Handling Aright the Word of Truth (XVI)

By Morris W. R. Bailey

As we continue our study of handling aright the word of truth, I now propose to show that such requires that we consider

The Text In The Light Of Its Context

I recall an incident that occurred several years ago, when I was a boy in school. One day we received a visit from a woman who was from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She gave some fine lessons and some very emphatic warnings about the evils of the use of alcohol. In the course of her speech she quoted the words, “Touch not, taste not, handle not.” It was a very impressive appeal since it was obviously supposed to be a quotation from the Bible and seemed very appropriate as regards the use of alcohol as a beverage. But none of us realized, and probably she did not realize, that she had lifted the passage (Col. 2:21) out of its setting. Paul was not discussing the use of alcohol. The context shows that he was warning against the doctrines of men.

The above incident, while perhaps not as far reaching in its implications as other examples which I shall discuss, nevertheless demonstrates how a passage of scripture can be lifted out of its context and used to teach something completely foreign to the subject being discussed by the inspired writer.

Some one has well said that a text taken out of its context becomes a pretext. Yet this is a common failing among many students of the Bible, and sadly, often among preachers. It is found especially in the denominational world and sometimes, surprisingly, among some who profess to speak where the Bible speaks and to be silent where the Bible is silent. Often a position is taken on some subject, or some religious practice is introduced, and then the progenitor goes to the Bible for “proof.” The result is that passages of scripture are taken completely out of their setting, and used to teach something they were never intended to teach.

Sometimes these perversions take on the character of the ludicrous. The story is told of a preacher who was much opposed to a woman’s wearing her hair in a knob. Wanting to preach a sermon on the subject, he decided he must have a text from the Bible. After a long search he found what he wanted-Matt. 24:17 where Jesus said, “Let him that is on the housetop not come down take anything out of his house.” He then announced his subject which was, “Top not (knot) come down.” It may have satisfied him as a text, but it was a far call from the context in which Jesus spoke those words. Such is a wresting of scripture (2 Peter 3:16).

Matthew 24

There are some, especially those of the premillennial school of thought, who are prone to speculate concerning the future. With them, every event such as a war, or rumor of war, a famine or an earthquake presages the approaching end of time, and is construed as fulfilling the words of Jesus in Matt. 24:6,7, “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars . . . for nation shall rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines and earthquakes in divers places.”

A careful perusal of this controverted chapter, however, reveals that verses one to thirty-four deal, not with the second coming of Christ, but with the impending destruction of Jerusalem. In verses one and two we read: “And Jesus went out from the temple, .and was going on his way; and his disciples came unto him to show him the buildings of the temple. And he answered and said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

How can these words be construed to mean anything other than the coming destruction of the temple? Keeping them in mind, we now turn to verse three which tells us that later the disciples of Jesus came to him with the question, “When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” This question is recorded by Mark in the following words, “When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when these things are about to be accomplished?” (Mark 13:4). This same question is recorded by Luke in these words, “When therefore shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when these things are about to come to pass?” (Luke 21:7).

In the light of the above quotations is it not obvious that the question of the disciples related to the destruction of the temple and of the city of Jerusalem? The words of Matthew, “What shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world?” present no real difficulty. It would be natural that the disciples, being loyal Jews, would associate such a catastrophic event as the destruction of the temple only with the end of the world. Therefore, the signs which Jesus gave pointed to the destruction of Jerusalem. Or, are we to believe that Jesus ignored the subject in which the disciples were so obviously interested, namely, the time when the temple would be destroyed, and dealt with a matter that was not even involved in their question? For it should be remembered that the disciples had little, if any, conception of the second coming of Christ, as they later did when enlightened by the Holy Spirit. There is reason to believe that they had their doubts about His going away (John 14:5; 16:5,6). That being true, how could they believe in His second coming as it was later revealed by the Holy Spirit?

A further discriminating study of this twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew suggests to my mind an obvious contrast between the subject matter discussed prior to and following verse thirty-four which says, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all these things be accomplished.” Attention is now drawn to the following contrasts.

