When I was a kid, I collected baseball cards like crazy. I peaked sometime around 1987 through 1993, gathering hundreds of cards of hundreds of players and spending hundreds of hours sorting them. Everyone knows about what’s on the front of the card. There’s a picture of the player, the name of his team, his position, and perhaps (if it’s a special card) something about him being an All-Star or a Record Breaker.
I got to know the fronts of the cards well, but there’s a ton of information is on the back. Most people only glance at the back of the card. But, it’s there that you find out how old the player is, where he’s from, his height, weight, which side he bats and throws from, and his year-by-year and career statistics. Some card companies even highlight certain stats to let you know when a guy led the league in a particular category.
As a kid, I remember learning which guys played the longest, which teams they played for, which years were there best–all by looking at the back of the card.
I see this as a great illustration about studying the Bible. The front of the card is what you may be familiar with–a particular story or verse. The back of the card is everything that goes into helping you make sense of the front of the card. In this case, it’s the context of that particular story or verse. Without the back of the card, you don’t know much about the player on the front. Without the surrounding literary and historical context, you don’t know much about that particular Bible story or verse. I think this is why so many people get frustrated with Bible study. They read something, see no direct connection to 21st Century America, and give up. You’d be surprised how much there is to learn and apply through understanding context. That’s when studying the Bible is fun.
The point? Context matters. Big time. Without context, you cannot possibly understand what the Bible means. Without context, you’re certain to misapply it.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be writing about the Sermon on the Mount, from Matthew 5-7. We’ll start with the background and context tomorrow.
Here are some helpful resources on learning about the background and context of a Bible story or passage: context is everything handout; also check out our church’s website for an audio recording of this teaching: https://elmgrovemurray.org/#/resources/understand-the-bible