In this chapter from the Rightly Understanding God’s Word series, Craig S. Keener explains more interpretation principles for understanding the biblical context.
As appearing in Pneuma Review Summer 2004.
We should briefly survey some other context principles: context of author; anticontext methods to avoid; and the value of outlining Scripture to catch the flow of thought.
Context of Author
In some cases, we have additional help in understanding a passage or statement in the Bible because we can look elsewhere at the particular author’s style. Paul says that God inspired the Scriptures “through” people (Rom 1:2), which suggests that the author’s point corresponds with God’s point. It is therefore important to understand the author’s point. Understanding inspiration recognizes that God inspired different writers in their own basic styles. Jeremiah and Isaiah and Ezekiel all heard God’s message, but each has a very different style. God even gives Ezekiel a special nickname, “son of man.”
Sometimes the author’s style is relevant within the book. For example, when some people today claim that “abundant life” in John 10:10 refers to material prosperity, we should note that this is not what John means by “life” anywhere else (1:4; 3:15-16, 36; 4:14, 35; 5:24, 26, 29, 39-40; 6:27; etc.) If this were not enough, however, one could also note references to “life” by the same author in 1 John (1:1-2; 2:25; 3:14-15; 5:11-13, 16, 20). Some argue that Jesus healed everyone on the basis of Matthew 4:23. But does “all” mean every individual in the whole region? Matthew also says that they brought him “all” the sick in the whole province of Syria (which included Galilee and Judea); if he meant that literally, no one would have needed healing after this point (against the testimony of Acts and even the rest of Matthew’s Gospel). Jesus did not heal everyone who was sick near him (13:58), although there were reasons for this and the text indicates that Jesus normally healed people. When we read Isaiah and the Psalms, “salvation” has a broader meaning than it usually bears in the New Testament, and we should respect the context of Isaiah’s and the psalmists’ usage and not read other texts into these.
When some people today claim that “abundant life” in John 10:10 refers to material prosperity, we should note that this is not what John means by “life” anywhere else.