Open Matthew 12:33.
When your spouse says, “Can we eat out tonight?” what they mean depends on the context.
Perhaps you’re both dog tired, and all you want is a fresh roll from Subway before you fall asleep. But if the kids are sleeping over with friends tonight, it might mean, “I’d like some quality time with you.” Or perhaps what they mean is, “Did you remember it’s our anniversary? I’d like to celebrate our life together.”
We all know that meaning depends on context. When you’re close to someone, sharing the same context, it’s easier to pick up on what they’re saying. It is harder when the message comes from a different culture, through another language, from a bygone era, the way the Bible does. Yes, it’s harder work to hear the message as the people in that culture and time would have heard it. But it’s so worth it!
Novelists and script writers give us context to make sense of what their characters say. A good biographer takes you through the person’s words into the meaning of their life.
So we’re not making any special claim about the Bible when we ask you to hear what it’s saying in context. We’re very likely to misunderstand its message and misuse it if we ignore the context. Because that’s true of language in general, it’s true of the Bible too.
Let’s take an example. What do you think Jesus meant by this?