Friday, 21 June 2019 03:36

How to Study the Bible: The Context

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This lesson teaches how to read Bible verses in their context.  You must examine the text carefully to determine the context and not a certain number of verses Just reading five verses before and after does not always find the context.  This lesson uses Mark 3:31-35 as the passage under investigation as an example to show how to find the context of the verses. Leaders notes are included for use in a Bible study.

   

How To Study The Bible: The Context   

Begin study now:        


 

Examining the context of a verse.

 

Read the verse below and answer the questions.

2

3

4 In olden times an eagle swooped down upon the New England coast

5 and carried off an infant Indian in his talons.

6

7

 

Which sentence below best describes the meaning of lines 4 and 5.

  1. It shows how Indians were able to use animals.
  2. It illustrates the cooperation between Indians and birds.
  3. It describes how an eagle once saved a human infant.
  4. It is a legend describing the discovery of a certain island.
  5. It discusses the perilous dangers faced by Indians living in the wild.

 Now read it in its context

 


 

1 Look now at the wondrous traditional story

2 of how this island was settled by the red-men.

3 Thus goes the legend.

4 In olden times an eagle swooped down upon the New England coast

5 and carried off an infant Indian in his talons.

6 With loud lament the parents

7 saw their child borne out of sight over the wide waters.

8 They resolved to follow in the same direction.

9 Setting out in their canoes,

10 after a perilous passage they discovered the island,

11 and there they found an empty ivory casket,—

12 the poor little Indian's skeleton.

(Moby Dick chapter 14 the 3rd from the last paragraph.)

 

Which sentence below best describes the meaning of verses 4 and 5.

  1. It shows how Indians were able to use animals.
  2. It illustrates the cooperation between Indians and birds.
  3. It describes how an eagle once saved a human infant.
  4. It is a legend explaining the discovery of a certain island.
  5. It discusses the perilous dangers faced by Indians living in the wild.

Did you choose “4”?  “4” is the correct answer.

Discussion Questions

  • Would you want to base your eternal choices on information without knowing the context of the information? We can better understand a passage when we look at it the proper context.  Do not trust someone else to do your important work for you when you can do it.
  • Who is ultimately responsible for deciding what you believe?
  • How much of your bible studying can you delegate to others and how much should you do yourself? We cannot reinvent the wheel, that is to say, “study only from the Bible: not knowing the original languages.”.  We benefit so much from the research and insight of those before us and the study tools they have developed.  We are responsible for are carful considerations of the text and this issues involved in our interpretation, understanding and application of it.  More complexities of study will be introduced as the lessons continued.

 

Now let us take an example from Scripture.


 

Mark 3:33   Answering them, He said, “Who are My mother and My brothers?”

Look at the surrounding verses and see how they shed light on verse 33. What verses form the context. What verses must a person read for the meaning of verse 33. Which sentence below best describes the meaning of verses 33.

  1. Jesus was just mad at his family and pretended not to know them just to be mean to them.
  2. Jesus no longer recognized his family.
  3. Jesus said this to illustrate that those who serve God are our real relatives.
  4. Jesus said this because he knew his family was there to oppose him.
  5. Jesus did not know who his family was because he was an orphan.

You are going to have a difficult time choosing between these choices if you are not very familiar with the life of Jesus Christ. If you are already familiar with this verse and its surrounding context you can probably narrow it down to two choices.

Now, take a few minutes to look at the surrounding verses and see how they shed light on verse 33. What verses form the context. What verses must a person read to understand the meaning of verse 33? Which answer above would you chose now, after reading it in context?

I have outlined the first three chapters of Mark in detail. From the outline, I have summarized the first 3 chapters of Mark to help understand the big picture of what is going on leading up to this verse 33.


 

A summary of Mark 1-3

Once John the Baptist has prepared the way for the Lord, Jesus is baptized and begins his ministry.  His ministry is very intense. Great crowds gather around him and are greatly impressed as Jesus heals and delivers many people.

The leaders are satisfied with the status quo. They don’t want to lose their position of power. They began having problems with the ministry of this “Jesus” fellow because many people are following him. Jesus eats with sinners.  Oh, how impure, why, he is defiling himself!  They don’t like the way Jesus gains popularity with the crowds and interprets the law differently than they do. They go as far as to claim the power Jesus exhibits is only that of the devil himself.

