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Rightly Understanding God’s Word: Objections to Context, by Craig S. Keener

Part of the Rightly Understanding God’s Word series by Craig S. Keener.

Take a course on biblical interpretation with New Testament scholar, Professor Craig S. Keener.


Editor’s Note: Craig Keener originally intended for this portion of his course on biblical interpretation to appear at the end of Chapter 1: Context (Spring 2003), and before Chapter 2: Learning Context (Summer 2003). However, Pneuma Review editors did not receive it in time to publish it in the print edition of the journal. It is our pleasure to include this revision, twelve years later, to complete this excellent series in its new digital format.
Raul Mock
February 24, 2015


Objections to Context

I should deal here with one objection to context that arises in some circles. Some people quote Scripture out of context and then claim they are right because they have special authority or a special revelation from God. But they should be honest in claiming that this is a special revelation rather than the Scripture. All revelations must be judged (1 Cor 14:29; 1 Thess 5:20-21), and God gave us a Bible in part so we could test other revelations. No one has the right to short-circuit hearers’ rights to evaluate their claims from Scripture by claiming a revelation about Scripture’s meaning which the hearers cannot evaluate by studying it for themselves. Otherwise anyone could claim that Scripture means anything! Any view can be supported based on proof-texts out of context; any theology can make its reasoning sound consistent; Jehovah’s Witnesses do this all the time. We dare not base our faith on other people’s study of the Bible rather than on the Bible itself.

We should be very careful what we claim the Bible teaches.

We should be very careful what we claim the Bible teaches. Claiming that “The Bible says” is equivalent to claiming, “This is what the Lord says.” In Jeremiah’s day, some false prophets falsely claimed to be speaking what God was saying, but they were in fact speaking from their own imaginations (Jer 23:16) and stealing their messages from each other (Jer 23:30) rather than listening to God’s voice for themselves (Jer 23:22). God can sovereignly speak to people through Scripture out of context if he wishes, just as he can speak through a bird or a poem or a donkey; if God is all-powerful (Rev 1:8), He can speak however He pleases. But we do not routinely appeal to donkeys to teach us truth, and how he speaks to one person through a verse out of context does not determine its meaning for all hearers for all time. The universal meaning of the text is the meaning to which all readers have access, namely, what it means in context.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Winter 2015

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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