Volume 1 No. 3

Keys to Research

The Word of God interprets itself.

To understand God's Word certain keys to research must be understood and applied when working the Word to avoid private interpretation and maintain the integrity of the original text.

These studies are provided to outline some of the simple keys to understanding God's Word.

Michael Cortright

Keys to the Word's Interpretation

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The Context of God's Word

When attempting to understand a verse of scripture it is important that the verse be viewed in its immediate context, the immediate context or passage understood in the greater context of the book in which it was written and each book in the Bible understood in the remote context of the entire Word of God.

God has a purpose for everything He says, when He says it, where He says it, why He says it, and to whom He says it.

The Remote Context

The Word of God, being one whole, is its own context. Each passage of scripture is to be read, explained, and understood in light of the rest of the Word of God. The Bible is the Word of God.

II Timothy 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God [God-Breathed], . . .

Hebrews 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,

The Bible had many writers but only one author: God. All of the Word of God is "God-Breathed" and although the Word was delivered "at sundry times, and in divers manners:" it is the same God who authored all of it.

As its own context the Word of God itself must be our only source for truth in understanding a particular verse or passage.

The Immediate Context

Every sentence and every verse in the Word of God has something going before it and something following after it. This is what is meant by the immediate context.

Most verses are clearly understood right in the verse where they are written. But every passage of scripture also has its own importance derived from the place where it is located in the Word of God. The words used in each verse must always be understood in light of the immediate context in which they are found.

When God defines a word, expression, or idea in the immediate context, it would be a wrong dividing of His word to apply a meaning gathered from examining a previous meaning of that term because God has now redefined it. It is important when studying the words in God's Word that every word and verse remain in the context in which God placed it in His Word.

Many times when a man is misquoted he responds that his words were taken out of context and interpreted as meaning something quite different from what he had originally said. The context of God's Word is even more important. When we take a verse out of its context in God's Word and interpret it to mean what we want it to mean we are no longer speaking God's Word.

For example:

  • When Galatians 3:29 says that we are heirs according to the promise given to Abraham, some have gone back into the Old Testament and defined "the promise" as an inheritance of the land promised to Abraham.
To do this violates God's definition of "the promise" in the immediate context of Gal. 3:29 which clearly defines "the promise" and provides an understanding not found in the Old Testament.
  • Gal. 3:14 defines "the promise" as the gift of holy spirit received through the accomplished work of the promised Christ.
  • Gal. 3:16 defines "the promise" given to Abraham as "thy seed - Christ." (God promised Abraham the Christ would come of his seed.)
  • Gal. 3:21 defines "the promise" as eternal life that came to believers as a result of the accomplished work of the promised Christ.
  • Gal. 3:22 defines "the promise" as that which is received by believing in the accomplished work of the promised Christ.
It is clear in the immediate context of the verse that "the promise" to which we are heirs has nothing to do with "land," but rather is that which we have received as a result of the accomplished work of Abraham's seed - Christ.

Another example of error arising from disregarding the immediate context of God's Word can be seen in the following verse:

Matthew 22:32 I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

This verse taken out of its immediate context is used many times by people to prove that the dead (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) are alive in heaven. Not only does this explanation contradict the greater context of the whole Word of God, it directly contradicts the immediate context and is totally opposite of that which the Lord Jesus Christ was teaching. Lets look at the immediate context to see what Jesus Christ was teaching when he said "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living."

Matthew 22:23 The same day come to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, . .

A group of people that did not believe in the resurrection approached Jesus with a ridiculous story about a woman who had seven different husbands and they asked Jesus:

Matthew 22:28 Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her.

The Sadducees were challenging Jesus Christ's belief in the resurrection of the dead. Jesus responded with:

Matthew 22:29b-30a Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection . . .

The context is the resurrection of the dead. The dead are not alive now. But one day God will raise Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The conclusion of the matter presented by Jesus Christ is completely contradicted by those that take this verse from its immediate context to prove the dead are alive in heaven today. The conclusion is:

Matthew 22:31-32 But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

Whenever we isolate a verse from its context to support a traditional belief rather than adhere to the accuracy and truth of God's Word we no longer have the true Word of God. We must allow the Word of God to stand in the context in which God placed it. If the truth of God's Word contradicts that which we believe then we must honestly change our beliefs and submit ourselves to the accuracy of God's wonderful Word.

As Used Before

The Word of God itself, being its own context, must be the source used to understand the words used in the Word. In the first usage of a word, expression, or idea, God provides an initial meaning which can be helpful in understanding other references in the Bible of that same word, expression, or idea.

  • Remember, when God changes or further defines the meaning of a word, expression, or idea (as we noted that He did in Galatians 3) the reader must always understand that term as defined in its immediate context and avoid changing the meaning by inserting a previous definition of the term.
To understand a word or expression in the Word that is not explained in the immediate context you can look back in the word to see how God used that word or expression. The first use of the word or expression provides the initial meaning and the subsequent uses provide a deeper understanding.

For an example we will look at the word prophet.

We must not let our understanding or the way a word is used outside of God's Word determine what that word means in the Word of God. Remember the Word of God is its own context and the Word itself must be our source for meaning.

In modern use or use outside of the Word of God a prophet is one that foretells the future. However, to determine how God uses the word prophet we must study the first and subsequent uses of the word prophet in the Bible.

Genesis 20:7 Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, . .

The first use of the word prophet refers to Abraham. There is no record of Abraham foretelling the future. Abraham is defined in God's Word as "the father of all who believe." Abraham is the example of what it means to believe God. A prophet therefore must believe God. This first use says that Abraham would pray for the king, Abimelech. In the example of Abraham a prophet therefore is defined as one who prays and believes God.

As you study the word prophet through the Word you quickly learn God's definition in Exodus chapter 7:

Exodus 7:1-2 And the Lord said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land.

A prophet is defined as one who speaks for God. Moses was God's prophet and spoke for Him. Moses was as god to Pharaoh and Aaron was Moses' prophet as he spoke to Pharaoh the words Moses gave him.

A prophet is one who believes God. A prophet is one who prays. A prophet is one who speaks for God. There are records in God's Word where a prophet, speaking for God, foretells the future. However, the primary meaning of the word prophet is a believer who prays and speaks for God. Not every prophet foretells the future, but every true prophet must speak God's Word for God.

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Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.

II Peter 1:20

Keys to the Word's Interpretation
Volume 1 No. 3

URL http://www.cortright.org/key3.htm
© Copyright January 1998; 2010 Michael Cortright