Biblical Context of a Passage | Bible Study Blueprint

Biblical Context of a Passage

Introduction

Welcome to our 6th post in our series entitled the 7 Rules of Bible Interpretation EVERY Christian Should Know.

In this post I want to introduce you to Technique #6 – Bible Context.

Technique #6 – Bible Context – Teaches you the importance of studying other passages in the Bible, which are related to your passage of study, so that one might help illuminate, clarify or add insight to the other.

In John 3:14-15, Jesus makes the following statement, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes will have eternal life in him.”

Here Jesus is making a direct reference to Numbers 21:4-9 where God judged his people by sending serpents into their camp.

Moses fashioned a bronze serpent that allowed anyone who looked at it to live. Thus, Jesus is saying that in the same way that the serpent was lifted up and people lived, so too would he be lifted up (on the cross) so that people could live (eternally).

Thus, in order to understand John 3:14-15 we must study another passage in the Bible and use that second passage to illuminate the first.

That’s Technique #6 – Bible Context.

Process for Studying “Bible Context”

The process for using Technique #6 – Bible Context is fairly straightforward:

Step #1 – Find another passage in the Bible that is strongly connected to your passage of study 

After reading your passage of study, locate another passage of the Bible that touches on the same theme, event, figure or story.  Later on, we’ll provide additional details for finding these other passages.

Step #2 – Carefully review the passage that you located in Step #1 above

After locating a related passage, take some time to familiarize yourself with it.  Read it over a few times.

Your goal in this second step is to have a basic understanding of what this new passage is about.  You don’t need to study this second passage in great detail, only enough to get a sense for what it says.

Step #3 – Try to assess the reason for why this new passage is related to your passage of study

Once you have a basic idea of what the second passage says, your next step is to shift into detective mode.

Why are these two passages related?  What connects them? Why did the author in one passage make a reference or an allusion to this second passage in the Bible?

At the end of this step, you want to come away with some kind of theory or explanation as to how the two passages are connected and what that tells you about the first passage.

Step #4 – Gather up your findings and select any details that clarify or further explain your passage of study

Review the discoveries you made regarding the second Bible passage and then use whatever details are helpful to clarify or add meaning to your passage of study.

How Do You Find The Connections?

Now that you have a sense for how Rule #6 – Bible Context works, the next step is to know where to find related passages.

On my Bible Study Tools page, I highlight three Bible study resources that you should purchase for your own library.  These are:

  1. Study Bible
  2. Bible Dictionary
  3. One-Volume Commentary on the Bible

Here are some guidelines for finding the connections between two passages of the Bible using these resources:

1) Typically, in the middle column of a study Bible, you will find a cross-reference to other passages in the Bible that are related to your passage of study.

If you look closely at the verses on a page, some words will have a small superscript letter next to them: => 27 aAnd he walked in the way of the house of Ahab.  This will correspond to a related verse in the middle column of your study Bible: =>  27 a2 Chr 22:3.

A quick look at these related verses would confirm if the connections to your passage are sufficiently meaningful to require further study.

2) Your study Bible, Bible dictionary or one-volume commentary also contain introductions to each book of the Bible.

Many times, these introductions will make important connections between your passage and other parts of the Bible.

3) Specific articles in a Bible Dictionary will very often contain cross-references to other parts of Scripture.

For example, if you were studying a passage about the Lord’s Supper and found a topical article in a Bible dictionary, it would probably mention passages connected to the Book of Exodus and the Passover meal.

This is because the Passover event in the Old Testament is the source of what eventually became the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament.

4) When using Rule #4 – Word Up

Often when you do your own concordance word studies (see Rule #4 – Word Up), you will interact with other passages of the Bible that have similar themes to the passage you are studying.

What Relationships Exist Between Passages?

Now that we have a sense for locating passages that are similar to your passage of study, it’s time to demonstrate the most common kinds of connections that you can make between two passages of the Bible.

#1 – The New Testament points back to the Old Testament

Complete / Partial Quotations of the OT

One of the most common ways that the New Testament writers point back to the Old Testament is through a direct or impartial quote of the Old Testament.

In many study Bibles, you will find that a quote from the Old Testament is typically offset from the rest of the text and may even be written in italics:

“And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”

Allusions to specific events or characters of the Old Testament

Another way that the New Testament points back to the Old Testament is by way of allusions or references to events, figures or stories in the Old Testament.

In 1 Corinthians 10:1-11, Paul makes a direct reference to various episodes that occurred to Israel during their wanderings in the desert (Num 21:5-9, 25:1-9)

The apostle Paul uses these incidents as object lessons to exhort the Corinthian church to avoid immorality and idolatry.  Thus, in order to fully understand Paul’s arguments and admonitions in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11, we must also study the episodes to which he alludes in the Old Testament.

#2 – The Old Testament anticipates events and figures in the New Testament

Another way to connect two passages is when the Old Testament anticipates or foreshadows something in the New Testament.

This is the reverse of scenario #1 above, where the New Testament looked back toward the Old Testament.  Here the Old Testament looks forward to something in the New Testament.

