The inside of this bulletin contains part 2 of an excellent 3 part series by Steve Reeves on keeping the context when studying the Bible. Please refer to last week’s “Good News” for part 1: “The Harmony of the Scriptures,” and next week’s for part 3: “Which Context?”
Some might ask, “What’s the big deal with ‘context?’” For those who love God (as you do), the answer is very simple: context is important because we want to know what GOD said on any matter, not what man has twisted God’s words to say. The Apostle Peter warned us that this very thing would happen in 2 Peter 3:15-16 “...just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, (16) as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” Our attitude should be, as Steve begins this study: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (II Timothy 2:15)
How many angels were at the tomb after Jesus’ resurrection? Matthew 28:1-3 mentions one, but Luke 24:1-4 mentions two. Skeptics are quick to pounce on this difference and declare that the Scriptures contradict one another and, therefore, are not inspired. Yet, consider this: Suppose I related an event that happened in a meeting and mentioned that brother John said something important. Would it be reasonable to conclude that only I and brother John met? Of course not! In the same manner, if Matthew mentions the appearance of an angel and records what that angel said, does this preclude the presence of additional angels? The answer remains, of course not! Why are there differences in the details recorded in Matthew and in Luke? It is due to the different purposes the two authors had in writing their respective books.
When Romans 4:5 is held up against James 2:24, we cannot state that the two authors contradicted each other. To so claim would be claiming that the message in one or both of the books is not inspired. Instead we need to examine the context of the two passages to see how the terms are being used. In particular, we need to see if the terms are being used with a different sense of meaning or application.
Both verses mention faith. Are there multiple faiths? Most realize that the faith exhibited by demons, mentioned in James 2:19, is different from the faith discussed in Hebrews 11:6, even though what is being believed is the same in both verses. When we examine the context of James, we realize that James’ point is that the faith of demons is missing an essential element that causes it to be a useless faith.
• Works of the devil (I John 3:8),
• Works of man’s hands (Acts 7:41),
• Dead works (Hebrews 6:1).
Because both faith and works can take on different meanings in different contexts, we cannot make a blanket statement concerning faith or works without defining the kind of faith and the kind of work we are considering.
When we mention that baptism saves, as stated in I Peter 3:21, many object and hold up John 3:16. Yet, their very line of argument is in error. All that is being claimed is “my favorite verse is better than your favorite verse!” The reality is that all verses in the Bible come from one God. As Jesus pointed out to Satan, you cannot use a select set of verses against the rest of the Bible’s teachings. Unfortunately, much of the denominational world does not look to harmonize the Scriptures. Instead, they search high and low for ways to dismiss the verses that do not agree with their preconceived notions. There must be an understanding of I Peter 3:21 and John 3:16 which allows both baptism and faith to save. Anything less is a declaration that the Scriptures contain contradictions and are not, therefore, inspired.
In order to understand God’s Holy Word, we must be willing to seek the harmony of what is stated. We cannot pull a passage out of its context because the context defines how the words are being used. We cannot pit one passage against another without denying the inspiration of the Scriptures (Psalm 119:160; II Timothy 3:16-17).