Context: The Tour Guide to God’s Word

This article first appeared at Servants of Grace on May 17, 2021, as part of the series, “Fighting Biblical Illiteracy Through Study and Discipleship”.

Kicking off this series on Fighting Biblical Illiteracy Through Study and Discipleship, Sarah Jenkins wrote about the fluff that permeates so much published material targeting Christian women. She urges women to abandon books, blogs, and podcasts light on Scripture and heavy on inspiration and affirmation, devoid of warnings against sin and full of false assurances like we are enough, we can do all things with Christ who strengthens us.

Cassie Langford followed with a list of questions to remind women, as we approach the Scriptures, that the Bible is a form of communication between God and His people and is meant to have an impact on our lives. Not found on Cassie’s list were two questions that sadly often appear in the materials Sarah Jenkins warned us about: What does this verse mean to you? How does this make you feel?

Honor the Author

Context honors the intent of the author. Every word of the Bible’s original manuscripts is from God. He is the Author. A careful study of His word, in context, honors Him, and diagnostic questions reveal the context of a piece of writing. We subject classic literature, secular history, and even scientific research to this type of scrutiny. Do we take Shakespeare’s ownership of his plays more seriously than God’s ownership of His holy text and the warning it holds for those who presume to parse it for their own ends?

A friend who directs student plays was telling me about a dilemma she encountered with her most recent production, an adaptation of a popular children’s story. The script she was working with excluded a scene from the book which she believed was necessary to explain a transition in events. She requested permission from the publisher to add a clarifying scene with a handful of lines, noting that the lines would be dialogue directly from the book itself. If the publisher wouldn’t allow her to alter the scene, she wouldn’t do it. She wasn’t the owner of the text, so it wasn’t her prerogative to tweak it at will, regardless of how strongly she felt or how sensible she thought her request to be.

How easy it would have been to just slip the scene in without asking permission from the publisher! I know other directors who’ve done so; after all, we’re working with students in very small troupes and performing in very small venues. Who would know or even care?

The author may not know, but the author would certainly care. The voice of the author in this sphere has authority over his creative work; otherwise, why bother calling him the author?

On a much greater level, the Author of the Bible knows and cares. How do we know this Author except by what He says? Likewise, how do we ensure we know His words rightly except by examining them, and how do we safeguard it against presumption and bias unless we test our understanding of it against proofs outside of ourselves? In short, we must insist that the text be sovereign. In Proverbs 30:5–6, we are exhorted, “Every word of God proves true. . . . Do not add to his words, lest He rebuke you and you be found a liar.”

Context is our tour guide.

If the text is sovereign, then context is our tour guide to the kingdom of God’s word. In His wisdom and creative genius, God has used a variety of tools—genre, text type, structure—to convey His redemptive and historical message. In His use of context, He manifests His sovereignty in the intricate and providential weaving and layering of events and voices into the text. Like peeling an onion, each layer reveals more to discover.

Read the rest at Servants of Grace, where this post first appeared on February 3, 2021.

Photo by ALEXANDRE DINAUT on Unsplash

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