Sometimes we take a single Bible verse and use it out of context, but what’s the danger in that?
The Whole Bible
Today we have access to the very breath of God, so says the Apostle Paul who wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2nd Tim 3:16), and it is so “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2nd Tim 3:17). The phrase “man of God” is actually “the messenger of God,” which he is if he refers to the Word of God since it is God’s Word and not the word of man. And Scriptures were never made to be used by themselves or standing alone. When we have that, we can come up with all sorts of doctrines or teachings, and we end up with snake-handling, poison-drinking churches. Prior to Jesus’ return to the Father, He commissioned them, saying, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16), “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-18), so now there are churches that focus on handling snakes and a few, even drinking poison, but this was not what Jesus intended. He wanted them to bring the gospel to the whole world, not create a church that handles snakes to somehow fulfill Mark 16:18. This was written to the disciples and these things did take place in the first century, with Paul’s experience with a snake being a great case in point (Acts 28:3), but to distort this verse (Mark 16:18) and make it into a doctrine is just about as far off as we can get.
Context is King
To read or take a verse out of the Bible and to build a belief system over one verse is to risk using the verse out of context. A verse taken out of context can create a pretext, and often a false one, but today it seems that some Christians and churches do just, but that’s how cults are formed. One man told me that he seeks out a Bible verse each day by opening the Bible and quoting one verse, but what’s missing? The context! The context of the chapter and even the book can mislead people into thinking, “Well, it’s in the Bible so it must be true,” so snake-handling churches are born…or any number of other deviant belief’s that are in fact, not taught at all. If that’s how we get a “word from God,” then we could pick out “And Judas hanged himself” and then “go and do likewise,” and “What you do, do quickly.” That’s the danger of taking texts out of context because it creates a pretext and it’s often wrong. That would be like someone trying to assemble a product but only reading one line of instructions to the exclusion of the other ones. You’d have a jumbled product after you’re finished, but probably one that’s quite useless.
Through the Bible
The late Dr. J. Vernon McGee and his program, “Thru the Bible” is a sterling example of reading the whole Word and being taught in the context of the chapter and verse. Dr. McGee always taught the Bible verse by verse, the way it was meant to be read and taught. His slogan, “Taking the whole word to the whole world” is indicative of this late pastor’s methods. He explains what certain verses mean by placing them in the context of and adjacent to the surrounding verses. It is far too easy to take one verse and build a belief system on that, but the risk is we’re not receiving the context of what the author is saying and that changes the meaning, and then the lesson is incomplete because we only receive one piece of the puzzle to try and fill in the missing parts. Also, when churches or Christians rip a verse out of context, they can change the gospel or the teaching of the Bible itself, and then, what frequently happens, is Jesus and the gospel is ignored, or at least, distorted. Things like handling snakes and drinking poison are emphasized to the exclusion of the gospel being taught and proclaimed, which is what Jesus commanded the disciples (Matt 28:18-20). Jesus never commanded anyone to handle snakes, so you can see how ridiculous it can get. Even worse, Jesus is pushed aside and beliefs (right or wrong) are pushed to the forefront. One church I attended years ago was so focused on tongues that there were 20 or more speaking (I will say) “something,” and all at the same time, but I had no clue what they were saying (if anything!), and I got zero out of that service, and tragically, Jesus’ name was only mentioned twice in the entire service…during the opening and closing prayer. How can that be!? Jesus is the Head of the Church, and for these believers, apparently Jesus is not as interesting as the gifts of the Spirit or handing snakes. I was even chastised by being told, “You’re not filled with the Spirit if you don’t speak in tongues” or as I remember, in 1986, “You must not be a disciple of Jesus if you’ve never spoken in tongues.” I asked him, “What chapter and verse is that?” No answer…just anger.
I hope you can see my point that we cannot take one verse out of context and use it to build a church or belief system. Some who persecute Christians do this too…they take an Old Testament verse and use it against Christians by showing that Christianity is brutal or unloving, and say things like, “This is what your religion is like,” but they do this while completely ignoring the New Testament and New Covenant, so believers are not the only ones who take a text out of context and use it as a false pretext in attacking believers or Christians. It’s like coming up to two people who are in a conversation and you only hear part what was said. That eavesdropping can give you the wrong idea, and besides, taking text out of context is a dishonest way to either teach the Bible or to criticize the Bible. Context is king and it always has been and it always will be.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is host of Spiritual Fitness and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.