Context is Key

Context Is Key

Understanding and Applying the Bible, Part Two

Young Adult Bible Study

Fr. Glenn E. Davis

March 17& 24, 2019

Bible Interpretation is follow a pattern of concentric circles. Expanding out from

the verse your planning to teach. What is the immediate context of the verse I

am reading? In other words, what is the before and after of the verse I’m trying

to explain? How does the author use those words, that vocabulary, in his book/

letter/prophecy? What type of literature am I reading? How does the author’s

statements fit in the larger themes of the Old/New Testament?

Example One: “For every beast of the forest is mine, And the cattle upon a

thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10). Psalm 50:10 is often taught in prosperity circles

that God owns everything, “all the cows in the field,” and therefore will provide

for us out his over-abundance. God will share with us some his “cows” and

therefore, we will be sell them or trade them to increase our income.

What is the context of the verse? To what are the “beasts” and “cows” referring?

The context of Psalm 50 is God suing his people, Israel, by calling them to court

(v. 1) God is making a legal case against Israel and he sits as my both judge and

prosecution witness (v. 4, 7). What’s the problem? Israel is making sacrifices to

the Lord as if God is needy and can’t live without their provision while

simultaneously living lives of sin and rebellion. Background note: The ancient

world believed that their sacrifices fed God as if he was hungry.

God is saying that he does not need their sacrificial cows, he can provide for

himself. The Lord needs his people to walk according to the Law of the Lord (v.


Conclusion: Verse ten is not about God blessing us with wealth “beasts,” but

proclaims that God does not need anything he is sufficient in and of himself. If

God needed cows he would just take them.

Example Two: "This is the day which the Lord hath made; We will rejoice and

be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). Psalm 118 is often sung as a praise and worship

chorus. Usually sung at Christian camps to get the kids up and ready for a new

day of devotions and activities.

What is the context of the verse? To what “day” is the Psalmist referring?

Monday, Tuesday, … Sunday? Or is this day a special and unique day?

Study Notes: The previous verses of Psalm 118: 22-23 refers to a cornerstone:

“The first stone set in a building project. It is the most important stone because

it determines the direction of the walls (length and width) and establishes plumb

for the walls (height). The concept became a rich theological metaphor in the OT

and NT. In the OT (including here) it symbolizes the Lord’s replacing arrogant,

selfish leaders with his appointed leader, who would be the starting point of a

new work of God (Isa 28:14–17; Zech 10:3–5): the Lord uses the stone that the

builders rejected to begin a new work. Paul interprets the new work to be a new

temple (Eph 2:19–22; cf. 1 Pet 2:4–8), which is quite plausible considering that

the temple is so prominent in Ps 118 (vv. 19–20, 26–27). Jesus’ parable of the

tenants depicts how the Lord is beginning a new work by entrusting his kingdom

to new “tenants” (Matt 21:42–43). The builders are the Jewish leaders, and the

cornerstone is Jesus (Acts 4:11).” —NIV Zondervan Study Bible, ed., D. A.


Reference: “The NT writers use this text (Matt. 21:42; Mark 12:10–11; Luke

20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Pet. 2:7) to indicate that the powerful figures who rejected

Jesus (esp. the Jewish leaders) were no wiser than the world powers that

thought so little of Israel.”—ESV Study Bible

Conclusion: Psalm 118:24 is not talking just any day of the week, but the day

that the Lord raises up Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus was rejected by Israel’s

leadership as inadequate to fulfill the promises of a future Messiah, but God

choose him to be the “chief cornerstone,” the one who would bring salvation to

Israel and the world.

Example Three: “They rush upon the city; they run along the wall. They climb

into the houses; like thieves they enter through the windows” (Joel 2:9). “The

Lord thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and

mighty is the army that obeys his command. The day of the Lord is great;

it is dreadful. Who can endure it?” (Joel 2:11).

What is the context? What is “Joel’s Army’? A popular praise ad worship chorus

sees the men as a powerful, End-Times army of deliverance. Exactly what is

their purpose and who are they fighting and why?

Blow the Trumpet in Zion lyrics

They rush on the city, they run on the wall

Great is the army that carries out His word

They rush on the city, they run on the wall

Great is the army that carries out His word

The Lord utters His voice before His army

The Lord utters His voice before His army

They rush on the city, they run on the wall

Great is the army that carries out His word

They rush on the city, they run on the wall

Great is the army that carries out His word

The Lord utters His voice before His army

The Lord utters His voice before His army

Blow the trumpet in Zion, Zion

Sound the alarm in My Holy mountain!

