Context (yes … *again*)

Caveat lector: This is post # 776 on this blog.  That means I can wait till the next one to be really coherent, and this one must be viewed as short of perfect.  🙂

Context.  It figures in often to my thinking.  I was particularly proud (somewhat ironically!) of this post last month, which I think made a great point in a fairly succinct way.

Context.  It makes the difference in understanding others in casual conversation, in reading or seeing news reports and developing or changing a worldview, and in the study and performance of various styles of music.  When you see a syncopated rhythm in the context of Brahms, it’s interpreted differently from an identical-looking rhythm in Glenn Miller or Chicago.  (Who knew an art-music orchestra that plays Mozart and Prokofiev and Sibelius and Rimsky-Korsakov could also play Keith Getty and Tim Hughes contemporary worship music another day, and KANSAS rock accompaniments the next?)

Sometimes, context is obvious.  If you’re in Vermont and you say “skiing,” you likely don’t mean water skiing.  Conversely, if you’re in Alabama or Oklahoma, you probably don’t mean “snow skiing.”  The question in Vermont is not “lake or mountain?”  It’s “cross-country or downhill.”  The question in Oklahoma might be “Is the lake too full of boats on this hot day? or maybe “Does my speedboat still leak?”

Context.  It also makes a difference in the study and consideration of God’s message revealed in scripture.  For instance, if you see “breaking bread” in the context of daily life and long-term patterns in Acts, written in the latter half of the 1st century, it probably doesn’t mean “communion table with formal procession and 1 Corinthians 11 and incantation-prayer and cracker bits and thimbleful of grape juice.”  Oddly enough, it probably means more along the lines of what coarse-voiced Mafia toughs mean when they say, “We’ll sit down and break bread together.”

The question isn’t some heavy, theological “transubstantiation or consubstantiation or no-substantiation?”  The question to ask is “What does this mean, in its historical and literary context?”  “What would the first readers have understood it to mean? (… and then and only then, “What does that mean for me?”)


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