5 And the disciples came to the other side of the sea, but they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 They began to discuss this among themselves, saying, “He said that because we did not bring any bread.” -Matthew 16:5-7
What happened to Jesus’ disciples can happen to any one of us if we don’t see the context of what we are either reading or hearing something being explained to us. Jesus was teaching His disciples to be careful of the Pharisees’ false teachings through their traditions that they added to the Scriptures. Jesus’ followers didn’t pay attention that He was talking about religious leader’s teaching which automatically makes the word leaven to be spiritual and not literal. Now, if the person Jesus was talking about were in the business of baking bread, then we can conclude that he would mean literal bread, but since the men were spiritual leaders, it makes the word spiritual as well. That is how context works.
Jesus clarifies their misunderstanding and says…“11 How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you about bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” -Matthew 16:11-12
Apart from the Holy Spirit living inside of a person to understand the Scripture, context is essential to know the meaning of words and phrases. Without context, you can cause the line to tangle up, making a mess. What you will get is whatever you want the Scriptures to say. That is very dangerous as you can cause people to believe in false doctrine, having a part in sending them to hell for all eternity.
This is how context works. Let’s say that I put a cup of water in front of you. The water inside the cup is measured half way. I precede to ask the following. Is the cup of water half full or half empty? What answer would you give? One would say half empty and the other half full. No one will know exactly the right answer. Why? because there is no context to the question. Sometimes when we are reading the Scriptures, we can come to a verse or verses that might seem hard to get the correct meaning of it.
The first thing to do is to pray to the Lord for understanding and the second thing is to ask certain questions about the passage you are having a hard time getting like I need to know the meaning of this word in the original language? Why did he say this or that? What is the back story to this verse? Many questions to ponder. If the verses above or below the passage you are trying to understand is not made clear, then you have to go back a chapter or maybe two to get the whole story behind the verse you want to understand.
So, let’s get the context behind the cup of water that is half filled. If the cup was full and half of it was emptied, you can rightly say, it is half empty. Now, if the cup was empty and someone filled it half way, you can say, it is half full.The context will give you the right answer. That is what you have to do when you are studying the Scriptures.