Context is everything. In the context of a tennis game, â€œloveâ€ means something very different than in the context of Valentineâ€™s Day. When and how words and phrases are used directly and significantly affects meaning.
One of the phrases most commonly used out of context is â€œthe truth shall make you free.â€ It is etched in stone on buildings of universities and courthouses. It is cited as though a quest for truth is all that is needed for freedom.
These words are attributed to Jesus in John 8. Letâ€™s look at the context for this great philosophical saying. This statement is not even a sentence in the scripture, but a clause. The whole sentence says: â€œThen you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (verse 32) Now, when a sentence begins with a word like â€œthen,â€ it does so to refer to a prior thought or statement. In this case, verse 31, immediately before the â€œthen,â€ has Jesus saying, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
What a difference the context makes! Instead of some abstract, freeform quest for truth, what Jesus is saying that if one wants to find truth one must do some very specific things. For truth that will set one free, one must hold to Jesusâ€™ teachings.
It may be argued that there is access to truth without going through Jesus. I do not take issue with such a point in this column. I only want to make the point here that the truth that has the power to set one free is available for any who would be a disciple of Jesus and hold to his teaching.
If you want someone elseâ€™s truth, quote someone else. If you are going to quote Jesus on truth, hold to the truth he was talking about.