Are You Taking That Verse Out of Context?

Many preachers use the charge “You Are Taking That Verse Out Of Context” as an excuse. When they are shown what the Bible clearly says on a matter, they will make such accusation, but they don’t really have any explanation for why accepting a particular verse at face value is taking it out of context.

I know many such preachers don’t really care about context because when we show them how the context rules out their position on certain “interpretations” of other passages, they pay no attention. For example in my public debates on Once Saved Always Saved, I Cor 3:15 is regularly used to try to prove a Christian can’t fall from grace. When it is shown that the works under consideration in the context of I Cor 3:15 are a teacher’s converts (see also I Cor 9:1), not his personal works, this teacher is not fazed. He has started with his preconceived view that a Christian can’t fall from grace (in spite of texts like Gal 5:4); he needs a verse to bolster his view; so he completely ignores the context of I Cor 3, even though at other times he will scream loud and long about how we must take things in context.

Many gospel preachers do the same. They are insistent that context must be considered (and rightfully so) when it suits their position on a topic, but when they are shown the context rules out their position on another topic, they are fine with just ignoring the context there. For example many gospel preachers have switched to the now popular position that Jesus in Matt 5:21-48 is just correcting false interpretations of the old testament law, but when you show them that everything in the context indicates Jesus is teaching new testament law in the section, they balk. For example just three verses prior to the beginning of the sermon on the mount, Matt 4:23 says “Jesus went about … preaching the gospel of the kingdom.” Though they will insist we must consider the context of other texts, since the context here consistently falsifies their position, they choose to ignore context here.

I Tim 2:11-12 is another example of such. Everything in the context of that chapter screams that the text also applies to secular matters, that women are not to teach or usurp authority over a man under any circumstance, but since most preachers believe it only applies to the church and perhaps Bible studies, most will ignore the context to protect their already existing practice. Write me if you want more details about the context on this point, but consider that no one thinks the two verses just previous (about Christians wearing modest clothing) only applies to the church and perhaps Bible studies, do they?

When we say “a verse must be taken in context,” let’s really mean that and do it every time, not just on passages where it helps our case. “You should take that passage in context” is not just an excuse to reject what we don’t want to believe, but is truly a valid and important rule for understanding God’s word, and should be applied across the board.

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Patrick Donahue