Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Out of Context

One recurring theme I have noticed with respect to bible interpretation throughout my experience within evangelicalism is that people routinely take bible passages out of their context and use them as stand-alone ideas.  It's almost as if each verse in the bible is its own text, completely separate from other verses that surround it.  Sometimes, the passage in view is applied to life in a way that is good, but that application isn't what the passage meant.  Other times, the passage is completely misinterpreted and also applied in a wrong way.

An example of the latter is, I believe, 1 Corinthians 2:2:

For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. (NASB)

Many interpret this as Paul giving an example of the Christian life that we all should follow.  All he knew was Jesus Christ and him crucified, the simplest expression of the gospel, and that's all we need to know, too.  Knowing anything more than this just complicates everything.  After all, all you need is Jesus, right?

But this is a faulty interpretation.  If the stand-alone verse was put back into its context, we would see that this was not Paul's example for all of us, but rather a unique strategy he had in dealing with the Corinthian church.  A strategy that he didn't use in Ephesus, but there he rather gave them a great deal of difficult doctrine.

Consider 1 Corinthians 3:1-4.  Paul gives his reason for limiting his knowledge while among the Corinthians:

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.  I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?  For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? (NASB)

The Corinthians were very immature believers, so they needed the simple milk of the gospel, and not meat that the mature could eat, such as those in Ephesus.  It is difficult to have discussions sometimes when misinterpretations are ingrained into a particular culture of belief.  How to make progress in getting a culture to change its way of thinking is an extremely difficult task.  If not impossible.  Maybe only the Holy Spirit can accomplish such a thing.  Let's ask for the work of the Spirit within our church cultures.