Context, Context, Context!

(Last update, 6/19/17.)

This is a short compilation of Scripture verses taken out of context. The point? These examples demonstrate the importance of keeping surrounding passages in mind when reading and interpreting the Bible.

Feel free to add your own examples, and I will continue to update this post occasionally.

Genesis 4:17 (and v. 14)
“Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch…”
I heard this one from someone who called me after leaving the service a bit perplexed. A preacher excitedly delivered a message on a Scripture he had not noticed before. Someone had used the fact that Cain’s son was named “Enoch” to present the forgiveness of God to those who repent, a message full of potential. The preacher noted that Enoch walked so closely to God that God simply “raptured” him from the earth (cf. Gen 5:24). He further postulated that Genesis 4:14 was an apology on Cain’s part.

However, what the pastor failed to notice was that these are two, different Enochs. The Enoch who “walked with God, and he was not” was in the seventh generation from Adam (see also Jude 14) through Seth, not through Cain. Cain’s Enoch was only the second generation from Adam, i. e., Adam’s grandson. Unfortunately, there is no indication that Cain's Enoch ever walked with God, or that Cain repented (Gen 4:14 taken in context is a complaint, a whine, not an apology).
Genesis 31:13
“I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.”
A Christian in military service read his Bible one morning to get his "verse for the day". Later he turned up A.W.O.L. When he had been located and dealt with in due military fashion, one of his buddies asked what had possessed him to pull such a thing. He replied, "I read the Word to get some guidance for the day. The verse I read said, `Arise, get you out from this land.' So I took that as God speaking to me, and I got out of this place!" In this case, he read Genesis 31:13, a verse which in its context was intended to apply specifically to the case of Jacob, not necessarily to another person.
– Syllabus from a Hermeneutics class at the Master’s Seminary, Dr. Rosscup, p.29.

Genesis 31:49
“and Mizpah, for he said, ‘The Lord watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight’”

Friendship rings, pendants, and refrigerator magnets warmly exude, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other” (Gen. 31:49), which in context was Laban’s perpetual threat to harm Jacob if he ever returned to his uncle’s territory.

– Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching, (Baker), p.79.

Ruth 1:16
“But Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”

In some wedding ceremonies, beaming brides recite to faithful grooms, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God (Ruth 1:16), yet the words were originally said by a woman to her mother-in-law.

– Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching, (Baker), pp. 78-79.

Job 8:3-7
      3       Does God pervert justice? 
      Or does the Almighty pervert the right? 
            4       If your children have sinned against him, 
      he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression. 
            5       If you will seek God 
      and plead with the Almighty for mercy, 
            6       if you are pure and upright, 
      surely then he will rouse himself for you 
      and restore your rightful habitation. 
            7       And though your beginning was small, 
      your latter days will be very great. 

If we ignore context, it's easy to pick up a number of incorrect conclusions about God from the Book of Job.  For instance, this passage argues that God has doled out the wages of iniquity, thus Job suffers and his children are dead.  While it's true that God upholds His justice, that doesn't mean that every calamity is God's judgment raining from heaven. We know this because God rebuts it in Job 42:7-9.  (Example in Gregory Harris, The Bible Expositor's Handbook: OT Edition [Kindle Edition].)

Jeremiah 10:1-4
“Thus says the LORD: 'Learn not the way of the nations,nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them,for the customs of the peoples are vanity. A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move.”
I was guilty of this in my earlier teaching years.  A surface reading of the text at Christmas time can sent chills down the spines of unsuspecting Christians: they are in sin because they have Christmas trees in their homes.  However, the passage speaks of the foolishness creating statues   with the purpose of worship.  Even within this passage, this is evident: the tree is both cut down and then fashioned by a craftsman.  These idols were then overlaid with a silver or gold veneer.  However, this passage is often used by those who cite the pagan roots of the Christmas celebration, and that context (rather than the honest context of the passage) makes it appear as though Christians have unwittingly embraced idolatry in their homes.  Of course, idolatry involves  worship, and since the modern decorated evergreen is so distant from any part of pagan ritual, Christians need not fear that they have committed the sin of spiritual adultery.  

