Prior to attending college I hadn’t really heard much, if anything, about studying the Bible in context, but that all changed when I took a class entitled Discovering the World of the Bible. My professor drilled into us the importance of context. He even had a sign in the front of the classroom that read, “the context is the message.” But what does that mean? And how do we study God’s Word in context? As women, why is the context relevant to our study of the Bible?
“The context is the message” simply means that without an understanding of the context, you could easily miss the entire message.
Jen Wilkin said, “When we only study topically, we give up the richness of context.” She is not saying topical studies are wrong or bad, but that it is important for us to take the context into consideration as we read and study the Bible.
So, how do we study God’s Word in context? Anytime you pick up a new book to read, you want to know who the author is and more information about him or her, right? This should be true of our study of the books of the Bible as well. We should dig deep to learn more about the authorship, their audience, and what was happening historically and culturally when it was written.
As we seek to understand the text in its context, we have to read it repetitively and ask ourselves questions like “What does this say?” and “What does this mean?” Reading the books of the Bible from start to finish will also give background and help us better understand Scripture as a whole. Only then, after considering the context, should we seek to discern and understand what we should do in response and how these truths from God’s Word should shape and change us.
An accurate understanding and interpretation of biblical context is vital to our study of the Bible. This process takes time and discipline, but it is worth it. Understanding context is essential to our spiritual growth and knowing the Bible is how we faithfully support and point our families, friends, children, and others to a deeper understanding of Christ.
Looking back, I’m so grateful for my professor and others in my life who have guided me to study God’s Word in context. I would encourage you to do the same and to remember the challenge we’re given in Colossians 3:16, to “let the word of Christ dwell richly” in us.
If you are unsure of where to start as you seek to study the Bible in context, consider a book-by-book Bible study such as Explore the Bible. One of its core values is to help you understand and apply the text in its context. You can download a free, one-month preview of Explore the Bible here.
Jennifer Siao is an editor on the Student Ministry team at Lifeway. She and her husband, Daniel, serve with students at Nashville Chinese Baptist Church. When she’s not correcting other people’s grammar and giving that paragraph just the right polish, Jennifer enjoys swimming, spending time with her family, and playing with her rambunctious Bichon Frise (Scout).