Friday, May 1, 2009

Rightly quoted or Wrongly referenced - the context conundrum

The other day, Stephanie and I went to the movies and were given free popcorn. I am not much of the popcorn type, usually preferring something chocolate but it was free. One of my dislikes of popcorn is that it gets caught in my teeth and I have to use my tongue to work it out. It’s just stuck there, annoying me, not going away. This blog entry, which is a departure from my thoughts on thinking, is just that….something caught in my own thinking, irritating me a tad but wondering what others think.

So here it goes. Is it okay to misquote Scripture but in misquoting you actually discuss sound biblical teaching, just not from that section of the Bible? I would assume that most in conservative Christian circles would think that misquoting the Bible is frowned upon, even joked about. Remember the old saying, “Judas hung himself”, strung along with “go and do likewise” and “what you do, do quickly”. One of the most obvious out of context verses is the reference in Matthew 18:20, “where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst” and refer to it in prayer but in reality it is in the context of Church discipline, not prayer. At least those were the ones I remember being the talked about ones in college. Most would rail against such inappropriate use of God’s Word, especially since the most often misquoted scriptural references tend to go against biblical teaching. But what about quoting Scripture that is done out of context but reflects biblically sound ideas? You are probably wanting examples, so I’ll give one from Romans and if you want more, just ask.

Romans 10:9-15 is probably one of the most “evangelistic” passages that most turn to in order to show the gospel and the need for “preachers to be sent.” How many times have you heard the old saying, whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, but how will they call unless they hear, and how will they hear unless there is a preacher and how will they preach unless they are sent? Sound familiar? It sounds good and is biblical when you remember Jesus’ words of in Matthew 9:37-38 which in summary state that the workers are few, the harvest is ripe so pray for more workers. But is this what Paul is saying? Not if you read the whole chapter! Romans 9-11 deal primarily with Israel and God’s future plan. Currently Israel has rejected Christ, they have “stumbled over the stumbling stone” (9:32-33). Paul desires for them to be saved but Israel tries to get to God on their own righteousness (10:1-3). Paul then quotes Deuteronomy to show that even that generation had the message (v8 – Word is near you, in your mouth) and they could respond by faith (v8 – in your heart). Moses’ generation had God’s Word and could respond to it, obey it and did not need for it to be brought down to them for they had it. Then comes our section, Romans 10:9-15 showing the content of the message that God has given in Christ, namely those who believe and confess will be saved. When Paul says, how will they call on Him in whom they have not believed (v 14) he is pointing to Israel who has rejected. Remember the context of chapters 9-11. The point that Paul makes is that they have been sent messengers with the message and Israel has failed to believe! Look at Romans 10:16-18, they did not all heed the good news. Paul then quotes Isaiah 53:1. In verse 18 Paul asks a question, they (Israel) have never heard have they? Then he answers, “Indeed they have.” The rest of chapter 10 show that even Moses predicted that God would save the Gentiles and make Israel jealous.

So what is my point, my point is that Romans 10:9-15 is not a request for missions. It is not a section that deals with commissioning preachers to be sent to far off lands with the gospel. It deals exclusively with the fact that Israel had the message preached to them and they rejected that message. Good news were brought to them and they stumbled over Christ, refusing to believe. Messengers have been sent and they were rebuffed.

So is it right to quote, clearly out of context, Romans 10:9-15 and apply it to missions? I’ve done it! This is what I have been struggling with because clearly missions and sending those to preach the good news is a biblical concept. But is it right to use sections of Scripture for things that are true biblically but not according to the specific context. What do you think, all two of you who read this? Please comment, I’m interested in hearing from you.


Jason said...

Here are a few more "acceptable" but out of context passages.

Romans 3:23 - All fall short. Check the verse before and after, its not a salvation verse but shows that all who believe not only fall short of God's glory, but these same "all" are being justified in the next verse.

Isaiah 55:8-9 - My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways not your ways. Usually used to show that you cannot understand God's thoughts. Yet check the context of the whole passage. It is about repenting, turning back to the Lord. The wicked are to forsake their thoughts and ways and embrace God's thoughts and ways.

Just thought I'd comment on my own blog =)

Annalee B. said...

Jason, this is *very* interesting! I don't know that I have a fully formed position on the issue you raise. It would seem that if one used scripture in the way you suggest AND was able to competently explain the actual context, it would be interesting to look at the validity of extra-contextual applications. If, on the other hand, it were used ignorantly, that seems problematic since we're supposed to rightly handle the word of truth (oh, I hope I'm applying that phrase correctly--lol!) Your post prompts me to examine oft-quoted scripture more closely--thank you!

Kate-y said...

I went to my parents church on Mother's Day and their pastor used Isaiah 66:13 and 1 Thessalonians 2:7 to explain that there is no higher praise to a mother than to compare His love with hers. Pastor started his sermon with the thought that the perfect God of the universe compares Himself to something imperfect in the above references. No kidding. Any thoughts, J?

Jason said...

It has forced me to be very careful too, so that makes two of us.

That can be the problem of Topical preaching, using verses to preach a mother's day message. Isaiah 66:13 deals with Jerusalem's future comfort in the End Times. The point is not to describe God's attributes but is to illustrate the type of comfort that comes to Jerusalem through God's intervention during the Tribulation and exalation of Jerusalem in the Millennial Kingdom. 1 Thess 2:7 isn't even about God but Paul, Timothy and Silas' character with the Thessalonians. Without hearing the sermon and with little knowledge of what else was said, I'd have to say that with just that info, the preacher was far from the text and read much into those two verses....some that isn't even in the text to begin with.