Biblical Context is Critical (here’s a key example why)
Many people who quote the Bible often, even many people who seem to have a very good knowledge of the Bible, sometimes with a PHD next to their name, can be in the most serious error which even some Biblically illiterate people can accurately see the folly in. How is this?
Here are three extremely major and common ways in which this often happens.
- They do not interpret Bible passages according to the full context in which they are stated.
- They do not interpret Bible passages in line with the totality of the book where the passage is found in.
- They do not consider everything else in the totality of Scripture as they interpret the Bible and arrive at the conclusions which they come to.
One key outcome of such shoddy Biblical interpretation is that many have an utterly inadequate definition of the Gospel of Christ itself which stems from, or is allegedly upheld by, these errors being committed in understanding and proclaiming the first four verses 1 Corinthians chapter 15.
1 Corinthians 15:1-4: “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:”
Many evangelical Christians, and many who try to preach on these verses stop at verse 4. They believe that these four verses alone are actually a summary in and of themselves of the true Gospel of Christ. This is a deadly error which misleads people about what is required of them in order to be a partaker of Christ and an heir of His salvation. It is also reflective of a sloppy method of Biblical interpretation which in itself will inevitably lead a person into much sin and error in doctrine and worship. So let’s continue reading this passage to understand the gospel which Paul preached and which he is reiterating to the Corinthians in his epistle to them here.
1 Corinthians 15:5-7: “And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.”
Now Paul takes a little detour in verses 8 to 10, yet he will return to his main train of thought in verse 11.
1 Corinthians 15:8-10: “And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
Short detour over. Back to the larger train of thought, which thus continues.
1 Corinthians 15:11: “Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.”
Believed in what? Paul is not talking about a mental assent to Christ’s work or an intended one-time transaction where God just saves a person eternally and unconditionally because Christ died, was buried, and rose again and they accepted that. No, Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Scripture as a whole makes clear that He must be believed in and followed as such for His death, burial, and resurrection to profit an individual. We’ll see as we continue that Paul’s entire train of thought here is all related to Christ’s kingdom and reign. His supreme authority prevailing is the product of His resurrection; and must be what happens in anyone who is to have a blessed resurrection and a part in His eternal kingdom. Continuing then.
1 Corinthians 15:12: “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?”
The main thought is continuing yet in this verse as Paul deals with an evil concept which was influencing the Corinthian church whom Paul was specifically writing to, though this concept has been prevalent in many places throughout the ages (to say the least). Continuing on.
1 Corinthians 15:13-19: “But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”
If there is no resurrection, no Judgment Day, and thus no eternal consequences of being found in sin or in having obtained salvation from sin, then Christianity is a lie and there would be no point to it anyways.
But, wait! Do you need to leave your sins in order to be a partaker of Christ and an heir of His salvation like the verses just quoted imply? Yes! We indeed need to be saved from both the guilt and power of sin. Just because the first four verses of the chapter didn’t say that doesn’t mean that is not implied by what is said as the thought continues, by what has already been said in the book, and by the rest of the Bible as a whole.
Matthew 1:21: “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.”
Titus 2:11-14: “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying (i.e. saying no to, utterly renouncing, rejecting, shunning, etc) ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”
Will Paul get to this eventually in 1 Corinthians 15? Yes. Those who don’t read beyond the first four verses of the chapter, and those who don’t follow the train of thought throughout the chapter, won’t connect the things to the first four verses which they logically should connect to them. But first, let’s read something which Jesus said in the Gospel accounts along these lines.
John 8:23-36: “And he said unto them (Jesus is speaking to a group of His Jewish opponents), Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning. I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him. They understood not that he spoke to them of the Father. Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. As he spoke these words, many believed on him. Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
So keeping in mind that we indeed need to be saved from both the guilt and power of sin, and keeping in mind that if there is no resurrection, no Judgment Day, no eternal consequences of sin or of salvation from sin, then Christianity is a lie and there would be no point to it anyways, we continue in 1 Corinthians chapter 15.
1 Corinthians 15:20-23: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept (i.e. those who have died). For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.”
In verse 23 Paul is dealing with the righteous dead, those who have died in Christ, since he is now connecting a proper hope in the resurrection as essential for having a faithful Christian walk. Regarding those who die in their sins, those who remain in Adam at death, he is going to allude to them in the coming verses, as well as contrast these with the faithful Christian, as the thought within this chapter further unfolds.
1 Corinthians 15:24-25: “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.”
Since Jesus Christ is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and since He loves righteousness and hates iniquity (sin, lawlessness- see Hebrews 1:8-9) this implies that all who continue in sin and oppose His righteous reign will be damned when He fully assumes His divine authority and power over mankind. On the other hand, those who obey His gospel by turning from sin and coming under His righteous authority, will reign with Him then.
Paul’s main train of thought in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 has been leading up to Christ the King coming back and ruling a kingdom based on His righteous principles; and having a people reign with Him who have already aligned with those principles and proven themselves compatible with, and worthy of, such a kingdom. Christ died, was buried, and rose again to redeem such a people- and for no other end.
Matthew 13:36-43: “Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
We read of this actually happening in Revelation 11:15-18: “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshiped God, Saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned. And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.”
