Principles of Interpretation: Context (Part 2)
Yesterday, we began considering this principle of Bible interpretation: We must make proper use of the context of any statement of Scripture.

An excellent example of the importance of context in biblical interpretation is seen clearly in Matthew 4. Jesus, in that chapter, fasted in the wilderness and was tempted by the devil repeatedly. After Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread to satisfy His hunger, our Lord responded by referring to Scripture - "It is written..." (Matt. 4:4). Then, surprisingly, in the next temptation, the devil himself quoted Scripture to Jesus (4:6)! Jesus then answered that temptation with yet another quotation from the Old Testament (4:7).

At first glance, one might be inclined to think that the Bible contains contradictions based upon the dialogue between Jesus and the tempter. After all, they both quoted the word of God in an attempt to establish their point. Satan argued in favor of a certain action, and he used a passage from the Psalms in an effort to establish such. Jesus referred to a passage from the book of Deuteronomy to argue against the same action. The problem was not in the sacred text but in the way that Satan pulled the verses from their intended context and tried to make an extreme application--an application that God had never meant. In fact, the devil's application of Scripture contradicted biblical principles found elsewhere (as Jesus pointed out). Jesus showed that it took "the whole counsel of God" on the subject in order to correctly interpret the passage the devil offered.

The situation in Matthew 4 is a good one for us to consider for several reasons. First, we can know without a shadow of a doubt who was right and who was wrong in this situation. Jesus, the Son of God, lived a sinless life. He obviously was not in error on this occasion. Second, this passage illustrates that it is possible for someone to refer to certain verses in a way in which the author did not originally intend. Sadly, this very thing happens all the time in Bible studies today. However, when conflicts in interpretation arise, the challenge for us is determining who is using Scripture properly and who is misusing it.

It is unfortunate that a large percentage of religious error today is caused by someone who takes a few of his favorite verses of Scripture, ignores many other vital passages on the subject, and presses them to an extreme position which conflicts with other points of truth. This is what Satan attempted to do in Matthew 4!

Friends, it is not enough to cite a certain verse as justification or refutation for a particular action. We must respect the context of any and every passage! When we pull a text out of its proper context in an effort to prove a point, we are "handling the word of God deceitfully" (II Cor. 4:2; cf. II Tim. 2:15). One will never interpret the Scriptures correctly if he is not absolutely committed to understanding God's truth. If a person esteems their opinions and preferences above the word of God, he will be prone to pulling verses out of context in an effort to justify himself and his ideas and desires. Tragically, such a one is not concerned about respecting the immediate or wider context of a passage, nor the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:26,27).