“Context is king.” Ever heard that? Many seminary professors have taught that to the young preachers in their classrooms.
It’s in error.
According to so many scholars, “What did the author mean?” is the first question we should ask when seeking to understand a Scripture. It implies that if we can get inside the head of the writer(s), we will have the full and accurate meaning of the text.
Not right. Not even close.
This morning, a friend shared a devotional from Exodus 12 concerning the Passover Lamb and the blood upon the doorpost. Christians–i.e., those who know the rest of the story and enjoy the teaching of the New Testament and the perspective of Calvary–know this was pointing to the blood of the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. We are redeemed by the blood is the constant theme of the New Testament. And the Passover Lamb was just one of many ways the inspiring Holy Spirit chose to plant that preparation in the minds and hearts of His people.
But Moses could not have known that. He surely had no clue.
His job was to obey, whether he understood or not.
What the writer understood is informative, but not the end of the story.
Did Moses understand the “snake on a stick” from Numbers 21? No way did he know what God was up to with that. But Jesus knew. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
So, what Moses understood has nothing to do with anything.
Reading in the Psalms one day, the verse of 17:15 jumped out and grabbed me by the throat. “But as for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Thy likeness when I awake.” Is that a wonderful promise of “awakening on the other side” or what?! We may fall asleep on this side, but we will awaken “over there.” And when we wake up, we will see the Lord. We will see Him in His righteousness. And whatever that is like, we will be satisfied.
There will be no “return lanes” in Heaven. No one asking for their money back. No complaints.
But forget about the typical commentary admitting what seems obvious. They say, “The psalmist was referring to the land of Israel, not the afterlife.”
We walk away shaking our heads. I say as one with a couple of seminary degrees, it’s no wonder so many pastors and Bible teachers give short shrift to the commentaries. (I’m not recommending that we jettison all commentaries; just not take them as the final authority.)
Here are some passages that should forever lay to rest the “context is king” fallacy…
–-“As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.”
“It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from Heaven–things into which angels long to look.” (I Peter 1:10-12).
Do not miss three huge statements there: 1) The prophets did not know the meaning of much they wrote; 2) much of what they wrote was for you (us), and 3) even the angels stood on the outside wondering what was going on. Amazing, indeed.
How blessed we are, to be sure. But how important it is to not be limited by the understanding of the prophets.
I’ve known of preachers who referred to what the rabbis wrote or some current Jewish scholar said on a particular Old Testament text, as though they had the definitive word. They do not. They are on the outside looking in. We will hear them, just in case they have something worth hearing, but we will not sit at their feet and adopt their viewpoint.
–“As they were coming down from the mountain He gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen, until the Son of Man should rise from the dead. And they seized upon that statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead might mean.” (Mark 9:9-10).
They did not understand what Jesus said by His teachings. Only later, after the Lord had died and risen again, and after the infilling of the Holy Spirit, did it all begin to fall into place.
The best commentary on Scripture is Scripture. What does the Bible say about this incident, this prophecy, this ritual, this type, this verse?
And the very best commentator on Scripture is the Lord Jesus Himself. Even though the prophets would have been pleasantly surprised to hear what the Man of Galilee made of their words, they would have bowed in submission and given thanks that they were used of the Father to affirm the Son.
–“Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of Heaven is like a head of a household who brings out of his treasure things old and new” (Matthew 13:52).
A scribe was an authority on the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament. But when one was born again (“becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven”), the true Author of the Word entered him and began to enlighten his mind about all these wonderful “treasures” he was well acquainted with. Gradually, he began seeing new treasures that had escaped him before.
This is how we are to understand the three years which Saul of Tarsus, a new follower of Jesus, spent in the Arabian desert following his conversion. He refers to this period in Galatians 1:17-18 but never explains what he did during that time. However, when he began preaching, he had answers and insights which befuddled his opponents and slam-dunked his message. (See Acts 9:22)
Let us gather good and faithful commentaries. And let us be diligent in our preparation, consulting respected writers and teachers. But let us listen to the Holy Spirit within us.
Let us obey whether we understand or not, and trust the Lord to enlighten us in His own time.