Elder Keith Ellis
This section deals with the who, what, when, where, why and how of any particular verse, or chapter found in the Bible. This is probably one of the most important sections in this book. It is probably the simplest subject we will discuss. Yet many in our day and time simply forget these basic lessons about reading.
When we begin to consider a certain verse it is important that we look at it in its proper context or setting. So many times today we hear of people who misuse a verse by lifting it out of its context. Most often this is done when they force the Bible to fit their preconceived ideas.
Keep in mind as we continue that the Bible is addressed to God's children. It is not addressed to the world as we so often hear. Look these up and notice "who" is being addressed. Remembering that only the children of God can understand or have an interest in these letters.
Romans 1:7 1 Corinthians 1:1-2 1 Corinthians 1:1
Galatians 1:1-2 Ephesians 1:1 Phillippians 1:1
Colossians 1:2 James 1:1 1 Peter 1:-2
There many other places that teach us the same things.
Before we go any further I want to give an example of how taking a verse out of context is usually done. Speaking of Judas, the one who betrayed the Lord:
"And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself." Matthew 27:5
"And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise." Luke 10:37
If I were to lift these verses from their intended meaning and only quote part of them I might come up with something like this:
"Judas went out and hanged himself; go and do ye likewise."
It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out if someone were to handle the word of God this way it could have disastrous consequences. Now you might think any one could see through something like this. But let me tell you that you would be surprised what people will believe. In fact multitudes have believed teachings that were done this way, and still do today. Remember Waco!
If we read the text in context, we know it is Judas "who" is under consideration, and we know "when" it took place and so on. So remember our Lord tells us to take heed to what we hear (see Mark 4:24).
As we read in context there are some things we should ask ourselves about what we are reading. But before we go any further look at this:
"For whatsoever things were written afore time were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." Romans 15:4
We can know that the entirety of the Bible was written "for us," and some of it was written "to us." If we cannot distinguish the difference between what was written "for us" and what was written "to us" we are likely to become candidates to join a group headed by the next David Koresh to come on the scene.
All of the scripture is available for our learning. We can read the passages that describe the sins of the children of Israel in the wilderness. Hopefully we can learn from their mistakes so we do not repeat them. Some of them do have modern-day applications. This being the case, these particular verses were not written "to us" but rather they are written "for us." In other words, for our learning.
An example of a verse written "to us" would be:
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength." This is a direct command to the individual Christian.
It is when folks cannot tell the difference that they may get the impression they personally are some particular character referred to in the Bible, thinking a passage is written "to them" when all along it is written "for them." Please be careful to learn the difference.
At this point I want to remind the reader this is also another area where we should be diligent to ask for God's direction by way of prayer, because this area we are discussing is an important one.
I have met people before who would take the "who" of a verse and lift it out of its context. They would do this as a means to try to justify a particular sin in their lives. And they literally leave off the verses of scripture that expose them and their sins. They will claim verses are written to them when in fact they are not. Again as an example I would use David Koresh, who actually thought he was Christ. This is a high profile case, but I have actually seen folks who believed they walked on water, so to speak, simply because they took verses out of their context.
Of course this is an area where the devil is just waiting to mess you up. If you think he does not involve himself in misapplying scripture then you need to think again. Concerning the temptations of Christ we read:
"Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, if thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone." Matthew 4:5-6
Once the devil sees that Christ uses the truth of the scripture in verse four to fight against the first temptation of his hunger, the devil immediately seizes the opportunity. He wants Christ to commit suicide, as it were, by jumping off the high point of the temple, mis using scripture to tell Christ the angels will catch Him. So be on the lookout. Again, if the devil cannot keep you from reading your Bible, he will most likely attempt to influence how you look at its context.
We must learn to read a verse in its context, to leave the verse in agreement with the surrounding text. This is extremely important. I make it a practice to read at least ten verses before a particular one I am studying, and usually five or so after it. Sometimes it takes more than this, but you will be able after a time to know when you have read enough.
Now about the chapter divisions. When you move from one chapter to another it does not always mean the story or context has changed. Many times a subject will continue right into the next chapter. Do not let the chapter divisions become a problem for you in
determining the context of a verse.
If we will be faithful to the principle of leaving a verse in its context, then we will be blessed of God for doing so. We will see the message God intends for us. And the fruits of our labor will be;
"If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed, and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." John 8:31-32
At times we can be our own worst enemies. We can deceive ourselves if we are not careful. That it why it is important to leave off previous opinions when approaching our study.
When we consider the "who" of a text we must also determine "who" is doing the speaking or writing. This will also be helpful in your studies.
