E. W. Bullinger
Part IIThe Words
The Context is Always Essential
i. The Importance of the Context Shown.
We have already seen something of this in the consideration of the Structure of the Word and the Words of God. The order of the words is as perfect as the truth revealed by them, and contained in them. This order is Divine: and it is nothing less than a crime for any human hand to subvert that order, either by ignoring it or changing it. Beware of any teacher to whom the context is not manifestly essential. Beware of any teaching that is not based upon it.
Some passages of Scripture derive their chief importance from some remarkable words employed; others derive their chief importance from some wonderful truth revealed; while others derive their chief importance from the place where we find them. Every passage has its own importance in this last respect. When we find a passage in its own particular place, there is a Divine reason why it is there, and also why it is not in any other place.
It is essential to our understanding of the "words" to find out why they are where we find them. It is essential to our enjoyment of the words that we should discover not only what they mean, but why they are not in any other passage. If we would find the words and the Word of God to be a delight to us, instead of a perplexing jumble, we must have special regard to the Context.
If this be disregarded, then a word, a sentence, or a verse, may be taken out from its context and interpreted of something quite foreign to its original intent. We have all heard the proverbial saying that "the Bible may be made to prove anything." Exactly so; but this, very often, is only when, and because, a verse is taken apart from its context: otherwise it could never be made to teach anything different from the context in which God has set it.
Every sentence and every verse has something going before it and something following after it. We call this the context. This is regarded as being essential even in the case of human writers. How often are complaints made by public speakers and writers that only a part of what they have said is quoted; whereas, if the whole had been given, or even the sentence that preceded or followed, quite a different complexion would have been given to the point referred to.
If this be so important where man is concerned, how essential it must be when we remember that, in the case we are considering, it is God's context and not man's. How great must be the presumption if we disregard or disturb that context. Yet this is constantly done in order to prop up some tradition. Let us illustrate this by giving a few examples of error arising from a disregard of the context.
The context shows that this means the seeing of one another personally "face to face," and not the agreement with one another in opinion or judgment.
The reason given in the next verse (v 3) shows that the verb Cw@r (rutz) is to be taken in its sense of hasten, or flee: viz., that he who reads of the coming troubles may flee from them.
It does not mean that he may be able to run while he reads it; but flee when he reads it.
How often have we heard these words quoted on missionary platforms and in pulpits, as though, by missionary efforts, the reign of Christ here spoken of as the one subject of the psalm is to be brought about. But this is not to be the way in which that glorious reign is to be inaugurated. Many are the Scriptures which state this unmistakably. Judgment, not grace, is to be the means employed. "Worse and worse" is to be the character of the coming days, until they are like "the days of Noah," which will end up in the Great Tribulation. Then, without any interval or break of any kind, "IMMEDIATELY after the Tribulation of those days...then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven...and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven" (Matt 24:29,30).
This exactly accords with Psalm 2 as is shown by the words that immediately follow verse 8:
But, these words of verse 9 are never quoted at missionary meetings, because it is all too plain that it is not such means as these that missionary societies use, or profess to use. Their agents proclaim the good news of "the grace of God." They are not sent out to break the "heathen." They are not commissioned to "dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." And so the context of this ninth verse is prudently left out! And the quotation always stops short at the end of the eighth verse!
This is very clever; but is it right? It is one way of "dividing the Word of truth." But, Is it "RIGHTLY dividing" it? It is dividing it for a purpose; and that purpose is manifest. It is done in order to make the Scripture appear to give a Divine support to the tradition of men, that the work of the Church and the Gospel is to bring about the Millennium; and that, by their means the earth is to be "full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" (Isa 11:9).
But here again the context forbids such an application, for verses 3 and 4 state that it is to be by righteous judgment that He will "SMITE the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he SLAY the wicked."
If the context, which is always essential, had been duly noted and considered, it would have been impossible for Psalm 2:8 ever to have been distorted, and have an interpretation given to it which is contrary to the whole teaching of the Word of truth.
Quoted thus, apart from the context, as an independent statement, the words are at once placed, by those who hear them, in the context of their own traditional belief; instead of in the context of God's Word, and in connection with the rest of the words of the Lord Jesus.
Misquoted as above by being taken thus, apart from their context, they are used to teach that the dead are not dead at all, but that they are alive. This is exactly what the Old Serpent said in Genesis 3:4 when he gave the lie to what God had said (Gen 2:17).
But, as in the two cases already cited, not only are the words thus perverted from their meaning, but the logical sequence of the whole context is suddenly broken off, and ends in a bathos. There is no conclusion to the Lord's words. He set out to prove the truth of resurrection, which, among other things, His opponents, the Sadducees, denied:
They propound a hypothetical case of the woman with the seven husbands, and ask therefore
"Ye do err, not* knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For IN THE RESURRECTION they neither marry nor are given in marriage." (* Greek, mh (me), not, used subjectively; i.e., not wishing to know the Scriptures.)He goes on to refer to Scripture:
Is it not clear that these words are used by the Lord in order to prove the fact and truth of resurrection? How could this argument prove that the dead would rise again if He meant that the dead are alive now? Surely the logical conclusion is that, If God is "the God of the living," the dead Abraham, and the dead Isaac, and the dead Jacob must live again,* in resurrection, in order to have God's promise to them fulfilled. God had promised to each of these three patriarchs, that not only their seed, but that they themselves, should possess the land, and therefore, to do this, they must "live again." (* Compare Revelation 20:5, "the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished," which proves that they cannot be alive during the thousand years, while they remain "dead.")
was the promise made to Abraham (Gen 13:15), to Isaac (Gen 26:3), and to Jacob (Gen 28:13), It is a matter of history that neither of them ever possessed the land (Heb 11:13), and never had more than a sepulchre there. That sepulchre they purchased and there they were buried (Gen 49:29-33); but it was not the promised gift. How then can God's promise to these three patriarchs be fulfilled except by resurrection? The argument of the Lord proves, unmistakably, the necessity of resurrection if God is to fulfil His promise to them, and to be faithful to His word to Moses at the Bush.
