Third sin of interpretation presented by Kenneth Bailey in Interpreting the Bible is what he calls the “Cut and Paste method.” As he introduced this method I expected to hear about Thomas Jefferson’s famous effort to edit out of his Bible those portions that dealt with supernatural acts or other issues with which he differed. This is not the direction Bailey was headed. What Bailey has in mind is the practice of selecting isolated passages and stringing them together to have them say whatever you want. Alternatively, one can lift a passage and, quoting it isolation from its context, it comes to mean something quite different.
To illustrate this cut and past method from outside the Bible, Bailey draws on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Juliet says, “What is in a name? If a rose were called by any other name it would smell as sweet.” Today you will frequently hear people say “Well a rose is still rose, even if called by a different name.” The implication is that names don’t matter. And yet, if you know Romeo and Juliet, this is precisely the opposite message of the play. Indeed, names mean a great deal. Despite Juliet’s desire that names should not matter, the names “Capulet” and “Montague” create an insurmountable barrier that bring Romeo and Juliet to their deaths.
Bailey, quoting another scholar, notes that “Shakespeare did not write quotations.” Shakespeare wrote plays, sonnets, and the like. The same is true of the Bible. It is not a collection of isolated quotations to be lifted and rearranged according to our agendas. Each passage much be understood within its context of the surrounding discussion, the context of the book it is written, and ultimately within the larger corpus of the whole Bible.
Maybe you have heard examples of this method used. One example I’ve heard many times is people justifying acts of retaliation by claiming they are just following Jesus instructions about “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Of course, Jesus was quoting this Old Testament command to highlight his new instruction of “turning the other cheek.” Others cite 1 Corinthians 14:34 as justification for women not speaking in church despite the fact that earlier in the letter Paul gives instruction on how women are to conduct themselves as the prophecy in church.
To avoid errors, we need to be diligent about understanding passages of scripture within context.