Just as in real estate there are three things that sell a house (location, location, location), in inductive Bible study there are three things that guide your study: context, context, and context. Context is everything, because without it, we’re just killing scripture. Let me explain:
Let’s imagine that I want to become an expert on frogs, the best thing I can do to gain my expertise is to put on my hip waders and lay on my belly next to a frog pond. From that vantage point I can watch the frog and see his surroundings. I can see which animals try to eat the frog, how he protects himself, how he attracts a mate, where he sleeps, and what he eats. I’d go back day after day and watch my frog in his natural habitat, learning how the change of season affects him, when the babies are hatched and learn about tadpoles and their legs that grow in. I truly understand the frog when I see him in his pond, or his context – everything that is around the frog.
Another option I have in my quest to become a frog expert is to catch the frog and bring him home. I could put him in a dish by my kitchen sink and study him from there. It would be much more handy, I’d get fewer mosquito bites, and I could study him when it’s convenient for me. However, the only truth I’d learn is this: all frogs die. That is the truth, but it’s not the whole truth. There’s more to a frog than dying.
The same is true for studying scripture. We need to study it in its context – in its pond. We need to strive to understand what the author was saying, what he meant, what it meant to the original readers, and what was going on in his pond at the time. The danger is that in studying a scripture, we pick it up out of it’s context and put it somewhere it doesn’t belong. If I take the frog out of the pond and put it in Antarctica, it dies. If I put it in the dessert, it dies. It needs it’s pond in order to survive. And the same is true for scripture – I can’t pick up one verse and try to apply it all over the Bible, because out of it’s context it dies!
The final option that I could explore in my journey to frog expertise, is to go the library and read all the books I could find about frogs. In that way I’d be learning from the greats -all the frog experts who have gone before me. The only down side to this option is that I’d never have a personal encounter with a frog! I’d not know what his skin feels like, what his croak sounds like during mating season, or how to tell one frog from another. Reading all the books on frogs sounds like a good idea, but the reality is that I want to find out about frogs for myself.
The same is true with scripture. There are myriads of books written about each Bible verse and I could read them all, but still feel the frustration that comes from not learning it for myself. I wouldn’t have had a personal encounter with scripture and would not love it with love that comes from personal experience.
As we begin our journey to learn to study the Bible, we will be ever conscious of context. We’ll be jumping right in that frog pond and emmersing ourselves in context! Are you ready to get wet?