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A Text Without a Context is a Pretext

The other day, Angie and I happened to tune in to one of America’s most popular preachers. I’m usually careful not to jump to judgment when it comes to another man’s message. I know the pressure placed on pastors to invent and deliver the perfect message, but I could not help but become a little upset about the blatant misuse of Scripture.

The speaker quoted Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge.” In context, this verse refers to the spiritual ignorance of people who assume they can worship God and other gods at the same time with no contradiction. This preacher, however, applied the verse to eating healthier. His explanation was that because we are ignorant of the content of food today, we are physically being destroyed. His more specific application had something to do with cold cuts, hot dogs, and other processed meats.

Granted, I need to eat healthier, but is it okay to take verses and apply them in the way they sound rather than in the way they were intended? It reminded me of the old saying that “a text without a context is a pretext.” I have no problem with preaching a fresh and relevant Bible-based message about eating healthy, but there are much better texts to be used.

Another popular preacher chooses verses from translations to make applications not according to the literal meaning of the verse, but according to which translation makes his point best. I promise, I try not to be picky. I can get along with preachers from a variety of perspectives, but I’m offended when God’s book becomes our little box from which we draw a word of encouragement for each day. When we handle Scripture in this way, we miss the truth of it.

Great men have endured great persecution to defend a literal, historical-grammatical interpretive approach to Scriptures. That is, we ought to interpret Scriptures according to the historical context and the grammatical meaning rather than simply the context of our modern felt need. Paul admonished young Timothy to be very careful to “rightly divide the word of truth.”

As a surgeon with a delicate procedure, so preachers must approach every sermon as though eternal life depended on it for some lost soul. It is a grave offense to utilize Scripture in a haphazard way. We must handle the word of life carefully. God wants to speak to us today through His word, which is always fresh and always relevant, but we need not help Him out in the task of making it more relevant than it already is.