Out of Context

“People say that I hate chocolate. That’s not true, I love chocolate. It tastes sweet.”

If someone were to claim that I said, “I hate chocolate,” Then they are clearly taking my words out of context. If someone said that, “I love chocolate” they are also taking my words out of context. However in the second instance, they have accurately summed up my opinion, while in the first instance, they are misrepresenting my opinion but in both cases they have taken my words out of context.

Many times Christians will make the claim that I am quoting a Bible verse out of context. Of course that is true, but I am not misrepresenting what was said, but rather summarizing it. For example, one of my favorite verse is Numbers 31: 17-18 which states:

“Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.”

The context of this verse is that God ordered Moses to rape and murder the entire Midianite village because the villagers worshiped Ba’al Zebul instead of Yahweh. Some Christians will claim that God didn’t use the words “rape” and “murder” but it is fairly clear from the context of the verse that was the meaning. Some Christians have even pointed out that the villagers were engaging in sexual rituals that were quite cruel. This is true according to the Bible, but that wasn’t the reason why God gave the order to Moses. According to the context, the Midianites broke the first commandment.

Now I am sure some Christians are going to respond and try to rationalize this away and that is fine, but that isn’t the point of this blog. The point of this blog is to discuss context. Context does matter, but it doesn’t matter all the time. Sometimes, one can quote a verse and the context is obvious. Sometimes people put in their own context to misinterpret what was said to suit their needs. Sometimes, that is fine (like when talking about poetry or music). Sometimes it isn’t fine. One has to look at the context to know if context is important or not.

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One response to “Out of Context

  1. Many Christians feel the need to defend the Bible. Anyone who does that is bound to take some irrational stances. We have inherited it and consider it to be a book, when it’s really scores of books compiled, redacted, and edited over several centuries. There is a little bit of everything in there.

    I’m a Christian, and I can’t deny that there is no shortage of racism, sexism, homophobia, and violence in the Bible. All of those things form part of our history as Christians–sad, but true. Those are stories not worth forgetting, but anyone with a hint of spirituality (or morality, ethics, sense, etc) would not take them as teachings on how to behave.

    Yes, you are taking those verses in proper context regarding the narrative in Numbers. The fact is (for me), some things in the Bible are simply more important that others. Jesus saying “live by the Golden Rule” is more important to my success in 2009 than who raped whom a thousand years before he was born. Everything in there has value, but only when you read the whole thing can you understand that while each verse has its own context within its book, it also has a context within the entire Bible.

    Not trying to rationalize it away. God often told people to pillage, plunder, and polyamorize–you read it right. But Numbers is like Act 4 in a 66-part epic. Get the whole story, then you can tell it.

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