The number one rule in interpreting anything is to keep it in context. If someone says, “I’m George Washington”, it could mean any number of things depending on the context. They could be talking about a movie or a play in which they play George Washington as a character. They could be talking about them having taken a Facebook quiz about which founding father they resembled. They could also be named after George Washington. They could also be a lunatic and believe they are the first president of the United States. Whatever the case though, the context determines the meaning of the message. This applies to the Bible as well.
Surrounding context are the verses that precede and follow the verse of study. Matthew 4:9 sounds like a great life verse that someone would like to put on their inspirational calendar. “And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you fall down and worship me.” (ESV). That sounds great until you look at the surrounding verses and see that this is Satan tempting Jesus. Then Jesus’ response is the appropriate one to give, “Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” (Matthew 4:10, ESV). Surrounding context can quickly correct an interpretation and how to apply a passage.
Chapter context is what is happening in the pericope, complete thought, of a passage. There is a definite beginning to a passage and a definite end to a passage the author is trying to convey. Every book in the Bible was put together for a purpose. The complete thought of a Psalm is generally the whole Psalm; though, Psalm 119 the complete thought is in each section of the Hebrew alphabet. For the Gospels the complete thought is marked by the episode in Jesus’ life. Historical narratives are also marked by episodes in the story. Epistles are broken up into arguments that build up into the final argument. Sometimes it is a chapter, sometimes it is in smaller pieces.
Book context is the thrust of the entire book. What is the goal of the author in the book? Matthew was written to prove Jesus is the king of the Jews. Every episode in the book seeks to provide proof Jesus is the Messiah. The temptation in the wilderness happens right after Jesus was baptized and proclaimed by God to be His Son. Jesus proves that by overcoming temptation by Satan. It leads up to the cross, where Jesus is killed for being the King of the Jews, and the resurrection which proves He is who He claimed to be. It ends with Him telling His disciples He has all authority so they need to go out and share the gospel with all nations.
These are three different kinds of context that will help aid in biblical interpretation. I go over more in my books When My Ox Gores My Neighbor and Romans Roadblocks. These books can be found in the resource section. How we understand any information is by context. It would be terrible if someone were to take you out of context. Don’t do that to the Word of God. Lord bless you and have a great day.