Considering the context of a bible verse is essential to correctly interpret it’s meaning. We need to consider things such as: Who wrote the book? To whom was it directed? What was going on at the time it was written? What was the culture of the writer and his audience? What is the topic being discussed? What do the surrounding verses say?
This is an example of a few of the things we should consider when trying to interpret the meaning of a verse. What does the Watchtower have to say on this subject?
***w76 10/1 p. 585 Let the Bible Speak***
Our letting the Bible speak is not just a matter of using it. We should also make sure that we are not misrepresenting what it actually says. What does this require? It is vital to consider the context in which a particular passage of Scripture appears. After reading the surrounding verses, a person might ask himself: To whom was the message directed? What was its purpose?…Clearly, then, if we strive to get the thought of what the Bible writers had in mind, we will not be misrepresenting what the Scriptures say. Our use of the Bible will appeal to sincere persons, enabling them to build their faith on the Word of God. May we therefore continue to let the Bible speak its powerful message.
All in all pretty good advice. Does the Society follow this advice? Let us consider Proverbs 4:18 and its surrounding verses – “14 Into the path of the wicked ones do not enter, and do not walk straight on into the way of the bad ones. 15 Shun it, do not pass along by it; turn aside from it, and pass along. 16 For they do not sleep unless they do badness, and their sleep has been snatched away unless they cause someone to stumble. 17 For they have fed themselves with the bread of wickedness, and the wine of acts of violence is what they drink. 18 But the path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established. 19 The way of the wicked ones is like the gloom; they have not known at what they keep stumbling.”
This vs. is used to explain why JWs have had many failed prophecies and have had to constantly change doctrine. It this what the verse is saying? Is this verse a prophecy showing how God would explain truth through his earthly organization? Or instead does it make more sense to see that this passage is simply discussing the difference in behavior between evil ones and righteous ones?
For instance notice what the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary on Proverbs says on vs 18,19 “As shining light increases from twilight to noonday splendor, so the course of the just increases in purity, but that of the wicked is as thickest darkness, in which one knows not on what he stumbles.”
If we consider the context of a verse this will help us avoid the trap of developing an opinion then scouring the bible looking for “proof texts”. The knowledge of the bible that most JWs have revolves around the proof text. They may be able to cite a dozen or more bible verses dealing with various doctrinal subjects, but many don’t know the context. For instance they may cite a text from Galatians, but do they understand what Paul was trying to communicate to his readers?
Another text that I feel the Society has taken out of context is 2 Timothy 3:1-5. If one reads the context it is quite easy to ascertain that Paul wasn’t talking about a time period in the distant future. He was talking about people during Timothy’s lifetime. He even says in verse 5 “and from these turn away.” How could Timothy avoid certain kinds of people that weren’t suppose to exist back then? Obviously, Paul was saying that those people were existing back then and therefore the “last days” referred to were going on back then in the first century.
There are many other examples that could be used to show the Society has on many occasions taken bible texts out of context. They are far from being the only ones to do so. Interpreting the meaning of a bible text at times can be challenging as Peter himself said of Paul’s writings in 2 Peter 3:16 – “speaking about these things as he does also in all [his] letters. In them, however, are some things hard to understand,…”
It makes us feel better that even Peter an apostle had a hard time understanding some of the points Paul was making. So if in our personal bible reading we come upon difficult passages let’s always take into consideration the context.