The Eighteen Principles of Divine Revelation

Principle No. 7 The Context Principle

By Clifton L. Fowler

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine 1923


One of the most important of all the eighteen principles of Divine Revelation is the Context Principle. The Context Principle assumes that text and context agree. To assume that any passage of the inspired Word of God is inharmonious with its accompanying passages is to accuse the Author of the Book of either insanity or malicious attempt to deceive. God is declared to be the Bible's Author. Is the Author of the Book of books insane or a deceiver? We are plainly told that God's thoughts are as far above man's thoughts as the heavens are above the earth, hence we know that the Author of the Bible is not insane. Furthermore we are told by the Apostle Paul that God cannot deceive. Since God, Who hath inspired the Bible, cannot deceive and is not insane, it follows that logical connection and perfect coordination will exist in all that He declares on any given theme. The text will always clarify by reference to the context, because in giving us the Bible God never inspired a text and then gave forth a contradictory context.

It is most unique that the writers on Bible themes agree as to the place, the superlative, value, and the universality of this principle in the Bible. It is productive of no little satisfaction to find a theme on which theological writers are in perfect accord. Terry1 declares, "Too much stress cannot well be laid upon the importance of closely studying the context." Pierson2 says, "A text is only a sure guide when it is taken in its surroundings and as a whole utterance." Todd3 makes the statement, "Consideration of the context in examining any verse or passage is of the utmost importance as failure to do this is one of the chief causes of the misinterpretation of Scripture." Lockhart4 says, "The context is a key to the meaning." Here, at least, is one theme upon which writers and students of many opposing persuasions are in fullest agreement.

The definition of the Context Principle is:


Whereby God, either in adjacent passages or distant passages bearing on the same or related themes, gives Bible light on Bible questions.

The adjacent passages referred to in this definition, we call "near context"; the distant passages, "remote context." Terry's recognition of the importance of "near" and "remote" context prevails throughout his discussion of the subject. Near context is the chapter or the book in which a given passage occurs. Remote context is every passage in the Bible which may be accurately brought to bear on any given line of study. It is the careful and prayerful use of the near and remote context which will indeed shed a flood of Bible light on Bible questions.

This immeasurably valuable principle is clearly declared in the Inspired Book. In I Cor. 2:12-13 we find these words:

"Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

"Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual."

The last five words are God's revelation of the Context Principle, — "comparing spiritual things with spiritual." But where do we find spiritual things? In one place, and only one place. That one place is God's holy Book. The command to "compare spiritual things with spiritual" is the command to compare Scripture with Scripture.

This helpful passage is made even more clear by a more careful rendition of the word translated "compare." We give some of the translations:

Emphatic Diaglott (Margin) "Unfolding spiritual things spiritually."

Recognizing the Word of God as the only fountain head of spiritual things this translation becomes, — Unfolding Biblical things Biblically.

Twentieth Century New Testament: "Explaining spiritual things in spiritual words."

When it is remembered that the Bible is the only existent really spiritual message to a lost world the meaning of the passage becomes inescapably conclusive, — Explaining Bible things in Bible words.

Rotherham Translation: "By spiritual words, spiritual things explaining."

This rendition is in marked agreement with the rendition given in the Twentieth Century New Testament. Could God's method of unfolding and expounding His Word to His people be made more clear? This remarkable passage from the New Testament simply shows us that the correct method of explaining inspired things is by the use of inspired words. It is God's seal of approval on the Context Principle. It is the one method whereby Bible light can be brought to bear on Bible problems. Note that the word rendered "compare" in the A. V. is in thee subsequent translations translated "unfolding," and "explaining." This makes the message of the passage plain. It is the revelation of the God-given method of making the Bible understandable. Explain Bible with Bible and the light of heaven breaks upon the minds of men.

