Bible reading is a foundational part of growing in faith and knowledge of God. It’s important to understand what God’s word says within the context it was written.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15
Recently my husband and I were discussing “the 20/20 rule” of bible reading. When studying a single scripture, read 20 verses before and 20 verses after. Reading in context will offer a better understanding of what we are studying and will develop discernment.
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The original biblical text was not written with convenient breaks of chapters and verses, or even punctuation. Although I have favorite scriptures I find encouraging, it’s important to understand God’s word in context.
A few examples:
Did you know the bible says, “There is no God.” I know it seems unbelievable, but it’s there in Psalm 14. If I read just that sentence, it gives an entirely different meaning than what the psalmist intended.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. Psalm 14:1
This is a pretty obvious example of taking words out of context. Yet it’s a great example of the importance to read scripture in its entirety.
There are several commonly proclaimed scriptures that are misinterpreted when taken out of context.
I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13
I have heard people quote this scripture as a means of attainment. When reading with the 20/20 rule, Paul’s intent was a message of contentment. Viewing the passage with only a couple of additional verses provides clarity to my point.
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13
Another commonly misquoted passage for the purpose of attainment is found in Psalms.
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalms 37:4
Strong’s Concordance defines the word “delight” to be soft or pliable. Please go read the entire psalm and see how it can be interpreted that we are to be soft toward the Lord, and flexible to His leading.
A single scripture can be encouraging, but it should be applied to our lives with care.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
Often I have heard this verse used to declare personal prosperity. In context, this passage is part of a letter from Jeremiah to the exiles. It speaks of their punishment, and the Lord’s plan to restore them.
I believe God does have a plan for each one of us, and that His plans are good. This scripture alone should not be used to believe we will not face trials, nor that we should expect a life of great wealth and good fortune. To do so could weaken our faith and result in disappointment toward God.
It is important to maintain reverence for God and to keep the truth of the Word in context. Applying the 20/20 rule to Bible reading will offer a deeper understanding of scripture. Studying passages in their full context will grow our faith and develop discernment.