My wife and I were walking through the local cathedral the other day and I was struck by a war memorial that I had seen several times before. It is a simple wooden arch leading into an open chapel commemorating the British soldiers who died in WWI. Looking back out from inside the chapel you can see the words (painted in three panels) “FEAR GOD / LOVE THE BROTHERHOOD/ HONR THE KING.” Being a New Testament student, I recognized this to be from 1 Peter which runs “love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the King” (1 Pet 2:17).
The reason I was struck by this is not my interest in European history (which is considerable) nor my appreciation of fine wood work (of which the memorial is a great example). No. What struck me was the fundamental difference in context between the statement in 1 Peter and its use on the cathedral monument.
Peter and his audience, in the second half of the first century CE, were far from being in the majority. Christianity was a small Jewish sect founded by a backwater provincial named Jesus and their compatriots seem to have been less than favorable to the new group. Peter was concerned that the Christians to whom he was writing not stir up unnecessary problems by appearing revolutionary or subversive. They were to “conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge” (1 Pet 2:12). For Peter, that involved loving fellow Christians, fearing God and giving honors to the King, regardless of his treatment in return.
Fast-forward about 1,870 years. Britain was an imperial superpower (though admittedly in a bit of an economic slump). Instead of honoring a king who knew virtually nothing about their religion, the Brits had George V, the latest in a long line of (at least ostensibly) Christian monarchs. Those who considered themselves Christians were no longer in the minority. Indeed, in the name of Christianity, the western powers had long colonized India and Africa (and points East). Also, the term “the brotherhood” in an early 20th century military context (like that on the monument) refers not to fellow Christians but to “brothers-in-arms,” a meaning surely foreign to Peter’s letter.
This brings us to an incredibly dense quote from Jacques Derrida.
Once inserted into another network, the “same” philosopheme is no longer the same, and besides it never had an identity external to its functioning. Simultaneously, “unique and original” philosophemes, if there are any, as soon as they enter into articulated composition with inherited philosophemes, are affected by that composition over the whole of their surface and under every angle.
For Derrida, there can be no true repetition. To cite in one context something said by another person in another context is, in fact, to say something new. (And, yes. I am well aware of the irony involved in quoting someone to make this point.) The meaning of a statement is a function of its total context––literary, historical, cultural, social, etc. This means (and the example above shows) that quoting someone is not reproducing their meaning. For some, this is merely a way to sound clever at a party. For Christians (and for other religions with sacred texts), this is a big deal. To say, “The Bible says [insert quote here] and that’s why we should (or shouldn’t) do (or believe or say) this thing” is not actually providing a defense of a given position. It is merely an observation about a set of words in a book. Saying and meaning, though intimately related, are not the same. Rather, it is much more important that we understand the total context or, to use a metaphor, the whole story in which we can find ourselves and act according to the total narrative, rather than a few isolated bits.
 Jacques Derrida. 1981. Economimesis. Diacritics 11 (2): 2. Translated by R. Klein.