Next we want to look at the "what" of a verse or subject. This is basically what "context" refers to. What is the verse talking about? It is of supreme importance that the "what" be properly determined also. It must, whatever the outcome may be, be consistent with the rest of scripture and not contradict at any point. Remember the answer to a verse will ultimately be found in another passage of scripture. If we have been indoctrinated in the doctrines and commandments of men then we may find we will want to force the "what" of a verse in some cases to fit the belief system we belong to. Remember that I
mentioned in the last chapter how some folks think the "what" of salvation is always "eternal salvation." And in this case their margin of error can be the difference between time and eternity.
The next thing we will look at is the "when" of a verse. First I want to mention that as I have studied church history I have found there is an amazing thing that has taken place. Every generation of Christians since the time of Christ has thought itself to be the terminal generation, or the generation that will be alive for the second coming of Christ. Many down through the ages have sold all their worldly possessions as they thought doomsday was approaching. This has taken place hundreds of times since the inception of the New Testament church. Yet it is evident Christ has not yet returned. The point is that New Testament prophecies have time and again been lifted out of their time context. A good example of this would be Matthew chapter twenty-four. Its "time-context," without doubt, is between the time Jesus spoke about the destruction of the temple, all the things that would precede it, and the actual destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70. And history records this actually took place.
This was a period of time when God's vengeance was being poured upon the Jews for their rejection and crucifixion of Christ, and for the shedding of the blood
of all the righteous prophets. This time era translates into a time of great tribulation for those who rejected Jesus as the promised Messiah. When we read the same story told by Luke and Mark we see more of the details. Jesus tells us who is being addressed and adds it was a private conversation (see Mark 13:3). He tells us the "what" He is talking about, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (see Luke 21:5-6). He goes on to tell us "how" it will be accomplished (see Luke 21:20). He tells us "when" and everything that will precede the great event (see Matthew 24:34, Luke 21:32 & Mark 13:30).
Every generation of Christians since the completion of the Bible, does in their study of prophecy conclude wrongly that all prophecy is future, and becomes guilty of making future text that have already seen their fulfillment. Most of what is considered prophecy in the Bible has already been fulfilled. There is little left in the way of prophetical writing to be fulfilled by God.
So it is very important that we determine the "when" of a text. By not doing so we fall into another error.
Next we want to consider the "where" of a verse. It could be the difference of heaven or earth. You will find most places referred to in the Bible have special meanings. A common mistake is in the use of the phrase "the kingdom of heaven." Jesus says in one place that there is no doubt that it has come upon the people. Usually when people look at this they come down with the "eternal syndrome,"in that they think everywhere this phrase appears it means "heaven," when in fact many times it refers to the church. So do not take for granted that the "where" of a verse is always what the world teaches it is.
For instance, Paul speaks of being caught up into the third heaven. This would lead us to believe that there must be two others which come before the third. The atmosphere above the surface of the earth is sometimes referred to as a "heaven." Hopefully this will give you food for thought.
It will pay you to take your concordance and to do some word study. This usually sheds more light.
Next we will want to ask the "why" of a verse. This may be the more difficult thing to determine. It has been my experience that many times the "why" of a verse is not to be revealed to mankind. In other words, God simply chose not to let man know why. I am sure if there is a need to know the "why" of a verse, the answer is usually found somewhere in scripture, but not always. Sometimes we will find the "why" is simply because God says so. At times there will be explanations of why certain things do or do not take place. But if you cannot understand the why of a text, you should not become bogged down. Do not let it become a stumbling block to our Christian growth. It may simply be as it is in some of life's experiences, that God does not want us to know. At times such as these we must simply bow to God's sovereignty. The Lord is under no obligation whatsoever to explain anything to you or me. We should be thankful that it pleased Him to give us what we do have. Usually the reason God tells us to do or not to do something is for our own good.
The final thing we will look at in this chapter is the "how" of a verse or text. Be careful. For instance someone may ask, "How am I saved for heaven?" How this question is answered will determine whether a man will seek to establish his own righteousness or submit to the righteousness of Christ. "How" is God's work accomplished? Many folks today are confused about this too. By not understanding "how" God works, they think it is their place to do the work of God. In fact, they are found to be playing God. If we will let the Bible speak to our unbiased minds then we will know how God works and the work which God makes, and we will not confuse our responsibility with His. But if we are likely to be persuaded by the popular opinions of the day and do not take heed to what we hear, we will again be found in error.
Seek to know the difference between God's work and man's gospel responsibility. There is a general test that I use. If I ask someone, "Does God need man's help in order to populate heaven?" And if the answer is yes, then I am certain they have not yet discovered the difference between God's work and man's gospel responsibility.