Saturday, April 09, 2011


We have looked at two principles for interpreting scripture that are to be remembered as we study the Bible. The first was grammatical integrity and the second was historical integrity. Remember, I'm using the word 'integrity' with it's definition of "soundness or completeness." To have a sound and complete understanding of what is being said and meant by any passage of scripture one needs to use certain guiding principles. We will now look at the remaining two briefly.

The third principle that one needs to work with when interpreting a passage of scripture is what I would call contextual integrity. This one is extremely important. I've not tried to rank these principles and it may not be necessary to do so since all are very important, but this one may well top any attempt to create a list. So let's think about the context principle.

Have you ever seen a person take a verse of scripture to back up any kind of conceivable point they are trying to make? I think you can prove ANY point you wish to by quoting a verse of scripture. I read one person who read 2 Kings 2:23-25 and asked..."A PROPHET OF GOD SENDS 2 FEMALE BEARS TO KILL 42 CHILDREN FOR CALLING HIM “BALD HEAD. HOW CAN YOU BELIEVE IN A LOVING GOD WHEN HE ALLOWS BEARS TO DESTROY CHILDREN?" [All caps was indicating the questioner was shouting I suppose.]

The first principle would have discovered the word translated 'children' was a Hebrew word meaning "strong young men." It was a word used to describe young soldiers which would rule out the English word children entirely. It is referring to young men who were probably followers of the false prophets who were angry at Elijah's ascension. But the second principle dealing with history and even the third we are addressing at present would show much more than just that were all considered in interpretation rather than simply trying to prove a point that a loving God would not allow that.

In fact, the entire incident is actually meaningless and grotesque without using the first three principles. But who's going to research grammar, history or context when you've got a point to prove? No one except for those who legitimately wish to discover what the bible is REALLY saying and means.

Let me illustrate the need for context with another passage. In fact, it's my favorite illustration. It is in Matthew 18:20 where Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them." Now does He mean if there is just one person He's not there? He can't mean that because He indwells EVERY believer. Well, does He mean when you have just have a few show up for a Sunday night service He promises to be there just like He's there when a large crowd shows up? Is that what the verse is meaning? I don't think so. I think He's present regardless of whatever the specific number of people who might be gathering. Then what does it mean?

Well, in context, [There's that needed principle.]  Jesus is dealing with a believer having to confront another believer who has gone into scandalous behavior. [Offend doesn't mean offend as in English but as in Greek.] It's speaking about when you may know, for a fact, of another brother or sister who is living scandalously and how you would then have a responsibility to go to that brother or sister. Notice you don't tell someone else about it, you go to the person. You don't report it to the Pastor, you go to the person.

If it isn't resolved THEN you take someone with you. If necessary, eventually even the entire Church may need to be involved. But always realize this passage is saying that the presence of Jesus is with you in those difficult moments in a very special way. That is the message of that passage when the context is considered.

Further, the passage says if the individual doesn't receive you even when confronted by the entire Church, you are to let them go. You accept their decision of saying,  "I don't want anything to do with you, I don't want anything to do with God, I'm going my chosen way." It will and should break your heart, but you are to let them go. In fact, you begin to love them as you love lost people needing the grace of God. [That's the way we are to view infidels or unbelievers. There is a withdrawing passage in 11 Corinthians 5, but that's a horse of a different color entirely.]

But to the two or three that ORIGINALLY gathered to try to correct and help the brother or sister, Jesus is saying that He is never more with us than when we are gathered in His name specifically to do an act of recovery or discipline. That's tough stuff. So tough that few churches or Christians are willing to do it in our day.  But when it IS done, He's there in a very special way. That really is a powerful thing to me.

Now it doesn't take away at all from the importance of His presence being with a small group as well as a large group. It is true that God IS  there. But that's not what this Matthew 18 passage is addressing at all. With a contextual understanding you have a whole different spin on that verse and what was intended when Jesus spoke those words. How do you get that?  You get it from the context.

The fourth and final principle is the discovering of the difference between a timeless truth and a regulation for a certain people at a certain time. Now the reason I'm going to need to stay around this point for a spell is as soon as I say that someone is going to disagree and say there is no such thing in the bible as a difference between timeless truths and specific regulation to specific people. All of the Bible is for All of us. I'm wasting their time as far as they are concerned.

My answer is....well, my answer is too long for this post. I'll do it more justice by dedicating the next one to it specifically.  There will obviously be a part three to all this. Until then, blessings.

Paul B.


Anonymous said...

I like the word “children” changed to young men.

Maybe you'd be interested in “Bible questions' that come up around Easter that's discussed in the Baptist Standard.

