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Rightly Understanding God’s Word: Learning Context, Part 2, by Craig S. Keener

So why did Matthew think Isaiah 7:14 could be applied to Jesus? Probably not for the same reason we do. We apply Isaiah 7:14 to Jesus because we never read its immediate context; Matthew probably applied it to Jesus because he read past the immediate context to the broader context of surrounding passages. As we mentioned before, Isaiah’s children were for “signs,” each teaching Judah of what God would do (8:18). The immediate sign of God being with Judah would be the conquest of their enemies to the north; but the ultimate act of God being with them would be when God Himself actually came to be with them. In the very next passage, Isaiah announces a hope that would extend beyond Judah even to the northern kingdom of Israel (9:1-2), a conquering king, a child who would be born to the house of Judah (9:3-7). Not only would He be called “God is with us”; like his other titles, which appropriately apply to Him, “Mighty God” would apply to Him (9:6, a title of God also found in the context, 10:21). This Davidic King (9:7) would be God in the flesh (9:6). In the ancient near East, where Israel may have been unusual for not turning its kings into gods, Isaiah certainly would not have risked calling this king “Mighty God” if he had not meant that God Himself was coming to reign as one of David’s descendants. Matthew was right, but not for the reason we would have assumed!


Conclusion to Chapter 2

As we have seen, context dramatically affects the way we interpret each passage. But in most cases context must go beyond the surrounding paragraph to surrounding chapters or even the entire book in which a passage occurs. Thus we turn in the next chapter to a discussion of a larger level of context in which many readers are not yet skilled.



Editor’s Note
Professor Craig S. Keener originally designed this course on Hermeneutics for use in Nigeria and not for traditional publication. Desiring to make it available to a wider audience, he has granted permission to publish this course in the Pneuma Review. Dr. Keener grants permission for others to make use of this material as long as it is offered without cost or obligation and that users acknowledge the source.

Portions of this course follow these recommended works: How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (Zondervan). Revelation, NIV Application Commentary by Craig S. Keener (Zondervan, 1999).


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Category: Biblical Studies, Fall 2003

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story. Twitter: @keener_craig

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