Matthew 10:19-20 (and Mark 13:11)
“When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

A girl at Philadelphia Bible College miserably flunked an exam. The professor called her in and asked why. She said, "I read the verse that says the Spirit will give you in that day what you shall say, and so I did not feel I needed to study." She had misapplied such verses as Matthew 10:19-20 and Mark 13:11.

– Syllabus from a Hermeneutics class at the Master’s Seminary, Dr. Rosscup, p.29.

Matthew 19:30
“But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

The Dallas Morning News one morning in March of 1964 ran the story of a woman who was one of four candidates for governor of Texas in the Democratic primary. The story told how she was convinced that the Bible told her she would win the nomination. She had received the official list of names from the Texas State Democratic Committee and seen her name printed last. She read in her Bible the words of Matthew 19:30, "Many that are first will be last, and the last first." That was enough for her. She felt she had a word from God that she was going to be first. Needless to say, she lost. She had misapplied a verse.

– Syllabus from a Hermeneutics class at the Master’s Seminary, Dr. Rosscup, p.30.

Matthew 22:23ff
"The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, 'Teacher, Moses said, "If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother…'""

A woman said to the writer, "My husband died. I read a verse that says a woman went on to marry each of seven brothers. Does this mean that I should marry my husband's brother?" She had Matthew 22:23ff in view and was in deep perplexity and turmoil because she did not want to marry her brother-in-law!

– Syllabus from a Hermeneutics class at the Master’s Seminary, Dr. Rosscup, p.30.

Luke 19:34
This account is of an exchange between a guest and a host on a Charismatic television program:

[The guest]… explained the “biblical basis” of his ministry of “possibility thinking.” “My ministry is based entirely on my life verse, Matthew 19:26, ‘With God all things are possible.’ God gave me that verse because I was born in 1926.”


Obviously intrigued by that method of obtaining a “life verse,” the talk show host grabbed a Bible and began thumbing through excitedly. “I was born in 1934,” he said. “My life verse would be Matthew 19:34. What does it say?” Then he discovered that Matthew 19 only has thirty verses. Undeterred, he flipped to Luke 19 and read verse 34: “And they said, The Lord hath need of him” (KJV).

Thrilled, he exclaimed, “Oh, the Lord has need of me! The Lord has need of me! What a wonderful life verse! I’ve never had a life verse before, but now the Lord has given me one! Thank you Jesus! Hallelujah!” The studio audience began to applaud.


At that moment, however, the talk show host’s wife, who had also turned to Luke 19, said, “Wait a minute! You can’t use this. This verse is talking about a donkey!”
– John MacArthur, Jr., Charismatic Chaos, (Zondervan Publishing, 1992) p.102.

Acts 18:5
“When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus” (ESV)

“And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews [that] Jesus [was] Christ” (KJV)

One assumes the meaning, fixes on it, and twists a passage unwittingly. A man back in the 1960s phoned me and insisted that Paul was walking in the flesh, proven by Acts 18:5 where the old King James Version said Paul was "pressed in the spirit." The caller said that Paul was out of God's will in supporting himself by tent-making (v. 3); he should have been abstaining from labor and just trusting God to meet his needs (the man was influenced by the hippies of his day). Being out of God's will, walking in fleshly resources, Paul felt the pressure of anxiety burdening his heart. This was in place of the peace he could have known if he had just depended only on the Lord, walking in the Spirit.


It never occurred to the caller to check other translations, or find out the meaning of the phrase before spouting off with his falsifying ideas. Actually, the term means that Paul was devoted or constrained or pressed in a proper sense; it was to concentrate on preaching the Word to get the message out. He felt God exerting a healthy pressure on his spirit to bear down on this urgent Christian work, as Ezekiel felt God's hand on him (Ezek. 3:14). The love of God constrained him (cf. I Cor. 9:16; Lk. 12:50; 2 Cor. 5:14; Phil. 1:23). The man phoning could have, without a lot of time or effort, checked (1) a word study book, even a basic Bible concordance; (2) a commentary; (3) context here, as in the obvious connection in the flow of thought where the phrase in question is immediately followed not by some fleshly action but by Paul testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah; (4) cross-references above, where a sense of being gripped to preach God's Word can be by the moving of God Himself.

