Column: Couch’s Corner
My Dad used to tell me that “context is king” when reading the Bible.
What he meant was that it is critical to understand the context that Scripture was written in before reading a passage and beginning to draw conclusions. Doing so will help avoid misinterpretation.
In the Old Testament, it is understandable that certain people groups were enslaved due to the time period. However, in the New Testament book of Ephesians, the writings do not seem too opposed to slavery, but rather insinuate that slaves are to submit themselves to their masters and slave masters are to treat their slaves well.
“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him,” (Ephesians 6:7-9).
The author is not endorsing slavery. The society that he lived in did, and slavery was the reality of living in that time period. The writer is in fact giving instruction to slaves on how they are to conduct themselves in ways that are pleasing to the Lord while in a difficult circumstance.
Another example of the importance of understanding the context that Scripture is written in is Paul’s writings concerning marriage.
Genesis mentions that the Lord did not find it a good thing for man to be alone. But in some of Paul’s New Testament writings, he seems to cast a negative shadow over the idea of marriage by saying that it is a better idea for people to remain single.
“It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband,” (1 Corinthians 7:1b-2)
The initial interpretation of this verse without knowing the context behind Paul’s letters to the Corinthians is that marriage is something used just to avoid sexual sin. But the context behind this passage makes the Scripture easier to understand.
Corinth was a city deep in sexual sin. Paul is attempting to say that due to the strong temptation to partake in the sexual sins that the city conveniently offered, marriage would be a wise decision so that men and women could partake in these desires while honoring the Lord.
Some Christians during this time period were moving away to isolation from the opposite gender with the purpose of leaving sexual temptation behind. Paul is encouraging them to marry rather than to move away and seek isolation.
“You can’t run away from drives within you,” Pastor Ray Stedman said. This statement is true and also may explain why Paul encourages the church in Corinth to marry. “Never is God’s intention for the sexes to live separately from one another,” Stedman went on to say.
Paul understood that the majority of believers wanted to be married, but he also desired for others to be able to experience singleness the way he did. Singleness allowed for him to do everything possible to reach people with the saving power of Christ while not being hindered by a family.
Comparing the above contextual reasoning for remaining single to current society’s is drastically
If Christians are going to live the single life for a number of years, they must understand that what they are referring to is no relation to the definition of singleness that celebrities today boast about. Rather, it involves forsaking the sexually impure lifestyle and staying true to chastity for as long as they remain unmarried.
That is part of the reason why it is critical to understand Scripture in its historical and cultural context, so we don’t incorrectly interpret it with a modern mindset.