You may have heard people speak about the need to understand a bible verse’s original context when reading the bible. Have you ever wondered why?
Let me try to show you, by using a simple tweet.
Let’s just say that you were scrolling through Twitter and noticed a tweet:
It’s a little bit cryptic, and so I’d imagine you’d probably have a few questions about what it means. And to properly understand that you’d need to ask a few questions:
- Who is @justinbieber?
- Who is Gaz Jones
- What does #GOAT mean?
So let’s do a bit of digging.
The easiest of these questions is the first. You could pretty easily click on the profile link to find the twitter account of Justin Bieber. Or click here if you’re over 30 and still have no idea what’s going on.
But who is Gaz Jones? And why has he sent out this mysterious tweet? To answer this second question we need to find out a bit more about Gaz Jones. So we could first check out his profile.
Seems like he’s a belieber. A true fan of Justin Bieber. And this is backed up by a search of his tweet history…
And who he’s following:
Next we have to understand what GOAT means. Does it mean that he sounds like a goat when he sings? That doesn’t sound like something a Bieber fan would say!
But if you understand how Twitter works, you may know that something starting with a hashtag, followed by a series of capital letters, is often an acronym (and we love acronyms in The Salvation Army!). So if we do a quick google search of GOAT we find this:
So basically this tweet is our mate Gaz declaring his undying love for the Biebs by calling him the Greatest Of All Time. Isn’t that nice!?!
But let’s just for a minute imagine that we’ve switched to an alternate universe, and when we ask the same questions we get different answers.
We’ll assume that Justin Bieber is still the same. But when we click on Gaz’s profile we come up with this:
Suddenly this doesn’t sound so simple. He appears to be a heavy metal fan, and this is backed up by a search of his tweets, and who he’s following.
It doesn’t seem likely that a heavy metal diehard would announcing his undying love to Justin Bieber. And then looking at the tweets a bit closer you may notice that our particular tweet came in the middle of a series of tweets:
By clicking on the article link you can see that these tweets are all referring to an article about how Bieber’s tour shirts had a spelling mistake on them:
In this context it actually seems that Gaz is mocking Justin Bieber, and the #GOAT hashtag is sarcasm. Far from calling him the “Greatest Of All Time” he is actually mocking this moniker with which Bieber’s “Beliebers” often label him.
By getting more information about the context of the tweet the meaning has totally changed from a message of undying devotion, to sarcastic mocking. Rather than calling Bieber the “Greatest Of All Time”, he is using this title to mock those who would use it to describe Bieber.
So what does this have to do with the Bible? Well when we read the Bible we need to ask these same sort of questions about what we are reading. Just pulling one verse out on its own can lead us to radically misunderstand what it is actually trying to say.
We need to ask questions like:
- Who was writing this passage?
- Who were they writing to?
- What else is happening around this verse which may give it some context?
- Are there any specialist terms or phrases that we need to understand?
- Is the writer using any special devices or styles of writing that we might not be aware of?
The answers to these questions may change the meaning completely from what we were expecting, and give a whole new perspective on what is actually trying to be said.
If you are interested in finding out how to explore these types of questions, BCM are running the “Exploring the World of the Bible” short course from 23-25 August 2016. At this course you will be shown how to explore these questions, and have a crack at doing it for yourself. Click here for more info.
N.B. Please note that the tweets and twitter account used in this article are not real, and were created solely for the purpose of this blogpost.