Context
Often Christians make a habit of proof-texting their point. They have a doctrine which they attempt to back up from the Bible and they will pull out a verse to prove their point. This is not necessarily a bad thing as long as the doctrine is correct and the verse or passage being used is in fact talking about the doctrine they are attempting to prove. Proof-texting is fine as long as this is the case, but I think most every Christian, including myself, has used a verse incorrectly to back up a point.
There are atleast two very important problems with using this approach: It often neglects the usage of words and context. Now a lot of Christians realize the importance of context. This is when we read a verse we read it in it's context to determine what the verse is talking about. Yet I still see so many Christians, who boast about the importance of context, neglect to actually read the context when they proof-text a doctrine they believe in. Context is so important when properly understanding the Bible, that it has been said that when it comes to Bible Interpretation, context is king. Let me give an example from the Scriptures to show the importance of context:
"I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." - Luke 13:3
Now this passage is often used to prove that unless people repent from their sins, they are going to eternally perish in hell. In fact, I used to use this verse as my own proof-text for this doctrine. Now, whether or not repentance is a requirement for salvation, it will not be dealt with here. What we are looking at in this example is whether or not this verse should be used as a proof-text for that doctrine.
Before we even look at the context, if you take a closer look at that verse, you will notice the word "likewise". This should be a clue to the diligent student that the context is very important. What type of "perish" is Jesus talking about when he says, "ye shall all likewise perish"? If we read the context we find out that the perishing was a physical death, not a spiritual one. Here is the immediate context:
"There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower of Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." - Luke 13:1-5 (Underlinings mine)
According to the context, the perishing is a physical perishing, not an eternal spiritual death in hell. This would support the idea that not all judgment is eternal in hell. There are physical and temporal judgments as well as spiritual and eternal ones. There are several other important things to consider about this text, but it is not my purpose to exegete the entire passage at this time. My purpose now is to simply point out the importance of context when studying and interpreting the Scriptures. In the next part, we will take a look at word usage and it's importance to Bible interpretation. But remember,
"A text without context is a prooftext for a pretext!"