Posted by: CeCe | January 30, 2012

Out of context?

I originally posted this as a member of the administration on the Facebook page Atheists vs. Religion, of which I’m very proud to be a part, but I thought I’d post it here too.

“It’s out of context!”  I’m sure many of you have rolled your eyes at this response when you’ve brought up verses in the Bible, only to hit a wall.  The question is, is this ever a valid answer?  Before you respond, consider this:

This quote proves that Charles Darwin didn’t really believe in his own theory, right?

“The case at present (problems presented by the fossil record) must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained.” – The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin.

“But wait!” You may say.  “That’s out of con–” Yes, exactly.

The out of context argument is valid when one quotes a sentence or two from a book and attempts to apply a meaning to them that is different from the one it has when it’s in the surrounding paragraphs.  For example, quoting Psalm 137:9 out of the Bible, and insisting that it’s a command to the Israelites to smash children’s heads against rocks (it’s not), or saying that Ezekiel 23:20 is about a woman having sex with men with large members (it’s not), or that Luke 19:27 is a command from Jesus to slaughter non-believers (it’s also not).  In times like those, it’s perfectly valid and acceptable for someone to say that the person doing so is taking it out of context, because they are.  However, it is not out of context if it still means the same thing even when placed back in the passage where it belongs.  For example, when the Bible says not to commit adultery in Exodus 20:14, it really means don’t commit adultery, and quoting it is not out of context, because it still has the same meaning even when it’s put back in the passage.  Again, a statement is only out of context if the meaning is changed when it’s removed from its surroundings.

I hope this clarifies some misunderstandings.

Of course, there are other contexts to consider, such as historical, linguistic, and cultural context, but we won’t get into those… this time.

Have any Bible questions?  Feel free to comment with them, and I promise I’ll try to get to them as soon as I’m able.  Thanks for reading!



  1. CeCe, that’s a fairly good analysis of the out of context issue. As you mentioned, there are more parts to look at. often you have to look at the context of the entire passage and related scriptures, to look at the intention of the stories.

    • Thank you, Joye! I didn’t go as comprehensive as I should have, but I thought I’d give a brief overview.

  2. […] Out of context? ( […]

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