Context is king!

When drilling students on the meaning of particular passages in Scripture, my Greek professor used to repeatedly cry out, “Context is king!” In other words, like any written document, the proper understanding of a given word or phrase in the Bible has to logically connect it to the bigger picture (i.e., the context)…way back in second and third grade we used to refer to these as ‘context clues.’

Unfortunately, Evangelicals love to take Scripture (especially the OT) wildly out of context and make it say what it we want it to say, rather than letting God speak for himself through it. It happens all the time, just read some Christian bumper stickers. Not to digress, there’s an example coming…

An information packet recently landed in the church office from the Kentucky WMU for the upcoming Eliza Broadus offering for state missions. On all the material is emblazened a great quote from the opening of Habakkuk where God says to the prophet, “Be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” (Hab 1.5b, NIV) What’s the problem, you ask? Let’s look at some ‘context clues’…

The beginning of Habakkuk finds the prophet crying out to God to right the wrongs of violence, injustice, and sin that are rampant throughout Judah. In response, God tells Habakkuk, “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” God then goes on to tell Habakkuk this unbelieveable truth, that he is going to raise up the horribly wicked Assyrians to be his arm of judgment against Judah. This is unbelievable to Habakkuk, and he lets God know it, because Assyria is much more wicked even than Judah has become (see Hab 1.12-17).

By pulling this verse completely out of context and placing it underneath a picture of people seemingly captivated in worship (whether or not this picture depicts the norm for Christian worship is another rant altogether), we are led to believe that God spoke these words to Habakkuk in order to say, “Look out, Habakkuk, I’m about to do something great and wonderful!” In reality, God is telling Habakkuk, “Look out, I’m about to bring upon Judah all the curses of my covenant for their faithlessness and apostasy!” Quite a difference, eh?

With the WMU, I too hope that God is about to do a great work through Kentucky SBC state missionaries. Though we as Evangelicals (and Americans) no doubt deserve it; however, I sincerely hope God is not about to raise up a foreign power in judgement! Woe to us that we so blindly rip Scripture out of its context to try to make God say something he has no intention of saying in a given passage! “Context is king!”

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