Jan Paron, PhD|June 15, 2021
Hermeneutics deals with the field of biblical study. One of its fundamental tenets includes the context principle. Context connects thoughts running through a portion or whole of Scripture to reveal the original intent of God’s truth. One interprets a word or verse keeping in mind the surrounding content, historical, and cultural contexts of the passage, book, testament, and Bible. The God-inspired text speaks for itself in context, rather than the reader injecting ideas into it.
Contextual Principle: Exegetical Method
Step 1 (Read and Reread)
Read and reread the passage both silently and aloud. Take time to hear it. Remember, the Bible’s early audience utilized the text as spoken word. Take caution when listening, however, not to inject contemporary meaning into the ancient text. The current social location and cultural identity differ from the original audience.
Do not rush the process. Pray for understanding and meditate on the Word. Allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate its meaning. Remember, a quality study takes time.
Step 2 (Ask Questions)
A context study should make the reader ask questions and extend thinking about the text. While reading, write down open-ended questions about the verse and words. Begin by formulating who, what, when, where, why, how, and for what reason questions with an open-ended nature. An open-ended question suggests more than a yes or no response; rather, it requires digging for the answer. Look at Jas 1:2. The author in this verse remarks, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;” (KJV). James conjugated the word ‘count’ as a command. What events transpired that necessitated James to command the readers to ‘count it all joy’? How do we understand ‘divers temptations’ in the context of the early church? What might Jesus say to His followers today through this passage?
Step 3 (Research Behind the Text)
Find out what occurs behind the text for its situational contexts. When studying the passage behind the text, investigate the passage and the book. Learn about the overall book, passage, and surrounding verses to the passage/s of study. Find out such information as the book’s author, audience, dating, purpose, themes. To understand the background of the scattered, the reader must trace the historical events from the book of Acts that led to scattering the church. What religious, political, economic, social, and ethnic factors created a tension that resulted in their scattering? Where did the diaspora settle? How did living in a different locale away from the synagogue, family, and community affect their spiritual walk?
James, the brother of Jesus and head of the Jerusalem church, wrote the book in the form of a letter. He addressed it to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (Jas 1:1). The expression ‘twelve tribes’ applied to Jewish Christians. After Stephen’s death, believers from the early Jerusalem church scattered as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Syrian Antioch due to persecution (see Acts 8:1; 11:19). As the leader of the Jerusalem church, James wrote as their pastor to instruct and encourage his dispersed people in the face of their difficulties as aliens in a foreign land. The nature of displacement accounts for James’s references to trials and oppression, his intimate knowledge of the readers, and the authoritative nature of the letter in providing moral direction.
Step 4 (Investigate Within the Text)
Go within the text and determine its literary features. Look for context clues to help define a word. Begin by reflecting upon how the passage connects to other verses in the chapter, book, and testaments. Notice the surrounding words in the sentence and paragraph and how they affect word meaning.
Parts of speech additionally shine a light on meaning. Does the word appear as a noun, adjective, verb, adverb, conjunction, etc? Consider ‘divers temptations’ in Jas 1:1. The plural adjective divers modifies and describes the plural noun temptations. When defining temptations, describe it by including the meaning of divers. Also, look for the verbs in a passage, especially commands. Unique to James, the author ordered 59 imperatives out of 108 verses and followed the commands with a purpose statement. Imperative verbs in James 1:2-4 include count (v. 2) and let (v. 4).
Step 5 (Continuing Within the Text: Expository Dictionary and Cross Referencing)
Look up the word in a Bible expository dictionary, either online or hard copy. Do not use a contemporary dictionary. Find what the word means according to authorial intent in the passage. First, determine the gloss meaning, a basic definition of one to three words in length. Note, the gloss must match the context of the verse. Then, find the full definition. Read it in more than one expository dictionary (BLB.org, BibleHub.com, and Vine’s Online). Again, make sure the full definition matches the intent and context of the sentence containing the word. Do not assume the same definition applies to two identical words in a sentence or paragraph. The context of a word changes its meaning.
