The Primary Context

The context of any biblical passage is as important as the passage itself. When we study the word of God we must consider what comes before and after any given text. This is how we determine meaning in any other body of literature. By doing this we are establishing the primary context. You see, we cannot pluck single verses out of larger paragraphs or even chapters and make them mean what we want them to mean.

To find the meaning of a word or sentence we must identify the paragraph. Paragraphs should be our basic unit of Bible study. They help us to see the larger picture outside a single verse.

Our first step in identifying the primary context is to find the beginning of the paragraph. This is often times marked with an indention in out modern Bibles.

Second, we must notice how words in this paragraph are being used. In the book of Revelation for instance, Dragons, Serpents and the like are figurative and not to be taken literally.

Third, determine general or specific application of the text. Specific application does not apply to us today. For example: Paul told Timothy to bring the cloak, books and parchments he had left at Troas (2 Timothy 4:13). This command was not to you or I but rather to a specific individual.

Commands we do follow today fall into three categories:

  1. Universal commands (Matthew 5:19; John 3:16; Etc.)
  2. Instruction to the church (Matthew 28:20; Mark 16:15-16; Etc.)
  3. Commands given to groups to which we belong (1 Timothy 2:8-12; James 3:1; Etc.)


Allen Webster in his work on biblical context, “Look at the context”, says:“If we twist verses to fit theories instead of adjusting beliefs to fit Scripture we facilitate our own destruction (2 Peter 3:15-16).”