Blow the trumpet in Zion, Zion

sound the alarm!

Blow the trumpet in Zion, Zion

sound the alarm in my Holy mountain!

Blow the trumpet in Zion, Zion

Sound the alarm!

Study Notes: In verse 11, the Lord “utters his voice” which is usually described

in scripture as a bad thing. Joel will describe the army as a locust plague (1:4),

and also as a great and mighty people from a foreign land (2:2). The prophet,

Joel, is using a devastating locust plague as metaphor for the coming army of

judgement (1:4). The army will come on the “day of the Lord” which is used in

the prophetic books as a day of final reckoning for the sins of the people (1:15,

2:2, 2:11).

“Although the third chapter of Joel seems to describe a future war, chapters one

and two depict as an invading army a devastating locust plague (Joel 1:4; 2:25).

This text does not depict the church as a spiritual army of evangelists; it depicts

locusts as an agricultural judgment against the sins of God’s people. Although

Joel uses figurative language, as was common in the prophets, the great army

that carries out God’s command (Joel 2:11) is explicitly an “army” of locusts in

Joel 2:25 (see also 1:4, 6-7)! If God’s people recognized the judgment and

repented, God would turn back the judgment and restore his people (1:13-14;

2:13-32).”— Craig Keener, Professor of NT Asbury Seminary (see https://

Reference: “The New Testament does not read all these events as

chronologically bound together; it applies part of the context to something

different than either locusts or war. Jesus’s followers learned that the beginning

of the promised outpouring of the Spirit and era of salvation happened not

simultaneously with either a locust plague or nations attacking Jerusalem. It was

a different kind of foretaste of the future (2:28-32; Acts 2:17-21, 39).”—Craig


Conclusion: “That the passage is sometimes misapplied does not mean that it

has nothing to say to us. The passage tells us plainly that God does not look the

other way in a world of injustice. Although the promised day of the Lord will set

all things right, even judgments in the present age foreshadow that future

judgment. . . . Judgments remind us that all of us will one day have to answer for

how we have treated others and how we have heeded God’s summons to us.

God is not looking the other way.”—Craig Keener

Example Four: “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me

strength” (Philippians 4:13 NLT). “I can do all things through him who

strengthens me” (Phil. 2:13 ESV)

What is the context? To what does “everything” (NLT) or “all things” (ESV) refer?

Is “all things mean that God gives me strength as a football player or soldier? Is

this a promise of guarantee power used to defeat our foes and overcome our


Study Notes: “Despite this, Paul wants the Philippians to know that his joy does

not depend on the alleviation of his physical discomfort; thus, although he is in

prison, Paul says that he is not in need (vv. 11–13). He has learned to be content

in every circumstance. The term “content” (autarkes, v. 11) was used by Stoic

philosophers of Paul’s time to mean “self-sufficient,” and in their view this

characteristic was the most valuable attribute of the wise person.5 Indeed, like

the wise Stoic, Paul does not consider physical deprivation an unmitigated

disaster nor physical comfort the sign of success. But unlike the Stoic, Paul

does not find the resources for this attitude in himself. They reside instead in the

Lord, through whom he can face all things (v. 13).”—Frank Thielman, Philippians,

NIV Application Commentary

Reference: "The secret of Christian contentment is quite unlike stoic selfsufficiency.

Paul is not claiming to be so strong that nothing can move him. Nor

is he simply resolving to be independent of circumstances by a superlative act of will. Far from it; he immediately confesses that if he has reached this stage of

contentment he owes everything to God: “I can do everything through him who

gives me strength” (4:13).”—D. A. Carson, Basics for all Believers

Conclusion: “All things” in verse thirteen does not refer to any thing or every

thing in life, but expresses the fact that Paul can find strength to be contented

whether “abounding” or “abased” in his personal circumstances.

Example Five: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for

welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

What is the context? Many teachers teach the verse to be about God’s favor on

your life and plans. If you just have confidence, work hard enough, and follow

your heart, God will bless your efforts. The promise of “a future and a hope”

applies to whatever you plan to achieve. Others say that this text only applies to

Israel, it’s God’s promise to Israel that after the exile to Babylon, he will continue

to work through them and for them.