1. In verses 5-12 Jesus gave a number of portending signs, such as wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes as signaling the near approach of the event foretold. Regarding His second coming, however, Jesus gave no sign. (vs. 42-44). Here He likened His coming to that of a thief. And we know that thieves give no signs portending their coming. Paul used the same illustration when he spoke of the time of the second coming of Christ (1 Thess. 5:2).

2. The event foretold is cast in a local setting. In verses 15, 16, Jesus said, “When therefore ye see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, . . . then let them that are Judea flee into the mountains.” Question: Why urge just those in Judea to flee, if Jesus was speaking of His coming in judgment at the end of time? And, to what mountains will they flee seeing that the earth is going to be destroyed at Christ’s second coming (2 Peter 3:10)? In contrast to the above local phenomenon, the second coming of Christ will be world-wide (Rev. 1:7).

3. The signs preceding verse thirty-four describe abnormal times of war, famine, tribulation, proliferation of false prophets (vss 6-11). The second coming of Christ, however, will be preceded by normal times (vs. 37-39).

From the foregoing contrasts, we therefore conclude that such signs as were given prior to verse 34 pointed to the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Jesus said that those signs would be accomplished (or fulfilled) before that generation passed away. To apply them, then, to the second coming of Christ is to take them out of their setting.

First Corinthians 1:17

This verse is often used (or misused, I should say) by sectarians in their efforts to prove that baptism is not essential to salvation. The verse says, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” Their reasoning follows this pattern: If baptism is necessary to salvation, Paul would have been sent to baptize. But since he was not sent to baptize, therefore baptism is not any part of the plan of salvation.

Before examining the context in which Paul wrote these words, let us make the following observations:

1. There was only one man who was ever sent specifically to baptize. He was John the Baptist (John 1:33). It was from the fact of his being sent to baptize that he was called the Baptist or baptizer. Yet John did something more than to baptize. He preached the message of the coming kingdom of heaven (Matt. 3:1). Did John do something that God had not sent him to do? Is it not obvious that his mission to baptize included preaching?

2. Paul was not sent to baptize, but to preach the gospel. Yet Paul did baptize some people (1 Cor. 1:14,15). Did he do something that God had not authorized him to do? It does not help any to say that he baptized very few poeple. To have baptized one would have been one too many if he was not commissioned to baptize. Surely we can see that if John’s commission to baptize included the preaching that preceded it and led to multitudes being baptized, (Matt. 3:1-5), then we should be able to see that Paul’s commission to preach the gospel included the baptizing that was the result of such preaching (Acts 18:8).

But let us now examine the context in which Paul said that he had been sent not to baptize, but to preach the go;;pel. In verses eleven and twelve we learn that the ch zrch at Corinth was divided into fractions. Some declared themselves to be of Paul, some of Apollos, some of Cephas, and some of Christ. This vexed the heart of the great apostle who regarded himself and Apollos simply as “ministers through whom ye believed,” and not as heads of parties (1 Cor. 3:5).

In the questions, “Is Christ divided: was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?”, the apostle stated the only grounds on which they could claim to be “of Paul.” These questions demanding a negative answer left those of that faction without any justification for such a claim.

Fearing lest some would attach an undue significance to their having been baptized by the hands of Paul, supposing that they had been baptized.in his name (vs. 14,15), he had therefore abstained from baptizing, with the exception of but a very few, leaving the baptizing of the “many Corinthians” of Acts 18:8 to other hands. It was in this context that Paul said that he had not been sent to baptize but to preach the gospel. Had he been sent to baptize as John the Baptist was, he would not have delegated the baptizing to others any more than he could have delegated his responsibility to preach the gospel to others.

Therefore, when sectarian preachers use Paul’s words in an effort to prove that Paul did not regard baptism as a part of the plan of salvation they take it out of its context and thus pervert it.

Truth Magazine XXII: 5, pp. 86-88
February 2, 1978