Apart from the context the Lord's argument is shorn of its conclusion and robbed of its point; while God's promise is made to fall to the ground, and the hope of resurrection lost. And all this because a sentence is wrested from the context in which the Holy Spirit of God has placed it. These are good examples of how a short sentence may be perverted by a violation of this canon.
It will be noticed how these examples point to the fact that it is only traditional beliefs that seem to require such a treatment of Scripture, and that this treatment is practically confined to them. This explains why so many of our examples are connected with these strongholds of tradition. Unable to find Scriptural support for the traditions of men, resort must perforce be had to a few isolated passages which are thus forced apart from their Divine context for this special purpose.
5. "Observe and do."
In the Greek the second person plural Indicative Mood is exactly the same as the Imperative. There is nothing therefore to guide us, as to which Mood should be read, but the context. Now, the context of the immediate passage, and the context of the whole Gospel, leads us to expect that the Lord cannot possibly be thought of here as enjoining obedience to the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees. On the contrary, He was always uttering the most solemn warnings against them and their teachings. We must, therefore, read them as being in the Indicative Mood; as stating a fact, and not as enjoining a precept. This is still more clear if we observe that the word translated "sit" is not in the Present Tense, but in the Past: "have taken their seat."
With these two notes we must translate the passage as follows:
The word "therefore" is very significant. It is because "they have taken their seat in Moses' seat" that ye observe and do whatever they bid you. But, the injunction is "Do them not." And then in verses 4-33 the most weighty reasons are given why they should not do them. How, then, can we go out of our way, gratuitously to create a difficulty, by taking the Mood as being the Imperative, and make the Lord command them to do the very things He was about to condemn?
The Chief Priests and Elders who had thus arrogated to themselves the authority of Moses, shortly after this used it to bid the people "that they should ask Barabbas and destroy Jesus" (Matt 27:20-23). Are we to suppose, for one moment, that in observing to do this bidding the people were acting in conformity with the Lord's words in 23:3? This consideration by itself is quite sufficient to condemn the "reading" riveted on the Greek by the Revisers' text; quite apart from the Critical evidence which can be adduced in favour of the Received Text.
There is another and overwhelming reason for this understanding of the Lord's words; and that is the concluding reason given why they are not to do the works which the Scribes and Pharisees commanded, "for they say and do not."
Can the argument be: Do the works (which they command) because they do them not?
Surely there is no sense in such an argument. But rather it is: "Do not ye the works [which they command], for they do not do them themselves"; which clearly shows how grievous their heavy burdens were.
This is the continuation of the Lord's argument; and it is the only logical conclusion from His words as recorded in the context.
How often do we hear the promise"Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out." But how seldom do
we hear the first half, which is an integral part of the sentence. "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me: AND him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out."
The reason for the mangling of this verse is the same reason why, when the Lord stated the same truth in verse 65, "No man can come unto me, except it were given him of my Father; FROM THAT TIME many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him."
Wherever this same truth is proclaimed to-day, the same result will follow; and this, in spite of all the talk about "the teaching of Jesus," which is only an excuse for attempting to get rid of the teaching of the Holy Ghost by Paul.
This is an example of how a special and personal injunction is detached from its context, put forth, and used as a general and universal command. The quotation generally stops here, because the words "thou and thy house" would show the special nature of the command. The context shows that it was given to one who was under deep conviction of sin. The jailor had seen himself in the presence of God. His one thought was that the prisoners had fled. His one act was that "he drew out his sword and would have killed himself": for he knew what his fate would be in the morning (Acts 12:19).
But there was One who knew what he thought, and the voice said, "We are all here." There was One who could see in that darkness what he was going to do, and the voice said, "Do thyself no harm." "THEN he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling and fell down," and asked, "What must I do to be saved?" To all such in similar circumstances; to all who thus fall down and ask such a question, this is the right answer. But it is no command at all to those who are not under conviction of sin. Such have first to believe God as to their lost and ruined condition.
There are other passages, however, which are not so serious, where mistakes are made and errors are fallen
into through partial quotations, where a part of a verse is used to upset the teaching of the other part, or of the immediate context.
These words are often taken by themselves, as though they were an independent statement; a statement moreover which is contrary to fact.
Sometimes the words that follow are added, "to them that love God."
But very seldom do we hear the next sentence: "to them that are the called according to his purpose."
"If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are."
It is well for us first to note the fact that the words "defile" and "destroy" represent but one and the same word in the Greek. In both clauses the word is fqeirw (phtheiro), to spoil or corrupt. That this is the meaning may be seen from 1 Corinthians 15:33; 2 Corinthians 7:2, 11:3, etc. But, the pronoun rendered "him" is touton (touton), this. To what noun does the pronoun "this" refer? The context alone can help us.
It cannot be "this" man, or "him" as in AV; because verse 15 distinctly states that "he himself shall be saved." It can be, therefore, only "this" thing that the man builds on the one foundation as stated in verse 12. Whatever man's building-work may begood, bad, or indifferent; "gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble"; grand, imposing, insignificant, or mean, whatever it may be, it will be burnt up (vv 13-15).
That temple is God's building (Eph 2:21). It is "one body" (Eph 4:16). It is a spiritual unity (Eph 4:3,4). If any man builds any other "temple," or makes any other "body," or creates any other "unity," it is corporate; and it "defiles God's building"; and "this" it is that God will destroy.
In this case a few words are taken out of their context and used as a motto or proverbial expression; and are quoted as conclusively settling a disputed question. We have already considered this illustration under Canon II (pages 223-226), where we showed the Scope of the Passage from its Structure. We wish to show now, how these words can be explained by simply heeding the context. Again and again we hear:
quoted as though it asserted that the moment a believer is "absent from the body" he is "present with the Lord." But this is what it does not say. Many will be surprised to hear that no such collocation of words occurs in Scripture: and that 2 Corinthians 5:8 reads
which is quite a different thing; because the whole context from 2 Corinthians 4:14 down to this verse, is wholly occupied with the subject of Resurrection, and a longing and desire not to die, or to be unclothed (v 4), but "to be clothed upon" with our heavenly and glorious resurrection body. While we are in this body we are "absent from the Lord." That is why we so earnestly desire to be alive and remain till His coming, that we may be clothed upon with our house* which is from heaven.
We ourselves are very willing to be thus "absent from the body"; nay, we are desirous of it, because, when we are, we shall then have our oiketerion in which we shall be "at home with the Lord."
We have precisely the same teaching in the word "SO" in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. "SO shall we ever be with the Lord." The Greek is outwV (houtos), thus, in this manner; viz. by Resurrection, and Ascension; raised and "caught up to meet the Lord in the air, SO shall we ever be with the Lord."
It will be noticed again that it is tradition which thus requires such perverted misquotations. This is because the errors of tradition are produced by ignoring the context. We have another:
11. "To die is gain," (Phil 1:21), constantly cited as though it were a separate, independent, and dogmatic categorical statement of Divine truth; whereas it is nothing of the kind. It is not even a complete sentence. The verse says:
The very word "For" should be sufficient to show that the statement is not independent; but that it depends on what has been before said, and is added as a reason for it. What has been said before? What is the context all about? A very cursory reader will at once see that it is all about the "gain" of the Gospel. That is what the Apostle was so deeply concerned about. He was in prison, and yet he wanted them to "understand that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the Gospel." And he goes on to show that the one effect of his bonds on many of the brethren had been to make their confidence to increase, so that they were "much more bold to speak the Word without fear."
Paul rejoiced at this, notwithstanding that some did it of contention and others from love.
It made him bold also, and bold enough to say that he did not care what happened to himself; he did not mind whether he lived or died. Christ would be magnified in his body (v 20) in either case. "The furtherance of the Gospel" was the one thing he cared about; not his own personal "gain." He never thought of that. It ruins the whole scope of the chapter to introduce the thought, yea, the slanderous thought, and charge him with such selfishness, as though he were thinking only of his own personal gain. It is a gross injustice to the Apostle, as well as a perversion of his words, thus to bring against him a charge of which he was not only innocent, but which is foreign to the context.
It also mars and breaks up the logical sequence of the Context, considered merely as literary matter. The argument is this; If my bonds have resulted in the furtherance of the Gospel, what might not my death produce? Christ is preached through my bonds; so He may be magnified through my body, whether by my living or dying, "For to me to live will be Christ; and to die [will be His] gain." In either case He will be magnified. The gain will be His.
But though his death might result in Christ's gain, it might not be their gain; for to abide in the flesh would be more needful for those to whom he wrote.* (* See above, under Canon III, Section 5:8; the word "Depart."
12. Philippians 2:12.
What that work is, is added in verse 14. "Do all things without murmurings and disputings." That is how they would work out that salvation which they had in Christ, during the Apostle's absence.
We must not dismiss this negative branch of our subject without a reference to the two pernicious practices
which may be termed Text-mangling on the one hand, and Text-garbling on the other.
The practice is to take a few words (for the space is often very limited) regardless of the context in which they may be found; regardless also of their proper interpretation. Hence, passages are often selected which may give false peace to those who stand in need of conviction of sin; or they may disturb the peace of those who need assurance; or they may remove others from the ground of grace to the ground of works. Sometimes also this practice causes the words of God to be treated as Shakespeare is often treated by advertisers, comic artists, and others, who are thus able to show at once their intimate knowledge of Shakespeare and their cleverness in twisting his words to an end and for a purpose which Shakespeare never dreamed of. This is done in order to attract attention by showing the absurdity of making Shakespeare recommend some "buttons," "pills," or "soap" of which he never heard.
This practice may be innocent and amusing when it is confined to a human author; but, when it is brought into use in dealing with the words of God, the practice cannot be too strongly reprobated as being an insult to God, and pernicious to man. Just in this same way we might quote, or rather misquote, the words of Truth:
All these are true, if taken in connection with the context in which they stand; but not otherwise. Apart from their context these and others may form complete sentences, but they may make either nonsense or false sense. We have actually seen the following short sentence as a wall-text:
Not only are these words thus wrested from their proper context and meaning; but, by so doing, they are set in flat contradiction to Amos 9:14, where exactly the opposite prophecy is given by way of blessing:
On the other hand, there are texts which are of such universal and eternal application, and which so touch the conscience, that they could not fail to be of untold blessing to thousands, if they were chosen for this purpose.
How seldom, if ever, do we see such passages as these plainly printed and prominently exposed:
"The LORD seeth not as man seeth." (1 Sam 16:7).
"Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart." (1 Sam 16:7).
"Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD?" (1 Sam 15:22).