Study Notes: Does Jeremiah 29:11 Apply to You? by Russell Moore (see https://

Reference: “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is

through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (1 Cor. 1:20). “This

makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant” (Heb. 7:22).

Conclusion: “Does Jeremiah 29:11 apply to you? If you are in Christ, you can

count on it. The passage doesn’t promise you the kind of future American

culture prizes, and maybe even promises a future you would tremble at it if you

saw it in a crystal ball. Short-term, you may suffer. But long-term, your future is

co-signed with Christ. That’s a future for your welfare, and not for evil; a future of

hope, not of despair.”—Russell Moore

Example Six: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the

perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (1Cor. 13:9-10 ESV). “The

“cessationist” view is that miraculous gifts such as prophecy, healing, tongues,

interpretation, and miracles were given to authenticate the apostles and their

writings in the early years of the church, but those gifts “ceased” once the entire

NT was written and the apostles died (c. a.d. 100).”—ESV Study Bible

What is the context of the verse? Chapters 12 and 14 of First Corinthians

discuss the spiritual gifts, their definition and use in Christian worship. What

would give us an indication of what Paul means by the “perfect”?

Study Notes: “The answer is when “the perfect” comes. Paul expresses this in

four contrasts: the partial versus the perfect (vv. 9–10), childhood versus

maturity (v. 11), dimness of sight versus clarity (v. 12a), and partial knowledge

versus fullness (v. 12b). The spiritual gifts are for the age of imperfection, infancy,

blurred vision, and partial knowledge; love, on the other hand, will endure even

when we experience the perfect, adulthood, face-to-face vision, and fullness of

knowledge. Prophecy, languages, and knowledge are great for now, but one day

we will no longer need them. Why? Because perfection, maturity, and fullness

will have come, and we will know face-to-face. Despite occasional exegetical

gymnastics to try to prove the contrary, this can only really refer to the return of

Christ.” —Andrew Wilson, Spirit and Sacrament (p. 115). Zondervan. Kindle


Reference: “We read that Paul characterizes the present age as one in which

believers have been blessed with “every spiritual blessing,” which in context

presumably includes all the charismata.”—Andrew Wilson, Spirit and Sacrament

(p. 115). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

“This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. Now you have every

spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ”

(1 Cor. 1: 6-7 NLT). For Paul, the gifts continue until the second return of Christ.

“Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what

we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for

we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT). The phrase, “face-to-face” (1

Cor. 12: 12) or see Jesus like he is (3:2) refers to the Second Coming.

Conclusion: Based on the context, the First Corinthians itself, and other themes

in Scripture, the “perfect” is the Second Coming of Christ.

Example Seven: “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor

cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm

water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!” ( Rev. 3:16-17

NLT). In our cultures, “warm” means passionate and “cold” means hard and

inflexible. So, Jesus is saying that he either wants you on “fire” in love with him,

or “indifferent" not pretending any religion commitment at all. But, since you

pretend to be a radical believer, I will have nothing to do with you.

What is the context of the verse? Whats does Jesus mean by cold, hot, and


Study Notes: “Revelation 3:15–16 cold nor hot … lukewarm. Colossae, located

10 miles (16 kilometers) east of Laodicea, had plentiful cold, pure drinking water,

while the hot springs of Hierapolis, located 6 miles (9.5 kilometers) north of

Laodicea, were famed for their healing power. Laodicea lacked its own water

supply, and its solution was inadequate: water flowing in by aqueduct arrived

tepid and contaminated by minerals. Jesus rebukes the complacent church for

not offering life or healing to its community.” —NIV Zondervan Study Bible

Reference: “15–16 The Laodiceans are neither cold nor not, but lukewarm. If

some consider hot to be good, lukewarm to be mediocre and cold to be bad,

why would Christ say He would prefer them cold to lukewarm? The answer

reveals a different perspective on these levels of temperature. Laodicea had two

neighbors, Hierapolis and Colossae. Hierapolis had hot waters which possessed

medicinal effects, while Colossae had cold water, which was also thought to be

healthy. Laodicea had no good water source, however, and had to pipe it in. By

the time it arrived, it was lukewarm and dirty—fit only for spitting out. In fact, it

was generally held to be true in the ancient world that cold and hot water or

wine were beneficial for one’s health, but not water which was lukewarm.

