Interpreting Contextually

A simple scenario with my daughter last night highlighted the importance of remembering the context when interpreting Scripture. Rachel was waiting anxiously for her friend to come pick her up for a sleep over. About 30 minutes prior to their expected arrival, Rachel was pacing around our home without any shoes on her feet. Rachel asked, “Dad should I go ahead and put my shoes on now?” I suggested to Rachel that there was still plenty of time until her friend would arrive. A couple of minutes later Rachel comes into the living room with her shoes on and a game in her hand. My wife noticed the game and said, “we don’t have time to play a game”. Rachel responded, “Dad said we had plenty of time to play.” Really? So I asked Rachel, what did dad tell you there was time for before your friend arrived. Rachel’s reply, “Oh yeah, to put on my shoes.” Hmm.

A few quick sentences from my daughter demonstrated the significance of context. So often Bible verses are extrapolated from their context to be utilized for an interpreters preference. Rachel decided to interpret dad’s message for both the shoes and a game. Unfortunately, as a young interpreter she mixed up the proclamation. No problem, it was a simple matter, but what an opportunity to explain how to interpret within the context.

September 17, 1787


“About the time our original thirteen states adopted their new constitution in 1787, Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of Edinburgh, had this to say about the fall of the Athenian republic some 2,000 years earlier:

A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always vote for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.

The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, those nations always progressed through the following sequence:

1.   From bondage to spiritual faith;
2.   From spiritual faith to great courage;
3.   From courage to liberty;
4.   From liberty to abundance;
5.   From  abundance to complacency;
6.   From complacency to apathy;
7.   From apathy to dependence;
8.   From dependence back into bondage…”