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Solving Arguments by Pointing to Context

I recall a dialogue I had with a high school classmate of mine. It remained friendly, but it was also a tense conversation regarding the similarities and differences between Christianity and Islam and between their respective texts, the Bible and the Qur’an.

At a particular point in our dialogue, this old friend of mine shared a cleverly constructed video in which the interviewers had taken a Bible, disguising it with the outside cover of the Qur’an, and selected several controversial and often misunderstood Bible verses in order to evoke a heightened response among people on the street.

Then came the big reveal: it was actually the Bible and not a Qur’an.

The point was to teach that the Bible does not actually align with our Western values and norms. Although it is true that many parts of the Bible are offensive in every culture, including Western culture, it is interesting that the interviewers never really told their audience what those Western values and norms are—nor where they originated from.

Verses Taken out of Context

One of the verses mentioned was Leviticus 26:29: “You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters.” Taken out of context, the verse was made to appear as a command from God, when—if you look at the context—it was rather a prediction of how bad things would become when they rejected God.

Another verse mentioned was 1 Timothy 2:11: “I do not permit a woman to teach,” followed immediately by Deuteronomy 25:12: “Then you shall cut off her hand.” Talk about a convoluted hodgepodge!

The same happens when Ephesians 5:24 is emphasized (“Wives should submit in everything to their husbands”) without emphasizing 5:25 (“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”) or 5:21 (“submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”).


“It is interesting that the interviewers never really told their audience what those Western values and norms are—nor where they originated from.”


The Importance of Context

As one of my professors used to put it, “Context is king.” When we pay attention to context, we can avoid the misleading results of cut-and-paste journalism.

One can isolate any particular passage of any text, insisting that Christians must be mistaken for not applying it today. It is true that Christians can be inconsistent in the way we live, ignoring commands which are personally difficult to obey. But sometimes, this accusation against Christians comes from ignoring the larger context, particular covenant, or overall narrative of Scripture.

Sure, it’s possible to misrepresent an author’s intended meaning to score points against Christianity. But is it really responsible? Is it really reasonable? Does it effectively communicate what the biblical authors were claiming or thinking? Does it honestly attempt to understand the world they lived in and what God was accomplishing through them? Such arguments seem to overlook the seismic theological shift from old into new covenant.

Does the Bible really advocate no respect for women? Read the rest of what the apostle Paul had to say about women, for example, in Ephesians 5:21-33 and Galatians 3:26-29. Consider how Jesus treated women—speaking to foreign women personally, including women as followers and allowing them to fund His ministry, and featuring women as the heroic eyewitnesses to His resurrection while the disciples were hiding—compared with other ancient philosophies in their treatment of women. Consider the final verse of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, which portrayed Simon Peter as calling women unworthy of life. The Gnostic “Jesus” responds that he will turn women into men so that they can be saved.


“Sure, it’s possible to misrepresent an author’s intended meaning to score points against Christianity. But is it really responsible? Is it really reasonable?”


Many skeptics don’t read the rest of the story. If they would consider the key Old Testament/New Testament distinction—how the New Testament completes and fulfills the Old Testament—much confusion will dissipate.

The Larger Story

Perhaps one of the best examples of the importance of appreciating the larger biblical context is the story of the apostle Peter, a devoted Jewish follower of Jesus, encountering Cornelius, a ceremonially and socially unclean Italian Gentile. Even though Jesus had taught His apostles that they were to take His message to the ends of the earth, Peter, like many of us, felt most comfortable within the confines of his own culture. Even a three-year-long apprenticeship with the most profound figure of all human history struggled to augment and expand upon the Jewish cultural conditioning Peter would’ve received as a young boy.

So while Peter was praying on an empty stomach, the Lord showed up to remind Peter of the transition from old to new covenant. According to Acts 10, Peter saw a vision of a sheet of animals which were unclean according to the Book of Leviticus. The sheet was lowered down in front of Peter, and the voice of the Lord told Peter to kill and eat. And Peter’s like, “No way, Lord! I’ve never eaten anything unclean!” But the Lord responds, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” The vision prepared Peter for the arrival of some of Cornelius’s friends who would invite Peter into Cornelius’s home to share the gospel with him. With the conversion of Cornelius, it became clear that God’s ways were not made for one particular ethnic culture, but to be lived out in every nation of the earth.


“With the conversion of Cornelius, it became clear that God’s ways were not made for one particular ethnic culture, but to be lived out in every nation of the earth.”


So, yes, on one hand, it is possible to isolate and cherry pick particular verses and images from Scripture in order to conclude all sorts of alleged inconsistencies. However, it is much more reasonable to step back and realize where you are located in the larger narrative, always keeping in mind God’s plan all along: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you” (Psalm 22:27, NIV).

For more from Brett, see KAPOL Kontakt Apologetics.

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