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Don’t Be Guilty of Fortune-Cookie Theology

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December 2014
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Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
(Ephesians 5:22-24 ESV)

When studying documents, be they ancient (such as the Bible) or modern, there is no greater rule than to pay attention to the context. Context is defined as “the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.”

In other words, without understanding the context we cannot fully understand an event or statement. Hence, it is imperative that as we read the Bible we keep in mind the context of the words we are reading. We must understand the historical setting, the audience to whom it was written, and, perhaps most importantly, the preceding thoughts and ideas the author has expressed.

For example, take the words: “Get away,” she said to him. If you were to read just these six words it would be impossible to tell what is going on. Perhaps this man is attacking this woman. Perhaps he is overworked and she is suggesting he take a vacation. Or perhaps he is standing too close to a cliff and she is warning him to move out of harm’s way. Without knowing and understanding the context it is impossible to draw an accurate conclusion.

When it comes to reading and understanding of the Bible nowhere is this more apparent than the verses we are about to study. There are approximately 900,000 words in the English Bible. Most people know few, if any of them. But almost everyone knows the words, “wives, submit to your husbands“.

These five words constitute less than .00056% of the Bible. But I am convinced that these words – or, more precisely, people’s misunderstanding of them – will keep more people out of heaven than any other words in the Bible. Of course, that misunderstanding comes from Satan who has been twisting God’s words around since the Garden of Eden [Genesis 3].

Sadly many people, notably the feminist movement, have latched onto these words – and only these words – and have convinced themselves and others to dismiss the Bible because – they erroneously claim – the Bible promotes male dominance and female subservience. If you only knew these words, I could see how you could draw that conclusion. But that conclusion is wrong. We know it is wrong because of the context.

It should be noted that this practice is not limited to the feminists or to these verses. Sadly others, including atheists and the gay-community, have also mistakenly rejected the Bible because of other passages that they have not evaluated within the intended context.

People who reject the Bible based on just a subset of words are guilty of what I call “fortune-cookie theology”. They take just enough Scripture to fit in a fortune cookie and draw conclusions without regard to the context of those words or the intent of the author. When we take words out of context we set ourselves up for big-time failure.

Over the next few days we’ll explore these passages in Ephesians and will see that they don’t say what many claim they say.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.




  1. I TOTALLY agree with this entry and would also underline the fundamental importance of grasping the sense of a text according to “the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.”

    The way I love to say it is: “If one teaches a Scriptural “text” without understanding its “context”, that person may have a “pretext”.

    Great message “K”.

    Philippe Paquette
    Owner – CHRISTIANS Community on G+

  2. […] those passages that are taken out of context and are therefore misunderstood by many people. As we learned back in our study of Ephesians, we mislead ourselves and others when we take verses out of […]

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