When I was attending the Christian Book Association Conference in Nashville a few weeks ago, I had an experience that inspired the direction for this blog. The conference was held in the Gaylord Opryland Resort. It was quite crowded on the main conference floors, but up in the media areas of the hotel, it was pretty quiet. In fact, it seemed that I was the only one there!
I was scheduled for an interview with Donna Feyen from “More Than A Review.” I was a little early, so I was taking my time and walking at a leisurely pace. I happened to notice a man softly playing the grand piano at the far end of the media mezzanine. As I got closer I decided to pause and listen for a little while. He played so beautifully, and I kept my distance not wanting to disturb him in this private moment. I just soaked it all in, and quietly prayed for God to be with me, and help me during my interview.
After a few moments, I continued on to the room where my interview was to be held. Donna Feyen was amazing, and it was a really fun interview. When it was over and I came back through the area, the man was no longer playing the piano. I really never gave him a second thought. Until…
Later that night, I was looking through the conference magazine, and I noticed that Michael W. Smith was also attending the conference. He was there to do a book signing for his new book. Suddenly the lights went on! I was standing on that mezzanine listening to Michael W. Smith playing the piano! How could I not have known it was him? Why didn’t I recognize him? Maybe I should have paid more attention. My mind was just not open to the possibility that it could be Michael W. Smith!
Maybe it was because I wasn’t expecting to see him there. It wasn’t a normal every day occurrence to just walk up on Michael W. Smith playing the piano. Since I wasn’t looking for him, and didn’t expect him to be there, it was as if he was out of context to me in that moment. I’m sure you have experiences of your own where you may have overlooked someone, or something because it just didn’t seem to fit the situation. We all do it.
As I reflected on this impromptu secret concert, it made me think of other things we tend to take out of context. One in particular is God’s Holy Word—The Bible. Maybe you have seen people who pick and choose a verse here, or a verse there and use it in the wrong context. They might pick a sentence here or there, and make it fit their own view, even though their view is wrong.
Context is the key to good Biblical interpretation. Sometimes it helps to think of the Bible as a series of letters written between different people that we are to read and learn from. This is especially the case when we are reading the Epistles—or letters—of the New Testament. Rather than being addressed to us, the readers, individually, each letter has an intended audience, and a certain cultural, temporal, and geographical context in which it is set.
For instance, let’s look at a verse that is so often taken out of context. Paul wrote to Timothy: "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent" (1 Timothy 2:11-12).
If we look at the whole picture including who the letter was intended for, the cultural norms at the time of writing, and the geographical context (the church of Ephesus) we can see this was not meant to apply to every instance of women in ministry. Paul encourages the women to learn. This was not common in the traditional Jewish culture. In fact women were very restricted in religious education.
So, why would Paul have women to study and learn at all, if he never intended for them to teach? Paul commends women for their leadership in house churches, so he is not making a contradictory blanket statement here about women teaching or leading in the churches. Instead, he is addressing the issue of certain women who were being disruptive and domineering in the worship services at Ephesus.
In Romans 16:1–6, Paul sends greetings to many friends and fellow workers in the faith. He mentions many women who have been involved in leadership and service to his apostolic work, including Junia, who is listed as an apostle. In Philippians 4:2–3, Paul references two women who have contended by his side for the cause of the gospel, an obvious testament to their work and leadership within the church.
These Scriptures attest to the fact that 1 Timothy 2:9–15 should not be interpreted as a universal rule for all women to be silent in the church nor does it imply that women should be exempt from teaching or having authority. This interpretation would be in direct conflict with the close context of 1 and 2 Timothy, as well as other writings of Paul, and the testimony about women in leadership in the early church in the book of Acts.
There are many other instances, and Scriptures I could share that are commonly taken out of context. It’s important to study the Word of God. We have to go all in, and see who the passages are speaking to, the cultural norms and customs of the time period, and the geographical context. It's as simple as who, when, and where.
It’s so easy to take things out of context, if we don’t pay attention. Study God’s Word, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to teach you. He will do it.
2 Timothy 2:15
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
Donna Sparks is an International Speaker and Evangelist. She is the Author of Beauty From Ashes: My Story of Grace, and, No Limits: Embracing the Miraculous.