Anonymous said...

i love reading your looks interesting !!

let's come to my blog and follow me :)

Paul Burleson said...

Thanks Rex and Srikandi.

I'm going to be away from internet capabilities for a couple of days so I'm going to put up comment approval simply because of several spam comments I've had to delete of late.

I hope all who desire to will go ahead and comment knowing it will be the first of the week before I can approve and post them. I will then take the approval off and return to normal.

I hope you understand. But if not....what can I say! !


Seriously, thank you for understanding.

Aussie John said...


Another great post. I'm glad you expanded on the context issue.

This series of posts deserves a wide audience.

The sheer necessity of understanding what you are writing about is illustrated by a couple to whom we tried to offer fellowship.

They were long term members of Baptist churches, and as we talked with them about these matters, the subject was peremptorily dismissed, because these things are completely unnecessary for "mature" Christians.

They proudly asserted that God had given them both the "gift of discernment" and they didn't need such man centered tools. I am sure I needn't tell you the consequences of their presence in several churches where they have been.

May I pass the whole series along to others?

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

Yours is the first comment I've ever moderated and posted from my I-phone. Didn't know I couid. :-)

Yes...You may use them anyway you wish.

Anonymous said...

Hey! You guys – eat your heart out. From Paul, we're hearing some of the best preaching I've heard in my whole life, and I've heard that said from others.

Of course he's only enlightening those that need it – not me. :)

Paul Burleson said...


You said that just as we agreed you would. But half the love offering was a little steep. ;-)

Christiane said...

For those people who have pulled Bible verses out of context and defended their behavior in that regard, a story:

A young man decides to randomly choose three verses in sacred Scripture to act on, 'cause he doesn't have to read them in context to get their message'.

So what verses does he randomly find ? Yep. You guessed it:

'Then he went away and hanged himself. ' (Matthew 27:5)

'"Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:37)

""What you are about to do, do quickly," (John 13:27)

Needless to say, much horrified, the young man began to read sacred Scripture 'in context' and with a properly humbled attitude.

Anonymous said...

I always enjoy writing you – you give a guy a fair shake. Yes, scripture out of context is crazy, but what do you do with scripture doesn't make sense? For instance:

“I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man [A woman professor cannot tell her male students what to do?]; instead, she is to be silent [Does this eliminate half the Christians from testifying for Jesus?]. For Adam was created first [Does God go by seniority?] And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. [Does Paul imply Adam did not transgress? Which is the 'worse sin' – being deceived or sinning without being deceived?] But she will be saved through childbearing, [Huh?] if she continues in faith, love, and holiness, with good sense.” [Saved by works?] (1 Timothy 2:12-15 Holman)

“Continues in faith” implies a person can loose faith. That's right up there with James' “Faith without works is dead.”

In the first place, our “faith” comes from God and he doesn't give junk that's here today and gone tomorrow. The definition of faith implies ACTION. Belief does not imply action, and that's why James should have said 'belief without works is dead'. Otherwise his statement is an oxymoron in my humble opinion of course.

On another subject and at the risk of being labeled a church critic, do Christians sometimes bend over backwards to avoid being labeled a critic by 'protecting' pastors?

Once, I asked a woman how did her nine year-old granddaughter get her arm broken.
She told the truth: “The children were playing at church” - end of story.
I replied her granddaughter had told me the pastor knocked her down and I was wondering how it happened. The woman said it was an accident.

Anonymous said...

I hope you had a safe return and Mary's 'heart condition' is removed.

Rodney did a good job of explaining why you left without the usual that song: “Are you going away with no word of farewell?”

While you were at the pastor's conference, Rodney led his 'best' funeral service of a widow who had hoped to hear you at our banquet.

Helping him was a man we had planned to sing at the banquet. She would loved an old song: “If if I leave or if I stay, I'm a winner ether way”.

But without a doubt, I'm sure she was hearing things “that have not entered the mind of man”, because “He is not God of the dead but of the living.” (Matthew 22:32 Mark 12:27 Luke 20:38 Holman) GLORY!

Paul Burleson said...


I made it home in good shape. Thanks. Mary says I'M her heart and with me home things are right. [Now I did sort of put those words in her mouth but I know she wanted to say them.] ;-)

I must say what a delight it was to get to meet you and your sweet wife, Belle. Thanks for the written materials and the story of your Dad is WONDERFUL reading.

I have to also say that my time with you, your fellowship, your Pastor, Rodney, and your praise leader Leeveu [I hope I'm spelling that correctly as I've never seen it written.] was as good a time as I can remember in some time in ANY church.

We have removed the "Internet" part and now are REAL friends.