What Goes Before and What Comes After?

In his work, Living By The Book, Howard Hendricks relates the following story:
“I was visiting one day at (the Dallas Cowboy’s) old training site in Thousand Oaks, California. Quarterback Roger Staubach had agreed to an interview with Sports Illustrated, and I was sitting in the room with him during the session. I heard every word that Roger said. But when I read the article in the next month’s issue, I couldn’t believe it. A number of his statements had been ripped out of their context and presented in a way that completely distorted their original meaning. It made Roger appear to say things he had never actually said” (pp. 225-226).
It has been my observation that people today often do the same thing with the Scriptures (2 Corinthians 4:2). They glean a few phrases from select Bible passages and then meld them into a creed of their own devising. Here is a simple example of this kind of approach:
1. Matthew 27:5 – “Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.”
2. Luke 10:37b – “…Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.'”
3. John 13:27 – “Then Jesus said to him, ‘What you do, do quickly.'”
Employing the SI method of interpretation, could we not say that the Bible teaches us to follow the example of Judas and hurriedly go out and commit suicide? You, of course, would respond, “Mike, that’s ridiculous! The Bible no where teaches such an absurd doctrine,” and you would be correct. But that is exactly what happens many times when people approach the Word of God. They take small bits and pieces of the Holy Writ and, in effect, “bend” (2 Peter 3:16) them into the mold of their personal theology.
Correct biblical exegesis requires that we read the immediate context (i.e., those verses which go before as well as those which follow after the passage under consideration), but it also demands that we look at the remote context (i.e., any additional inspired material that has a bearing on the subject and/or verses at hand). To do otherwise is to distort and misrepresent what the Holy Spirit intended to communicate and to lose sight of the inspired writer’s perspective.
Dear reader, the Word of God has been “settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89; cf. Jude 3), and we therefore have neither the right nor the ability to alter, change, or amend it in any way (cf. Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:6; Revelation 22:18,19). Caution should be exercised any time we approach or present the Scriptures (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15; Acts 17:11). To wrest them from their context is to usurp the Lord’s role as author of our faith and to invite eternal judgment upon ourselves (cf. Matthew 15:14; James 3:1).

Share your thoughts: