An Important Warning About
Violating Biblical Context
By William Handschumacher
Rock of Offence Special Commentary
The Holy Scriptures (God’s Word) always has two components. The first component is the Scripture verse itself. The second component is God's originally intended context. The context of a particular Scripture is something that defines the way God wants it to be used. If anyone lifts Scripture from this intended Divine context and reinserts it into a context of their own design, what was originally God’s Word subtly becomes a man-made doctrine that continues to look and sound like God’s Word. These doctrines are often referred to as, 'spiritual counterfeits' regardless of their popularity. Using Scripture out of context is one of the basic strategies used by aberrant forms of Christianity, abusive church governments and false religious cults (2 Peter 2:1-3, Gal. 5:4-8, Gal. 1:6-8, Rom. 16:17-18, Matt. 23:13-15, Col. 2:8).
In the Rock of Offence ministry, we interpret the Bible literally, unless a specific section of Scripture tells us to view it figuratively (or allegorically). When the Bible teaches something within a certain context, we believe it means exactly what it says when interpreted within that context.
The Apostle Paul Commands All
Students and Teachers of the
Bible to Respect Its Context
"Be diligent to present yourself approved of God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly (or correctly) dividing the Word of Truth." (2 Timothy 2:15)
Many who regularly read the Bible tend to ignore an important bed-rock spiritual truth. In our various commentaries and studies we repeatedly warn that Scripture is divided into two distinct programs:
Israel's Old Testament - or Old
Covenant program of the Law
The New Testament or New Covenant
program of the Church under
Grace, which is the unmerited
and undeserved favor of God.
The New Testament reveals that the Church (or 'Body of Christ') is not subject to Old Testament Law (Romans 6:14, Galatians 5:18). It also warns that anyone who tries to obtain salvation by following the tenants of the previous Old Testament program - is under a curse (Galatians 5:4, Galatians 3:10-12) and is separated or cut-off from Christ (Galatians 5:4). God is warning us that His Word is structured in a certain way ... and that there are serious consequences when this structure (or context) is ignored. The following is the truth Paul was communicating to Timothy ...
God's Word is divided into two
major programs (or covenants)
that must never be mixed
As a result, the reader can only be under one of these "systems of faith" - but not both. This is why Paul instructed Timothy to "rightly (or correctly) divide the Word of Truth" if he wanted to be "approved by God" (2 Timothy 2:15).
As one Bible teacher warned, "If
God's Word can be "rightly divided",
it can also be "wrongly divided".
When church leaders and their
congregations 'wrongly divide'
God's Word - (which also includes
refusing to divide it - by mixing
it all together) their doctrine
continues to look and sound like
good, fundamental Bible teaching.
Yet, this is only an illusion.
Scripture reveals that Christendom
has been plagued with this
spiritually lethal problem since
the first century.
To casual readers, it sounds like Paul is discarding some Scripture. Yet, this is an incorrect assumption. Paul's command to "rightly divide God's Word" is about respecting Biblical context. This involves the recognition that God speaks to more than one group of people, who live in different Biblical time settings ... and gives a different set of instructions and laws to each group. Contrary to a majority of popular Christian teachings, this is how God designed the Bible. Obeying and respecting Biblical context is ...
Identifying the group God is
Discerning which group you
Then applying the correct
Scritpural principles and
directives of that group
to your life.
All forms of false Christian theology either ignores or distorts Biblical context, which is a common practice designed to make Paul's warning look unimportant and meaningless. This is often done to protect wrong denominational doctrines and traditions. All Scripture in the Bible is relevant to the Church, because it provides insight into how God thinks and acts. It reveals, among many other things, why Jesus - as Israel's promised Messiah and Lord of the Christian Church - had to die and shed His blood at the cross. Later, following His crucifixion, the New Covenant (as taught by Saint Paul in the New Testament) unlocks the great salvation that Christ's sacrifice now provides through Grace.
