Consider The Context

by A.E. Knoch

AS, with grateful hearts, we commence a new volume of this witness to God's Word, we desire to impart to our readers a brief bit of advice which they will find of untold value in their study of the Scriptures. It is this: Consider the context! If you are not fully familiar with the setting of a scripture, you may easily be deceived as to its meaning. In fact, there are some passages which are produced to prove exactly the opposite of their true intent. These are powerful weapons against God's truth because they seem to lend all the authority of holy Writ to that which is contrary to it.

This advice applies with double force to so-called proof texts. A proposition is advanced in unscriptural terms and then a portion of a passage is adduced to confirm it. Turn up such a text and read its context. Ask yourself, What is the subject of this passage? Does it deal with the proposition to be proved? Is the exact force of the reference preserved in proving the proposition? It is truly surprising how few expositions will stand this test. It seems impossible to resist the temptation to mishandle God's revelation in this fashion. Almost all theologies and creeds are built up in this way. People wonder how the Bible can teach so much diverse doctrine. It does not, but fragments may be forced out of it to fashion almost any fancy that flits through the human mind.

Will our readers kindly turn now to the sixth chapter of John and read all of it? The subject is bread. Our Lord feeds the five thousand. This attracts the throng and He tells them of the true Manna. "I am the living Bread which descends out of heaven." "Now the Bread also, which I shall be giving for the sake of the life of the world, is My flesh." The Jews took this literally. The Lord therefore said to them, "The spirit is that which is vivifying. The flesh is benefitting nothing. The declarations which I have spoken to you are spirit and are life."

God Words are True Only in their Own Context

The Lord was not speaking of His literal flesh. That could not be literally eaten by His disciples. This is what stumbled the Jews. They took it literally, and were corrected. We should never allow ourselves or anyone else to use this as an argument relating to the literal flesh of Christ. He did not, so far as this passage is concerned, give His literal flesh for the life of the world. The world did not eat His literal flesh, either in life, or in death, hence has not received life in this way. His disciples ate His words, and were vivified.

To wrench this passage out of its surrounding and use it as an irrefutable, argument that, after His death (of which the passage does not treat), His literal flesh was to be given (not eaten), in order to give life to the world, does not prove the proposition at all. The necessity for such a lawless procedure simply suggests that no real basis for the doctrine can be found, and recourse must be had to a passage which does not apply. The truth needs no such props. Only error asks for such deceptive dealing with the Sacred Scrolls.

A most remarkable incident occurred in this connection, which shows how deeply and indelibly such texts fasten on the subconscious mind and become utterly divorced from their proper meaning. The proof of the article "The Ransom `Price'" was sent, to one of the keenest and most intelligent students of that teaching. It contained two paragraphs dealing with this text. Yet these made no impression whatever on his mind. He did not even notice them. His only criticism was that we had not dealt with the most important text of all, "My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world!" It had become so utterly dissociated from its context in his mind that he failed to recognize it when in its context!

This is only one example. Many more could be given. But if we will learn the lesson from this one it will help us to question every isolated text and call for its context. It has been said that, if anyone should read a certain set of volumes, he will remain in the light. If, however, he should, for two years, read nothing but the Scriptures, he would go into outer darkness. I do not know of more convincing proof that the two do not agree, though one is supposed to be based on the other. How can this be? The secret of the difference has been pointed out. In the Scriptures the meaning of any text depends on its context. In other words, in a new and different context, a passage may mean something altogether foreign to the will and word of God.

Another matter is almost as important. Do not make deductions from the Scriptures, or accept them, without analyzing the premises on which they are based. For instance, let us take an imaginary argument, which will give no one offense. Suppose someone should tell us that, since God is invisible, and Christ is the Image of God, He also must be invisible. This will sound very plausible to many, because an image must be like that which it represents. We therefore have the syllogism:

God is Invisible. [Right]
An image is like its original. [Wrong]
The Son is God's Image, [Right]
Hence the Son is invisible. [Wrong]

We then test our premises by the Scriptures. The first and third statements are correct (Col.1:15). The second does not agree with the facts of Scripture. Caesar's image (Matt.22:20; Mark 12:16; Luke 20:24) was a metal coin, hence was unlike Caesar in all respects except form. Again, the man is the image of God (1 Cor.11:7) and a man is unlike God in the very point in question. A man is visible. Moreover, the very passage relied on to prove Christ invisible, evidently is intended to prove the opposite. He is the Image of the invisible God. All images of invisible things must be visible. An image must be visible, or it is not an image at all. Our syllogism should read:

God is invisible.
An image must be visible.
The Son is God's Image.
Hence the Son is visible.

Such reasoning should always be based on the original or a concordant translation or it will slip up. And it should always accord with the facts as definitely expressed in other scriptures. Our first deduction is contrary to all the Scriptures. The Son of God was certainly seen by Peter and the disciples, both before and after the resurrection. It is only when a line of reasoning coincides with revelation that we may utterly rely on it. This leads us back to the fact that such reasonings are not essential. They must never he made the foundation of faith. The Scriptures alone can be believed, because God Himself has spoken. Reason, at best, is but a bridge from one firm foothold of faith to another. THE response to our appeal to send the magazine to those who might be helped by it was far greater than we anticipated. We are sorry that circumstances forbade the printing of more copies to fill all requests. The indications are that there will be widespread interest in the articles dealing with International Bible Students Association doctrine, and some sums have already been received which will enable us to send the whole of the next volume to those who should read them. We will print an extra large edition for this purpose, and hold the forms until we have heard from all, in case we are still too low in our estimates.*

[*written in 1928]

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