Whose Truth? How Free?

Context is everything. In the context of a tennis game, “love” means something very different than in the context of Valentine’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 “the truth shall make you free.” 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. Let’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: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (verse 32) Now, when a sentence begins with a word like “then,” it does so to refer to a prior thought or statement. In this case, verse 31, immediately before the “then,” 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 Jesus’ 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 else’s truth, quote someone else. If you are going to quote Jesus on truth, hold to the truth he was talking about.

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2 Responses to Whose Truth? How Free?

  1. Scott says:

    I loved your post on “Context” and it’s importance in interpreting scripture. I had a Hermenutics teacher in Bible college who always used the phrase, “Context is King”. It is drilled into my mind. I agree that we must look at the context or we can find justification for almost any action in the Bible, or anywhere else.

  2. Richard H says:

    It looks like someone is quoting Bob Lyon. Although I heartily preach and teach the importance of context, I reject the position that “Context is EVERYTHING,” holding instead to the position that “TEXT is something.” If Context Is Everything it looks like a totalization of langue at the cost of parole (thinking of de Saussure on language). From this point it is only a short way to a flat-earth (horizonless) theory of interpretation: no determinate textual meaning in any situation. Instead, we must always ask, “Why THIS text in THIS context?” Context is absolutely essential, but it’s not everything.

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