It is Easy to Misinterpret Scripture By Ignoring Context

May 20, 2015 at 12:23 PM

zech-chartIn a previous article, I touched on the section of Zechariah that many believe refers to Jesus. The article – Is Zechariah 13:6 Talking About Jesus or Someone Else? – focuses on that question and, interestingly enough, some disagreed with my conclusions. People certainly have a right to disagree (or agree) with whatever I write here. In fact, I have stated numerous times with difficult passages that I could be wrong. Beyond this, I believe that it is extremely important that people do their own research to determine whether or not what I am teaching here is biblical. If it’s not, then it should be tossed out. If it is true, then it should be embraced.

What I find more than frustrating today though is the overwhelming lack of ability that many professing Christians have in determining the truth of Scripture. So many want to take this verse here or that one there and marry them so that they support their conclusions. After my article on Zechariah 13:6, one individual wrote to point out what he believed to be my error. He stated:

“Jesus once said, “No one can see the Kingdom of God unless they born again.”

Is it possible your perspective on the issue is like that of Nicodemus, whom also didn’t understand what Jesus said.
Your natural understanding of Zachariah is not spiritual and therefore cannot see the truth behind it…
Purify yourself and than (sic) you will see and understand truth…
Oh, by the way, it is talking about Jesus.
“The House of my Friend” is referring to Abraham(the house of Israel)… James 2: 23; Isaiah 41: 8.

“And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.”

“But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend,

May the LORD broaden your understanding in spirit and in truth.”

The frustrating part of his response is not that he essentially said I need to be “purified” (an act that occurred at the moment I became born again, because of the sinless blood of Jesus), but that he seemed to have no ability to “rightly divide” the Scriptures at all. This is terribly frustrating. It’s not that I know “everything” because I do not. However, so many of the misinterpretations made today by well-meaning Christians are due to one simple fact: ripping verses out of context.

Context means everything in most cases. With respect to the Bible, it was not written in a vacuum and while God’s Word is eternal and never changes, too many Christians seem to think of the Bible as though it was actually a book of magic! It means what they interpret it to mean, not what God wrote it to mean (using 40 human authors covering a period of 1600 to 2000 years).

Our friend I’ve quoted above is 100% positive that Zechariah 13:6 is talking about Jesus. He goes meandering through Scripture plucking a verse here or another one there as though context means absolutely nothing because to him, it really doesn’t.

Can you imagine writing a 10-page letter to a friend thinking you’ve made yourself absolutely clear only to find out that they took a sentence from page 1, a phrase from page 3, another sentence from page 8 and a paragraph from page 10, put them all together and came up with a completely different meaning? Would that not frustrate you? I’m sure it would. Your first question would probably be “why did you do that because you have actually changed my original meaning and intent?” Their answer would be, “well, you wrote the entire letter yourself, so it doesn’t matter where you said what, does it?” Yes, actually, it does.

As I pointed out in my article (and repeated to our friend), the actual context of Zechariah 13 has to do with false prophets. I’m not debating that Zechariah has numerous passages that refer directly to Jesus as Messiah. In fact, Zechariah is second only to Isaiah for referencing Messiah (Jesus). That’s not the issue. In fact, it is clear that just in Zechariah alone, the following sections do specifically refer to Jesus:

  • Zechariah 3:1-2 – angel of the Lord
  • Zechariah 3:8; 6:12-13 – righteous Branch
  • Zechariah 6:13 – King-Priest
  • Zechariah 10:4 – cornerstone, tent peg, bow of battle
  • Zechariah 11:4-13 – good shepherd sold for 30 pieces of silver
  • Zechariah 12:10 – the pierced one
  • Zechariah 14 – the coming Judge and righteous King

The issue is whether or not Zechariah 13:6 is one of those passages. If we use the context in which that particular verse rests, the meaning becomes very clear. If we ignore the context, the meaning up for grabs.

This is what too many Christians (and non-Christians), alike do. They remove a portion of Scripture from its context and with the context gone, they can apply any meaning they choose to the text in question. This is called eisegesis, as opposed to exegesis, where you go to Scripture to determine God’s meaning. This is how we “rightly divide” God’s Word. It’s not about what we manage to get out of it. It’s what God intended it to mean.

Zechariah 13:6 says simply: “And one will say to him, ‘What are these wounds between your arms?’ Then he will say, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends’.”

