The danger of out-of-context Bible verses

Floyd Rogers – Texas Gospel Volunteer, Christian writer

Matthew 10:16-23 NASB

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be as wary as serpents, and as innocent as doves. 17 But be on guard against people, for they will hand you over to the courts and flog you in their synagogues; 18 and you will even be brought before governors and kings on My account, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who are speaking, but it is the Spirit of your Father who is speaking in you.

“Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 And you will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.

“But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.

Matthew 10:16-23 tells us Jesus gave instructions to his disciples as he sent them to preach to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He warned them they will face persecution and opposition; that they will be as sheep among wolves. I want to use these verses today to illustrate some important things about scripture reading.  Scripture must be understood within context, sometimes we have questions that require us to look at other books of the Bible, and it’s important to know the difference between inferring something inferred from the Bible and the Bible itself.

Let’s start with Context. It is important any time we read the Bible. It’s one of the reasons we should be careful accepting someone’s message based on a Bible verse without understanding the context of that verse.

Matthew tells us of Jesus giving instructions to the 12 apostles. Some of what he says in Matthew is clearly specific to the apostles only for the job they are about to do. I say this because Jesus told them when they preach, “Do not go on a road to Gentiles, and do not enter a city of Samaritans.” But after the apostles finished their mission, and after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus told them, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…” The first instruction that the apostles not to preach to the Gentiles and Samaritans was meant for them, not me. It was also meant for them at a specific time for a specific purpose. Consider that the order not to preach to the Gentiles will contradict the second instruction to preach to everyone if the reader ignores context. There are well-meaning Christians who hear a scripture and make dogmatic statements based on it without taking time to understand its context. Some things, like Jesus’ telling the Apostles not to preach to the Gentiles, do not apply to you. What I’m saying is you must consider who is speaking to whom and for what reason or you can inadvertently add or subtract to God’s word. We are fortunate that there is more than one account because more than one apostle recorded what he saw. Sometimes the context of another apostle’s book sheds light on how a verse should be understood.

Consider Matthew’s recording of Jesus’ promise to his disciples that the Spirit of the Father will give them the words to say when they are called before rulers and authorities. Is this an instruction to the apostles only? Does this instruction apply to me? Matthew is speaking directly to the Apostles about the journey they are about to take, so I understand this to mean his words apply to them only. So, let’s look at what another apostle had to say and consider inferring from it.

One could say Luke cleared this up when he told a crowd, “The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say at the moment when you need them.” But again, he was speaking to a group at a specific time for a specific purpose.  I could infer from this that it applies to me because he was speaking to a crowd, but I can’t say the Bible tells me so because my inference could be mistaken. I see nothing wrong with inferring things from scripture as a guide as long as it is not presented as being scripture.

The message in Matthew’s writings is very relevant. It is important enough that we should use care to understand it beyond a superficial reading, and certainly not through snippets removed from context.  That’s a sure way to misunderstand any important writing.

What are your thoughts?

On the web:

CROSSWALK: What Should Pastors Know about Matthew 10?