Cross-referencing also develops meaning. Locate the cross-reference verses to unwrap a word. Do not just cite it; explain how it describes the word and adds to its meaning. Select the cross-references with like meaning.
Step 6 (Organize Behind and Within the Text Information and Write a Summary Definition)
Combine within and behind-the-text information and then write a final, four-sentence definition. Thoroughly check the findings to eliminate word fallacies. Look at the draft information below. While lengthy, it unwraps the word temptations showing both behind and within the text meanings. It culminates with a summary definition taking all the research into account.
Step 7 (Application)
Respond to questions about how the word or verse applies to the body of believers today. What is your takeaway from the study? Based on the study, how does God work in the lives of His people? Answer in three to four sentences.
Contextual Study: Jas 1:2 (Temptation)
“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (Jas 1:2-3 KJV).
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (NKJV).
Behind the Text
What temptations (or trials) did the scattered experience? The word ‘divers’ (Jas 1:2) describes temptations. As part of a triple alliteration (peripesēte, poikilos, peirasmos), the author perhaps sought to emphasize divers temptations to the listeners when read orally and highlight every kind of trying (or testing). Further, the ‘when’ before divers temptations gives a clue that a person does not invite the temptations. The assembly of believers suffered many trials. James lists them in the letter. For example,
- dispersed to a land not their own (1:1)
- marginalized widows and orphans (1:26-27)
- oppression (2:5-7)
- poverty (2:16)
Within the Text
Upon first review, Blue Letter Bible notes a gloss meaning for temptation as “trial of man’s fidelity.” Vine’s Dictionary breaks out temptations further noting, “trials divinely permitted or sent” (Luke 22:28; Acts 20:19; Jas 1:2 ; 1 Pet 1:6 ; 4:12; StudyLight). The Key Word Dictionary adds “a state of trial in which God brings His people through adversity and affliction in order to encourage and prove their faith and confidence in Him” (p. 2215; cf. 1 Cor 10:13; 1 Pet 1:6-7; 2 Pet 2:9).
Jas 1:2-4 and 1:12-15 parallel each other. While 1:2 shows how temptations (trials or testing) perfect one in their current life, verses 12-15 show temptations bring an eschatological reward of the crown of life.
Since God uses temptations, it serves as a holy trial. God has control over trials in His sovereignty. A holy temptation leads to God perfecting the believer in growth for godliness. However, the believer must depend on God to endure the temptation (1 Cor 10:13).
Acts 5:41. In Acts 5:41, worthy means deserving as if to do a favor for them (Strongs). They rejoiced because God considered them worthy to go through a trial for His name “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41).
Gen 22. Genesis 22 tells the reader that God tested Abraham to give his only son as an offering. “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. 2 And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.”
1 Pet 1:6. In 1 Peter 1:6, it says, “you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” The phrase “You may have had to” translates as “it may have become necessary” for you to suffer trials. The verse discloses that God has a design and purpose behind a trial.
Rom 8:28. God has sovereignty over temptations. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom 8:28). As James stated temptation in the plural form, a person may encounter one or multiple trials. The community James addresses had experienced hurt and poverty at an extreme level.
Write a four-sentence definition that summarizes temptation’s definition using information from the investigation.
- Temptation entails a trial of man’s fidelity, a divinely inspired trial of adversity and affliction that God divinely sends or allows to prove one’s faith and confidence in Him.”
- Considered a holy trial over which God has sovereignty (Rom 8:28), it perfects the believer through strengthening by enduring afflictions in Christ (Jas 1:1; 1 Cor 10:13).
- Rather than viewing the temptation (trial) as punishment, one rejoices from being counted as worthy to suffer for His name (Acts 5:41).
- God will not tempt the believer to sin during temptation (1:13); instead, He tests to build up and perfect (1 Per 1:6; Heb 1:13), ultimately providing an eschatological reward of the crown of life to those who endure temptation (Jas 1:12).
All Nations Leadership Institute, All Right Reserved, 2021
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