Fresh out of homeschooled high school, and because our cultic group rejected traditional higher education, I was pursuing some online college-like classes through Bill Gothard’s Institute. The stress of assignments, deadlines, and a demanding English teacher was hard enough. But, the impossible task ahead of me put me over the edge.
Two of my classes asked me to go point by point through the Basic and Advanced Seminars and use the Bible to prove them true. At first, I genuinely tried to complete the assignments, but I struggled to find verses that actually matched the things Gothard claimed. Eventually, as deadlines loomed and tasks piled up, I grabbed our trusty Strong’s Concordance. Every godly family had one of these enormous, ten-pound books. I started looking up specific key words, searching for a verse that I could tweak or write out just enough to make it sound right and use it.
Surprisingly, my online teacher never corrected me.
As I continued to use this method to “prove” the Seminars’ points, I started to get suspicious. I wasn’t finding anything genuine to back up this supposed truth. What if this was the way everything had been proven originally? Ironically, the very education that was supposed to protect me from backsliding in a secular college environment planted the seeds of doubts that eventually freed me from my cult.
Unfortunately, it’s not just Christian cults that use the Bible out of context. It happens all the time within the normal church.
Have you ever heard someone quote the verse, “By his stripes we are healed” when they are praying for physical healing for someone? It’s a pretty popular one. However, if you look up the actual passage in Isaiah 53, you will find that the whole chapter is a prophecy of the coming Savior. It clearly shows that he is going to suffer and die so that our sins can be forgiven. In its entirety verse 5 reads like this: “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
We cannot grab those six words out of the rest of the verse and claim that God has promised to heal our physical ailments. He has done one better. He has forever healed our sins and removed our separation from God. God has brought us back into a relationship with Him, if we will chose to believe in the name of His Son!
I wish this context problem was an exception, but it’s not. I hear verses taken out of context all the time. Just recently I was doing a popular women’s Bible study with a group of friends. After we read a chunk of Scripture the author was using to make a point, we stopped and looked again. When we backed up and read the previous verses, it was obvious that the author hadn’t considered context. Not that her point was necessarily wrong…it just couldn’t be backed up with this particular Scripture passage.
Just because someone uses a Bible verse to prove a point doesn’t make them right. If we are going to find the truth, it’s absolutely vital that we understand what the Bible is and why it was written. We must consider the original audience, each author’s intent, and the surrounding verses and chapters. If we want to avoid lies and abuse, we must know the Bible for ourselves.
I realize that I am kind of hardcore on this topic of context, and sometimes I can overreact. But if you’d been lied to for over a decade by someone who claimed to be getting truths from God’s Word, you might be a little sensitive too. 😉
If you are curious, I wrote more about the topic of context in my post “But God is Not a Vending Machine…”