Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Please take this challenge by a humble rock star: 20 case studies in reading the Bible in context (of all things)

I've said it before:   The humble and unassuming Craig Keener is a rock star among Bible scholars/teachers.

I highly recommend doing what he recommends below (see his first sentence for the challenge)

When you've finished, click the link at bottom to see if you  independently came to the same conclusions he did, simply by reading the Bible in context.

Craig Keener:

I highly recommend that you look up the following verses in context and decide for yourself what they mean.  Ask yourself the questions we have attached to each of these texts.  After you have finished, you may check your own conclusions with our observations on these and other texts below.  If our observations bring issues to your attention that you had not considered, you may want to consider them and reread the text (although in the end you are not obligated to accept all our conclusions).  If our observations merely confirm your own reading, you can surmise that your context-reading skills are fairly well-developed.  The goal is not simply to hold particular views on the sample texts listed below, but to learn the skill of reading all Scripture in context.  (As a young Christian I used most of the following verses out of context until I began systematically studying the Bible book by book, at which time their context gradually became obvious to me.) 

Some of the more difficult passages (toward the end of our list) are more debatable in sense than some of the more obvious ones (toward the beginning).  Also, in some cases the passages may include a principle that applies to the point for which people often quote them.  But the exercise here is to determine what the text specifically means, so that we can apply the principle in all the appropriate ways and not just in the ways we have often heard.

1. John 10:10: Who is the thief?  (Start back at least at 10:1 or 10:5)
2. When Jesus says, “If I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32), what does He mean by being “lifted up”? 
3. Which day is the “day that the Lord has made” (Ps. 118:24)?  Does the text refer to every day (the way most people apply it) or to a specific day? (See Ps. 118:22-23; more generally 118:15-29)
4. Is God’s announcement that He owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps. 50:10) an assurance that He can supply all our needs?  Or does it mean something else in context?  (Keep in mind that other passages do teach that God supplies our needs; the question here is not whether God will provide, but whether that is what this passage means.)
5. What does the “baptism of fire” refer to in Matt. 3:11?  Is it just a purification or empowerment for believers or something else?  (Keep in mind that “fire” symbolizes different things in different passages.  The question is, what does “fire” mean in this immediate context?)
6. By calling us to “imitate” God (Eph 5:1; King James’ “followers” here is literally “imitators”), does Paul want us to speak planets into existence?  To be everywhere at once?  Check the context (4:32-5:2).
7. What does it mean to resist the devil in James 4:7?  In 1 Peter 5:8?  In Ephesians 4:27?  Some people use these verses to support rebuking the devil whenever something goes wrong.  Is that the point?
8. Some people quote Joel 2:9 to say that we are God’s mighty army (in a spiritual sense).  Other texts may say that, but is that the point of this text?
9. Some people quote Joel 3:10 to say that we should claim God’s strength when we are weak.  While that is a biblical principle (2 Cor 12:10), is it the point here?
10. More controversially, read Isaiah 14:12-14 in view of the whole of Isaiah 14.  To whom does this text refer?  (Keep in mind that “Lucifer,” found only in the King James Version, is simply a Latin title for the “morning star,” not actually found in the Hebrew.  Because some interpreters believed this text referred to Satan, they applied the title to Satan, but the Bible does not use the term anywhere else, so whether or not it is actually Satan’s title depends on the meaning of this passage.) 
11. Many people apply Ezek 28:12-14 to the devil, just as they apply Is 14 to him.  In context, is that really the point of this passage?  (Again, we are not questioning whether the devil exists or whether the devil fell.  The question is whether this passage discusses it.)
12. When Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13), does he have anything in particular in mind?  (I.e., does “all things” mean that he can currently fly, walk through walls, spit fire, and so forth, or does it mean something more specific?)
13. What is the “word of God” (or, “word of Christ” in most translations) in Romans 10:17?  Does it specifically refer to the Bible in this case or to something else?
14. 1 Corinthians 13:8-10.  Some people quote this passage to claim that spiritual gifts have passed away.  But according to the context, when will the gifts of the Spirit pass away?  For that matter, what is the function of this chapter in the context of the whole letter to the Corinthians (cf. 12:31; 14:1).  What is the function of 13:4-6 in the context of the whole letter to the Corinthians?  (You may save this question until our study on book-context if you wish.)
15. Some people emphasize “now-faith” in Hebrews 11:1, as if faith must be directed toward what we receive in the present.  In context, is the sort of faith that Hebrews 11:1 talks about oriented toward receiving something in the present or toward receiving it in the future?  (Start back around 10:25 and read through 12:4.)
16. Revelation 3:20.  When Jesus knocks at the door, is he trying to get someone converted?  (To whom is the verse addressed?)
17. One could say that when God “gave” his Son (Jn 3:16), this refers to giving Jesus at his birth in Bethlehem or giving him to the world when God raised him from the dead.  What does “giving” him mean in context?
18. When one seeks first the kingdom, what things are added to one (Matt 6:33)?
19. Who are Christ’s ambassadors in 2 Corinthians 5:20?  Whom are they entreating to be reconciled to God?
20. Some people say that the “witnesses” in Hebrews 12:1 are the dead watching us from heaven.  But in the context of Hebrews chapter 11, does “witnesses” refer to those who watch us or to those who testified to the truth of God’s claims?  (This one may be harder to see depending on your translation, since some translations do not show the connection of related words in this context.)
21. Some people claim the promise that no weapon formed against them would prosper (Isaiah 54:17).  Is this a guarantee for every individual Christian in every circumstance or for God’s people as a whole protected by His plan for them?
22. Does Proverbs 23:7 mean that whatever we think about ourselves will come true?  (“As a person thinks in their heart, so they are.”)  Or does it mean something else?  (Read 23:6-8.)
23. Does Psalm 18:7-15 refer to Jesus’ second coming?  Read 18:4-6, 16-19.
24. Who is the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley, in Song of Solomon 2:1-2?

25. In Matthew 18:18, what does Jesus mean by “binding and loosing”?  Does He refer to how to treat demons here, or does He refer to something else?  (Read especially 18:15-20.)
26. What is the “coming” to which Jesus refers in John 14:1-3?  Does He refer here to His second coming or to something else?  (Read 14:4-23, and perhaps 13:36-38.)

27. This final question may be the most difficult one.  Read Isaiah 7:14 in context (especially 7:10-16; 8:1-4).  In the immediate context, to whom does this newborn son refer?  (If your conclusions may disturb you, don’t worry; we will clarify them below.  But it is important for you to grapple with the text intelligently in its context first, and not simply to interpret the passage according to how you’ve seen it used elsewhere.)   --
--The Bible in Its Context: How to Improve Your Study of the Scriptures,  LINK, 
click for suggested answers


Bonus: Dave's Top Ten list of "misundertaken" Scriptures

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