Introduction

Scriptural context is important, as we can make the Bible say anything we want it to simply by ignoring context. However, the context argument has its limitations, as also shown on this page.

An Extreme Example

And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:5)[1]

And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise. (Luke 10:37)

And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. (John 13:27)

This is an extreme example of taking the Scripture out of context, as nowhere does Scripture command Christians to kill themselves.  The passages, clearly showing the context, are below:

Matthew Passage...

When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death: And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor. Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:1-5)

Luke Passage...

And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise. (Luke 10:30-37)

John Passage...

When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake. Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. He then lying on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. (John 13:21-27)

Of course, this is an extreme example.  No Christian will claim that the Scripture teaches the above (or at least, let's hope not)!

gods lawsFailing the Context Argument

Judge not, that ye be not judged. (Matthew 7:1)

From looking at the verse above, one would think that the Scripture teaches not to judge.  However, reading this passage down to verse 5:

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

The passage, taken as a whole, clearly states that judging hypocritically, in a self-exempting way, is a sin.  After all, if you have a beam in your own eye and a mote in your brother's, the passage states that once you remove the beam from your eye, you are then to remove the mote from your brother's.  See also my page on Judging others.

Passing the Context Argument

Here is an example of a misapplication of the context argument, where people commonly argue incorrectly that somebody is taking a verse or passage out of context:

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31)

This passage talks about a way that a Christian individual can lose their salvation (see also my page on Losing your salvation.) Persons who believe that losing your salvation is impossible often argue that the context of this passage applies to people who have heard the gospel and rejected it.  However:

The Passage Immediately Before...

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:19-25)

This is the passage immediately before the passage in question.  It is clear that this passage is addressing Christians, not people who have heard the gospel and rejected it.

Also, the verses immediately following the passage:

The Passage Immediately Following...

But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used. For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. (Hebrews 10:32-34)

The passage immediately following Hebrews 10:26-31 is also clearly addressing Christians, not those who have heard the gospel and rejected it.

Persons who believe that Christians cannot lose their salvation can try a different argument to defend their position; however, they cannot argue that one is taking the passage out of context.  Therefore, the context argument has limitations!

Conclusion

One must be sure that, when reading a verse or a passage, that they are not taking that verse or passage out of context.  After careful examination, the interpretation that the first verse (Matthew 7:1[2]) means not to judge at all fails the context argument.  The interpretation that the second passage (Hebrews 10:26-31) indicates that Christians can lose their salvation passes the context argument.  Of course, one can misinterpret a verse or passage other than by context; this page limits discussion to scriptural context.

Footnotes

[1] All scripture references are from the King James Version unless otherwise noted. Please see my about page for why I chose this translation.↩

[2] I am adding the ability to link to scriptural references for convenience, especially for users of mobile phones. You will not leave this page by using these links.↩