Friday, July 7, 2006

Is the Bible a Ouija Board in Disguise? - Part 2

Partial Neglect of the Literary or Historical Context of a Passage

Fortunately, most Bible readers usually avoid the extreme errors of the ouija board approach. Much more common, however, is the proof-texting error that is often unwittingly encouraged by Bible memory systems that focus primarily on individual verses. To their credit, those who use this approach at least read entire sentences as meaningful units of thought, but often they fail to observe the larger contexts that appear to limit the application in important ways. Phil 4:13, for example, suffers regular abuse. Christians often announce, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength,” to reassure others (or themselves) that they can succeed in undertakings for which they may or may not be qualified. Subsequent failure leaves them distraught with God as if he had broken his promise! But had they read vv. 11 and 12, they would have seen that the application of this passage is limited to contentment regardless of one’s economic circumstances. In other instances, such readers miss important contextual or historical-cultural background insights.

Psa 127:3–5, for example, reads:

Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.

This is a popular passage for wedding ceremonies, perhaps because Christian couples think that God is thus commanding them to have large families. If so, they need to look more carefully at the historical context. Contending with their enemies in the gate of an ancient walled city refers either to military battle or to legal action (which took place near the city gate). The language here is exclusive: “sons” does not include “daughters” because in ancient Israel girls could be neither soldiers nor legal witnesses. In an age when infant and child mortality rates were high, large families ensured that sufficient sons would survive to care for aged parents in their declining years. While there is at least one clear principle in this passage that Christians can apply (e.g., about the need to care for one’s elderly parents, cf. 1 Tim 5:8), Christians dare not use this verse to assert that all couples must have large families.

1 comment:

Pastor Ryan said...

That's right Nick the context of a passage is so important. If a pastor is not preaching/teaching in a expository manner what you are suggesting happens often.