All Scripture is beneficial and necessary to educate the Church - or Body of Christ. Yet, Contrary to popular opinion, God does not say that all Scripture is 'binding upon the Church' - especially the parts involving the practices of Old Testament Judaism. One example is the animal sacrifices required to atone for the sin of Israel. Large sections of the Old Testament contain detailed instructions, comments and stories involving this major tenant of the Law. However, after Jesus as 'The Lamb of God' died on the cross, this Old Testament practice is no longer required (it becomes obsolete according to Hebrews 8:6-13). This remains true, despite the fact that it occupies such a dominant place in the Bible. Yet, the Church wouldn't properly understand what Jesus did at the cross, without first being educated about Old Testament animal sacrifices ... which they are no longer required to perform. As a result, we can see that Scripture operates in both an educational and a doctrinal role.
After the cross, the Church
that Jesus said He would build
comes exclusively under the
authority of "the New Covenant",
which is established on His
The New Covenant is also called "the new and living way of Christ" established on His blood (Read: Matt. 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25, 2 Cor. 3:6, Heb. 8:6-13, Heb. 9:15, Heb. 10:19-23, Heb. 12:24).
The New Covenant contains Christ's instructions for His special believing people called "The Church". This covenant is called "new" because it is radically different than the the old (and now obsolete) religious system that previously existed. The New Covenant could only begin after Christ's death, resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
The New Covenant is recorded in the New Testament and exclusively applies to the Church and its blood-bought members. It's 'sphere of authority' is "post-Pentecost" ... meaning that it does not extend backward in time as some church leaders wrongly teach. The New Testament book of Hebrews (Carefully read Chapter 8) warns that Christ's New Covenant has made the previous Old Testament religious program (or first covenant) obsolete. As a result, Christ's New Covenant is referred to as "a better covenant established on better promises". Christ's covenant is better because it's now established on God's unmerited and undeserved Grace - and not on our imperfect obedience to the Law, which was the weakness with the old system. Yet, a vast majority within Christendom rejects this truth and mixes everything together in violation of the Bible's rules of context. This "mixing together" (or the unifying of two radically different systems of theology (the Bible calls them 'covenants') always creates "a different gospel and another Jesus". Paul warned that this popular practice places a frightening curse on its adherents, who are usually professing Christians who love God (Galatians 1:6-8).
Three Biblical Classifications
Contrary to some popular church teachings, there are three categories or classifications of information in the Bible. The first is doctrine that is binding upon its target audience (its laws, rules and principles are to be observed by that group). The second is information that educates and informs all students, scholars and readers of the Scriptures. The third involves principles that universally applies to everyone. The apostle Paul, who wrote nearly half of the New Testament canon, warned that the Bible has a context that must be observed if we are to walk in truth. However, many choose to ignore context (or claim that it's not important) ... and then teach from the Bible from this misleading perspective. This creates the illusion that we're hearing God's Word, when we're often hearing a man-made doctrine that quotes God out-of-context. As a result, when a Bible-believer throws out or abuses the context of Scripture ... they are actually 'believing the Bible wrong'.
Discerning the correct context
of Scripture generally involves
keeping two groups and the
different sets of laws that govern
them--separated or 'rightly divided'.
THE FIRST GROUP consists of
Jewish people under the Mosaic
Law of the Old Testament.
THE SECOND GROUP is the New
Testament Church under the
Grace of Christ (also called
the New Covenant).
The book of Hebrews refers to
these two positions or programs
(and the two different groups
of people associated with them)
as; 'the first covenant and the
"But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He (Jesus) is also mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second." (Hebrews 8:6-7)
"In that He (Jesus Christ) says, "a new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." (Hebrews 8:13)
The apostle Paul speaks the same thing to the Galatian congregation in a more detailed and slightly different way;
"Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar - for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children (speaking of the first covenant) -- but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written:
"Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband."
Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of Promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? "Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman." So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free (speaking of the second - or New Covenant)." (Galatians 4:21-31 - Emphasis Added)
Identifying the People of the
First Covenant - and the People
of the Second Covenant
Students of the Bible face the sometimes difficult task of determining the target audience of a particular section of Scripture that is only binding upon that group. Indentifying the target audience, or the group to whom the Scripture is addressed, is crucial in discovering God's original intention (or its context) for that Scripture. When Scripture is addressed to one group, it doesn't necessarily mean its instructions or tenants are also binding upon everyone else to whom it is not addressed. This is what Paul was warning about when he commanded all believers to "rightly divide the Word of God" in 2 Timothy 2:15. Contrary to some popular fundamental church teaching, Paul taught that it violates the context of Scripture to mix the Old Testament Jewish Mosaic law (designed for Israel) - with the Gospel of Christ (or the New Covenant) designed exclusively for the Church. Another disastrous yet common way of violating context is to insist that Israel and the Church are treated the same by God in the Bible. Paul warned that this common way of handling Scripture inadvertently creates a teaching that misleads its audience and commits the dangerous heretical practice of redefining Christ's salvation. We must remember that even something as extreme as heresy continues to look and sound like fundamental Bible teaching. Otherwise, no one would be fooled. Its "look-alike" (counterfeit) characteristics is what makes it so dangerous.
Regardless of its "binding" nature upon a specific targeted group (whether Israel or the Church) everything in the Bible exists for the spiritual education of all readers. When a letter (epistle), such as the one written by James, is addressed to a specific group (in this case, "the twelve tribes of Israel" - and not the Church), the instructions, principles and commands in that letter should be interpreted according to the specific covenant laws governing that group. Yet, all the general information in the letter continues to exist for educational purposes.
A Popular Bible Scholar Warns
About the Spiritual Consequences
of Mixing Israel's Program of the
Mosaic Law - with The Grace
Program of the Church
A unique commentary from C.I. Scofield, who produced the popular “Scofield Reference Bible” sounds a sober warning to the institutional Christian Church. We are not necessarily students of Scofield. Yet, we find that his writings in this case reinforce the subject of this commentary. Scofield focuses his warning on the system of Bible interpretation used by Reformed theology. It's important to know that Reformed theology exists within many major denominations under various different names such as;
- Covenant Theology
- The Institutes of Christian Religion
- New Calvinism
- Various types of Christian Fundamentalism
- Various types of Presbyterianism
- Historic Christianity
- Biblical Christianity
- Biblical Theology
- Replacement Theology
- Holiness Theology
- Discipleship and Shepherding Theology
- Christian Reconstructionism
- Christian Restoration Theology
(This list is not exhaustive.)
Scofield makes the following statements:
“In contrast to Reformed theology is Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism says that to find the believer’s rule of life you must go not to Mount Sinai, but to Mount Calvary. Mount Sinai is powerless to justify a person and Mount Sinai is also powerless to sanctify a person. The Law is not the believer's rule of life. Something else is. The Scofield Bible states this position very clearly: "The test of the gospel is grace. If the message excludes Grace, or mingles Law with Grace as the means of justification or sanctification, or denies the fact or guilt of sin which along gives Grace its occasion and opportunity, it is 'another gospel', and the preacher of it is under the anathema of God."
[From "Footnote #6" in the SCOFIELD REFERENCE BIBLE under Galatians 1:6--Emphasis Added]
“Most of us have been reared and now live under the influence of Galatianism. Protestant theology is for the most part thoroughly Galatianized, in that neither the law or grace is given its distinct and separate place as in the counsels of God, but they are mingled together in one incoherent system. The law is no longer, as in the divine intent, a ministration of death (2 Cor. 3:7), of cursing (Gal. 3:10), or conviction (Rom. 3:19), because we are taught that we must try to keep it, and that by divine help we may. Nor does grace, on the other hand, bring us blessed deliverance from the dominion of sin, for we are kept under the law as a rule of life despite the plain declaration of Romans 6:14.” -- C.I. SCOFIELD --
The most frightening part is Scofield's use of the word "anathema" when talking about those who preach the popular gospel that mixes Law and Grace. The apostle Paul uses the word "accursed" when describing the misleading message of these preachers. Both words (anathema and accursed) suggest a type of "Divine rejection" that falls upon these unsuspecting ministers (and their followers that preach the same message). This is a most serious issue that is never properly addressed in a church service because it causes fierce controversy and emotional disagreements. Yet, it is a subject that should never be treated as just some "disagreement" over someone's opinion. The Scriptures warn that God doesn't respect the opinions of man - and that many opinions are wrong. Do you want to gamble your eternal life on something as unstable as an opinion?
