What is decontextualized?
The word decontextualized means removed from its contect,
Asked in The Bible, New Testament, Old Testament
What is the importance of context in correctly interpreting the Bible?
Answer: The dictionary defines context as: 1. the parts of a piece of writing, speech etc that precede and follow a word or passage and contribute to its full meaning: it is unfair to quote out of context (emphasis mine) 2. the circumstances that are relevant to an event, fact, etc (source Collins Concise English Dictionary 1982 edition) In relation to any piece of writing, an out of context quotation can drastically change the meaning intended by the writer. As stated above, this is unfair, as it ends up distorting or changing the meaning of the piece of writing. Since the Bible is a collection of many different books from a number of different authors and written over a period of about 1500 years it is open to incorrect interpretation if it is decontextualized. For example, if passages from the Old Testament ceremonial law are taken and said to apply to Christians in the New Testament era they are wrongly interpreted. The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that such Old Testament religious laws and ceremonies such as found in Leviticus do not apply to Christians. Another form of out of context quoting is to only quote part of a passage that fits the meaning which the person quoting it intends and leave out parts which contradict or modify or explain the passage. This selective quoting is also unfair as it alters or distorts the true meaning of the author and is usually used to create a 'straw man' by an opponent of the message of the scripture, so it can easily be shown to be untrue. An example of this is in relation to fulfilled prophecy where only part of the prophecy or part of the fulfillment is quoted to allegedly 'prove' that the prophecy was not fulfilled. Correct use of context will give a fair and accurate meaning of a passage. This may include its context within the book it is quoted, the way the particular author uses certain ideas, the time it was written (e.g. Old Testament or New Testament), the intention of the author, whether the passage is meant to be taken literally or is symbolic or uses metaphor etc. Sometimes context is confused with content which is 'all that is contained in or dealt with in a piece of writing.' (Collins op. cit.) Content is what is in the writing itself, whereas context helps to understand the content correctly. For example, if I list the details of the Epistle of James and give its main points or ideas or subjects dealt with I am giving the content. If I explain its historical setting, who may have written it, its purpose, to whom it was written etc I am giving its context. Context and Contradictions In light of the above, it is worth discussing generally the many alleged contradictions found in the scriptures. When the verses in question are read in context, that is when they are treated fairly (remembering this is the Dictionary definition) then many of the contradiction are found to be not so at all. In other words, because the person citing the verses has failed to consider the context, either accidentally or deliberately, they have by so doing altered the meaning, and created a contradiction where there is none. One example is the often cited case of salvation by grace through faith or salvation through works. The Bible is quite unanimous about salvation by grace. Yet, the purpose of many passages is to highlight the importance of works as evidence of faith. The doctrine of salvation by grace is assumed by the author since it is not their purpose at all to give a treatise on the doctrine of salvation. (And of course, when a subject is dealt with elsewhere, the Bible would be ten times longer or more if every doctrine was dealt with in detail in every passage) Thus many contradictions actually melt away when it is realized that the Bible being essentially written by one divine mind, merely puts different facets of the same teaching from a number of different views to give a rich and full picture. Another spurious and often cited source of non-existent contradictions are the four different Gospel accounts. Their many differences are merely different perspectives of the same historical events which they either witnessed personally or spoke directly to the eyewitnesses (in the case of Mark and Luke). One example is the supposed contradiction in time references relating to Jesus' time on the cross. Different methods of time reckoning (Jewish and Roman) were used at this time and the fact that one Gospel account used the Jewish reckoning for their predominantly Jewish readers and another used Roman time for their predominantly Roman or Gentile 'target audience' cannot fairly constitute a contradiction. A simple understanding of the context would have saved such an allegation from being made. Other relevant Factors One other way the Bible is decontextualized is when people assume that the Bible approves of everything it reports. The Bible records much sin and wickedness of men, contrary to explicit commands of God, often by God's own chosen people. This is sometimes taken to mean that God supports such behavior, even though elsewhere He has expressly forbidden it. The problem occurs when the passage recording the sin is read in isolation, that is, out of context, without consideration for the command of God or the verdict that is often placed against the particular behavior. Simply reporting that something happened is not the same as approval. The same applies even when there are repeated sinful acts, such as the repeated idolatry of Israel, which is never approved by God, nor sanctioned, but expressly forbidden. The ultimate verdict was God's judgment in sending off both the Northern Kingdom of Israel and finally Judah into captivity. Yet out of context quotation can produce a belief that polytheistic idolatry was the religion of Israel -when all the great mass of contrary data is omitted.