(It is my hope that if anyone who reads this ever runs across these statements and verses taken out of context that you might be able to recall the proper context and point out what the Bible actually says concerning these matters)
Sadly, there are many people throughout the religious world, and some who are not so religious, that continually take verses out of context. A recent discussion on Facebook pointed out this glaring fact. If we are to keep the words of God in their context, we must answer a few simple questions.
- First, to whom was this written?
- Second, what was it written about?
- Third, why was it written?
Once these questions are answered, then one must be sure to read the entire context, sometimes meaning that one must read the preceding and following verses, maybe even the entire chapter, or even the entire book. If the context suggests prophecy, then we must also look to see where that prophecy was fulfilled. Then and only then will we be able to keep the Bible in context in its entirety.
Let’s take a few moments and see the context of some verses that were grossly misused over the course of this Facebook discussion.
Who Pays the Price?
First, it was said that the Bible “endorses punishing children for their parents sins;” the verse used was Numbers 14:33-34 which states,
“And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcasses be wasted in the wilderness. After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise.”Numbers 14:33-34
Let’s now determine the context in which this statement was actually made rather than being drawn out just to prove one’s point.
To whom was this written? The Israelites.
What was this written about? The Israelites had just refused to go into the land of Canaan even though God had promised them the land.
Why was it written? It was written to pronounce the punishment of the children of Israel for not believing that God would keep His promise.
What was God’s purpose in doing this? Why should the children have to bear the “whoredoms” that the parents committed? Let’s notice some previous verses. Notice Numbers 14:29-30: “Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me, Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.”
Notice the problem here? None of the children of Israel were going to be allowed into the land of Canaan were of the age of accountability (which, under the Old Law, meant 20 years old). The problem for those now that were under the age of 20 was that they were not old enough to assume the responsibility of entering the promised land and doing what needed to be done.
Not only that, but think of the sorrow that parents that had refused to believe God would now feel since their children must also bear the consequences of their (the parents’) sins. Those consequences were for the parents, not the children. Not only that, but the wandering served as a teaching tool to the children because they were taught to believe in the promises of God. Also, notice Ezekiel 18:19-20:
“Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.”
The Bible clearly teaches that the person that sins will be responsible for his own sins, not the sins of his parents nor the parents for the sins of the child. This principle is taught in both the Old and New Testaments. And above all, were not these children ultimately rewarded with the land of Canaan?
Someone also made the statement that the Bible “endorsed cannibalism.” Surprisingly, an Old Testament verse was used in making that statement. Let’s examine the verse and its context. Deuteronomy 28:53, 57: Vs. 53 – “And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters, which the LORD thy God hath given thee, in the siege, and in the straitness, wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee:” Vs. 57 – “And toward her young one that cometh out from between her feet, and toward her children which she shall bear: for she shall eat them for want of all things secretly in the siege and straitness, wherewith thine enemy shall distress thee in thy gates.”
First, we must understand that this entire chapter deals with prophecy, which can be easily seen from the very first statement in Deuteronomy 28:1, “And it shall come to pass…” So rather than God endorsing what is found to be written here, God is simply causing Moses to speak and to write what will happen if and when Israel ever departs from the commandments and statutes of God. God never, in any way, ever endorsed or will endorse cannibalism.
Second, since this is dealing prophecy, we need to try and find where this prophecy came to fruition. We see the fruition of this prophecy in 2 Kings 6:24-29:
“And it came to pass after this, that Benhadad king of Syria gathered all his host, and went up, and besieged Samaria. And there was a great famine in Samaria: and, behold, they besieged it, until an ass’s head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of dove’s dung for five pieces of silver. And as the king of Israel was passing by upon the wall, there cried a woman unto him, saying, Help, my lord, O king. And he said, If the LORD do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? out of the barnfloor, or out of the winepress? And the king said unto her, What aileth thee? And she answered, This woman said unto me, Give thy son, that we may eat him to day, and we will eat my son to morrow. So we boiled my son, and did eat him: and I said unto her on the next day, Give thy son, that we may eat him: and she hath hid her son.”
