Thursday, March 24, 2005

Verses out of context

Perhaps the thing that irks me most in theology is when people take verses out of context.

The single verse that seems to keep coming up is Isaiah 64:6. Here's an example:
""All our righteousness is like menstrual rags" (Isa 64:6) You see, the best of human righteousness compared to God's is seen to be like the filthiest of garments. This demonstrates the total inability of any human to save themselves by their own righteousness..." and so forth.

I don't know what moron came up with that verse as a proof-text but I am constantly amazed at just how many people are happy to quote that verse without paying any attention whatsoever to the context. I suppose it just demonstrates how enthusiastic people are to believe things if those things agree with their established beliefs. They want to believe that the bible says all human righteousness is worthless... so every verse that could be construed to say that is believed to actually say it.

For anyone who cares, the passage in context is talking about the fact that Israel had recently turned to evil and rejected God, and Isaiah recalls a time when people lived "who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways" and contrasts it with the depravity of the Israel at the current time whos level of righteousness by comparison is like filthy rags. In short:
It is NOT talking about ALL MEN at ALL TIMES.
It is NOT saying that ALL MEN are totally UNRIGHTEOUS.
On the contrary, the passage strongly implies that humans can indeed be righteous and that many people in the history of the world have indeed been righteous.


Blogger Matt said...

Also popular is Jeremiah something:something "I knew you before you were born, and planned each day of your life"

For some reason people love to hear that God's already planned each day of their lives...

Blogger Andrew said...

Yeah, there's the "I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope." (Jer 29:11), and "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you" (Jer 1:5). Everyone would like to think that both things refer to them.

Blogger Fraser Dron said...

grr... I just get annoyed when people quote verses starting with a subordinate clause (eg, "..for I know the plans..."). You know right away it's going to be out of context.

Blogger James Fletcher Baxter said...

The only time and place your 'context' is applicable is when it was spoken or written. Therefore, it has no application for any day thereafter...

That is a humanistic ego-centric private interpretation of The Word of God. Such a 'point' of view throws out the scriptures as having no value today.

Selectivity? lotsaluck
Grade: F

Blogger incognito said...

Matt, the verse in Jer is Jer 1:5: "I knew you before I formed you in the belly; and before you came out of the womb, I consecrated you. I appointed you a prophet to the nations." It sure doesn't say "I planned each day of your life.".

In Jer 29:11 the word for 'plans' means 'thoughts'.

Blogger Andrew said...

The only time and place your 'context' is applicable is when it was spoken or written.

Surely by definition the context of an event is to do with the time and place it happens?

Therefore, it has no application for any day thereafter...

The scriptures teach us about God and how he related to people in the past. Looking at what happened to Israel as recorded in Isaiah teaches us today about how we should act and what we can expect from God. That is the application. By contrast, grabbing onto a verse selectively and saying "this applies to me" is not application, it is abuse.

That is a humanistic ego-centric private interpretation of The Word of God.

I was complaining about people who think every verse applies to them personally. I was complaining that they think they are the center of the universe and that they can grab whatever verse they like regardless of its meaning and apply it straight to themselves. And you are calling my interpretation "egocentric"? Wasn't I the one arguing against egocentric interpretation?

Blogger Matt said...

Sorry, I was getting mixed up with something else... Ps 139:17 is what I believe I was thinking of.

Blogger Andrew said...

[i]Ps 139:17 is what I believe I was thinking of[/i].

Er, are you sure?

They quoted Jer 29:11 again at church on Sunday... argh!

Blogger Philotas said...

First, ill say definately, i hate people taking Verses (among other things) out of context, but secondly to ask a question.

Why couldnt that refer to us?
If he knew Jeremiah's life before he was born, why not the rest of us?

Blogger Jim said...

why, when people quote that and apply all the wonderful things God seemed to say to Jeremiah there apply to them, do they ignore all the crap that Jeremiah had to go through and endure when he was living out those plans?

Blogger Aaron said...

O yeah, AMEN, I agree completely with this post too. That out-of-context verse is a favourite in my circles...

Blogger PaulieB said...

Nice point Jimmy


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