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 Vol. 5, No. 12 

December 2003


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Using Scripture in Context

By Louis Rushmore

Image The proper use of Scripture requires that it only be used to teach the truth to which it applies. Romans 14:23 is the classic example of Scripture often taken out of context; "faith," here refers to one's conscience -- not the system of faith, the Gospel.

It may be that Scripture is frequently used "out-of-context" proportionately to our preference for and experience in topical preaching over expository preaching. Perhaps the most often overlooked context which troubles denominational people and brethren is the backdrop to the first century church of miracles and intervention in the affairs of men by the Godhead (i.e., chiefly the Holy Spirit) and angels (e.g., mustard-seed-mountain-moving faith, Matthew 17:20; 1 Corinthians 13:2; elders anointing the sick with oil, James 5:14; Mark 6:13; 16:18).

1 Thessalonians 5:22

First Thessalonians 5:22 reads, "Abstain from all appearance of evil" KJV or "...every form of evil" ASV. I have often heard the KJV rendering of this verse used to teach avoidance of conduct or activities that perhaps harmless themselves may be perceived as evil by someone observing such (e.g., turning around in the parking lot of an unsavory and sinful establishment).

The word "appearance" (KJV) and "form" (ASV) come from the Greek eidous -- from eidos, which means: "kind" or "species." The same word (eidous) occurs in 2 Corinthians 5:7 and means "sight" or "perception." A derivative (eidei) occurs in Luke 3:22 and means "form" or "external appearance." The contexts of 2 Corinthians 5:7 and Luke 3:22 demand that our word refer to what is seen. First Thessalonians 5:22 (as in this case the ASV more clearly communicates) means 'abstain from every KIND or CATEGORY of evil' (e.g., avoid all fornication, i.e., adultery, homosexuality, sex between non-married people, bestiality and every other category of illicit sexual activity). There are no exceptions to sin avoidance; no pet sins are allowed.

Galatians 1:6-9; Jude 3; Revelation 22:18-19

I have heard each of these passages used (and have used them) to counter Pentecostal and other denominational claims for continued revelation in the present. The literal translation clearly depicts the passage as condemning DIFFERENT revelation of the purported SAME Gospel. "Another" (heteron -- from heteros) vs. 6 equals another of a different kind; "another" (allo from allos) vs. 7 equals another of the same kind; "other" (par from para) vs. 8-9 equals "in deviation from, in violation of, inconsistently with";  para in Acts 18:13 and Romans 1:26 is translated "contrary to." Additionally, Galatians may have been written about A.D. 58 whereas several Bible books were written later -- through the Book of Revelation, which may have been written as late as A.D. 95.

The proper passages to counter modern claims for continual revelation are 1 Corinthians 13:8-13; Ephesians 4:11-13; Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3-4 and John 20:30-31. Galatians 1:6-9; Jude 3; Revelation 22:18-19 teach that modern revelation is wrong BECAUSE IT IS DIFFERENT! First Corinthians 13:8-13 and Ephesians 4:11-13 teach that modern revelation does not now occur since the completion of the purpose for which miracles were given.

Ephesians 4:13

A recent reprint of an article by a renowned preacher and editor of a widely popular Gospel magazine addressed Ephesians 4:13. The author applied the phrase "Till we all come in the unity of the faith" to when brethren agree together on the doctrine of Christ. The surrounding context (vs. 11-14) addresses miracle-assisted first century servants of God (vs. 11), who in that capacity were especially enabled to edify the infant church (vs. 12), UNTIL their efforts were superseded by the arrival of the completed, only-one system of faith (vs. 13), a benefit that permits Christians to definitively discern between true and false doctrine (vs. 14; Hebrews 5:14).

"The unity of THE FAITH" refers to the canon of the New Testament to which Christians now can literally and with certainty examine it and say, "This is what it teaches!" Ephesians 4:11-14 compares to 1 Corinthians 13:8-13. Notice the similar illustration in the two passages (i.e., "knowledge," "perfect," "when I became a man, I put away childish things" vs. "perfect ["fullgrown," ASV] man."

1 Corinthians 15:33

"Be not deceived: evil communications ["companionships," ASV] corrupt good manners ["morals," ASV]." This verse is often completely lifted from its context to teach about the dangers of corrupting influences imperiling Christians through association with sinful people. Granted, the principle is true, but the verse has another immediate application in its context.

The whole 1 Corinthians 15 chapter deals with a defense of the resurrection -- including the resurrection of Christ -- against false teachers and their false doctrines. First Corinthians 15:32 and 1 Corinthians 15:35, on either side of 1 Corinthians 15:33, address the subject of resurrection. First Corinthians 15:33 DOES NOT primarily apply (in its context) to the dangers of Christian living. In its context, 1 Corinthians 15:33 first applies to the dangers of Christians (the church) continuing to fellowship or commune with false teachers who deny the subject of resurrection; second, the verse warns of the danger to Christians and the church in continuing to commune with/not oppose false teachers in general (cf., Romans 16:17-18; Titus 3:10-11; Ephesians 5:11).