If the Bible is the unique Book it claims to be, it is folly to seek the solution of its problems outside the sacred precincts of its own pages. If the Bible is a divine Revelation, to seek the explanation of its mysteries in the theorizing of man is to go on a wild goose chase. If the Bible comes from God, as it so emphatically claims, then the only logical place to turn in looking for the answer to Bible questions is to the Bible itself. In doing this the Context Principle is of special importance and matchless value.

The Value of the Context Principle Demonstrated by Paul's Use of It

No better demonstration of a proposition exists than a Bible demonstration. A clear demonstration of the value of the Context Principle is given in Romans 3:10-19. The Apostle Paul, inspired of God, is seeking to prove the universality of sin. He has already shown the Gentile to be under the bondage of sin and iniquity. He has also proved the Jew to have utterly missed the righteousness which is of the law. He now seeks to round out and clinch his argument, showing sin to indeed be universal. His method is to employ the context principle. He reaches back into the Old Testament and gathers together several passages from the remote context. He uses them in forceful fashion to back up his argument. It is a most valuable and instructive example of the Holy Spirit using the Context Principle to prove His point.

It is of special interest to note that this passage in Rom. 3:10-19 is an inspired endorsement of the much assailed "proof-text" method of teaching. In these latter days it not uncommon to hear a supposed religious leader, masquerading as orthodox but really a modernist, belittle the use of proof texts. That the proof-text method was employed by the preachers of forty years ago these enemies of the Cross freely admit, But, say they, "As we have outgrown the candle to make light, and the horse and buggy for transportation, so have we outgrown and abandoned this archaic proof-text method of Bible study." In taking this position they are antagonizing God's Word, for the Bible, being inspired, needs no changing and no improvement. Sin has not changed! Why should God change the remedy? Mans need has not changed! Why should we assume that God has decided upon a more modern method of meeting that need than the method He used fifty years ago? Has God, the unchangeable, changed His Mind? Ah! No, God has not changed, nor has He altered His method of imparting His Word to the hearts of men. In this passage from the third of Romans, God does employ an old method, but the simple fact that God employs it, gives it supreme authority over anything which the modernistic critics may say against it. These opponents of God's Word may sneeringly allude to our faith, backed up by a convincing array of Bible passages, as a "bescriptured philosophy" or may actually refer to God's own method of going from passage to passage in far removed portions of the Inspired Book, as "grasshopper exegesis." but all such human cavils dwindle and pale into insignificance in view of the inescapable fact that God actually uses the despised method and asks no odds of any modernist. God has thus shown us by inspiration that "grasshopper exegesis" and the "proof-text" method are His own approved method of giving His Word to us, hence the correct method. This remarkable example of the so called "grasshopper exegesis" is nothing more nor less than the Context Principle active. Rom. 3:10-19 is an inspired "Bible Reading." Let us examine it:

"As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

"There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

"They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that deeth good, no, not one." (Rom. 3:10, 11, 12.)

Paul is proving that all men are guilty sinners. He has used Ps. 14:1-3 as his proof.

"Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips." (Rom. 3:13.)

Here he has employed two widely separated Psalm passages, — Ps. 5:9 and Ps. 140:3. He is still seeking to set forth the one

"Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness." (Rom. 3:14.)

Here the inspired writer swings back to one of the opening Psalms for his "proof-text." It is Ps. 10:7 and furnishes further proof of the prevalence of sin throughout the world.

"Their feet are swift to shed blood:

"Destruction and misery are in their ways:

"And the way of peace have they not known." (Rom. 3:15-17.)

In the passage which is here quoted we have "grasshopper exegesis" indeed for this quotation is from Isa. 59:7-8.

"There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Rom. 3:18.)

Here the Apostle, led by the Spirit, goes back to the Psalms. This last passage is from Ps. 36:1. With this clear Scripture proof gathered from the 36th Psalm, the 14th Psalm, the 5th Psalm, the 140th Psalm and the 59th of Isaiah, Paul now sweeps on to his conclusion. He is about to make an exceedingly sweeping statement. He lays the foundation for that statement by reaching back into Old Testament Scriptures for a mass of "remote context." The passages which he employs all point to the depravity of the race. Having so marvelously illustrated the Context Principle, he states his conclusion:

"Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God." (Rom. 3:19.)