"To obey is better than sacrifice,
The governing principle in this matter should be that, what is put out for general observation should be in perfect harmony with, not wrenched from, its context, and universal and eternal in its application.
14. Text-garbling differs from Text-mangling in that a passage is not only taken out of the context in which God has set it, but it is placed in another context in which He has not set it. This, to say the least, is an act of the grossest impertinence. There are some writers who are specially addicted to this habit, and string a number of texts together as though they occurred exactly in this order in God's Word. True, the references may be given with each verse; but unwary readers may not notice or heed this; hence they will read on from one to the other as though they are reading the words as God has given them.
There is one book, especially, in our mind, which does this, and leads many to do this "daily," every day of the year: but whether in each case it gives daily light is another matter. If it comes to merely stringing texts together, this can easily be done; we could say:
This shows the absurdity to which such a principle can be reduced. We do not deny, of course, that it is possible for a well-taught and well-read spiritually-minded student of the Word of truth to do this with effect. Great light may be thrown often on a passage by putting it alongside another, thus letting one Scripture be its own Divine comment on another. That is quite a different thing altogether from the ill-considered practice of dislocating a passage from its own context and putting it into another.
What we are speaking of is the habit of garbling Scripture by bringing texts together, regardless as to whether such displacement affects in any way the special interpretation which they have in their own respective contexts.
It may be that, with due regard to this point, the truth and teaching of each of two such passages may be enhanced. But the practice is one which requires much spiritual discernment, great care, long experience, special knowledge of the context, extensive knowledge of Scripture, and a recognition of the principle involved in the important distinction between interpretation and application, dealt with in Canon X.
We come now to another part of this subject, as to the context being essential. What we have said above is negative and destructive rather than positive and constructive. We have shown some of the mistakes arising from a disregard of the context; and have seen some of the evils resulting from this dangerous practice.
We now have a happier branch of this subject, viz., we have to show some of the advantages of giving heed to the context; and the blessing, truth, and teaching resulting from a careful observation of the context, not only in the removal of difficulties, or in the explanation of so-called "discrepancies," but in the manifestation of the perfections of the Divine Word.
We shall divide this branch of our subject into two parts
From one point of view, the Word of truth, coming as it does, as a whole, from one and the same Divine Author, is its own context. That is to say, a particular passage is to be regarded not only in the relation it bears to its own nearer or remoter context; but, in the relation which it bears to the Word of God as a whole.
It may not be intended to teach science, chronology, or history, either Assyrian, Babylonian, Palestinian, or Egyptian, as such; but, everything that it records will be in perfect harmony with whatever is true of any or all of these. Scientia means knowledge, and nothing in Scripture will be found to contradict what we really know, which is true science. Much that goes by the name of "science" is only hypothesis; and, in much more, supposition is so mixed up with knowledge that the result is vitiated.
All must be brought to the bar of the Divine Word. That Word as a whole is the context for its every part. All that is outside the two covers of the Word of God must be judged by what is within. We must not reverse this process and judge what is within by anything that may come to us from without.
With this understanding we will look at a few illustrations, which show how certain passages may receive light; how certain difficulties may be removed, how new beauties may be revealed by having regard to this, our fourth canon or principle, that the context is always essential.
Let us take, first, passages which are illuminated by
By this we mean what we may find and read on the same page, or opening; or at the most on the pages or in the chapters near to it.
[By the Remoter Context we mean that which is separated from it by some chapters at least; or even by other books of Scripture.]
This looks, at first sight, as though Jacob and his family had become idolaters. It is true, we read of the "teraphim" which Rachel had taken away when she fled with Jacob from her father's house (31:19); but it does not appear that they were for worship. More probably they were of silver or gold, and were taken as valuables in lieu of the balance of wages still owing by Laban to Jacob. It is hardly credible that idolatry could have been common in Jacob's household as the command in Genesis 35:2 would seem to imply.
We have not far to look before we find the explanation. Only a few verses before (34:26-29) we read
how the sons of Jacob had just captured the city of Shechem and taken their cattle, and "all their wealth, and all their little ones and their wives took they captive, and spoiled even all that was in the house."
Here then we have the explanation of these strangers and their strange gods. Here also we see why Jacob gave this command not only "unto his household," but "to all that were with him."
2. In 2 Kings 4:13 Elisha asks "a great woman" of Shunem (who had befriended him): "Behold, thou hast been careful for us with all this care; what is to be done for thee? Wouldest thou be spoken for to the king or to the captain of the host?" This sounds strange, when, from the previous history, we should hardly suppose that Elisha was on sufficiently good terms with Jehoram king of Israel to have any grounds for holding out such hopes to this woman. And yet he could not be trifling with her after all her care of him.
What then is the explanation? We find it in the immediate context. Chapter 3:16, 17 tells how he had just by a miraculous supply of water saved the armies of Israel and enabled them to defeat their enemy.
Elisha might well therefore presume that he had some ground on which he could appeal for a favour to the king; or at any rate to "the captain of the host."
3. In Daniel 5:30 we read, "In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom." In 6:1, we read, "It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes which should be over the whole kingdom." In Esther 1:1-3, we read that Ahashuerus (a subsequent king of Persia) "reigned from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces." Here, if princes necessarily imply provinces, there appears to be a discrepancy as to which no explanation is vouchsafed by the historian: the fact being stated as well known and needing nothing beyond its statement.
However, in Daniel 8:4, the Nearer Context, we find that Daniel had a vision in the reign of Belshazzar, showing the nature and character of the impending change, and the rise of the Medo-Persian kingdom. It is pictured as "a ram pushing westward, and northward, and southward; so that no beasts might stand before him" (Dan 8:1-4).
This can mean only that, in the early days of its existence, the Medo-Persian kingdom would extend its boundaries, and receive accessions of empire.
This is exactly what we find from Esther 1:1-3, where the one hundred and twenty provinces of Daniel 6:1 had increased to one hundred and twenty-seven in the subsequent reign of Ahashuerus.
4. Ephesians 3:15, "The whole family in heaven and earth." This is another illustration of quite a different character. But first we must ask what is the sense in which we are to take the word "family." It is an unfortunate rendering of the Greek patria (patria), and yet it is so difficult to suggest a better, that the only alternative is to try and understand it. Our English word "family" takes its meaning from the lowest in the household; from famulus, the servant, and not from the father. The Latin familia was the household of servants. But the idea of patria is Hebrew, and is a group or class of families all claiming a common descent from one pathr (pater), or father. The twelve tribes were divided into patria, and these again into oikoi (oikoi), houses. Joseph was of the house and family of David. The word occurs only here, Luke 2:4 and Acts 3:25. It denotes a clan all descended from a common stock.
So much for the meaning of the word. Now for the meaning of the verse: "Of whom the whole family [RV every family] in heaven and earth is named." This verse is always understood of "the Church of God"; and is taken to mean that one part of it is already in heaven, and the other part is on earth. But this is not an illuminated wall-text, or a text from a birthday book, or from an almanac. It occurs in the middle of an Epistle which has something to say about the names, and about the naming of these families.
God has many families, in heaven and on earth, both in this world and in the world to come. But we, with our usual selfishness, can see only one Family; and that must, of course, be the Church, for that is the Family we belong to. Thus we bring everything round to ourselves; especially if there is blessing, mercy, or glory attached to it.
In Ephesians 1:21 we have the names of some of these "Families": "Principalities, Powers, Might, Dominions, Thrones, Angels and Archangels." These belong to "heaven above" and to "the world to come." Two of them are again mentioned in Ephesians 3:10, viz., the "Principalities and Powers," to whom God is manifesting now His manifold wisdom by means of the Church, using it as His object-lesson. The Church must, therefore, be distinct from these families in heaven.
What these heavenly families may be we do not know. Others are mentioned in Romans 8:38; Colossians 1:16; 1 Peter 3:22,* but the Greek words employed reveal no more to us than the English words. For words that pertain only to "this world" cannot contain any information as to the "world to come."
Other "names that are named" are referred to in Ephesians 1:21. And yet in spite of all this when the RV correctly renders pasa patria (pasa patria) every family (Eph 3:15) an outcry is made because Ephesians 3:15 has been heretofore wrongly limited and restricted to the Church; and that verse has been used as a proof that part of the Church is in heaven and part of it is on earth. On this unwarranted limitation the non-Scriptural (not to say un-Scriptural) terms of "church militant" and "church triumphant" are based. But the text reads, "Of [or, by] whom every family in the heavens and upon earth is named."
We know this only because we are here told of it. No further explanation is given. We have the key to the interpretation in the Nearer Context (Eph 1:21). We have "every family that is named" in 3:15, and "every name that is named" in 1:21. It seems very inconsistent to translate "every name" in 1:21, and "the whole family" in 3:15. But out of this inconsistency flows the error; and on this inconsistency is built up the figment of part of the Church being in heaven and part on earth. Those who believe in and teach an "Intermediate state" must get over this difficulty as best they can. For our own part we see no difficulty at all; but only a simple revelation as to unseen realities.
We have here in Ephesians 3:15 and 1:21 a universal truth; but those who limit it to the Church of God not only lose that great truth, but they get error in its stead. Rightly divided, the families in heaven consist of Principalities, Powers, Might, Dominions, Thrones, Angels and Archangels, while the families on earth are Israel and the Church of God. All the promises of God to the Church are made concerning heavenly things; all the promises made to Israel, the other earthly family, have to do with earth and earthly things.
Presently the Church will take its place in the heavens, and will be the chiefest of every family in heaven, while Israel will be the Family on Earth. The object in the Epistle to the Ephesians is to show how the risen Christ has been given and made the Head over all things to (or for) the Church. He is and will be the centre of all things in heaven and on earth, both to the Church and to Israel.
Join together what God has put asunder; fail to divide rightly or to recognize the distinction between these families; allow ourselves to be misled by tradition and deceived by partisan teachers that there is only one family (part of it in heaven and part on earth), and we shall not only lose some of the most wonderful truths of the Word of God, but we shall find ourselves in the mists and clouds of darkness and error.
Rightly divide the Word of truth, giving due heed to the Context, and there will be opened out to us whole vistas of separate truths, which will all converge and
unite in magnifying the Word of God, and in glorifying the Christ of God.
By this we mean that the Word of God, being one whole, is its own Context, for every separate passage, quite apart from all that is outside its own covers; and each passage has to be read in reference to the whole book. Each passage stands, not only in its own immediate Context, but it stands also in the Context of the Bible as a whole; and is to be read, and explained, and understood, and interpreted in the light of the rest of Scripture.
An inexplicable verse, or act, or fact may find its solution in some other part of Scripture. For all of it is God-breathed. All has one Author. The Bible is not a "Symposium" of many authors; for though there are many writers there is only one Author, the Holy Spirit of God. He has used various mouths to speak and various pens to write; He has "spoken at sundry times, and in divers manners": but it is the same God who has spoken.
When we realize this great fact, we shall perceive the all-pervading presence of that one Author in all parts of the Word, which was written as holy men of old spake from God as they were moved by that same Spirit.
