Ben Witherington III on the Context of the Text

I am currently reading Witherington’s latest book, The Indelible Image, and came across this quote:

“…(A) text without context is just a pretext for what we want it to mean, and thus the New Testament text must be read in its historical, rhetorical, literary, social, and religious contexts.” (pg41)

Yep. I agree. Context helps to prevent twisting of Scripture to fit a purpose. While a ‘plain reading’ is allowable, is it always preferred? Shouldn’t we start to include in our readings and interpretations the context?

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20 Replies to “Ben Witherington III on the Context of the Text”

      1. I haven’t personally checked this, but according to the internet, the answer is ‘no’. It does seem to me that a lot of farmers would know the answer without checking the internet.

        1. Looney, it is not the smallest seed. So, either Christ was wrong, or we understand the context was 1st century Palestine which would have thought Him a witch if he told them other wise. He used their language, which is why I think context is important. What say ye?

          1. “…1st century Palestine which would have thought Him a witch if he told them other wise.” How do you know that?

            For decades, I have known this parable but never gave much thought to whether or not the mustard seed was really the smallest seed. Only the amount of faith needed to accomplish something is minimal. (Plenty to chew on with that!) Did I miss something? Being an engineer, I might start taking calipers to seeds, along with a precision scale and start measuring different types as well as quantifying standard deviations of expected observations, but wouldn’t that lead away from the meaning of the parable?

          2. Looney, the bible says it is the smallest of seeds.

            It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.” (Matt 13:32 NLT)

            This is the point of applying context – which you seemingly have. Many people take a literal, flat reading. To them, then, what does that make the mustard seed?

            Can you imagine Christ giving a biology lesson? And if you read the Talmud, they thought of Christ just above what they thought of witches.

          3. I haven’t met the sort who insist on overly literal meanings while missing the point, but no doubt there are plenty. As for Christ giving biology lessons, certainly he would be the best. (Keep in mind we didn’t hear the exact wording …) He did teach fishermen about fishing, and Jewish rabbi’s about God. Many would scoff, but today’s biologists are still believe in spontaneous generation (aka evolution).

          4. And you chided about sophistication!

            I reckon, if I am able to arrive Home, biology will be my least favorite subject. Yours?

  1. My least favorite subjects are pop culture and professional sports. But yes, I chided about sophistication, yet my education level and upbringing make me one of the sophisticated. Sophistication can be a stumbling block as much as a help, and credentialolotry is a curse that afflicts many.

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