In the last post I talked a little about how the Bible is one “grand drama of redemption” and that to miss this very important point will cause one to possibly misinterpret the meaning of particular texts.  Over the next few weeks I will scatter some posts about how one should read the Bible properly, and when appropriate give some examples of what happens when somebody reads and interprets the Bible improperly. 

One of the keys to reading the Bible properly is to recognize the context(s) in which your text is set.  There are many kinds of contexts, but for the sake of this post we will focus only on the literary context.  Even here there are different levels of context that all need to be considered (i.e. immediate, book, genre, canonical).  What happens when these contexts aren’t considered is we then turn the Bible into a “fortune-cookie Bible” or just a book of pithy phrases and propositions. When we read other stories or novels we don’t treat them this way, why should the Biblical story be any different? To prevent this improper use whenever we run across a phrase that troubles us or makes a certain doctrinal statement we must ask “does the context support my interpretation?” 

To illustrate this point I will post a devotional I was sent from a popular TV preacher. Here is the exact Scripture reference given in the devotional:

“Then Nathan said to David, Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you.” (I Chronicles 17:2).

Then follows the “interpretation/application”:

What is in your heart today? What are the dreams and desires deep on the inside of you? Maybe you want to start a business, or ministry, or go back to school. Whatever is in your heart, ask the Lord to confirm it to you. God leads us by desires, but we have to first submit our desires to Him. Sometimes we have to allow Him to change our desires, but know that He is always out for your good. It says in the book of Psalms that God gives us the desires of our heart. That means He places desires within us then brings them to pass so that we can live a fulfilled life here on earth. I believe David did this very thing. He was known as a man after God’s own heart. He submitted His heart to the Lord, and then Nathan came along and said, “Yes. Do what is in your heart. God is with you.” Whatever is in your heart today, submit it to the Lord. Trust that He is out for your good and working behind the scenes on your behalf. As you put your faith and trust in Him, He will guide you in the life of victory He has in store for you!

All the author of the devotional needed to do was to read two verses beyond the passage he gave to realize the passage chosen was totally inappropriate and flat out contrary to the whole message he was giving!  If you are not familiar with the rest of 1 Chronicles 17 here is what follows:

1 Now when David lived in his house, David said to Nathan the prophet, “Behold, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the LORD is under a tent.” 2 And Nathan said to David, “Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you.” 3 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, 4 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: It is not you who will build me a house to dwell in.’ (1 Chronicles 17:1-4 ESV).

So David wanted to build a house for the Lord, and he mentioned it to Nathan. Nathan said (as this author pointed out) go ahead and do it. However, Nathan was wrong!! Even though he was a prophet of the Lord, he merely assumed that this would please the Lord. God came to Nathan that night and told him that the desires of David’s heart WERE NOT God’s desires and that in this matter God WAS NOT with David. Later in 1 Chronicles chapter 17, Nathan tells David all the words of the Lord (v 15) which leads to a beautiful prayer of David recognizing that God is going to build a house for David not David building a house for the Lord (vv 16-27). This author does rightly say that we “ask the Lord to confirm it [our desire] to us.” What he fails to talk about is that David’s desire was not granted by the Lord in a very direct and explicit manner. Did the Lord put that desire into David’s heart (as is implied by the devotional’s interpretation)? The text tells us that the Lord did not! Not all of our desires are the Lord’s will which the author here neglects to tell his readers.

So I hope that this little exercise will cause you to look at Scripture passages in at least their immediate context.  There are other passages of Scripture that have had been handled improperly because of the lack of looking at the context (e.g. John 3:16, Phil 4:13, etc.).  In the future I will talk about some of the other contexts that need to be considered.  If you have any questions about this then please shoot me an e-mail at gigharborreformed*at* or post a comment to this post.  If you would be interested in learning more about the Bible and how to read it properly (and live near Gig Harbor) then please let us know you are out there so that we can include you in our Bible Study!

Mark Vander Pol
Gig Harbor Reformed Bible Study
A mission work of the Bellingham URC