Matthew 18:20

"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them." Verse 20 is often rendered as a worship passage though the context in which it occurs does not address worship. Matthew 18:18-19 pertain to the authority that Jesus delegated to the apostles (cf., Matthew 16:19 relative to the apostle Peter). Verse 20 simply continues the reference to apostolic authority to 'bind and loose.' Usage of the words "two" and "two or three" in verses 16, 19-20 pertain to the effectiveness of witnesses to or confirmation of what is true (vs. 15-17 regarding sin between brethren and efforts to effect repentance and reconciliation; vs. 18-20 regarding the veracity of apostolic authority).

Matthew 3:11

"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire." A renowned editor of a popular Gospel magazine wrote several lengthy articles on the Holy Spirit, in which he taught that the "fire" of Matthew 3:11 pertains to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. People often make this erroneous observation doubtless because they associate this "fire" with the "cloven tongues like as of fire" which accompanied the baptism of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles in Acts Two (Acts 2:3).

The verses on either side of Matthew 3:11 each use fire in a negative, punitive manner (vs. 10, 12). The "fire" of vs. 11 is also negative. Matthew 3:11 enumerates three baptisms: (1) water baptism upon repentance, confessing of sins (Matthew 3:1-6), for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4) and administered by John the Baptist. (2) Holy Spirit baptism, then future, to be administered by Jesus Christ. (3) The punitive baptism of fire, then and still future, to be administered by Jesus Christ (cf., Matthew 25:41, 46; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Revelation 20:14-15; 21:8).

The audience to whom John the Baptist spoke was composed of people from Jerusalem, Judaea and the region around the Jordan River (Matthew 3:5). Included in that number were sinful persons (namely Pharisees and Sadducees, Matthew 3:7-9). Some of John's disciples who later became apostles were evidently present (to be promised the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Matthew 3:11; and the next day to follow Jesus, John 1:35-37). Hence, John promised at least one baptism (of the three) to each adult present (water or fire) and the baptism of the Holy Spirit additionally to any present who would later become apostles.

1 Timothy 2:15

"Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety." It was related to me by a preacher in the Ohio Valley that a wife in an otherwise extended Christian family exhibited no inclination to obey the Gospel -- which greatly puzzled the preacher. Upon inquiry of the lady he was told that her mother had taught her that since she was incapable of giving birth that she could not be saved -- based on 1 Timothy 2:15. What a horrible misinterpretation of the Bible.

The Greek word translated "childbearing" (teknogonias derives from teknogoneo) means "to bear children, the rearing of a family," Zondervan's lexicon; "denotes bearing children, implying the duties of motherhood," Vine. Verses 8-15 are some to which Christians turn to ascertain the role of women. Both in the church (religious matters) and in the home, women (and men for that matter) are obligated to accept the role God has ordained for the woman. The role God respectively assigned men and women predates Christianity and goes back to Patriarchy (1 Timothy 2:12-14; 1 Corinthians 11:8-9).

When some might attempt to disregard God's role for the woman (in the church or in the home), the woman is still unable to mask the fact that God has ordained that the woman of the species give birth to the babies (with all of the attendant responsibilities in childbearing). A woman can pretend she is a man (pretending she has roles God never assigned to her) but she cannot escape her role in procreation. Further, a woman is not justified in the eyes of God assuming roles assigned by God to men just because men neglect or refuse to accept those roles.

The context in which 1 Timothy 2:15 appears, including 1 Timothy 2:15, simply affirms the role that God assigned to the woman. A woman who is unable to birth children, by this alone, does not fall into the class of women who rebel against their God-given role. There is no indictment against the salvation of women unable to birth children. Besides, childless couples may also opt to rear children through foster care, adoption, etc.

John 14:1-3

Given that John chapters 14-16 were initially spoken exclusively to the apostles and contain the promise of Holy Spirit baptism exclusively to the apostles, HOW can passages like John 14:1-3 (about heaven) be applied to Christians today? While there is a context to be respected in those chapters where certain things applied only to the apostles, some things in those chapters are subjects of a more general nature, which are elsewhere in Scripture applied to all Christians.


Every preacher and teacher ought to exercise extreme caution not to use Scripture out of its context. Scripture used out of context becomes a pretext. Taking Scripture out of context is no better than the abuse of Scripture by a false teacher. If the lesson being taught is true, appropriate Scriptures ought to be employed that substantiate the teaching -- rather than misusing Scripture to make it teach something that it does not. Preachers and teachers ought to be careful to distinguish between the primary application of a passage and the principle that it teaches and that can be applied contemporarily.

Nowhere is it more important to allow God's Word to apply to us as God intended than regarding the topic of salvation! Jesus said 'believe and be baptized to be saved' and no amount of rationalization or creative interpretation can make it mean anything else (Mark 16:15-16). Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the apostle John wrote that Christians sometimes sin, but they can be cleansed again with the blood of Jesus Christ (1 John 1:7-10). Please, use Scripture in context to know God's Word, whereby we can practice God's Word, so that we can be saved from our sins and spend forever in heaven with God.Image

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