Has anyone ever taken what you said or wrote out of context? How did that make you feel? Did you want to set the record straight? It’s happened to me many times through the years as reporters interviewed me for different stories. Since I am also a journalist, I was sensitive to how they handled my information and quotes. I learned first hand what it’s like to be misquoted and have information I shared with the reporter be taken out of context. That led to people misunderstanding my thoughts about issues or events. Even though what I told the reporters was the truth, taking my comments out of context gave a false impression of what I believed and had said.
People do that with the Bible all the time. They misrepresent what God says by taking His Words out of context, which leaves a false impression about Him and what He thinks, feels, and wants. Rightly dividing the Word of Truth begins with contextual study techniques. It takes time and effort, but the results are worth it when we understand what God is really saying. That is how we become “a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
Contextual Study Techniques
1. Pray that God will guide your mind and heart as you study His Word. “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.” (Colossians 4:2-4)
2. Start at the beginning. If you’re studying the Book of Romans, begin by reading the first sentence – Romans 1:1-4. Don’t try to understand the meaning of a statement until you’ve studied everything leading up to it. You may have a strong interest in understanding what Romans 9:13 means, (“As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”), but trying to interpret it out of context can lead to many wrong ideas about what God means. If you rightly divide the Word of Truth beginning at Romans 1:1, you will be able to rightly divide Romans 9:13.
3. Look at each word in every sentence, carefully – “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” That’s almost 70 words, which is a long sentence. It will take a lot of study to fully understand the amazing Truth you’re reading.
4. Write down all your observations before trying to interpret what you’re reading.
The letter begins with the name Paul. Paul is the only person mentioned in this first sentence. Paul is a bondservant of Jesus Christ. Paul was called to be an apostle. Paul was separated to the gospel of God. God promised the gospel through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures. The gospel concerns God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our Lord. Paul used the name Jesus Christ twice in this first sentence. Paul added the title “our Lord” in the second usage of His Name. Paul wrote that Jesus Christ was born of the seed of David according to the flesh. Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness and by the resurrection from the dead. This sentence is almost 70 words in length.
This is similar to what I learned during my first few years as a journalist. I needed to cover every story by seeing everything that could be seen and writing down everything I could write down and capture on tape and film. I learned that I had to be careful about coming to conclusions before carefully seeing everything I could possibly see and asking as many questions as I could possibly ask. Only after I had done my work as a journalist could I report with certainty what was true about a story.
It is similar with Bible study. If you rush or skip the observation phase of Bible study, if you don’t write down everything you see, if you don’t ask all the right questions for interpretation, you will miss keys to understanding the great Truths God has built into His Word. Observation is the first step to “rightly dividing” the Word of Truth.
In our next study, we’ll begin the interpretation phase of Bible study.
Also, read the companion apologetics study – Can I Trust the Bible?
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”