Frequently I hear students of the Bible issue warnings about taking verses out of their context and applying them to situations that are not fitting. For example, Jeremiah 29:11 is printed on many graduation cards congratulating those who have just earned their high school diploma or degree of higher education. It reads:
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” ESV
While a Bachelor of Science Degree may secure a bright future for the recipient, the engineering student is not being addressed in this verse. The words were spoken to the Israelites held in captivity in Babylon.
Scripture out of its context leads to misunderstanding. If the graduate does not do well in the field of engineering, he or she may think they do not deserve God’s blessing.
Context is not just identifying the audience and the occasion and purpose of the writing; it is looking at the historical setting and the culture of the time. Also, the verse must be viewed in context of the sentences that come before and after it as well as the meaning of the key words in Koine Greek (New Testament) and Hebrew (Old Testament), from which the passage has been translated.
One of the greatest dangers of taking the verses out of context is the misconceptions we can develop about God. I witnessed a Christian recoiling from God as verses in Deuteronomy were covered during a Bible study. One verse in chapter 21 discussed how a woman captured during war against an enemy nation was to be treated when an Israelite man wanted her for his wife. The instructions included “setting her free” if the man took no delight in her.
The person in the Bible study linked that law to God’s character and therefore incorrectly believed it showed God as lacking compassion, grace, and mercy toward the captured woman, yet it demonstrated the opposite. The instructions set Israel apart from other nations who often brutally mistreated women during times of war and it offered the woman protection.1
This misunderstanding could have been prevented by putting the passages in their historical and cultural context.
I was struck by how easy it was to have our view of God skewed, to be deceived. To think less of Him, based on our perceptions when they are so tainted and meager. Yet I should not have been surprised because even Eve, before sin entered the world, began to doubt God’s character.
“Did God say?” was the question Satan asked Eve. And didn’t God say on the page of the Bible in Deuteronomy that the man could discard the woman captured during war, if he took no delight in her. But it isn’t God’s heart we see in the action it is ours, and so God steps in to guide us.
It is so easy to fall away when we make God less than who He is by pushing our perceptions onto Him. That is making God in our image, and we are people flawed by sin.
Look for the Scriptures that describe God, His attributes and character and remember them as you read the Word. If any Scripture seems to defy the truth we know about God, take a second, third, or fourth look. Study its context very carefully so you come to know the true and living God.
1-Describe a time when you misunderstood God because you misinterpreted Scripture?
2-What Scripture do you see being taken out of context? How is it misused?
1-The Tony Evans Bible Commentary by Tony Evans Holman Bible Publishers 2019, Nashville, Tennessee. [Page 230/Deuteronomy 21:10-14]
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