Typically, this anticipation is related to Jesus’ life, work or mission and can take many forms:

Characters

There are many figures in the Old Testament that prefigure or represent some aspect of Jesus in the New Testament.  This includes Adam as the first man; Moses as one who intercedes for his people or King David, the great shepherd king to name a few.

Systems

Many systems or institutions in the Old Testament are shadows of Jesus’ life and ministry.  This is the case with the lamb, which is connected to Israel’s sacrificial system as well as the priesthood.

Events

Here again, many events in the Old Testament anticipate elements within the New Testament. This is the case with the Passover feast. As you’ll recall, God instructed his people to place the blood of a lamb over their doorposts so that the angel of death would not touch their homes.

The writers of the New Testament take up this Passover symbolism and apply it to Jesus’ own sacrifice.  Now the blood of the lamb [Jesus] is placed over our hearts, which means that the angel of death no longer has any power over God’s people.

#3 – An element in one testament is amplified in the same testament

Another way to connect two passages is when one passage amplifies or clarifies another passage in the same testament.

The Old Testament Amplifies the Old Testament

Deuteronomy 28 expresses a series of commands that God wants his people to follow in the Promised Land. If Israel complies they will be blessed with abundance, crops and peace.  If Israel does not comply then God will withhold those blessings.

Many times in the rest of the books that follow Deuteronomy, the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 28 are being played out depending on Israel’s faithfulness to God.  In other words, one passage is amplifying another one in the same testament.

The New Testament Amplifies the New Testament

This same phenomenon of developing an idea can occur within the New Testament as well.

For example, in John 1:1, the apostle John introduces Jesus as a type of New Creation (since there are echoes of Genesis 1).  In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul describes those who have been saved as a new creation. Revelation 21:1 speaks of a new heaven and a new earth.

Thus, this concept of new creation, begins in the gospels, is developed by Paul and reaches a climax in Revelation (Rev. 21:1, 5).

An Example of Using Rule #6 – Bible Context

This next section will provide an example of using Rule #6 – Bible Context.  We will be taking a look at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

In this passage, Paul wishes to console those Thessalonians who have lost a loved one.  He tells the church that their deceased are “sleeping” and promises them that when Christ returns, those loved ones will be resurrected.

We will now go through the steps for Rule #6.

Step #1 – Find another passage in the Bible that is strongly connected to your passage of study 

In our study Bible we have the following verse with several references:

16 For athe Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with bthe trumpet of God. cAnd the dead in Christ will rise first.

These point to the following verses: 16 a[Matt 24:30, 31] b[1 Cor. 15:52] c[1 Cor.15:53]

Here you can see that we have struck gold!

Matthew 24 is a chapter that deals exclusively with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, detailing how it will happen and when.  1 Corinthians 15 is a chapter that deals with the resurrection of the body at the end of time.

We’ll go with the 1 Corinthians passage since it is much shorter and less intimidating.

Step #2 – Carefully review the passage that you located in Step #1 above

Read through 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 a few times.  You can read a bit wider if you’d like, but this at least covers 15:52 and 15:53, which our references indicated were related to our passage.

Paul is basically saying that at some point, when our bodies are resurrected, they will be glorious and incorruptible (15:53).  He mentions that this will occur when the trumpet sounds (15:52).  He also uses the metaphor of sleep to talk about death (15:51) and then he mocks death because it no longer has victory over those who are in Christ.

Step #3 – Try to assess the reason for why this new passage is related to your passage of study

Here the answers seem pretty obvious.  Paul is talking about the resurrection, he mentions the trumpet, and sleep as metaphor.

Both passages are dealing with the end of time or history as well.

Step #4 – Gather up your findings and select any details that clarify or further explain your passage of study

It is now time to summarize the observations we have made from 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 and connect them to our passage of study.  Remember, the goal is to try to use the second passage to add clarity or meaning to the first passage.

1) Paul describes death as “being asleep” (1 Cor 15:51).

This is precisely the same idea as in our 1 Thessalonians passage and points to the temporary nature of death and may point to the fact that in death a Christian rests from the troubles of the world.

2) Paul mocks death, declaring that in Christ’s resurrection there is victory over death.

This is one of the key truths regarding the resurrection.  Because the Lord rose again, we no longer need to fear death.  Death and evil no longer have the final word in our lives.

These ideas add to our understanding of death as sleep in our 1 Thessalonians passage.

3) Paul states that at the resurrection we will receive an incorruptible and glorious body.

Our bodies age and start to break down once we pass the teen-age years. Injuries take longer to recover from, we may experience chronic pain, or we may simply lose the normal functioning of parts of our bodies through illness or accidents.

But at the resurrection, all of these aches, pains and limitations will go away.  We are going to receive a new glorious body.

4) Paul also encourages the Corinthians to stand firm in their faith and to continue to be faithful to the Lord (1 Cor 15:58).

In our 1 Thessalonians text, the coming resurrection was to be used to console people who had lost a loved one.  In both cases, the events of the end times are meant to give us hope and encouragement for the present.

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