Understanding the Bible takes time. It is through time, we come to a new understanding of scripture. That’s what makes the Bible, the Living Word of God.
God speaks to us through His Word. And as we grow in our faith, the Holy Spirit teaches us new things. However, understanding the Bible is a challenge for many people.
Context of Scripture
When we don’t understand the Bible, it leads to confusion, and ultimately we stop reading it.
But what if there was a way to understand the Bible? What if we could read within the full context of the scripture?
Here at Living Our Priorities, our goal is to provide biblical and practical resources to help make living a balanced life, a reality.
After receiving multiple prayer requests for understanding the Bible, we felt led to create a 3-part blog series with suggestions on how to study and understand scripture.
Over the next 3 weeks we will cover: understanding the context of scripture, how to use a Bible color code, and creative note taking by a guest writer.
Today, we’ll start with learning how to discern the context of scripture.
There are three essentials to understanding scripture; having a Bible, reading entire chapters, and identifying the type of passage we’re reading.
Find a Bible Translation You Understand
Understanding scripture starts with having a BIBLE so you can read scripture. It’s also important to find a translation that’s easy for you to understand.
Read An Entire Chapter
Don’t just read one verse, read the entire chapter of that verse, so you understand the full context of the verse. It might even be beneficial to read the chapter before and after.
Identify The Type of Passage
To discern a passage, after you’ve read the chapter, you want to identify the type of passage you’re reading. As this will help put the scripture in proper context.
You can discover the type of passage by asking yourself these questions.
- Who wrote this passage?
- Who is the passage written to?
- Is this a poem or parable?
- Is this a testimony or an eyewitness account?
- Is this a historical cultural teaching or a timeless teaching?
Why Knowing The Type of Passage Is Important
Some people take the Bible literally, and in return they interpret the Bible incorrectly.
If a passage is written as a parable, that means we have to study it out to understand what the passage is really saying.
For example, Jesus said unless a man be born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
Well, it’s impossible for a man to be born again – inside his mother’s womb.
However, what Jesus meant was unless a man be born again in the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
This is why it’s important for us to ask these types of questions when we’re reading a passage.
By the way, for your convenience, we have prepared a Context of Scripture Reference Guide that’s available in our community library.
All Scriptures Is For Instruction
Our faith is built on God’s Word. In which every scripture in God’s Word is for our instruction.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” ~ 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)
Whether we read a poem, an eyewitness account, a parable or historic cultural teaching from the Old Testament – all of it is for our instruction. And we must continue to study the passage, until we find the timeless teaching.
You may have heard someone say: “that’s old testament that doesn’t apply today.”
However, if that was true, that would mean 1 Timothy 3:16 wouldn’t be true. And since we know that’s not the case, we must learn how to discern the Old Testament by examining cultural and timeless teachings.
Cultural & Timeless Teaching
Discerning if a passage is a historical cultural or timeless teaching is probably the most difficult for some. However, as you practice studying scripture with spiritual eyes, it will increase your understanding of scripture.
So let’s talk about what cultural and timeless teaching are, and how you can determine the type of passage you’re reading.
Cultural Teaching pertains to teachings that are relevant to the culture at the time.
To determine if a passage is cultural ask yourself:
Does the passage reflect the culture of that time? If so, is it culturally relative today? (If not, the passage is a cultural teaching)
Is the context mentioned in this passage, throughout the Bible both in Old and New Testament? (If not, the passage is a cultural teaching)
Are there principles in this passage that moves against culture as the human race has progressed over time? (If yes, the passage is a cultural teaching)
Is this a statement of an isolated situation, as a result of a specific problem? (If yes, the passage is a cultural teaching.)
Timeless Teaching are the teachings of Christ that are timeless. Instructions, principles, or teachings that are consistent with who God is both in the Old and New Testament. No matter the culture or history – the teaching does not change.
Since all scripture is for our instruction, if a passage reflects cultural teaching we must continue to study the passage until we find the timeless teaching.
To determine a timeless teaching ask yourself:
Is the context in this passage consistent throughout the Bible both Old and New Testament?
Is the lesson in this passage taught uniformly throughout the Bible both Old and New Testament?
All scripture should lead back to Christ, because Christ is the timeless teaching.
How To Discern Cultural & Timeless Teaching
To show you how this works, we’re going to examine through scripture the subject of drinking.
The Bible has a lot to say about drinking both in the Old and New Testament. So let’s take a look and determine the principle we find.
In the Old Testament we read:
“You and your descendants must never drink wine or any other alcoholic drink before going into the Tabernacle. If you do, you will die. This is a permanent law for you, and it must be observed from generation to generation.” ~ Leviticus 10:9 (NLT)
So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! ~ Ecclesiastes 9:7 (NLT)
“I will bring my exiled people of Israel back from distant lands, and they will rebuild their ruined cities and live in them again. They will plant vineyards and gardens; they will eat their crops and drink their wine. 15 I will firmly plant them there in their own land. They will never again be uprooted from the land I have given them,” says the Lord your God.” ~ Amos 9:14-15(NLT)
“You cause grass to grow for the livestock and plants for people to use. You allow them to produce food from the earth—15 wine to make them glad, olive oil to soothe their skin, and bread to give them strength.”
