Thursday, March 12, 2009

This week's lesson: the prophet in context

Context is crucial.

It is also controversial.

As I've already noted, we don't know what a text says until we know why it was written -- and that requires knowing who and when and where and sometimes even how it came to be written.

So far, so good.

Unfortunately, hell hath no fury like a church member who's been deprived of their favorite proof-text because they've just been told that "we need to remember the context in which this was written." (See "women's ordination.")

And in all fairness to that church member, there are times when contextualization does seem like an elaborate way to avoid the clear meaning of a text. (See "homosexuality.")

Then too, experts may agree on the context of a statement while still disagreeing on its application for today. (See "divorce." Or "exorcism." Or even "resurrection from the dead.")

In short, context may tell you what a text meant.

But if you want to know what a text means today . . .

Then it's just one of the many, many things you'll need to take in context.

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