Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Paying Attention to the Context

"The word “context” means the parts of a text that surround a word or phrase and add meaning or shed light on the word or phrase.Every text, that is, every word, phrase, and verse in Scripture, has a context that surrounds it. The context is often the essential key to understanding the meaning of the verse as well as avoiding false conclusions about it

What is referred to as “Proof-texting” occurs when a person takes a phrase or verse out of context and tries to prove his point with it. When people “proof-text,” or quote things out of context, they arrive at erroneous doctrines and conclusions, even though they are quoting Scripture. Below are several examples of taking verses out of context:

A curse, not a blessing.
People who have to be separated from each other for a long period of time sometimes quote the last part of Genesis 31:49 as if it were a blessing:

“…May the LORD keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” However, reading the context of that verse shows that the speaker was Laban, who was angry with Jacob, the one leaving. Jacob had married Laban’s daughters, and Laban did not trust that Jacob would take care of them, so he spoke a curse over Jacob so that the LORD would watch Jacob, and if he did wrong then the LORD would repay him. Far from being a blessing, the context shows the statement is a curse.

My thoughts are not your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8 is often quoted to show that we cannot really know God:

‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD.

However, the context shows that the “your” in the verse are not believers, but “the wicked” and “the evil man” (v. 7). Furthermore, the context reveals that God can be “found” and “is near” (v. 6). Also, from the surrounding verses of Scripture we discover many verses showing that we can know God, including Jeremiah 4:22:
My people are fools; they do not know me….

Judge not.
The phrase “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt. 7:1) is often taken out of context. It is referring to evil judgments, not judgments in general. It is not a stand-alone verse that is universally applicable. Although it is true that Christians must remove any“beams” they have in their eyes before they can judge others, that can be done. The more universal truth about judging people is John 7:24, when Jesus said, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” This is the way men and women of God have lived through the ages.

We could make a very large list of the “judgments” of the heroes of the Bible,including Abraham calling the men of Sodom “wicked(Gen. 18:23), Esther calling Haman “vile,” (Esther 7:6), and John the Baptist calling the religious leaders a brood of vipers (Matt. 3:7). There are many verses that tell us to recognize the difference between good and evil in people (Rom. 16:17) and in teachings (1 John 4:1)."

The JST translation of this verse is more accurate to the sense of the way 'judgment' is used in scripture:

"Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged: but judge righteous judgment." Matt. 7:2 JST


  1. Oh, this is very good to have. Thank you!

  2. What a great post. Thanks.

    Some layers of context I bet inevitably get lost because of differing cultures, or writing limitations, or a set of circumstances or a setting that is difficult to convey to people who weren't there. Brought to mind also the the importance of context connected to reading the scriptures in the same Spirit with which they were written.

    I recently read your book Beloved Bridegroom. You gave such a good context for the truth taught that it opened up all sorts of wonderful things for me.

    Thank you again.

  3. Thanks, Taylor! Every single day of writing that book brought at least one amazing new insight into my mind. I miss the intense focus of that period of my life.

    I have enough material to write at least 4 more books. I hope that when my present circumstances change that I'll be able to get going on them.

  4. The book was almost like music. It wove things together in harmony that was beautiful. Hope circumstance soon permits you to share more of your light.

  5. When it comes to the scriptures, context is everything. Not only do we fail to explore the context of most scripture, we fail to examine the historical and cultural context, which invariably have tremendous impact on its meaning. In my experience, it appears that Mormons are entirely unaware of the cosmological context of the greater gospel. We use a 'scientific' context that is wholely unsuited to the realities of the prophets. So, your comments are absolutely correct. You simply need to expand your field of vision to see how applicable your thesis is to the gospel as a whole.