Wednesday, June 23, 2021

IBS-2 Context is Key

The Big Idea: The context of a Bible passage is key to understanding what it means for us. # 2 in a series- Practical Starter Guide for Inductive Bible Study.

Location! Location! Location! 

A pastor recently told a story like this to illustrate the importance of context.

Imagine an experienced pastor writes a letter to a younger pastor in 2020. He recommends a masked congregation, people sitting every other pew, and counsel by phone or video conferencing when possible.

Suppose the letter is uncovered 200 years later . The archeologist may surmise this was normal church practice. Until he compares the letter date with historical writings about the year of COVID. Context makes all the difference.

Merriam Webster says context is "the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning." Some English words have plural meaning. Check these sentences using the word "break" for instance:

  • It's time for my coffee break.
  • Don't make me trip or I'll break my coffee mug, or worse, my neck!
  • I wonder if the coffee shop will break even this year?

Kay Arthur, Inductive Bible study expert proclaims, "Context rules!" The best way to understand a verse is not according to personal experience or worldview. Rather study the verse in context of the sentence, its paragraph, its chapter, its book and the way the word, theme or idea occurs in the rest of Scripture.

Don't think this makes it impossible to understand the Bible. When you see a verse, just ask, "What is it's context?"

Context Assistance

1. Theme. Read the chapter. Skim the book looking at section headings, and so on. Look for a theme.

2. Key Words. Look at words that carry the verse, especially if they repeat. They (and synonyms) may reoccur in a verse, paragraph, chapter or book.

3. Easy Observations. What clearly jumps out at you as you read? Are there names? Relationships noted? Places? References to time? What are people doing? If it is poetic or instructive are there lists?

4. Comparisons and Contrasts. As you study the chapter or book it is in, you can compare paragraphs and chapters for relationships to the other parts. Contrasts are sometimes easy, such as in Galatians 5: 19-23 which list the acts of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.

5. Location in the Bible. Like real estate, where is this located? Who wrote it? To whom? Old Testament or New Testament? What genre is it (i.e. Wisdom Literature, Gospels of Christ)?

6. World History. What era is this? Who's the reigning world power? What is normal life for this part of the world? Who is the targeted people group for this passage? This can be enlightening information.

7. Biblical Continuity. What is the core idea of the Bible? Who is God? Who is Jesus? What is the Church? What does the Bible say overall about love, sin, forgiveness, and so on? One verse will not fly in defiance to the whole. Scripture interprets Scripture.

In the following weeks we will unpack how to examine a passage.

This is the second in a series called Practical Starter Guide for Inductive Bible Study.

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Table of Contents 


1. Have you ever had a conversation misunderstood till you realized the context?

2. How often do you consider Bible context? Never? Only when stuck on meaning? Routinely?

3. What aspects of context are you more likely to think about? Old vs New Testament? Bible Themes? World Powers.

4. In what way do you think this awareness in Bible study might be helpful to you?

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