Greg Koukl’s advice to never read a Bible verse but rather to read the context in which the verse resides is an effective principle to follow when studying and applying scripture. The following are a couple of passages in which its effectiveness can be seen1:
Titus 2: This passage is sometimes used to argue for intergenerational discipleship. By this it is meant that middle aged men and women are to mentor men and women in their twenties and thirties who in turn are to mentor those in their teens who are to mentor those from ages seven to twelve and so on. Let’s take a look at the passage:
But you must speak what is consistent with sound teaching. Older men are to be self-controlled, worthy of respect, sensible, and sound in faith, love, and endurance. In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to much wine. They are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and children, to be sensible, pure, good homemakers, and submissive to their husbands, so that God’s message will not be slandered.
Likewise, encourage the young men to be sensible about everything. Set an example of good works yourself, with integrity and dignity in your teaching.2
Now, granted each one of us is to be an example of Christ to those younger than us, but the concept of intergenerational discipleship is just not here. Take a look at what I have put in bold font. From this it is clear that older married men and women are to disciple younger married men and women. I have a three year old son and I do not want him to be a disciple of a seven or eight year old.
Philippians 4:13: This passage is often read as a promise that with any task we set out to accomplish, say run a four minute mile, Christ will give us the strength to get it done. Is that really what Paul meant? Let us put this paraphrase in bold within the text to see if it works.
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last you have renewed your care about me, but lacked the opportunity to show it. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content-whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to run a four minute mile through Him who strengthens me.3
Obviously, this does not work so what is Paul talking about? Perhaps he is talking about having contentment in all circumstances. Now let us put this paraphrase within the text and see what results.
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last you have renewed your care about me, but lacked the opportunity to show it. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content-whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to have contentment in all circumstances through Him who strengthens me.
Clearly this fits much better in the context of the larger passage. In conclusion, never read a Bible verse. Always read at least a paragraph.
Stand firm in Christ,
1. All references are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
2. Titus 2:1-7.
3. Philippians 4:10-13.