I would like to ask a question on the subject of biblical interpretation. Should we interpret Bible verses strictly within its context?  I understand that certain verses can be used to apply generally and in multiple aspects while certain other verses we can’t as it could create doctrinal issues and interpretation problems.


I am so appreciative that you are asking this question.  To me, it means that you are taking the Bible seriously, but also open to being taught how to best approach understanding it.  There is no good simple answer to your question.  I am not sure what you mean by “strictly.”  Let me put it this way.  It is NEVER okay to interpret the Bible outside of its context. Period!  What a good Bible interpreter will do is he or she will ask what the author was trying to say to his original audience in the context behind the text.  Before we apply a text to the modern context, we need to not take it too far from its original context. Just last Sunday I was preaching from Habakkuk 1:5.  Here is the passage.  “Look at the nations and watch–and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”  I have heard this passage used by preachers to tell us to expect great and wonderful things from God.  Imagine what he could do if we trusted in him!  Here is the problem.  In the context, he is telling Judah that very soon they would be utterly destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians.  Context matters a LOT in this text!

But, once we have the original meaning in the original context, we ought to perform the text in a modern context.  We can bring the passage such as Habakkuk alive in the 21st century by applying it to our situation.  For example, from Habakkuk 1:5 we can teach that if we are unfaithful to God, God will eventually act…  You get the idea.

What we are talking about here has a name.  It is called Hermeneutics.  This is the art/science of biblical interpretation.  I have taught an 8-hour class on the subject.  You can find it, an outline and a set of “rules” of Hermeneutics there.  I suggest you look carefully at the material.  If you only have a few minutes, you can look at my list of “rules.”  If you have more you can look at the notes or listen to the audio.    Here is a helpful list of “rules” of interpretation: Rules of Interpretation  In summary, it is the ethical and spiritual duty of any one preaching or teaching the Bible to not steer too far from the context of the original text of the Bible.  I hope this will get you started.

John Oakes

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