AW Pink on Bible Interpretation, part 5

Importance of Context

Literary Context

The need for paying close attention to the context is a matter of first importance. Each statement of Scripture must be explained in complete agreement with the plain sense of the passage of which it forms a part. That “plain sense” must be diligently searched for. Few things have contributed more to erroneous interpretations than the ignoring of this obvious principle. By divorcing a verse from its setting or singling out a single clause, one may “prove” not only absurdities but real falsities by the very words of Scripture.

Much help is obtained in ascertaining the precise significance of certain expressions by observing the circumstances and occasion of their utterance. For example, the parable recorded in Luke 15:3-32, cannot possibly be interpreted aright if its context be ignored. What needless perplexity has been occasioned and diversity among the commentators concerning the identity of the ninety-nine sheep left in the wilderness (defined as “just persons who need no repentance”) and the “elder son” (who complained at the generous treatment accorded his brother), through failure to use the key we observe that this one parable (in three parts) was not spoken by Christ to the disciples, but addressed to His enemies. It was given in reply to the Pharisees and scribes who had murmured because our Lord received sinners and ate with them. His design was to expose the condition of their hearts, and to vindicate His own gracious actions. Once those broad facts be apprehended, there is no difficulty in understanding the details of the parable.

Pay Attention to Conjunctions

Every verse beginning with the word “For” requires us to trace the connection: usually it has the force of “because,” supplying proof of a preceding statement. Likewise the expression “For this cause” and words like “wherefore and therefore” call for close attention, so that we may have before us the promise from which the conclusion is drawn. On what particular subject was the apostle writing? What required him to take it up? What was his special design on this occasion? What is he referring back to? From what is drawing his conclusion?

The widespread misunderstanding of 2 Corinthians 5:17, for example, demonstrates what happens when there is carelessness at this point. Nine times out of ten its opening “Therefore” is not quoted, and through failure to understand its meaning an entirely wrong sense is given to “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” That prefatory “therefore” indicates that this verse is not to be considered as a thing apart, complete in itself, but rather as closely connected with something foregoing. On turning back to the previous verse we find it too begins with the word “wherefore,” which at once shows that this passage is a didactic or doctrinal one, and neither a biographical one which delineates the experience of the soul nor a hortatory one calling unto the performance of some duty.

Material drawn from:


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