~ Psalm 104:14-15 (NLT)
“Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise.” ~ Proverbs 20:1 (NLT)
To recap the Old Testament says; don’t drink, drink wine with a cheerful heart, and plant vineyards to make your own wine. However, drinking too much wine is not wise.
In The New Testament, we read in 1 Timothy the qualification for a deacon.
“In the same way, deacons must be well respected and have integrity. They must not be heavy drinkers or dishonest with money.” ~ 1 Timothy 3:8 (NLT)
Then in John, we read how Jesus turned water into wine. Notice, it wasn’t just wine, the Bible says it was GOOD wine.
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” 6 Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. 9When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. 10And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!” ~ John 2:2-10 (NKJV)
“Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit,” ~ Ephesians 5:18 (NLT)
As you can see, there’s both negative and positive scriptures about drinking both the Old and New Testament. Therefore, we have to determine if this a cultural or timeless teaching.
Culturally speaking, in the Old Testament, it was customary for people to drink wine; even children drank wine. Well, in today’s culture, if we give wine to children, we could go to jail.
Although that was a cultural thing, we see throughout scripture there were times when wine was appropriate. However, the timeless teaching that’s consistent no matter the culture, or the times, whether in the Old or New Testament is: to not be intoxicated, (drunk) or taken by wine or strong alcohol.
This is how we are to read the Bible. We are to look for the consistent message in the passage. And ask ourselves is this an isolated statement or is there a consistent theme of instruction.
The only way you are going to know that is if we read our Bible.
Some have twisted scripture to say, as a Christian we are not allowed to drink alcohol. However, the Bible doesn’t say that.
Nowhere does it say you can’t have wine, beer or a cocktail. It says don’t be given to it, given to strong drink, intoxicated, drunk, hung over, wasted, or whatever you call it; it’s a wrap, we are not to be taken by it.
Let’s look at another example; adultery. In the Old Testament we read of God’s original intent and design for the marriage union.
“21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam; and while he slept, He took one of his ribs or a part of his side and closed up the [place with] flesh. 22 And the rib or part of his side which the Lord God had taken from the man He built up and made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. 23 Then Adam said, This [creature] is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of a man. 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall become united and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
~ Genesis 2:21-24 (AMPC)
Throughout the Old Testament we also read something contrary. We read how Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon had multiple wives and concubines.
Solomon, alone had 700 wives and 300 concubines.
You might ask, why would God allow that, especially when we read; “You shall not commit adultery” in Exodus 20:14.
Well, to answer that, we would have to understand the culture back then.
There were more women than men. In which, women and children were untrained and uneducated to lead or provide. They depended on brothers, fathers and husbands to protect and provide, because they were taken as slaves and prostitutes.
Although that was the culture, God’s original intent and designed remained true, as we saw in Exodus, we see it again in Deuteronomy 17 that says;
“ If this happens, be sure to select as king the man the Lord your God chooses. You must appoint a fellow Israelite; he may not be a foreigner. 16 “The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the Lord has told you, ‘You must never return to Egypt.’ 17The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the Lord. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself.”
~ Deuteronomy 17:15-20 (NLT)
This can be kind of a confusing message if you only look at the Old Testament. So let’s look at a few scriptures in the New Testament.
“You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” ~ Matthew 5:27-28 (NLT)
Here we see adultery has been taken to another level. If you even look at someone with lustful thoughts, you have already committed adultery in your hearts.
In Ephesians 5:22-33, we read how the marriage relationships reflects Christ and the church. This would mean, if our marriage reflects Christ, then our marriage wouldn’t consist of adultery.
After looking at all of this, from the Old and New Testament, we can conclude, culturally speaking, there were times it was acceptable to have more than one wife.
However, because adultery wouldn’t be a consistent message with Christ, we can conclude that regardless of cultural tolerance, the timeless teaching here is that God’s intent for marriage is for one man to have one woman.
Speaking of social tolerance, our culture may have accepted same sex marriage and changed the laws. But the timeless teaching for God’s children, is to remain between one man and one woman.
Timeless teaching simply means that the teaching principle does not change with the times. That’s because God’s Word does not change.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” ~ Hebrews 13:8 (NLT)
Our culture may change in time or under new government. But God’s Word NEVER changes.
You see how taking the time to understand the full context of scripture is helpful?
This is how we should approach the Bible on any subject, as this will help us keep scripture in its proper context.
In The End
Not every passage will have a cultural teaching, but it’s important to know how to recognize it. This only happens when we spend quality time, reading scriptures to understand the full context.
God doesn’t expect us to become a theologian. He cares about His Word being rooted in our heart’s. And it is only when we truly understand scriptures, we can live out scripture experiencing all that God has for us on this side of Heaven.
To help you understand the full context of scripture we have created a Context of Scripture Reference Guide, to use as you study the bible. This guide is available in our community library or by filling out the form below.
PS…Be sure to read part 2 of this series: How To Use A Bible Color Code.
~ Timberley Gray