By Dix Winston
In 1999 the NFL instituted the red challenge flag, allowing a coach to challenge certain calls made by the officiating team. Once the flag is thrown, the referee reviews the video replay from a number of different camera angles. If there is indisputable visual evidence, the ruling on the field will be overturned. If not, the ruling on the field stands.
I think we need to have a red-challenge flag for Bible teachers who “miss the call” and misinterpret the Bible. These bad calls can be divided into three categories: precept calls, promise calls, and principle calls. A precept is something the Bible tells you to do. A promise is something God is obligated to do. A principle is “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.”1
While Bible teachers do not have camera angles, they do have context. Referees can miss the call by having only one perspective. Likewise, Bible teachers can miss the call by ignoring the context. The dictionary defines context as “the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning.”2 It is true that “a text without a context is a pretext.”
Every verse in the Bible has a context. Think of an archery target. The bullseye is the single verse. The next ring is the verses before and after the verse. The third ring is the chapters of that book before and after. The fourth ring is other books the author wrote. And the outer circle is other books in the Bible. As you scrutinize a passage’s context, it is helpful to ask the following questions: Who is the original speaker? Who is the original hearer? Who is the original writer? Who is the original reader? Having answered these questions you can then ask: What does it mean to me?
So, let’s examine a precept, a promise, and a principle screaming for a challenge flag to be thrown. Keep the above questions in mind.
Throwing the Challenge Flag on a Misunderstood Precept: Mark 1:15
A precept is a rule or command to be obeyed by a believer. Precepts begin in Genesis 1:28 and conclude in Revelation 22:17.
I throw my first challenge flag on Mark 1:15: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” According to some teachers, you must repent and turn from your sins before you can believe and be saved. I believe that those teaching repentance as being necessary for salvation have missed the call.
Let’s look at the “replay” (the immediate context).
First, John the Baptist had called for the national repentance of Israel.3 Mark 1:14 tells us that John had been arrested. His message was for national, not personal, repentance; the nation had disobeyed for centuries. Since John had been silenced, Jesus took up his message. John and Jesus echoed Moses’ message: “Return to the Lord your God and obey Him” (Deut 30:1-5).
Second, gospel simply means “good news.” One must avoid assuming that it always refers to eternal salvation. The context must determine the meaning. It should have been good news to the nation that “the kingdom of God was at hand.” A kingdom assumes a king. The Jews had not had a king since King Zedekiah in 586 B.C. when the temple was destroyed, and the Jews were carried into exile.4 Their King, Jesus, had come. Sadly, they would continue forsaking their God by rejecting His Son.
Third, Mark is not an evangelistic book. Of the sixty-six books in the Bible, only the Gospel of John is evangelistic (John 20:30-31). John’s Gospel never calls for repentance as a condition of eternal life. If repentance were necessary for everlasting life, John gave the wrong evangelistic message!
My challenge stands: Repentance is not a condition or prerequisite for eternal life. It was a precept for the Jewish nation, a condition for God’s earthly kingdom.5
Throwing the Challenge Flag on a Misunderstood Promise: 2 Chronicles 7:14
I throw my second challenge flag on those over-claiming promises. One such promise is 2 Chronicles 7:14. So many Bible teachers miss the call and claim this promise for the Church in America. The claim goes like this: “If Christians in America, will humble themselves and seek God’s face, He promises to heal the USA.”
Now, let’s examine the “replay.” First and Second Chronicles focus on the southern kingdom of Judah and the reign of the Davidic kings. Second Chronicles begins with the reign of Solomon following David’s death and ends with the reign of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. The book chronicles the building and dedication of the Solomonic temple. The context of 2 Chronicles 7 is “the glory of the Lord fill[ing] the temple” and “Solomon [keeping] the feast seven days, and all Israel with him.” Following this feast, the Lord appears to Solomon at night with a warning and a promise.
He warns Israel and the king not to forsake Him to worship and serve other gods. If they do, God will withhold the rain, send locusts, and spread pestilence among the people.6 All three of these judgments are catastrophic for an agrarian people.
But God is merciful. If His people (those of Judah) “will humble themselves and pray and seek His face and turn from their wicked ways,” He “will forgive their sins and heal their land.”
Upon further review, my challenge stands. This was a promise to Israel, not America. The healing of the land is agricultural, not societal. In short, those who teach this as a promise for America have “missed the call.”
Throwing the Challenge Flag on a Misunderstood Principle: Mark 6:38
Principles may be compared to razzle-dazzle plays, containing many moving parts. Because of their complexity, they often call for the red challenge flag.
The prosperity principle is just such a “play.” It has many names: “seed-faith giving,” the “hundredfold return,” “word-faith,” “name it and claim it,” and “health and wealth.”
The most often-used verse for this principle is Luke 6:38:
Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.
This verse is used to formulate the prosperity principle, whose essence is that if you give financially, God will give back above and beyond what you give. Therefore, the motive for giving is primarily to get! It obligates God to a financial return on investment. Our level of investment then dictates and demands God’s level of material reward.
I throw the red challenge flag on the prosperity principle. It is not Biblical and ignores context. The context of Luke 6 is a shortened version of the Sermon on the Mount. The lead-in to Luke 6:38 begins at 6:27. This passage deals with personal relationships, not financial remuneration! This is verified by Jesus stating the Golden Rule, Luke 6:31, and is reinforced by the command to “be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
Two negative commands and one positive follow this, none having the slightest thing to do with money (Luke 6:37).
The bottom line, considering the context, is that if you are relationally gracious—not judging or condemning, but forgiving and merciful—then you can expect the same from the Father. In Matthew’s account of the same sermon, Jesus said,
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” [not money] (Matt 5:7).
There are 31,102 verses in the Bible—23,145 in the OT and 7,957 in the NT. (No, I did not count them. I Googled them!) Each has a context that must be considered in order to interpret it correctly and make the correct call. The above passages are often taken out of context. And when you take a verse out of context, it ceases to be the Word of God.
So, the next time you hear a text without a context, throw the red flag and challenge it. And remember, unless there is indisputable contextual evidence, overturn the call.
Dix and his wife, Cynthia, live in Colorado and have been married for nearly five decades. Dix and Bob Wilkin have been friends since their seminary days, having both graduated from DTS in 1982.
1 Oxford Dictionary of English, Oxford University Press (2010, 2016), Online Version.
2 Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (Thomas Press India Ltd., 2020), s.v. “context.”
3 Matthew 3:1-12.
4 Second Kings 24-25, 2 Chronicles, and the Book of Jeremiah.
5 John’s epistles do call for repentance of sin for believers, not unbelievers.
6 Second Chronicles 7:13.