We could also include the atrocities committed by the Jews under the siege of the Romans in AD 70 (See Josephus). So, once more, we see that by noticing the context in which this was written that God never did nor will He ever endorse cannibalism.
Another statement made indicated that the Bible endorses slavery. Once more, let us look at the context in which the verses cited are used. The verses cited are Exodus 21:5-6 and Leviticus 25:44: Exodus 21:5-6 –
“And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.”
Leviticus 25:44 – “Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.”
First, let’s deal with Exodus 21; the passage here deals with Hebrew servants. In other words, servants were kinsmen or also Israelites. If we read the context of Exodus 21, we quickly realize that these are not slaves but rather what we might term serfs; in other words, servants that would eventually be set free under the law. As such, they were not slaves under the classic definition.
Now, Leviticus 25:44 – what we must understand here is why this was written. Under the patriarchal age, slavery was a patriarchal custom. Those that were not Hebrew were permitted to be kept as slaves. This does not mean that God endorsed slavery but rather allowed it while at the same time discouraging the practice by putting so many laws and restrictions governing the ownership of slaves.
These slaves may have been captives of war, those consigned to slavery for their crimes, or as the Hebrew servants often were, just poor and sold themselves into slavery to pay off debt. It was the object to not at once do away with slavery but to discourage it and mitigate it.
The Law of God under Moses would not suffer it be forgotten that the slave was a man, not an animal, and protected him in every way that was possible at the time against the injustice or cruelty of his master. So, once more, upon examining the context (including the background) we see that God never advocated nor endorsed slavery.
The statement was made that the Bible “endorsed” the “beating and killing of children” and cited Psalm 137:9, which states, “Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”
At first glance, this verse would indeed seem to advocate just that. But again, if we will but notice the context, we will see that God is not endorsing the killing of children. Reference is here in this chapter made of Babylon, and a custom of Babylon in raiding and conquering other nations was to take the children of those captured and dash, sling, or throwing them against the stones while making the parents watch.
The Psalmist is simply saying here that Babylon will have those atrocities repaid upon her; nothing more and nothing less.
What about Hate?
The next one is actually CLOSE to the truth but still taken out of context.
The statement was made that the Bible advocates that one “hate” his family in “favor of God.” The verse cited is Luke 14:26 – If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”
Pretty straightforward, huh? What is Jesus saying? All Jesus is saying is that no one is to become between you and God. I don’t have to literally hate my mother, my father, my wife, my children and my brothers and sisters.
Quite the contrary, I would give my life for any of them. But I will not forsake my Lord and Savior for them. He gave His life for me; why would I not dedicate my life to Him? (also notice Matthew 10:37-38 which expresses the true meaning of the word “hate” as it is used in this instance).
Finally, the statement was made that the Bible “endorses human sacrifice” and cited Exodus 22:29 – “Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me.”
Once more, let us examine the context. Let’s do some checking on this: notice Exodus 13:2 – “Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.”
The word “sanctify” comes from the word “kadash” meaning to “consecrate, separate, and set apart from all common or secular purposes to some religious use.” Here, reference is made to the “Passover” of the Angel of Death over Egypt in which the firstborn of all the Israelites were spared; hence, the firstborn were to be consecrated to God.
So the firstborn were consecrated to God to be His ministers, not sacrifice victims; and in lieu of the firstborn of men, the Levites were devoted to the temple services.
We must also notice Exodus 13:12-13 which states,
“That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD’S. And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem.”
So how were they redeemed? Notice Numbers 3:46-48:
“And for those that are to be redeemed of the two hundred and threescore and thirteen of the firstborn of the children of Israel, which are more than the Levites; Thou shalt even take five shekels apiece by the poll, after the shekel of the sanctuary shalt thou take them: (the shekel is twenty gerahs:) And thou shalt give the money, wherewith the odd number of them is to be redeemed, unto Aaron and to his sons.”
These verses, when put together, put the first passage (which was first taken out of context) in context and show us that no human sacrifice was ever endorsed or advocated.
Let us each do all that we can to keep God’s words in their context because to do otherwise leads to nothing but confusion.