Book of John

Reading Passages Out of Context

Recently I was talking with Brad again about John again.  He quoted a number of snippets of verses from John and 1 John and dealt at length with my last post.  It is my observation that a lot of Christians in America tend to take snippets of three to five verses and make doctrines out of them.  Let me give you an example.  Brad quoted John 3:36:

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the son will not see life, for God’s wrath abides on him.” 

This is a common passage quoted by conservative evangelicals to support their position.  But what it lacks is context.  It lacks understand of the  chapters around them.  If they are really interested in “contex” as they speak of it, they would have understood first, that this is John the Baptist speaking.  If one reads it, it is talking those who have noticed more people are going to Jesus.  John proclaims that he “me must become less” in light of this.

This passage, then, should focus on the humility of John.  If we are to interpret it for ourselves today, we too should be come less and allow ourselves to enter into the reign of God where it is not about us, but it is about God.  Just as it was then, God has given Jesus “the spirit without limit” and “placed everything in his hands.”  That is, that Jesus has all authority on heaven and earth, as he has said in other places. 

But what exactly it means to “believe on” Jesus is not clear until chapter four.  Here we need to have the context of the last chapter to understand the response of the pharisees.  The pharisees hear that Jesus is “gaining disciples” and “when Jesus learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.”  First of all, we must understand that the text does not tell us why Jesus left.  We don’t know if he had a fight or what.  All we know is that it was a result of the pharisees attitude that Jesus left. 

And the place that Jesus goes next is very important to the understanding of this passage as a unit.  He goes to Samaria, the place where God isn’t supposed to work, a place where the half breeds lived.  And what happens?  Jesus tells them that it is not about the Jews, it is about worshipping God “in spirit and in truth.”  In other words, the Kingdom of God is now opened to all in “spirit and in truth.”  No longer is it just open to the Jews, but to those like John and the Samaritan woman who believe that Jesus’ way of life is significant and powerful enough for living life now. 

Jesus contines by talking to his disciples who are confused because he is talking to a woman.  Jesus exclaims that his “food is to do the will of him who sent” him.  That is, to collect the harvest “for eternal life.”  And notice also that it states the “Samariatians from the town believed in him because o fthe woman’s testimony…we no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves and we know that this man really is the savior of the world.”  Never did they say anything about sins, about being forgiven from sins or anything of the like.  It is because I do not believe this confession of faith is as central as many Christians have made it.   


4 thoughts on “Reading Passages Out of Context

  1. Danny:

    Welcome to blogging! There is nothing better at helping you to learn and gain confidence at articulating a thought.

    I fully agree with you that context is extremely important when using scripture.

    As for John 3:36, I may be missing your point, but I’m not sure I see the “context” as you do.

    The context appears to me to be about belief in the Son (Christ) for eternal life starting with John 3:1-21. Then the narrative immediately tells us that the some came to John asking about the one “to whom you bore witness.” John tells them he is not the Christ, but only the one “sent before him” and that he (the Christ) “must increase, but I must decrease.” In other words, don’t took to me for eternal life, I’m only the friend of the bridegroom who stands and hears him and rejoices greatly at his voice. Look to the Christ if you want eternal life.

    John (the Baptist) concludes by telling them, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Thus bring the back to the fact that it is through the Son that they have eternal life, not through him (John).

  2. I wrote this blog in a matter of ten minutes so it’s not going to be the cleanest or more coherent post. However, my point was to point out that John approached Jesus in the correct way decreasing and letting Jesus increase. The pharisees (religious leaders) approached him in the wrong way and Jesus left as a result. It is this attitude that Jesus should permeate our lives. The other point is that the way of Jesus is open to all.

  3. Amen Brother.

    Blogging is good fun and helps the thinking process. As you get into it, be sure you don’t take others comments personnally.

    And Danny, thanks for stopping by my blog.

  4. Welcome to blogging danny… just kidding.

    great post… I agree the point of John 3:36 is Johns humility but I also agree with Blind Beggar about the context. I don’t think it’s wrong to use this verse in the context that most people do. What’s wrong is the way people use this verse. I don’t know that someone is taking the verse out of context when they use it to say that Jesus is the only sourse of “eternal life.” What’s wrong is when someone uses this verse to say that someone is going to hell because they don’t know Jesus. This only causes people to see the “good news” of Christ as bad news. It might be being used in the right context but for all the wrong reasons.

    You also asked me to tell you if I thought you were being a “b-word.” You might be. It depends on your reasons. Are yopu debunking this guys ideas out of spite, simply to make him sound dumb and to prove your point? Or are you doing this in order to truly wrestle and dialog these ideas? This post doesn’t come accross as if you’re “spite-posting.” I think you wrestled with this idea with good tact.

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