Likewise, the Laodiceans’ faith and witness did not have a healthy effect on the

people who lived around them. We shall see that one of the main reasons for

their ineffective faith was their compromise with idolatry. Christ now exposes the

spiritual condition of the church to be no better than the city’s water by asserting

that I will spit you out of my mouth. If the Laodiceans will not identify faithfully

with Christ in their culture, then neither will Christ identify them as faithful

witnesses together with Him.” Greg Beale, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary

Conclusion: Hot is healing, cold is refreshing, but lukewarm is good for nothing.

Example Eight: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto

me” (John 12:32 ESV). A popular praise and worship chorus declares:


Lift Jesus higher

Lift Jesus higher


Lift Him up for the world to see

F F7 Bb

He said if I be lifted up from the earth

F Gm

I will draw all men

F Gm

I will draw all men

F Gm C7 F

I will draw all men unto me

The “lifting of Jesus” is thought to be exalting of Jesus in praise and worship.

What is the context in this verse. What does John mean by “lifting up’?

Study Notes: “This most explicit “lifted up” saying in John complements the

earlier references in 3:14 and 8:28, and echoes Isa. 52:13.”—ESV Study Bible

“Lifted up” combines two notions in John’s Gospel: Jesus’ being physically

raised up on the cross and Jesus’ glorious exaltation” (8:28; 12:32) —NIV

Zondervan Study Bible

Reference: The next verse explains, “He said this to show by what kind of death

he was going to die” (John 13:33 NLT). The lifting up is the Cross and it will draw

Jew and Gentile together.

Conclusion: The “lifting up” of Jesus is not the act of praise and worship per se,

but the glorious work of Jesus becoming the suffering servant and taking upon

himself on the cross our just judgement. Christ’s substitution is the foundation

for all these images for he took our place, and paid the price for our salvation by

absorbing the just judgment we deserved. Christ’s death was penal in that he

bore our penalty. Christ’s death was substitutionary in that he took our place

when he suffered for our self-absorption, self-centeredness, and self-conceit

(Isa. 53; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24, 3:18).

Example Nine: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He

who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy

to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt 3:11). Are we

speaking of two baptisms or one. The Church of God, Cleveland, Tennessee

insists that the Bible teaches two baptisms of the Holy Spirit for each believer,

one for empowerment, and one for sanctification. Is Matthew speaking of one or


What is the context of the verse? What does the phrase “baptize you with Holy

Spirit and fire” mean?

Study Notes: “John predicts the coming Messiah, whose baptism will involve

the purifying work of the Holy Spirit or the judgment associated with “fire,”

depending on how people respond to him.”—NIV Zondervan Study Bible

“John’s water baptism will be superseded by the baptism associated with the

Coming One (see note on 1 Cor. 12:13). Those who repent and trust in him will

receive the blessing of the Holy Spirit (cf. Joel 2:28–29; Acts 2:16–21), while the

unrepentant will receive the judgment of eternal fire, and even the repentant may

undergo a purifying fire.)—-ESV Study Bible “Fire either purifies or destroys.

Hence, salvation in Jesus Christ will be purifying for the true Jews who accept

Him as Messiah and destructive for those who reject Him.”—NKJV Spirit-Filled

Life Study Bible

Reference: “But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able

to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that

refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes” (Malachi 3:2 NLT).

Conclusion: John the Baptist is referring to one baptism and that baptism will

either purify, or judge, depending on the hearer’s response to the coming


Example Ten: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and

all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Many use this verse to

justify asking God for any material blessing that they desire. They interpret “all

things” as anything wanted.

What is the context of the verse? What does “these things” mean?

Study Notes: “A Christian’s ambition (6:19–34):

The ‘worldliness’ which Christians are to avoid can take either a religious or a

secular shape. So we are to differ from non-Christians not only in our devotions,

but also in our ambitions. In particular, Christ changes our attitude to material

wealth and possessions. It is impossible to worship both God and money; we

have to choose between them. Secular people are preoccupied with the quest

for food, drink and clothing. Christians are to be free of these self-centred

material anxieties and instead to give themselves to the spread of God’s rule

and God’s righteousness. That is to say, our supreme ambition is to be the glory

of God, and neither our own glory nor even our own material well-being. It is a

question of what we ‘seek first’.” —The Message of Matthew, Michael Green

Conclusion: “These things” refers to food, clothing, and shelter. This verse is not

a blanket promise to ask for anything and everything, but a commitment from

Jesus that if we keep his kingdom first, he will take care of all our needs.

Matthew PalmierComment