If any doubt the truth of this fact they will soon be convinced as they consider the Illustrations which we propose to give them.
God had told him that He would destroy the cities (v 20) Sodom and Gomorrah. Genesis 19 speaks of "the cities." But Abraham prayed only for "the city." No reason is given. And, for aught that is said in these two chapters, we might conclude that he was influenced solely by feelings of humanity. But on referring back to 14:12, we learn that his nephew Lot and his family dwelt in Sodom, and thus we see a special reason why Abraham should thus feel so acutely, and intercede so earnestly for deliverance of that city.
We may further learn that God has more than one way of answering prayer. When we are in difficulty, danger, or trouble, we see a way out of it, and we ask God, very "definitely," to deliver us by that way. All the time He has many ways of delivering us, each better than the one we can see. No greater evil could happen to us than for God always to answer our prayer and grant our definite request.
Here, in this history, Abraham could see only one way of delivering his nephew Lot; so he prays that God would avert His judgment from Sodom and spare "the city."
God did not grant his request, but he delivered Lot out of the midst of the overthrow; and thus answered Abraham's prayer, though not in the way Abraham had asked.
2. In Genesis 24:24 Rebekah is said to be "the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, which she bare unto Nahor." From verse 15 we learn that Nahor was Abraham's brother. But there is nothing in all this chapter to explain to us how it was that a grand-daughter of Abraham's brother could be old enough to marry Isaac, Abraham's son; in other words, how Rebekah of the third generation could marry Isaac who was of the second generation.
We have to go back to Genesis 18:11, 12, quite a remote context, and there we read that Sarah, Abraham's wife, was "old and well stricken in years," before Isaac was born.
This quite accounts for what otherwise would be a difficulty. Dr. Blunt refers to such an example as this for quite a different purpose. In his work on Undesigned Coincidences he uses these and similar examples as an argument for the veracity of the Scriptures.
We refer to the same examples with quite a different object, viz., to show how, in a difficulty which we meet with in a particular passage, we find the solution in a remote Context, and often in a mere passing parenthetical statement.
Grave charges have been brought against the Text on account of these and other so-called "discrepancies" by the "Higher" Critics of the present day. But it will be found that most of these objections are contained in the writings of the French and English Atheists and Deists of the eighteenth century, though the cursory reader may be quite sure that no writer or editor would be so ignorant, or would be so careless, as to make such blunders, if blunders they are. Moses and his readers knew the facts so well that there could be no possibility of the record being misunderstood.
It is rather an evidence of veracity and accuracy that the interchange of names should thus be made, without any attempt to explain it. A later editor would be sure to have noted the phenomenon presented in the Text, and have made some effort to correct or explain it. It is in the remoter Context of Judges 8:24 that we learn from a parenthetical remark, connected with quite another subject, that the Midianites, whom Gideon had just defeated, "had golden earrings* because they were Ishmaelites."
Thus it must have been a well-known fact as shown by this parenthetical remark that all Midianites were Ishmaelites, but all Ishmaelites were not Midianites. But if we enquire further, and ask how this could be, we have to go to another context altogether, even to two Scriptures earlier than Genesis 37.
We find our first clue in Genesis 16:11, 12, where we learn that ISHMAEL was the son of Abram, by his wife Hagar: while from Genesis 25:2 we learn that MIDIAN and MEDAN were Abraham's sons by his wife Keturah. So that Ishmael and Midian were half-brothers, and doubtless shared the same countries and the same life. Hence, in Genesis 37 there was no need to add any explanation of this fact, because it would be a matter of common knowledge. But we, approaching Genesis 37 from its own standpoint, are left to discover the fact; and we do so, from the remoter Context of Judges 8 (where a parenthetical remark solves the whole difficulty), and from Genesis 16:11, 12 and 25:2.
Thus, it is clear, from Genesis 37, that while the caravan at a distance was seen and known to be Ishamaelite, a closer inspection showed that there were Midianite merchant-men travelling with the company, and were known by wearing the same nose- or ear-rings, which we see from Judges 8 were the distinguishing badge of all Ishmaelites.
We could hardly find an example which more clearly shows the importance of the Canon we are considering, and affords evidence of the exceeding value of carefully studying and marking the Context, however remote it may be, for the purposes of interpretation.
4. Exodus 6:16-20. Moses' Parents.
Thus, Jochebed of the first generation would be about the same age as Amram of the second.
Dr. Blunt cites this to show that, as the object of Numbers 26:59 was not to explain this matter, we have an undesigned coincidence which establishes the veracity of the Scriptures. We cite it to show the importance of always noting and heeding the context.
5. Numbers 16:1. The Sons of Kohath and Reuben.
6. Numbers 16:27. The Sons of Korah.
Doubtless, therefore, they obeyed the call of Moses and Aaron (16:24) and "gat up" out of the Tabernacle which these rebels had set up; and so were delivered.
These "sons of Korah," thus rescued as brands from the burning, monuments of the grace of God, were in later days conspicuous in the prominence given to them and their descendants in the worship of the Temple the "true Tabernacle" under David and Hezekiah.
7. Joshua 3:15. Jordan overflowing in time of harvest.
8. 1 Samuel 13:19. No smith found in Israel.
This explains how it was that Ehud "made him a dagger which had two edges"; and made it himself (Judg 3:16). Shamgar had to use an ox-goad in his attack on the Philistines (Judg 3:31). Samson "had nothing in his hand," no weapon, when he slew the lion (Judg 14:5,6). There was not "a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel" (Judge 5:8). In the days of Israel's liberty we read of men that "drew the sword"; but in the days of their oppression we read of the sling and the stone (Judg 20:2,15; 1 Sam 17:40) and other ignoble weapons.
