Without Context

Walking through a store this evening, I saw what is perhaps the most hilarious verse of Scripture I have seen since I was in Seminary. It was on a picture that could be hung on a wall in a home – Song of Solomon 3:4. “I found the one who my soul loves.” I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when I saw it. I didn’t realize then that it was only half the verse – the full verse in the NRSV reads “Scarcely had I passed them, when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go until I brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.” All I knew was that the Song of Solomon, taken at face value, is about anything but our love for God or God’s love for us. The Song of Solomon, simply put, is an erotic love story which includes a number of euphemisms in Hebrew which are lost upon readers today. While there is a school of thought that feels this book of the Song of Songs was written to show the kind of love God has for us, I’m not sure even those who subscribe to that interpretation would be comfortable simply grabbing a verse from there, cutting it up and making it look like it says that we love God or God loves us. Either way you slice it, that’s simply not what the text says. In this case, I found it quite entertaining that people who would generally buy that picture showing this verse would likely balk at the actual subject matter from the Song of Songs.

It made me think about how often we grab a particular verse out of context and use it any way we’d like to, which completely changes the meaning. I’ve seen it done with a verse out of the beginning of Revelation, meant to reassure us when the book, taken in its entirety, makes it clear that that verse was not meant for us. People read a Psalm without thinking about who it was originally written for, and take those words as assurances of God’s presence with us when they may have been written for the king of Israel. And perhaps the worst offenders are those who have a point to prove, who want to show that one group or another is either guilty of sin or exonerated – those who love, for example, to pull a single line of Scripture to state that the entire LGBTQ community is living in sin, or grab certain lines from Psalms or Jeremiah to demonstrate that abortion is a sin, when clearly the very concept of terminating a pregnancy back when those verses were written was inconceivable. Simply put, doing any of these things makes a mockery of Scripture.

Now, I’m not saying we should never read the Psalms and find words of comfort in them, or grab a line here and there as a pithy phrase to connect with the Lord. What I am saying is that we should study Scripture a little more closely before we blindly cut out a single tidbit of a verse and completely change the meaning, or use Scripture in a manner that is inconsistent with the message of the Gospel in its entirety. Whenever you’re given a line of Scripture, don’t just read it. Compare it to the rest of the Gospel, and read some verses around it. A single verse on its own, while it may make nice words of inspiration, probably does not mean what you think it means.

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