Opposition against Jesus not only comes from the religious rulers. His own family is troubled by all this commotion and seeks to rescue him with the claim that he has gone mad. (Notice Mark 3:20-21 is also part of the context of Mark 3:33 even though separated by more than 10 verses.) His family claimed He was insane, “He has lost His senses.” Jesus’s family may have made this claim as a way to rescue Him from himself before he upsets the authorities too much. His relatives may have become embarrassed of his actions or fearful that the authorities would punish Jesus by imprisonment, execution or banning Him from the synagogue. This could reflect badly on them and disgrace the entire family.

Jesus understands all of this and that the conflict must exist. He emphasizes that the bonds that matter are those of “like mindedness” in following God. A Christian’s real family is people who loves God and has His purposes in mind.

Now after looking at the full textual context of Mark 3:33, what is the correct answer?


 

Outline of Mark chapters 1-3

Prolog: the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ 1:1
  1. Ministry of John the Baptist 1:2-13
    a. OT quotation descriptive of his purpose of ministry 1:2–3
    b. Summary of the ministry of John the Baptist 1:4–11
      i. John baptizes Jesus 1:9–11
  2. Jesus tempted in the wilderness 1:12-13
  3. The Galilean Ministry of Jesus 1:14-9:50
    a. Jesus Begins his ministry 1:14-29
      i. Jesus preaches repentance in Galilee 1:14-15
     ii. Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James and John 1:16-20
    iii. Jesus teaches in the synagogue 1:21 - 22
  1. Man with unclean spirit delivered 1:23-26 
  2. Amazement witnesses 1:27-28
   b. News of Jesus spreads throughout Galilee
             (His honor increases)                                                           1:29 - 34
          i. Simon’s mother-in-law healed                                1:29 - 31
         ii. Many afflicted are brought to Jesus                        1:32 - 34
     c. Jesus prays privately                                                               1:35 - 37
     d. Jesus ministers throughout all Galilee (His honor increases) 1:37 - 3:12
          i. Jesus leaves for Galilee                                         1:37 - 39
         ii. Jesus heals a leper                                                1:40 - 45
        iii. Jesus heals many in Capernaum                           2:1
        iv. Jesus heals a paralyzed person                             2:2 – 5
     e. Religious leaders challenge the honor of Jesus                     2:6 - 28
          i. Confrontation over forgiveness of sins (scribes)    2:6 – 13
         ii. Confrontation over dining with sinners (scribes of the Pharisees)
                                                                                            2:14 – 17
        iii. Confrontation over disciples not fasting
               (John’s disciples and the Pharisees)                   2:18 – 22
               1. parabolic folk saying of Bridegrooms
               2. parabolic folk saying of cloth patch
               3. parabolic folk saying of wine skins
        iv. Confrontation over Sabbath rest laws (Pharisees) 2:23 – 3:5
               1. Confrontation harvesting on the Sabbath
               2. Confrontation over healing on the Sabbath
         v. Pharisees began conspiring against Jesus            3:6
     f. Summary of ministry by the sea                                               3:7 – 12
     g. Jesus appoints the twelve                                                       3:13 – 19
     h. Jesus family attempts to take custody of him                          3:20 - 35
          i. His family becomes aware of the crowds               3:20
               1. when he arrives home
         ii. His family decides to protect the family honor from
          shame because of Jesus’s actions (Honor / Shame) 3:21*
        iii. Scribes attribute Jesus’ miracles to Beelzebub       3:22
               1. Perhaps the scribes are capitalizing on His
                   family’s claim of insanity because of the
                   similarities of insanity and possession.
               2. Jesus responds to the scribe’s accusation. 3:23 – 30
                    a. A kingdom divided against itself …
                    b. A house divided against itself …
                    c. A strong man’s house …
                    d. Blasphemes against the Holy Spirit
                        are not forgiven                         3:28 – 30
        iv. Jesus’ family arrive to take him away                      3:31 – 35*
               1. His family sends Jesus word of their arrival.     3:31
               2. The crowd conveys their message to Jesus.    3:32
               3. Jesus responds                                                 3:33-35 
                    a. Rejects his family because their motives are contrary to will of God,
                         i. to take custody of him and protect him from himself by stopping his ministry
                    b. accepts “whoever does the will of God” as His family