Dr. Blunt cites all these as arguments for the veracity of Scripture.
We use them for another purpose; to show the necessity of having due regard to the remoter Contexts of the Word of God in order to understand parenthetical remarks which are made, and left, without any explanation being given in the immediate context.
9. 1 Samuel 17:4. "Goliath of Gath."
10. 1 Kings 17:9. "A little oil in a cruse."
If this last sentence means anything, it denotes an abundance of olive trees and of oil, as the special characteristic of Asher's blessing.
This is just what we find in 1 Kings 17:9, where after three years and a half of drought there is still a little oil left; and that in the store of a widow who was probably only a small proprietor.
11. 2 Chronicles 17:1. "Jehoshaphat strengthened himself against Israel."
12. 2 Chronicles 22:11, 12. Joash, Jehosheba and nurse hidden six years in the Temple.
We marvel how such a thing could be; for, for aught that is said there, the worship of the Temple was still going on, and the difficulty of hiding these three for so long a time looks as though the thing were impossible. If we had no regard to the remoter Context we should see here an insuperable difficulty; but when we read the whole context we find that, like most of our other difficulties, they are made by ourselves! It is not until we reach chapter 24 that we learn what had previously taken place.
Not until those six years had run their course, and Athaliah was slain, and Joash sat upon the throne of Judah, not until then does it come out (and even then, not at all for the purpose of solving our difficulty or removing our perplexity) that in the previous reign the house of God had been broken up, and all the vessels removed to the temple of Baal which had been established in Judah (24:7).
Not until Joash begins to reign are we told this, and even then it is only to explain why Joash set himself to repair it by preparing timber and stones and masons and carpenters for the work (24:12-14), and not to explain why Hehosheba, Joash, and his nurse found the house of the LORD such a safe hiding-place. These large
preparations made by Joash for the repairs show the extent of the breaches which had been made; and tell us how that ruined and deserted Temple was the safest place in the whole kingdom.
13. 2 Chronicles 21:10. The revolt of Libnah.
The parenthetical remark in 2 Chronicles 21:10 merely states the fact that at "the same time also did Libnah revolt from under his [Jehoram's] hand; because he had forsaken the LORD God of his fathers." What is this remark thrown in here for? To tell us to look and see where and what Libnah was. We have to go back as far as Joshua 21:13, and there we find that Libnah was one of the cities of the Priests.
This tells us that when Jehoram and Athaliah broke up the Temple of God, and set up the house of Baal, the priests held aloof, and must have conspired to restore Joash to the throne as soon as the convenient time should come.
This explains why Jehoiada the High Priest had the chief part in the restoration of Joash and the execution of Athaliah, and the slaying of Mattan her priest of Baal (2 Chron 23:14-16).
This is why the priests took such a prominent part in collecting the money to repair and restore the House of the LORD (24:4-11).
So that these references to the remoter Context reveal all these truths, explain these difficulties, and throw a flood of light on the whole history.
14. 2 Kings 18:13, 14. The depletion of Hezekiah's Treasury.
In addition to these presents there must have been vast spoils after Sennacherib's army had been destroyed, if we may judge from another remote Context, in 2 Kings 7:15, where, when the Syrians fled, "all the way was full of garments and vessels which the Syrians had cast away in their haste."
15. Isaiah 62:4, 5. Thy land shall be called Hephzibah.
In verses 4, 5 we read of the giving of this new name:
Now, when we remember that Isaiah prophesied in the days of Hezekiah, we may well conclude that this prophecy synchronized with the marriage of Hezekiah with his wife Hephzibah (2 Kings 21:1).
As to when this took place we have no record; but we do know that at the time he was stricken unto death (in the fourteenth year of his reign) he had no son; nor was Manasseh born until three of those miraculously added fifteen years had run their course.
The marriage of Hezekiah therefore occupies an important, not to say a solemn, place in his history; and might well be thus used in connection with another solemn crisis in the miraculous future history of Israel.
16. Jeremiah 13:18. "Say...unto the Queen."
Dr. Blunt suggests that as Jehoiachin was only eighteen and had reigned only three months (v 8), the queen dowager held a position of some influence, which is sufficient to explain the reference of Jehovah to her by Jeremiah.
17. Mark 14:51, 52. The young man who fled from Gethsemane.
This garment must have been put on hastily and loosely, for it was left in the enemies' hands unceremoniously. All these different contexts unite in helping us to identify this young man with Lazarus whom the Lord had raised from the dead.
18. John 21:15. "Lovest thou me more than these?"
19. Acts 2:16. "This is that."
"This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16). There is nothing in these words to tell us what is "this" and what is "that." The word "this" is emphatic; and the word "but," with which the new argument begins, sets what follows in contrast, not in correspondence. It does not begin with the word "For," but with the word "But." This points to the fact that the quotation is intended to show that their enemies' charge (that they were drunk) would not stand. So far from such signs and wonders proving they were drunk, Peter asks, What about the prophecy of Joel? He prophesied of similar scenes "in the last days."
Peter does not say that these were the last days, but: "this is what Joel says" of those days. Will those scenes (he argues) lie open to the same charge of drunkenness? Certainly not! Then, how can these men be charged with drunkenness now, especially "seeing it is but the third hour of the day."
Peter is not expounding Joel. Nor is he saying that that prophecy was then fulfilled. He does not say "then was fulfilled"; or, "as it is written." He merely calls attention to what Joel said of a similar scene, which is to be fulfilled "in the last days." That this is so is clear the moment we turn to the prophet Joel, and read what Jehovah there speaks by him.
