Context can refer to either the literary or historical context. The literary context shows how a sentence fits into a paragraph, a paragraph into a chapter, a chapter into a book, a book into the whole Bible. It is important to ask why a particular passage is here and not elsewhere, how it builds on prior passages, and how it prepares us for the next. One example of this is:
"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."
When we locate this verse within the context of the book of Romans, we discover that it transitions us from chapters 1-11 to chapters 12-16. This verse operates as a “literary hinge.” Paul has just finished describing the human predicament and God's boundless mercy and grace in providing an eternal solution for our sin problem. "Therefore" the only rational conclusion, in the face of such undeserved mercy, is to give our whole lives to God in heartfelt service.
The historical context includes getting to know the geography, climate, architecture, society, morals, social structure, etc. of the Bible's actors, authors, and readers.
"When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of blood on your house, if anyone should fall from it."
Moses is trying to get builders and homeowners to take adequate safety precautions when they build their homes. Because the roofs of homes were flat, they were often used to "sleep out" at night and for various other family activities including play and family meals. A parapet was a retaining wall around the edge of the flat roof to keep people from tumbling off the roof. Here understanding the historical context enables you to understand the verse.
Third Key: Structure - subdividing a large text into smaller, more manageable sections.
Here we try to divide a book into major sections (e.g. Isaiah 1-5; 6-12; 13-27; 28-35; 36-39; 40-55; 56-66) or a section into chapters while still keeping the big picture and the purpose of the whole book in mind. We do this by asking two questions:
1. How has the author broken down this material into sections?
2. How do these sections fit together?
John 14:1; 14:27
"Let not your heart be troubled" appears in both of these verses. The material in between gives the disciples reasons for why their hearts do not need to be troubled. This is an example of a structural technique demonstrated by “bookends.” We have the same phrase appearing at both the beginning and the end of the section.
Matthew 5:2; 5:10
The phrase "kingdom of heaven" occurs at the beginning and end of this section. This section is describing the character of those who are citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
Here we have an example of a common Hebrew structural technique known as chiasm. We have essentially the same phrase "the whole earth" and "all the earth" serving as bookends while the author puts the punchline in the middle of the story ("and the Lord came down").
Here we have the same Hebrew structural device only now on a large scale. Chapters 2 and 7 focus on four great kingdoms to come (the vision of the statue; the vision of the four beasts) culminating in God's eternal kingdom. We begin and end with the sovereignty of God over the lives and the kingdoms of men. Sandwiched in between is the fiery furnace, the total humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar, the removal of Belshazzar, and the saving of Daniel from the lions.The punchline is found in the fall of the “great Babylon” that had exiled Israel for seventy years.