– Syllabus from a Hermeneutics class at the Master’s Seminary, Dr. Rosscup, pp.83-84.

Acts 17:29
"Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man."
Terry Watkins condemns the Christian usage of the triquetra, the symbol that appears on the cover of many NKJV’s, on the basis of this verse. He writes,

Thomas Nelson Publishers (publishers of the NKJV) claim, on the inside-cover, the symbol, ". . .is an ancient symbol for the Trinity." But Acts 17:29, clearly FORBIDS such symbology: ". . . we ought NOT to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, GRAVEN BY ART and man's device."

– “New King James Version Counterfeit,” AV1611.org. . 24 February 2008. Emp. his.)

The verse alone hints to the reality of its interpretation. We should not think of the Godhead as something like an engraved image, which is Paul’s point in context. The city of Antioch was full of idols – but the true God cannot be worshiped through an object that neither speaks nor hears. Art can help explain the Godhead, but we cannot expect any image to look like the true, living God. This verse reminds us of these points, but does not forbid symbology.

Watkin’s usage of this verse to condemn an artist’s attempt to explain the Trinity is a good example of taking a verse out of context to fit a preconceived notion (for instance, NKJV=evil translation).
Colossians 2:21
“‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’”
Oops!

An early twentieth-century temperance hymn quotes “Touch not; taste not; handle not” (Col.2:21 KJV) to condemn alcohol use. However, in the biblical context, the apostle condemns those who use these words to prohibit the permissible.
– Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching, (Baker), p. 78.
Hebrews 11:5 (added 12/27/08)
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. (ESV)

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. (KJV)

This is an example of taking a word that has more than one meaning and thus use it to refer to something to which the author had no intention of referring. Thus, this is probably a chief example of ripping a verse from a context.

This remark was sent from a King James Onlyist who wanted to prove that the King James translation replaced the the need for studying the original languages. As such, no new translations would, in theory, ever need to be produced. Therefore, the conclusion of this particular individual was that the KJV of the Bible is the only valid, God-ordained translation for English-speaking peoples throughout time.

These comments were originally addressed to James White, which he published on his blog. There are more examples in the article, but this one is the most suitable for our purpose.

God’s Written Words were TRANSLATED into ENGLISH.


The 1611 King James Bible is a PERFECT TRANSLATION. When GOD translates something, then it is NO LONGER FOUND in its PREVIOUS place or FORM.(Heb 11:5 By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.)


There may be things ADDED that were not even IN the ORIGINALS!
That’s all the work of the Holy Spirit who is the AUTHOR and PRESERVER and TRANSLATOR of the SCRIPTURES.


If you think the SCRIPURES exist today in their original languages then you will be back behind in the dark ages. That means for me NO GOING BACK TO THE GREEK. No need to. We have the perfect WRITTEN WORD OF GOD in ENGLISH.


You have the Alexandrian Greek ‘texts’ to study.


I am happy with the KING’S English.
Incidentally, I, too, find the usage of CAPSLOCK for emphasis a fascinating trend among these divergent Christian groups. If you are new or unaware of how confusing blogs, comments, or emails can be with such usage, please read "A quick reminder on Netiquette---ALL CAPS."

Revelation 11:10
“and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents…, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth.”

“This [the de-contexted sermon] occurs when the Scripture is wrenched from its surrounding context and mistakenly applied. An example of this is the preacher who used Revelation 11:10 as a Christmas text: ‘And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another.’ That preacher completely ignored the last part of the verse, which says, “because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.” Doesn’t that sound like a merry Christmas!”

– Kent Hughes, “The Anatomy of Exposition: Logos, Ethos, and Pathos.” SBJT 3:2 (Summer, 1999), p.44.

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