The word “text” has taken on a different meaning in this generation. In light of our familiarity with texting, we should be able to relate to a few lessons about the most important text message that has ever been sent.
Context. A text of Scripture must be understood in its context. The verses that come before it and the verses that follow it usually shape its meaning. The text of Ecclesiastes 9:5 reads, “The dead know not anything.” But the next verse explains this statement: the dead do not know anything about what is happening “under the sun.” Also, we should read a text in light of the setting of the book in which is found:
“I had six faithful friends,
Who taught me all I knew.
Their names were when, where, and how,
What, why, and who.”
Many times we learn much about a text just by asking who wrote it and to whom was it written. Then there is the overall context of the Bible. Verses in other parts of the Bible shed light on the text we are reading.
Pretext. This is what Peter called “wresting” or twisting the Scriptures (2 Pet. 3:16). The old adage is “a text taken out of its context becomes a mere pretext.” The devil himself is the master of pretexting. He quoted the words of Psalm 91:11-12 to Jesus, but he applied this passage in a way God never intended (Matt. 4:5-6). We must never give to a passage a meaning that contradicts another passage in the Bible. John 3:16 says we must believe to be saved, but Mark 16:16 shows that this believing includes being baptized. Romans 7:1-3 says a woman who remarries while her first husband is living is an adulteress, but Matthew 19:9 gives an exception.
Prooftext. This can be a loaded term. Usually it means a specific passage is being used to prove a belief but the belief is against or out of proportion with the rest of the Bible. Obviously, this word is given a meaning similar to the word pretext just discussed. But in recent years the charge of “prooftexting” has been hurled at anyone who makes a habit of giving book, chapter, and verse for what he says. Some say we are guilty of this when we quote Acts 2:38 to prove a person must be baptized or when we cite 1 Timothy 2:12 to show that a woman should not preach to men. The complaint “That’s prooftexting” is often made by those who do not want to be tied down in their beliefs by Scripture! They don’t want to hear the direct words of passages that go against what they do; they would rather use their own vague words or some catchy saying they’ve heard and claim “This is what God tells us.”
Failed text. There is no failure on God’s part in the sending of the biblical text. The Bible is inspired of God (2 Tim. 3:16). Jesus promised that we do not have to worry about the text being corrupted with no way to retrieve the original message (Matt. 24:35). But the stubbornness of unbelief and cares of the world can keep the text from getting through to our heart. People stay glued to their cell phones waiting for text messages. They get anxious when they text a friend and don’t hear back from that person. Wouldn’t it be great if Christians were more into reading the greatest text message of all—a text sent from God Himself?