08 March 2015


Hermeneutics - the science of interpretation. What "formula" or approach do you use when interpreting a given scripture? Is the Bible just a bunch of quaint sayings we apply to life, or is it a story that had meaning in it's historical context? Sadly, so many treat it as the former.

Christians need to stop looking at the Bible as if it was a book of good sayings and individual verses of encouragement. I believe this practice stems from a lack of Christians reading the Bible through in its entirety and doing so on a frequent basis anymore these days. It seems people do not view the Bible as a large interconnected story, but rather see it as a bunch of single books of sayings and wisdom type literature that can be used to guide mankind through life.

True, the scriptures are wisdom and do serve as a guide for our living, but this is only truly accomplished when Scriptures are read and understood in their correct context and proper application to their original audience - audience relevance being a key part of hermeneutics.

A true understanding and meaning can only be acquired by properly interpreting the original meaning, and only then can a passage be perceived and properly applied to daily living.

Context and audience relevance are the two key concepts that are required for any Bible readers who seek to handle the word of God accurately, and are sadly ever considered by the average reader.

As many of us were taught in grammar class, the reading and understanding of the Bible also benefits from applying the five Ws of grammar - Who - What - When - Where - Why? Before applying a verse to some universal situation, seek to ask these questions to insure your interpretation holds up.

In this edition of my Out of Context series we examine Jeremiah 29:11 which is used quite often by Christians as a word of encouragement to other believers. It says:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord , plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV)
Saying this to another believer sounds encouraging and pleasant, true, but is that what this verse is meaning - is that why it was written and recorded in Scripture? Reading the whole chapter where this verse appears, or better yet, the entire book, would answer many answers, but lets start with the basics. Who was this written to, and what was it talking about? Who - What - When - Where - Why?

Who is speaking? Yahweh. This is known by backing up one single verse:
For thus says the Lord... (Jeremiah 29:10 ESV)
Who is He speaking to? To those sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
"Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: (Jer 29:4 ESV)
 What is He speaking of here? He is speaking of a promise involving and regarding them and their situation:
When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. (Jeremiah 29:10 ESV)
When was this written? Back in the 6th century BC - when Jerusalem was destroyed (586 BC) and the people were captive in Babylon (29:4).

Where was it written? It was written and sent to Babylon where the people were:
The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. (Jer 29:3 ESV)
Why was it written? To show that God keeps His promises.
For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jer 29:10-14 ESV)

So hopefully you can see from just this cursory examination of the text in its context that it is dealing with a specific situation for a specific people in a specific time, and is not a general statement from Yahweh for all mankind to grab for themselves.

Yahweh is speaking to the exiles, people who had turned from his covenants and sinned greatly, and who were being judged by him by having their temple destroyed and the people led away as slaves. Yahweh is telling them that though he has brought this judgment upon them, He will not forsake and forget them.

He promises that when seventy years of exile are complete, he would restore them to the land and would hear them when they prayed and sought Him. And why would he do all of this? Because he knows the plans He has for them - those people, at that time, who he is directly addressing with this promise.

So, the declaration of welfare and hope is speaking specifically to these surviving people of exile. To seek to quote and apply this verse to every Christian as a general promise from God to bless them, is to misapply the original intent and ignore the audience and their message and promise being stated here. This just distorts the biblical text and application of it, and seeks to make Scripture just a bunch of disjointed motivational sayings.

Until Christians return to a proper handling of the Word of God, and refrain from abusively using it in this manner, the church will continue to be confused, and less effective and less influential to the world around it.

View Other "Out of Context" Verses