Texts and their con­text

The Church of England - - ENGLAND ON SUNDAY -

We can­not ar­rive at a true un­der­stand­ing of God’s Word by de­tach­ing texts from their con­texts to find per­sonal mean­ing in them and be feed­ing them into the world of our pri­vate pre­oc­cu­pa­tions and let­ting that world im­pose new senses on old phrases.

A the­o­log­i­cal stu­dent whom later I knew as a se­nior friend had com­mit­ted him­self to start­ing his min­istry in the north of Eng­land when he re­ceived a very at­trac­tive in­vi­ta­tion to join a teach­ing in­sti­tu­tion in South Wales in­stead. He did not feel able to with­draw from his com­mit­ments, but one day he read in Isa­iah 43:6 (Au­tho­rized Ver­sion), “I will say to the north, Give up”, and con­cluded that this was God telling him that he would be prov­i­den­tially re­leased from his prom­ise and so set free to ac­cept the sec­ond in­vi­ta­tion. No such thing hap­pened, how­ever, so he went north af­ter all won­der­ing what had gone wrong. Then he reread Isa­iah 43:6 and no­ticed that it con­tin­ued, “...and to the south, Do not with­hold.” At this point it dawned on him that he had been find­ing mean­ing in the text that was never really there. In­stead, the con­cerns which he brought to his read­ing of the text had gov­erned his in­ter­pre­ta­tion of it.

To im­pose mean­ing on the text is not the way to learn God’s Law. Yet we con­stantly do this (don’t we?), and it is one chronic ob­sta­cle to un­der­stand­ing. Quoted from James Packer, Your Fa­ther

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