Consider how different then the true gospel is, the one which the Scriptures taken in context and as a whole preaches, compared to the common “Just accept Jesus; yeah, I believe in Jesus” gospel! Utterly turning and surrendering to Christ in brokenness unto the crucifixion of your carnality and all your heathen ways, unto the constraints and sufferings of Biblical holiness, is something that assenting to the facts about Christ, the altar calls, the sinner’s prayers can still leave a person short of, often by a vast distance. And actually, they can leave a person much worse off when they think that such is actually salvation. There is no need to seek any further then, certainly no need then to suffer to pursue truth and righteousness wholeheartedly (if such actually were salvation)! Yet interpret a verse or a few verses (or maybe even just one phrase) out of context apart from the train of thought they are said in and apart from the whole of Scripture’s counsel- and you can end up believing a gospel that doesn’t save- even if there’s nothing about it that sounds wacky or utterly heretical to the average evangelical church goer like the things cults such as the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc teach- and even if there is no extra-biblical source of authority which is blatantly claimed to be on par with or above the Bible like the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Seventh Day Adventists, and many other churches indeed do.
Yet the call to repent and obey Christ, the call to wholeheartedly worship and serve God by diligently seeking to understand and follow all that His Word actually commands, such is the call of authentic Christianity. The Bible doesn’t contradict itself. There are different angles to examine the Gospel from, different aspects to emphasize at different times and in different circumstances, yet never does the true gospel of Christ let anyone off the hook from taking up their own cross daily in order to obey the whole counsel of the Bible, from wholeheartedly doing what is right before God according to His Word rightly while denying all sin and ungodliness.
Psalm 2:7-12: “I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”
Revelation 14:6-7: “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.”
Does that contradict 1 Corinthians 15:1-4? Is it a different gospel? Of course not!
I could go on and continue through 1 Corinthians chapter 15 verse by verse (it’s a 58 verse chapter), but I will forbear because I think my point has been made and proven. We all can, and should, all go through that chapter (and every chapter in the Bible) on our own time. Yet I’ll add that the reference to being baptized for the dead in verse 29 is a controversial passage, but in keeping with the context of the chapter, I believe it is most likely a reference to Christ, as if Paul is saying “Why identify in baptism with a man who has died unless that man has been raised from the dead? What hope is expressed by Christian baptism if you never hope to be raised from the dead like the One whom you profess to believe and follow through your baptism?” And I believe that because throughout the rest of the Bible that is the closest thing to being baptized for the dead which is directly spoken of. It aligns with Romans 6:1-4: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
And regarding the rest of 1 Corinthians chapter 15, I’ll also add: Look at the two definite exhortations which the things spoken of in this chapter lead to. Obviously everything said in the chapter is intended to lead up to these exhortations; and these exhortations would not be logical if anything in this train of thought, or anything in this entire letter, or anything in God’s Word as a whole, when properly understood, was out of line and counterproductive to these exhortations being heeded.
1 Corinthians 15:33-34: “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.”
1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
This very book itself had already established that those who live unrighteously will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). And it had also already warned by the examples of the disobedient Israelites in the Old Testament that Christians who turn back to sin become God’s enemies again and fall from His grace (1 Corinthians 10:1-14).
This is similar to another warning to real Christians given in 2 Peter 3:11-14: “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.”
And remember along with that what Peter had said in his previous epistle in 1 Peter 4:17-18: “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”
And hence we read in Revelation 16:8-11 (as God pours out His wrath in the very last days before Christ’s return in glory): “And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory. And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.”
Did Paul preach the same when he preached the gospel? He sure did. When people say Paul didn’t preach the need to turn from sin and do works to show repentance in order to get right with God and have an interest in Christ. But they are surely twisting the Bible by whatever passage they lift out of context to try to make such a claim (and multitudes do indeed make such a claim).
Acts 26:19-21: “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me.”
We read Revelation 21:6-8: “And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely (Jesus has purchased redemption for us so that we can indeed be saved from sin’s guilt and power- we can’t pay a price for it; only He could make an acceptable atonement to pay the price for our redemption; and by the grace of God, He did!; we need to obey His terms and conditions and walk therein to obtain what He has purchased and freely offers us- and this should make us fear God exceedingly). He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful (i.e. this is not talking about the fear of God, but is speaking of those who are cowardly in regards to truth and righteousness- even if they are courageous in other ways), and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers (including all who use witchcraft and all who get high on drugs and/or alcohol), and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”
Considering the train of thought in 1 Corinthians 15, considering the exhortations in the chapter, considering the book as a whole, and considering the whole counsel of God’s Word in light of the things spoken of in this chapter, indeed proves that Biblical context is critical.
How different do the first four verses of 1 Corinthians 15 sound when analyzed in line with the rest of the chapter, the rest of the book, and the rest of the Bible rather than just taken by themselves and lifted out of their Biblical context? The difference is extreme! Two, four, eight, or whatever years at a formal Bible college or seminary can’t be worth much if they don’t equip someone to study the Bible so that they can understand and discern this contrast. And time spent at schools which teach doctrine and theology which are not derived from careful Bible study, with these considerations factored in, is actually less than worthless. And there are many such schools out there. Their graduates are everywhere misleading and confusing multitudes- right in the churches on the streets of our cities and towns. Be careful who you listen to. Carefully read every Scripture verse and passage you are exposed to in its context. And take to heart that you are responsible for your own soul; and we all inevitably influence others (including through those we recommend for others to hear and listen to). Study the Bible yourself in line with these considerations. It could very well mean the difference between heaven and hell. Proper knowledge alone does not save, yet we will not live better than what we believe- at least not for long.
Luke 8:21: “And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.”
If phrases like that sounded common or trite to you before, hopefully it does not anymore. And hopefully you have a greater sense of the immense gravity which is involved in actually hearing God’s Word and doing it. Those who actually do so are sure not everyone who reads the Bible, quotes the Bible, and/or preaches from the Bible.
Aaron’s email is: [email protected]