 

More on Passage Context:

The culture type of the Middle East is referred to as a “Honor/Shame.” This is also part of the context. Ours is generally Guilt/Innocence culture, although it may be shifting.  Jesus begins his ministry performing miracles and healings.  The people began following Jesus in crowds.  This gives Jesus much honor.  The Religious leaders must then successfully challenge the honor of Jesus or they will lose some of their own honor.  This cultural insight helps us to understand the overall picture of the interactions between Jesus and the religious leaders; However, one must not take this too far as to forget the sin of the religious leaders who are fighting against God.  They are indeed fighting against God and do not realize it because they care about bout their position of authority and power more than the things of God.

The relatives of Jesus are concerned about their honor status within the community and how the actions of Jesus may reduce their honor and status by bringing shame on the family.  They likely think of Jesus as being out of his league sparing with the powerful leaders.  Turning water in to wine is one thing but messing with the religious leaders: well that could get a person executed! They wanted to take custody of Jesus by claiming he was insane or out of touch with reality.  They certainly thought it was abnormal for anyone to draw such large crowds like that in their town. They thought it best to keep Jesus out of the public eye. That would have ended the ministry of Jesus and blocked his way to the cross and gone against God’s plan of salvation for the Jews and the Gentiles, essentially the entire the world.

It was also a common thought that like mindedness made for better family members than blood relations.

It is impossible to fully understand Mark 3:31-35 if a person forgets about Mk 3:21 and does not include in the immediate context.  It is also important to trace the theme of opposition against Jesus beginning at 2:6 and continues through-out the book.

Other contexts often overlooked is that of geography and economics of an area.  This can provide a lot of information to assist us in interpreting a passage correctly.  There are also the social aspects of the treatment of one people group by another, such as Samaritans by the Jews.

One starts by identifying the textual context of the passage of interest. In this case it was from Mark 2:6 to 3:25 with a more immediate context of 3:21 to 3:35. We understood the passage better by knowing the Honor/Shame cultural patterns. Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth was a well-to-do fishing town on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee near where the Jordan river enters. Being shunned by the community would change one’s lifestyle dramatically.

Get the pdf.


 

Leaders Notes:

The first part of the study takes a section from Melvin’s Moby Dick. The lesson begins by just showing two lines without any context and asking people to consider the meaning of the two lines.

When printed out on 8.5 x 11 paper these lines will appear in the same position on the next page. This is to provide a visual effect that they are looking at the same thing with more information. The students are asked to decide in light of the new information what the meaning. Finally the correct answer is given.

The lesson progresses with an example taken from Scripture.

This is a difficult example and will challenge most people as a search for the complete context for Mark 3:33. The context must include Mark 3:21. But to completely understand all this is going on one must be aware of the growing opposition against Christ and his ministry. which means we must go as far back as Mark 1:14.

Even after examining the context of Mark 3:33 there remains room for misunderstanding what Christ is teaching. Therefore, the lesson continues to include a couple of verses as cross-references. The students can practice finding the context of these verses also followed by a summarizing the lessons learned from Mark 3:33 as time permits.

Discussion Questions

  • Would you want to base your eternal choices on information without knowing the context?
  • Who is ultimately responsible for deciding what you believe?
  • How much Bible studying can you delegate to others?
    1. This is a tricky question.
      1. If you say none of it can be delegated, that would mean you cannot use commentaries and must become an expert in 3 ancient languages, a vast amount of history as well as many other fields.
    2. You Can’t do it all.
  • How much can you depend on church leaders to teach you?
    1. You come to know this as you check out what is being taught over a period of time.
    2. You will recognize good teaching more readily as you grow in understanding the things of God and you will not have to check out so much.
    3. Notice how church leaders develop the teaching.
      1. Are they using good study methods and teaching to how to study also?
      2. Are questions about the lessons appreciated?
  • iii. Are different views discussed and weighed? Some churches are extremely dogmatic and intolerant of accepting the possibility that a definitive meaning is not always possible.

 

Read 984 times Last modified on Monday, 05 October 2020 16:33

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