If I take that verse out of its original context (the rest of the chapter, as well as the entire book of Zechariah), then I can easily see how our friend came to the belief that the verse is about Jesus even though it’s very difficult to arrive to that conclusion if the verse is left within its context.

In Zechariah 12, we learn that God is not pleased with the world because of how they have treated Israel. He says He will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling and speaks of a siege against Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:2). God is speaking about things that have not yet occurred in history yet to the fullest degree. Yes, there have times Jerusalem was conquered (Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, etc.), but this is specifically referring to the latter days. Verse 4 says, “In that day…” which is a phrase often associated with the time of Jesus’ wrath, which culminates in the physical return of Jesus to this earth. It’s at the end of this current age.

Zechariah 12:8 says that God Himself will defend Jerusalem. This is very reminiscent of what we are told in Ezekiel 38-39 regarding the coming Northern Invasion, which has also not happened yet. God specifically states that He will destroy those nations that attempt to come against Jerusalem. Notice in verse 10, God will ultimately pour out His Spirit of grace so that they will see the truth about Jesus. They will embrace that truth and gain salvation just as anyone does today. Verse 11 speaks of a great mourning that is heard due to the fact that those in Jerusalem (on that coming day), will realize just how wrong they were. This connects with Jesus’ Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 where He also speaks of a great mourning that will be heard (v. 30).

By the time we get to Zechariah 13, we are beyond these events. In other words, Jesus has returned to the earth, physically, as we are told in Matthew 24 and Acts 1. After Jesus returns, He will judge the nations and begin setting up His Millennial Kingdom. During this time, there will be those who were known to have been (false) “prophets,” who made their living by lying to people, especially to the Jews.

It is clear from the first few verses of Zechariah 13 that Jesus has a great deal of cleaning up to do, in order to rid the earth of idols, (false) prophets, and unclean spirits (v. 2). The fact that these prophets are grouped together with idols and unclean spirits tells us they were false. That is part of the context.

Notice verse 3. There, we learn that if anyone has the audacity to even attempt to prophesy (after Jesus has returned), his own parents will put him to death! Verse 4 continues by telling us that these false prophets will be ashamed of their visions and prophecies because they were false. They will even try to adopt disguises (4b), so that no one will notice them! He will lie, saying “Nope, I’m not a prophet (heh, heh). I’m just a farmer! Yep, that’s me!” (v. 6a).

THEN we get to verse 6b of Zechariah 13 and the famous verse that some take to refer to Jesus. It is clear that the false prophet is being questioned here, but about what? The “wounds” on his arms. This is where some people assume it refers to Jesus (because of the wounds He received leading up to and including the crucifixion). Unfortunately, IF we consider that the context is all about false prophets, then the wounds referred to here are more in line with what the prophets of Baal did to themselves in 1 Kings 18:28. They cut themselves in order to get Baal’s attention, much the same way Muslims cut themselves today during certain ceremonies to gain Allah’s attention and favor. Throughout history, there were many of these types of self-mutilation ceremonies connected with Phrygian, Syrian, Cappadocian, and other cultures.

The response that the false prophet gives – “Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends” – is simply providing an excuse like, “Oh these? My friends and I were having some fun roughhousing when I got hurt.” In other words, he is lying to protect himself. Women will often do this today to protect an abusive husband. “Oh, these bruises? I…uh…tripped over the stool and fell into the cupboard.”

The remainder of this chapter, starting with verse 7, deals with how God intends to refine the entire nation of Israel. Two parts will be lost. The final third part will be refined by through the fire of the coming Tribulation.

Why do people misread and misunderstand God’s Word? Most of the time it is due to simple mistakes related to failure to take the context into consideration. If people would leave Scripture in its context, they would come away more often with God’s intended meaning. Removing passages from context means that Scripture is often taken allegorically. The excised verse then becomes a symbol for something else. The problem of course, is that it can mean one thing to one person and another thing to another person.

There are many areas of Scripture which are presented as symbolism or in the form of allegory (figures of speech, metaphors, etc.). However, there is still only one meaning for each of them and the most interesting part is that those symbols are almost always explained in the text.

Today more than ever, Christians need to understand how to read and rightly divide God’s Word. It is not a book of magic that can say one thing to you and another thing to me. The Bible either says one thing or it says nothing (by having too many meanings). God wouldn’t do that to us. He wants us to read and understand His Word so that we might benefit from it.

When you read His Word, study to show yourself approved, so that you will be able to know what God is saying, not what you guess He is saying.

Entry filed under: christianity, israel, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation.

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