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Book Review: “The Bible in Context”

How can a book, supposed to be the definitive source of light and moral direction, be subject to such a wide spectrum of interpretation?
Read Time: 4 minutes

One Bible; millions of interpretations. The original Christianity of the first century has splintered into thousands of denominations with their own varied beliefs, all claiming to be based on Scripture. How did this happen?

How can a book, supposed to be the definitive source of light and moral direction, be subject to such a wide spectrum of interpretation?

In The Bible In Context, Bro. Jason Hensley argues that flawed approaches to understanding the intent of the Bible’s Divine Author lie at the root of this extreme fracturing of beliefs. Bro. Jason identifies a need for a more robust approach to Bible understanding in the whole community of Bible readers. He proposes a framework for Biblical interpretation—a methodology for Bible Study.

Throughout his book, Bro. Jason marshals compelling examples to show how our preconceptions, natural biases, and cultural experiences can shade our interpretation of the Bible. Too often, reading ourselves and our experiences into a passage can lead us away from an accurate understanding. This approach may be an easy way to come up with a quick lesson or encouraging thought, but it frequently results in misconstrued interpretations or misapplied principles. Escaping one’s biases is hard! 

How can we ensure we aren’t superimposing our own culture and experience onto the Biblical stories we read? What can we do to prevent ourselves from developing interpretations that depart from the Divine Author’s meaning in His Word? Bro. Jason proposes that the solution lies in developing and following a consistent, robust methodology for Biblical interpretation. This methodology forms the core of his book.

Many of the concepts Bro. Jason introduces and discusses as part of this methodology will be familiar to most Christadelphians: read in context, find the facts, establish the principle, apply the exhortation, and discuss your findings with others in the community.

Our community’s culture has always valued committed Bible reading, and there are many individuals and groups who have cultivated rigorous Bible study habits. The Bible In Context is not attempting to reinvent the wheel.

Still, it has gathered some of the best study techniques and approaches and organized them into a clearly articulated methodology. The approach outlined in this book is accessible enough for the most inexperienced Bible student while still offering the more established, specified advice and practical tools to enhance their study practices.

In the middle chapters of The Bible In Context, Bro. Jason explores three key contexts the careful Bible student should be aware of: historical, literary, and Biblical. The historical context requires an understanding of the cultural, contemporary, and geographic background of a particular Bible passage. Unfortunately, context is one of the hardest to familiarize oneself with, as reliable primary sources for large swaths of Biblical history are few and far between.

On the other hand, literary context is much more accessible (and more important)—it just requires careful consideration of the surrounding passages to establish the true flow of thought through the relevant sections of verses, paragraphs, and collections of topically related passages.

Escaping one’s biases is hard!

The third type of context, Biblical context, recognizes that the entire Bible is the expression of a singular, Divine mind. It will always be internally consistent. Put simply, the Bible interprets itself. We should always remember the totality of God’s revelation when trying to understand a tricky passage.

If our interpretation of a passage seems historically consistent, but if in its immediate context, it contradicts clear principles expressed throughout the rest of Scripture, we should re-evaluate our thought process.

In the final chapters, as Bro. Jason concludes the more granular sections on the mechanics of the methodology, two essential principles are convincingly highlighted.

The first is the importance of maintaining a steady diet of God’s word. Because the Bible does interpret itself, those who desire to interpret it accurately need to be constantly engaged in accumulating familiarity with the entirety of Scripture.

The second principle is also a practice that needs consistent implementation: engaging with a community of other Bible enthusiasts pursuing an increasingly accurate understanding of the Bible. Discussions with other committed Bible students will help to identify flaws in our interpretations and fill in gaps in our understanding. In other words, Bro. Jason makes meaningful fellowship an essential component of his methodology for Biblical interpretation!

In addition to outlining a straightforward and robust framework for interpreting the Bible, the strengths of The Bible In Context include,

  • A variety of compelling and fascinating mini-case studies of commonly misinterpreted passages used throughout the book to illustrate the necessity of various components of the methodology.
  • End-of-chapter “practice” questions that allow the reader to experiment with how reading in light of the components discussed in the section can change your perspective.
  • An accessible writing style that deftly balances readability with academic rigor.

Everyone interested in trying to understand God more closely through His word should consider reading The Bible In Context. Although this book presents the details of a Bible study methodology, it is far more important than a mere academic exercise. Our approach to interpreting God’s word affects our understanding of His will, which then directly affects the impact He can have in our daily life.

Caleb Osborn,
Thousand Oaks Ecclesia, CA

The Bible in Context
by Jason Hensley
2023, pp. 174


Available on this website

Or from the following:

  • Thousand Oaks Christadelphian Library
  • The Christadelphian Office
  • Christadelphian Books and Literature
  • CSSS
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