Throughout the ad a clip is repeated of Webster saying, “My wife should submit to me”. In fact, it is an edited version of a speech in which Webster said that when picking verses in the Bible men should not choose the one that says wives should submit to their husbands, but rather the one that says husbands must love their wives.
Source: Lihle Z Mtshali, South African journalist living in New York inTimes Live South Africa
Back in the old days (last month) when I was still a Bible college professor, I incessantly told my students, Sem contexto, não há texto, “Without context, there is no text.”
Two examples in South Africa this week have caused me to remember that admonition. The first was the incident quoted by a South African above. The second was this very inspirational poster on our wall in Afrikaans, that says:
In still-wees en vertroue bestaan julle krag
Our family first guessed that “Jes” must be Jeremiah, but a look at that verse told us,
“Why do you complain about your injuries,
that your pain is incurable?
I have done all this to you
because your wickedness is so great
and your sin is so much.”
While Biblical, we decided it probably wasn’t suitable material for a poster featuring a placid lakeside scene.
The Afrikaans reminded me of the phrase, “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” And it turns out that is the correct phrase from Isaiah 30:15 which is indeed quite inspirational as long as you don’t look at the context of the verse:
For this is what the master, the LORD, the Holy One of Israel says:
“If you repented and patiently waited for me, you would be delivered;
if you calmly trusted in me you would find strength,
but you are unwilling.” (Isaiah 30:15, NET)
It’s got me thinking about just how much context do scripture passages need in order to have “contexto.” If you’re quoting John 3:16 do you always need to explain John 3, and the Gospel of John, and the book of Numbers, etc. Don’t verses out of context serve as shorthand for larger biblical truths.
In the case of the smear campaign against candidate Webster, the verse was quoted out of context to mean the opposite of what he intended. But in the Isaiah poster, couldn’t you say that “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” is a fine Biblical sentiment and leave it at that?
This brings me to our recent discussions on the meanings of Romans 3:31 and Romans 4:1. Can we really even begin to interpret those verses without casting a much wider circle around the entire opening of Romans or even the whole book? Isn’t interpreting out of context just as bad as quoting out of context?
What do you think? Or what examples of verses cited out of context have seemed to you to have the opposite meaning of the original passage? A final example is from the separatist white South Afrikaners who would like to return to apartheid,
“When Yahweh showed Abraham the Promised Land, it was fully populated by the heathen nations… When I take my wife to the shopping centre, I look at the mob and wonder, ‘How is Father going to separate them out.'”
In search of a volk, Times Live South Africa
How much context do we need to make sense of the text?