How can men read such a passage from the inspired page and question the legitimacy of the "proof-text" method. It is God's method. Since all Scripture is inspired, to gather together a number of texts which point toward ' the same truth has the cumulative effect of a repeated testimony. It is not only legitimate, it is immeasurably valuable and it bears the full endorsement of God, as is shown by this passage. Surely, God is making it very plain to His people that the Bible is self-interpreting.

Another illustration of the activity of the Context Principle is found in Rom. 15:9-12. In this passage Paul is seeking to prove that the Gentiles are really included in God's mercy. This is a difficult thing for a Jew to believe, but Paul brings forth abundant proof from the Jewish Scriptures themselves. He quotes from II Sam. 22:50; Deut. 32:43; Ps. 117:1 and Isa. 11:10. One thing is very sure, the Holy Spirit is not afraid of a "bescriptured philosophy," or the "grasshopper exegesis." Could God, the Father, in His great love have given us a more satisfactory revelation of his approval of the employment of Remote Context in the expounding of Scripture truth?

The Value of the Context Principle Demonstrated by Its Usefulness as a Safety Brake

Barrows5 says, "Employing Scriptural texts with little or no regard to their true connection * * * encourages the habit of interpreting Scripture in an arbitrary and fanciful way, and thus furnishes the teachers of error with their most effective weapon." No toboggan is any better greased by Satan than the toboggan into the modern false religions. No soul is safe without a safety brake. The Context Principle is the brake furnished by God. The pity is, so few apply the heaven-given brake in the hour of need, and consequently many an earnest man or woman has gone gliding on into the mazes and intricacies of some deluded propaganda advocated by those who wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction. There are many examples of this fact.

The Modernist, in common with the New Thoughtist, declares the doctrine of the Universal Fatherhood of God. This Satanic invention is based upon Eph. 4:6.

"One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all."

This glorious declaration concerning believers is given by the false teachers a universal application, and God becomes the Father of all men. Study the context and it becomes evident from the very words of Eph. 1:1 that the letter is addressed "to God's people who are in Ephesus — believers in Christ Jesus" (Weymouth). Thus it becomes evident that the "near context" destroys the pretty fabric of the Universal Fatherhood doctrine. God is not the universal Father. He is the universal creator. The passage is not teaching that God is the Father of all men, but the Father of all believers. What a reliable safety brake the near context is to any who might be slipping into this doctrine.

The remote context is equally as good. A glance at Jno. 1:12, and Gal. 3:26 will show the accuracy of this statement:

"But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name."

"For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus."

We become the children of God through faith. The Bible repudiates the universal Fatherhood of God and declares the faith-limited Fatherhood. A study of the near and remote context shows up the fallacy of the false interpretation of the Ephesian passage and brings comfort and satisfaction to the puzzled soul.

The Context Principle is a safety brake which worksl

To steady souls torn by conflicting interpretations of any passage, employ the Context Principle. To shed Bible light on Bible problems, let the context, both near and remote, speak. To rescue souls ensnared by the modern religions, turn to some of the pet passages of any one of these cults and apply the Context Principle. The error becomes immediately self-evident, and those who have been duped are liberated. If a man covets having a balanced, common-sense, logical, and at the same time spiritual insight in the interpretation of God's Word, let him fall back with unhesitating confidence upon the Context Principle of Divine Revelation.

Copyright 1923, Clifton L. Fowler



1) "Biblical Hermeneutics," by Milton S. Terry, p. 219.

2) "Knowing the Scriptures," by Arthur T. Pierson. p. 188.

3) "Principles of Interpretation," by Jas. H. Todd. p. 21.

4) "Principles of Interpretation," by Clinton Lockhart, p. 114.

5) Barrows, "Introduction to the Study of the Bible," p. 219.