THE WAY TO UNDERSTAND GOD’S WORD
Paying Attention to the Context in Reading the Bible
Now we will continue what we talked about in the previous message concerning the matter of taking care of the context in our reading of the Bible. It is very dangerous to neglect the context. For example, Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt….” If we omit the first and the last parts of this verse, all that is left is, “There is no God.” Many people expound and understand the Bible in such a way. Those friends who accuse me of preaching heresy usually slander me by this method. They take sentences out of context in order to misinterpret my writings.
Paying attention to the context requires much consideration, because there are no specific limits as to the boundary of a passage. A prominent Bible scholar has said that in order to expound a single sentence of the Bible, one needs to use the entire Bible. This means that we need all sixty-six books of the Bible to explain a verse. For example, in Matthew 18:20 the Lord said, “For where two or three are gathered together into My name, there I am in their midst.” I would say that this verse concerns the building up of the local church. How can I be so bold to say this? Because the entire context of Matthew 18 reveals this. Not only so, if we read the entire context of this chapter, we must admit that the Lord’s word “gathered together into My name” is related to recovering the brothers who have committed wrongdoings, and this is surely for building up. In chapter sixteen, the Lord said, “On this rock I will build My church” (v. 18), but He did not mention there how to build the church. Chapter eighteen, however, reveals to us that the way to build the church is to gather together into the name of the Lord. Not a great number of saints, but a small number, even two or three, may meet together to recover some brothers. To recover the brothers is to build up the brothers. To make peace, to forgive, and to be understanding of the brothers is the building up. If three thousand or even five hundred people meet together with one person preaching and others listening, after the dismissal of the meeting no one knows whether there are any complaints, discontent, or other problems. There is no building. However, when three or five saints are gathered together, everything is out in the open, and nothing can be hidden; therefore, there is a need for fellowship, restoration, peacemaking, and understanding. This is the true building up. We can have such a definitive interpretation of these verses in Matthew 18 because of their context. Therefore, I would say that studying the Bible is not a simple matter, and comprehending the Bible is even more difficult. In order to comprehend one verse, you may have to research the entire Bible. It is just like a lawyer who cannot make a decision on a legal case according to only a single code of the law. In fact, all the codes are related to each other. A good lawyer is one who not only knows the law in depth but also can assimilate and use it in a comprehensive manner.
Using God’s Word to Expound God’s Word
In general, Bible scholars use the Word of God to explain God’s Word; this is to use the Bible to interpret the Bible. For example, some may interpret the word “water” in John 3:5 in a spiritual way, considering the water as God’s word, because according to James 1:18, God “brought us forth by the word of truth.” First Peter 1:23 says, “Having been regenerated, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the living and abiding word of God.” Ephesians also mentions “the water in the word” (5:26). We have already pointed out that this exposition of the word “water” in John 3:5 is not right; it is not according to the literal meaning of the word but is interpreted in a spiritual way. Others even say that this “water” is the water in a mother’s womb. This interpretation is too literal. It is not wrong to expound the Word literally, but it must be done not in a natural way or according to human concepts. From the context of this verse, we can see that the Lord Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, who must have heard what John the Baptist had said to the Pharisees: “I indeed baptize you with water, but He who is stronger than I is coming….He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit” (Luke 3:16). Thus, we must have a way to determine the appropriate context of a verse. When the Lord Jesus said to Nicodemus that he must be “born of water and the Spirit,” He meant, “You must accept the baptism of repentance preached by John the Baptist. First you must repent; then he will put you fully into the water to bury you, and I will come after him to baptize you with the Spirit to enliven you.” This is death and resurrection. The old man dies and is buried, and the new man is resurrected. Is this not the real significance of being born anew? So you see, this interpretation is according to the literal understanding, yet not in the natural way. Therefore, whenever you encounter a sentence in the Bible and you do not understand its meaning, do not try to figure it out by thinking this way or that way. You should go to the entire Bible to see what is said concerning this sentence; that is to use the words of the Bible to expound the Word.
(The Full Knowledge of the Word of God, Chapter 3, by Witness Lee)