How to Read the Bible in Context and Stay on Track
Scripture is the word of God, which he has spoken and which has been written down by humans and inspired by the Holy Spirit, we read his word considering both the immediate context of the human writers and the unifying context of the divine author. This is not an either/or argument but is both/and—human and divine. It is God’s word—his divine revelation to us and received by us through his instrument of human writers.
It is common to hear admonishments to read the Bible and interpret it in context; that is, that we ought to avoid detaching a particular verse, story, or portion of Scripture from the immediate and original context in which it was written. An accurate meaning of words, verses, and stories may be found only as understood in context.
For example, “He hit a home run,” may mean different things depending on whether it was written in the context of a business presentation or a baseball game. “Out of Egypt I have called my son,” has meaning in light of its Matthew 2 and Hosea 11 contexts. On the other hand, in Exodus God identifies Israel, while they were enslaved in Egypt, as his firstborn son (Exod. 4:22).
In each place there is the immediate context, but there is a broader context—the context of the entire revelation of God contained in the Bible. There are different human authors (i.e. Moses, Hosea, and Matthew), yet there is one divine author—God himself. There is an immediate context, and there is an overall biblical context—the overarching story of God’s mighty acts of redemption in Christ Jesus.
The Word of God was written by both humans and a divine author.
Though we may be tempted at times to overemphasize the human author over the divine author, or the divine over the human, it is important to understand both together as we strive to accurately understand the word of God. Questions include, how are the two writers related to one another? How do they work together in Scripture? Is the Bible a human book, written merely by human authors, or is it a divine book supernaturally dictated to men of old? The answers are found in Scripture itself, which reveals that the Word of God was written by both humans and a divine author—every word is simultaneously human and divine.
Let’s consider 2 Peter 1:21 concerning the nature of prophecy:
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
The word of God in the Bible comes to us through human writers. We find the humanity of the writers in variations of vocabulary, idioms, structure, and style. For example, there is the difference between the exquisite Hebrew poetry and varied vocabulary of Isaiah and the straight-forward narrative of Joshua. Similarly, in the New Testament there is the difference between the complex and elegant Greek of Hebrews and John’s more elementary Greek. We can detect the presence of the human authors throughout all of Scripture.