The Bible Is Not Twitter

For those of you who do not use Twitter, it is a social media outlet that limits your posts to 140 characters. This usually only allows the writer a few sentences worth of content for each post. This brief communication style has proven to be widely popular. It occurs to me that many people limit their exposure to the Bible to this same type of brevity. However, this is not how the Bible was intended to be used. The Bible is not Twitter … a few sentences without context is not enough.

Here are three simple thoughts on studying the Bible in context. 

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1. DEFINITIONS VS. MEANING 

Words can have multiple definitions but their meaning is found in the context of a sentence. For example, the word “bark” has multiple definitions and the meaning can be discovered in the sentence that surrounds it. For example, “listen to the dog bark” vs. “look at the bark on the tree”. We are dependent on the context of the sentence to discover the meaning of the word “bark” in each of these sentences.

In the same way, biblical sentences find their meaning in the context of a paragraph. Paragraphs find their meaning in the context of a chapter. Chapters find their meaning in the context of letters or books. And letters and books of the Bible find their meaning the context of the greater work of all 66 books of the New and Old Testaments. The Bible is not Twitter … a few sentences without context is not enough.

2. TEXT WITHOUT CONTEXT = PRETEXT

Michael P. Green illustrates the drastic way an author’s original reasons for writing can differ from current settings. He shares that in all innocence, children have for centuries sung a nursery rhyme that is in truth anything but an innocent verse: “Ring-a-ring o’roses, A pocket full of posies, A-tishoo! A-tishoo! We all fall down!” The rhyme arose about 1665 in the streets of London during a plague epidemic of the Black Death. Each phrase of the rhyme refers to an aspect of the plague.

“Ring o’roses” is a reference to the small, red rashlike areas that developed on people infected with the plague. “Pocket full of posies” is a reference to the ancient belief that evil smells were the poisonous breath of demons who afflicted people with the disease. It was thought that sweet-smelling herbs and flowers would drive them off. “A-tishoo! A-tishoo!” is a reference to the sneezing that was a symptom of the plague. “We all fall down!” is a reference to death. Thus, a common children’s rhyme is in fact a sinister parody of one of the most dreaded plagues ever to strike—the Black Death.

A pretext is simply a reason given for doing or saying something that is not the accurate reason. The goal in Bible study is first to discover what the original writer was saying to his original audience. Once the original meaning is discovered, then (and only then) we can discover appropriate applications to our current situations and contexts. With any Bible passage, there is only one meaning. Many applications flow from that singular meaning but we are dependent on the context to discover the original meaning of the passage. The Bible is not Twitter … a few sentences without context is not enough.

3. VERSE BY VERSE – PASSAGE BY PASSAGE

I’ve had the great joy of sitting under many great preachers. One of the things I appreciate most about great preachers is that their preaching consistently pulls from a holistic understanding of the Bible and the greater context of the passages they preach. Great preachers also understand that one sermon a week is not enough commitment to the scripture for a disciple of Christ to grow and mature the way God intends.

As Christians, we should be committed to consistently studying, understanding, and applying the Word of God. Let me challenge you to get involved in a verse by verse study of a book of the Bible with a group of other believers. Take advantage of the great opportunity we have to honor the Word of God by systematically walking through books of the Bible verse by verse and passage by passage.

Also, let me share a great resource for this type of study that is currently available for free! Dr. Tom Constable, a long time professor at Dallas Theological Seminary has made his verse by verse commentaries available online for free in PDF form at www.soniclight.com/constable/notes.htm. I have used these commentaries for years now and consider them my “first choice” commentary for use in group Bible studies because everyone can access them at no cost.

The Bible is not Twitter … a few sentences without context is not enough.

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