To understand Joel's prophecy it is absolutely necessary for us to see exactly what is the subject of it. What Dispensation is he speaking about? Is it about the Christian Dispensation, or is it the Dispensation of Judgment which shall follow it? Is it all about the Jew? or about the Gentile? or, is it about the Church of God?
The Structure will give us the Scope. It is exceedingly simple:
The Prophecy of Joel, as a whole.
A. 1:1-3. The Call to hear.
We see, from this, what the prophecy of Joel is all about. It describes the fulfillment of the last clause of "the Song of Moses" in Deuteronomy 32 (see The Apocalypse - E.W. Bullinger), which finishes up with the solemn but gracious assurance in verse 43:
So the member B (Joel 2:18) begins:
"THIS," therefore, is "THAT." This is the scope, or the subject-matter, or context of Acts 2:16. It concerns Jehovah's "Land" and Jehovah's "People," and not "the Church of God." Peter addresses these "people": he says, "Ye men of Judea" (v 14), "Ye men of Israel" (v 22). He calls "the house of Israel" (v 36) to this very repentance to which Joel calls in view of "the last days." For national repentance is ever declared to be the condition of national blessing.
But the key to the correct understanding of Peter's quotation lies in the word "afterward" of Joel 2:28. After what? No one can tell us but Joel. We ourselves cannot tell apart from his prophecy.
We see that 2:28 is part of the member we have marked B (2:18-3:21), the subject of which is the evil
(of B, 1:4-12) removed from the Land and the People.
The removal of this evil is elaborately set forth and described. The member B is no mere conglomeration or jumble of words and phrases. It has its own Structure as follows:
Expansion of B. (Joel 2:18-3:21).
B.a1. 2:18, 19. Blessings bestowed. (Temporal)
These "Blessings bestowed" must be read on from one to the other; and the "Evil removed" must, in like manner, be connected; the members relating to the "Evil removed" being treated as parenthetical to the members which treat of "Blessing bestowed," and the "Blessing bestowed" members being treated as parenthetical to the "Evil removed" members. From the above Structure we see that 2:28 is contained in the member marked "a2," and is not a separate member to be treated parenthetically; but it connects the Spiritual blessing with the temporal, and shows that it follows on from it.
This Spiritual blessing is introduced by the words:
After the Temporal blessings of
It is "afterward"; after all these temporal blessings, that these Spiritual blessings shall be bestowed. This is "afterward"; when the Spirit shall be poured out "upon all flesh." The most cursory reader must see and know that the Spirit was NOT poured out upon all flesh in Acts 2, but only on those then present: that none of these wondrous and great signs had been shown: that deliverance was not manifested in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem; for the Land and the People were still in the power of the Romans.
This word "AFTERWARD" thus shows that the prophecy of Joel in Acts 2 is not quoted in order to prove that this Pentecostal scene was the fulfillment of it; but in order to show that, as that future scene could not be ascribed to drunkenness, so neither could this Pentecostal scene be so ascribed. At least, a child could see that Acts 2 is not the fulfillment of Joel 2; but it is hopeless for those to see it whose eyes are blinded by believing the tradition of those who persist in saying that "the Church was formed at Pentecost."
They not only say this with great assurance; but they lay it down as an article of faith; and are ready to excommunicate any who do not believe it. But this is only the Tradition of the Brethren; not even the Tradition of the Fathers though it just as surely makes void the Word of God.
There can be no mistake about Joe's word "afterward." The Holy Spirit by Peter interprets it as of "the last days." The Hebrew is not the simple rxa)af ('achar), after (Gen 5:4),* but it is this, compounded with Nk@' (ken), so, or thus (Gen 1:7), referring always to what follows. It is Nk@'-yr'x:)a ('acharey-ken), after that (Gen 6:4, 7:14, 23:19, 41:30; 1 Sam 9:13, etc., etc.).
It is thus perfectly certain that the word "this" in Acts 2:16 refers to what follows, and not to what precedes: to the yet future events prophesied by Joel, and not to the events then taking place at Jerusalem.
The word "this" is an emphatic pronoun. But there is no similarly emphatic pronoun for the word "that." It is simply the article with the perfect passive participle:"This [that follows] is what has been said by the prophet Joel." Not "this" (which has happened); for, in that case, what could be the "this"? This apparent drunkenness? There was no "this," preceding. It would be these events; these phenomena; these Pentecostal scenes. But it is Singular, "this," agreeing with the Scripture about to be quoted from Joel.
The word "this" could not, and cannot, refer to these Pentecostal scenes; for no gift of tongues was spoken of by Joel. It could not refer to the pouring-out foretold by Joel, because here, this pouring-out was only on the Apostles; whereas Joel speaks of it being poured upon "all flesh." There is not a word said in Acts 2 about any of their "sons and daughters" prophesying; or of their "old men" dreaming dreams; or of their "young men" seeing visions; or of their "servants and handmaids" receiving spiritual gifts.
In fact there is in Acts 2 no fulfillment at all of Joel's prophecy, either implied or expressed.
There is nothing beyond the argument that the charge of drunkenness could no more be brought against these present Pentecostal scenes than against those yet future scenes connected with the blessings to be bestowed upon Israel, prophesied of by Joel, as what should take place "afterward": i.e., after all those temporal blessings have been bestowed on Israel's Land and on Israel's People.
20. 1 Corinthians 11:10. "Power on her head."
21. Galatians 3:15-17. The four hundred, and the four hundred and thirty years.
22. Galatians 3:20. "God is one."
23. Hebrews 12:17. "No place of repentance."