Using a reductio ad absurdum, Walter Martin demonstrated how, by collapsing contexts, we can make the Bible seem to teach anything:
- Matthew 27:5: “[Judas]… went and hanged himself.”
- Luke 10:37: “You go, and do likewise.”
- John 13:27: “What you are going to do, do quickly.”
The interpretive error of collapsing contexts is defined as follows: “Two or more verses which have little or nothing to do with each other are put together as if one were a commentary on the other.”
Only by paying careful attention to the context of each passage can we guard against this sort of Scripture twisting.
The Watchtower and the identity of Jesus
Martin also gave a serious example of collapsing contexts by noting how the Watchtower collapses the context of these two unrelated passages in order to make it appear that Jesus is a created being rather than God himself.
- Proverbs 8:1, 22-31:“ Is not wisdom calling out? Is not discernment raising its voice?… 21 Jehovah produced me as the beginning of his way, The earliest of his achievements of long ago. 23From ancient times I was installed, From the start, from times earlier than the earth. 24 When there were no deep waters, I was brought forth, When there were no springs overflowing with water. 25 Before the mountains were set in place, Before the hills, I was brought forth, 26 When he had not yet made the earth and its fields Or the first clods of earth’s soil. 27 When he prepared the heavens, I was there; When he marked out the horizon on the surface of the waters, 28 When he established the clouds above, When he founded the fountains of the deep, 29 When he set a decree for the sea That its waters should not pass beyond his order, When he established the foundations of the earth, 30 Then I was beside him as a master worker. I was the one he was especially fond of day by day; I rejoiced before him all the time; 31 I rejoiced over his habitable earth, And I was especially fond of the sons of men. (NWT)
- 1 Corinthians 1:24 : “However, to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (NWT)
Concerning the Watchtower’s juxtaposition of these two passages, Martin notes:
- Contexts are collapsed around the word “wisdom.”
- Proverbs 8 refers to “wisdom” as a personification, an abstraction
- Proverbs 8 is not talking about the attributes of the Messiah
- Collapsing the contexts would lead us to the absurd conclusion that from eternity past until the creation of Jesus, Jehovah was without his wisdom and power
- The way to detect the collapsing contexts error is to carefully identify the context of each passage and not to relate them unless the contexts are the same
I would add that we should also check to see if the conclusion drawn from combining passages is contrary to revelation expressed elsewhere in the Bible.
In this example, consider what Isaiah 44:24 says about whether God had a created being help him with his creation of the universe: “This is what Jehovah says, your Repurchaser, Who formed you since you were in the womb: ‘I am Jehovah, who made everything. I stretched out the heavens by myself, And I spread out the earth. Who was with me?’” (NWT).
If Jesus created all things, but Jesus is a created being rather than Jehovah God, how can Jehovah say, “I stretched out the heavens by myself”?
The Watchtower and who goes to heaven
The Watchtower also collapses contexts by joining these two passages:
“To how many does the Bible hold out hope of heavenly life?
- Luke 12:32: “Have no fear, little flock, for your Father has approved of giving approved of giving you the kingdom.”
- 14:1-3: “I saw, and, look! the Lamb [Jesus Christ] standing upon the Mount Zion [in heaven; see Hebrews 12:22-24], and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand having his name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads. . . . And they are singing as if a new song . . . and no one was able to master that song but the hundred and forty-four thousand, who have been bought from the earth.”
By asking the “heavenly hope” question and then collapsing the context of the two passages, the Watchtower wants us to draw the conclusion that the “little flock” is the same as the 144,000 and that only they will go to heaven.
The context of Luke 12 is Jesus’ talking to his disciples about seeking God’s kingdom first in their lives. He wasn’t giving a teaching about who will go to heaven and who will not. That subject wasn’t under discussion.
Likewise, there is no indication he was talking about a group of 144,000 who would be sealed for their protection against the judgments on the earth during the great tribulation of the end times, something only mentioned by John many years later (Revelation 7:1-4).
For that matter, isn’t it far more likely that “little flock” was a term of endearment referring to the original disciples to whom Jesus was speaking or even to all Christians (since all of Jesus’ followers in that day constituted a small flock)?
Combatting This Error
The best way to expose the error of collapsing contexts is carefully to examine the context of each passage:
- To whom is each statement addressed?
- What are the occasions for each?
- What topics are or aren’t under discussion in each passage?
- What warrant do we have for combining these passages?
- Is the conclusion presented from combining the passages the only possible explanation to be drawn or are there alternatives that are equally possible (or perhaps even more likely)?
- Are there other passages of scripture that contradict the conclusion being drawn?
- Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible, James W. Sire (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1980), p. 156)
2. Reasoning from the Scriptures (1985), p. 166.