Sunday, December 7, 2014

Contextualization



Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.  
2 Timothy 3:12-17

I am far too often guilty of when something sounds good in my head that it doesn't quite come out the way I intend for it to come out, whether it is written or spoken.  It happens, and I try to make amends when I realize it.  Part of last Sunday's post was that way.  In that post, I wrote:
We need to let the Bible speak to us, as God intended for it to do.  We should not allow our own personal bent to speak into the Scriptures.  The propensity for people to take verses out of context and to allow their personal bent to be applied to verses is one of the reasons that homosexuality is condemned by modern Christians. Context matters—God speaks at a particular moment in time, to a particular people group, for a reason.
And rightly so, I was called to task for that paragraph.  For me, I think this was simply an example of being unclear in my writing. I've been accused of that a time or two and I am sorry. I do believe that the Bible should speak to us personally. I think that is the purpose of the Holy Spirit to guide us as we read and study the Bible. However, with that being said, I think that the central message of the Bible, especially the teachings of Jesus is LOVE, so when someone's interpretation comes out as hate, then I do think it is wrongheaded.

I also think that on of the problems with, not the interpretations of the Bible, but with picking and choosing verses is that they are often taken out of context. When this is done, people often condemn others and show hate for people because they take a verse out of the context of the verses around it.  In Matthew 5:43-44, 43 Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."  Jesus is clear that we should not judge others but show our love and compassion for everyone. The Bible can be very damaging when used as a weapon to condemn.  However, we can take hope from various passages, but we should also look at the context of those passages that give us a deeper meaning.  In 2 Timothy 3, Paul has been describing to Timothy the difficult times of the last days (3:1-9). He is addressing the question, How can a Christian survive and prosper in such an evil age? In 3:16-17, he reminds Timothy of the reliability and profitability of the Scriptures.

I was raised a member of the Church of Christ, and I was always taught that the Old Testament is history more so than the laws of God for Christians. Jesus came to save us all and to bring a new covenant. The Old Testament laws do not apply to Christians as the did for the ancient Jews. Few, if any Christians, follow all the laws of the Old Testament completely. Christianity is a much more loving and accepting religion than the ancient religion of the Hebrews. God spoke to both Paul and Peter and changed those laws. As a historian myself, I think we should learn from history and take lessons for mankind from it. In the case of last week's scripture from Jeremiah, we can compare the exile of the Jews to the exile of LGBT Christians. It may not be a perfect comparison, but I do think it gives us a different perspective to look at.

The Scriptures find their origin in God. They are not the result of human religious genius. When I read and study the Bible, I allow the Holy Spirit to guide me in that study, and I have faith that God shows me true understanding.  The Bible is not a set of great ideas on which God somehow approved. Rather they are the words of God imparted through the various authors. While God dictated a few portions of Scripture (e.g., the Ten Commandments), for the most part He allowed each author to use his own personality and style. But the final product came from God in the sense that what they said God said, and God guides us in our study of what those men wrote.

The bottom line is that the Scriptures are as reliable as God is. If God is the God of truth and if He “breathed out” the Scriptures, then it is inconceivable that they would contain contradictions or errors. This does not mean that every sentence in the Bible is true: The Bible truthfully records falsehood of its subjects at times. So you cannot lift a statement out of context and claim that it is true or even relevant to our present time (e.g., parts of Leviticus, Job, Ecclesiastes, etc.). But taken in its proper contextual setting, the Bible is an accurate and true record of the very words that God wished to record through the various human authors. It is totally reliable.

2 comments:

Gay Groom said...

Just wanted to pop in and say hi. Hope all is well. Give us a shout some time!

Anonymous said...

Hi Joe,

Just want to let you know how much I enjoy your Sunday posts. It is the closest thing I have to my COC upbringing.