Skip to content

Insight #197 — A Text Out of Context Is a Pretext

You read about fulfilled prophecy on the Internet, or you hear a prophecy sermon at church. It all sounds good, full of Bible quotations. But wait a minute. Do you check out what you read and hear? Do the Bible quotes really belong together? Are they on the same subject? Is each one quoted in context?

Peter said that Paul’s writings had “some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). “Wrest” is a strong word. It means to twist violently, to distort, to obtain by force. The unlearned and unstable wrest the hard Scriptures but also the other (easy) ones. A major way to twist Scripture is to wrest it out of context.

There is much Bible quoting that is not Bible teaching at all — like this popular example of stringing verses together: “Judas… went and hanged himself”; “go and do likewise”; and “what you do, do quickly”! We can laugh at that; but it is no laughing matter when Bible teachers seriously string together unrelated prophecies, forming them into a message the Bible in no way teaches. To look at it another way: in our society so obsessed with statistics, someone has pointed out that numbers don’t lie, but you can lie with numbers. By the same token, Scriptures don’t lie, but you can lie with Scriptures.

It is essential that we behave like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) who “searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” That not only goes for what others write and teach; it goes for what I write and teach. Search the Scriptures to see if what I say is according to Scripture or not.

The practice of stringing together unrelated Scriptures is nothing new. In the second century, Irenaeus colorfully described how the Valentinians “disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures… Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skillful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox… and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king’s form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king… violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found” (“Against Heresies,” Book 1, Chap. 8).

What a tremendous depiction of rearranging the jewels of Scripture into a system of doctrine completely foreign to God’s Word. In the next chapter, Irenaeus powerfully illustrated this grave error by stringing together ten quotes from Homer, all out of context, weaving them into a story totally foreign to Homer.

Thus we see that the practice of teaching falsehood by stringing unrelated Scriptures together is virtually as old as the Scriptures themselves. Someone has well said, “A text out of context is a pretext.” This is not a special rule just for Bible study. It is a rule for properly interpreting the daily newspaper. It is a rule for understanding what the boss said to do. It is a rule for quoting people with fairness. Indeed, all communication becomes garbled when we remove a text from its context. All too often, the political world suffers from such quotations out of context. But it is far more serious when people do that with the Holy Word of God.

“Give diligence to present yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Do not believe all Bible quotations. Dig in order to discover if the quotations are handled rightly. If you do that, you will protect yourself against many false prophecy teachings.