By watching the confusion caused by Reformed theology for many years, I wanted to find some way it could be identified. It commonly operates by stealth across all denominational lines regardless of the name on the church building or the popularity of the pastor. Remember that popularity and ministry ordination never equates to the preaching of truth. All forms and denominational "offshoots" of Reformed theology have three major characteristics :
- It opposes (often with hostility) a "dispensational" or literal interpretation of Scripture.
- Reformed theology wrongly teaches that ... by committing the sin of crucifying Jesus Christ (their Messiah), God has permanently rejected Israel and "replaced" them with "the New Testament Church". According to Reformed theologians, this divine rejection transfers the entire Old Testament program of the Mosaic Law--to the Church. However, Scripture teaches that the Church is now under the New Covenant of Christ that started after the cross. To maintain the illusion of looking "Biblical" Reformed ministers and preachers solve this problem by illegally mixing these two programs of Old Testament Law and New Testament Grace together. This is why Christian believers are referred to as "spiritual Jews" or "true Jews" under Reformed theology. A modern name for this practice (a core teaching of Reformed theology) is something called "Replacement theology". This name is used because they believe and teach that the Church has replaced Israel. The Bible properly keeps the Old Testament dispensation of Israel under its program of the Law - and the New Testament dispensation of the mostly Gentile Church under New Covenant Grace ... separated. This is why the apostle Paul instructed Timothy to keep God's Word, "rightly (or correctly) divided". However, Reformed and Replacement theology carelessly (and illegally) mixes them together into one "unified doctrine". Those who hold to Reformed theology believes that there are, and have always been, only one people of God. They believe that Israel was the "Church" in the Old Testament ... and what the apostle Paul calls "the Church" in the New Testament is the "new Israel". God's directives and provisions to Israel in the Old Testament are wrongly (and illegally) "spiritualized" and transferred to the Church in the New Testament because of Israel's sin of unbelief and the rejection of their Messiah that led to His crucifixion.
- Reformed theology subtly mixes the works associated with the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament given only to the Jews, with New Testament Grace promised to the gentiles. It mixes these two separate and different covenants into "one message", rather than properly keeping the programs separated. This "mixed doctrine and one message" is the way a majority of Christian churches (regardless of their label or denomination) teach it today. It's a close relative of the error that nearly destroyed the Galatian Church and the dominant influence that Scofield referred to as "Galatian religion" (or being "Galatianized"). He used this term to identify counterfeit Christianity.
Additional information about these
dangerous beliefs that exist within
Reformed theology, is available in
the following commentary.
Avoiding the Error of Replacement Theology
The apostle Paul, who authored nearly half of the New Testament Scriptures, condemned this practice (regardless of its name) using the strongest and most offensive words of his time. Once again, Paul was so angered by the adherents of this doctrine that he warned about a curse that exists on all those who teach it (Galatians 1:8-9). He told one church fellowship and its leadership that they were "bewitched" by it! (Galatians 3:1). This mixing together of the dispensation of Law with the dispensation of Grace (Remember that both dispensations [or covenant programs] are recorded in our Bible) has caused havoc within the modern Christian church. I know how both sides think. Many years ago, I embraced a form of Reformation theology taught by several fundamentalist churches I attended as a young believer. I've learned that this theology and the distorted way it interprets the Bible is very dangerous. It's so destructive to the truth of Scripture that all believers should avoid it. However, despite the spiritual bondage involved, I am persuaded that you can legitimately and authentically obtain salvation under its tenants.
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