Context, Context, Context
I heard a podcaster say that the key to Biblical interpretation is like real estate, but rather than “location, location, location,” it’s “context, context, context.” Understanding the context is very important to get the passage right. Taking a text and ripping it from its context and then forcing it to go where it never intended to go is what Peter called “wresting the scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16). It’s like a mugger taking a woman’s purse on the sidewalk, violently twisting it out of her hand. Or imagine two men fighting; one pulls a knife, and the other guy takes it from him with a Jiu-Jitsu move by twisting his arm in a direction never meant to bend. Peter condemns the unlearned and unstable men, who take some of Paul’s writing out of context and twist it to mean something it doesn’t mean.
But getting the passage right is not the same as reading the Bible well. We need to do both. Understanding the Scripture requires immediate context, the context of what came before, and the context of the whole story. How does 2 Peter 3:16 relate to the whole of chapter three? Is the 16th verse a complete sentence, or did I only quote half? You also have the context of the entire book. To understand what Peter is saying at the end of the book, it’s helpful to understand what he has said thus far. Peter is wrapping up a letter with a stern rebuke of false prophets and a stated goal to remind God’s people of the truth while he has the breath to do it.
But as you read the book, you’ll find that Peter has a lot of quotes and allusions from the Old Testament. He’s writing with the assumption you’ll have that background of the Old Testament stories, like Sodom and Gomorrah and the prophet Balaam. Peter also uses the Old Testament in a way that we should pay close attention to. Psalm 40 is a prayer of Moses. Spurgeon sums the Psalm up nicely by saying, “Moses sings of the frailty of man, and the shortness of life, contrasting therewith the eternity of God, and founding thereon earnest appeals for compassion.” Peter’s paraphrase of Psalm 90:4 in 2 Peter 3:8, saying, “that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” is not referring to the shortness of life, but he took the truth of what Moses said and made an application to the coming of the Lord. People say the Lord isn’t coming back because the Lord hasn’t come back already. Peter responds that God is longsuffering, and what’re 1,000 years to the eternal God? Peter did not wrest the Scripture and take Moses out of context but applied the truth of what Moses said in another truthful way. Peter didn’t change the meaning, but he understood it. Often, the meaning of a passage is much thicker than we might first consider if we only think of the immediate context.