A WAY TO READ THE BIBLE: THE NEED TO INTERPRET (Part 2)
The aim of good interpretation is simple: to get to the plain meaning of the text. We tend to think that our understanding is the same thing as the Holy Spirit’s or human author’s intent. However, because of our backgrounds, knowledge, experiences, it is easy for our interpretations to become skewed from what God originally intended. The bible, in fact, that most of us read is already an interpretation from the language that it originally was penned in. This is another reason for close examination of Scripture and good exegetical study. Another reason for the need to interpret exists because the way in which the Bible was created. It is the word of God given to people throughout history. Because God chose to speak to us in this way every book of the Bible has historical particularity. This means that every document is conditioned by the language, time, and culture in which it was originally written, as well as the oral history it had before it was written down.
One of the most important aspects of the Bible is the variety of ways in which God chose to speak to us: narrative history, genealogies, chronicles, laws of all kinds, poetry of all kinds, proverbs, prophetic oracles, riddles, drama, biographical sketches, parables, letters, sermons and apocalypses. To interpret the Bible correctly the reader must be able to not only understand the exegetical aspects of the content but also the genres in which the different books were written.
The First Task: Exegesis This process is mostly a historical one but is imperative if good hermeneutics can be accomplished. In the end a good understanding of the history, people, culture and intended meaning will be known. If a text is interpreted correctly it is impossible for it to mean anything that the original author did not intend. This is crucial when trying to apply Gods word to our lives, in our belief, worship and understanding of him.
To begin exegetical study you must first learn to read text carefully while asking the right questions. There are two kinds of questions one should ask of every biblical passage, one on context and the other content.
1. Contextual - Historical, Literary
Historical context should include defining what the time and culture of the author and his readers are. That includes the geographical, topographical and political factors that are relevant to the author’s setting; as well as the occasion of the book; psalm, prophetic oracle, or other genre. It is important to have an understanding of why a certain kind of book needed to be written in a certain genre.
Literary context simply means reading something within context. Words only have meaning within entire sentences and usually biblical sentences only have meaning in relation to proceeding sentences. The most important thing to ask is what is the author trying to say, how are they saying it, why are they saying it here and in this way, and what are they saying next. This line of questioning applies to all of the different genres that Bible is written in.
2. Content Related
Content has to do with the meaning of specific words, the grammatical relationship in sentences, and the choice of original text where the manuscripts have variant readings. Basically you are trying to find the specific meaning of a biblical text.
Tools of Exegesis: 1. Bible Dictionary 2. Bible Handbook 3. Good Translation 4. Commentaries
The Second Task: Hermeneutics This is the process that is used in seeking the contemporary relevance of ancient texts. This appears to be the most important aspect of studying the bible on a personal level but it is impossible to do good hermeneutics without having a very firm grasp on the practice of exegesis. This devotion to exegesis is to try and find the plain meaning of a Bible text. Without finding the true meaning of what the author intended, biblical texts can mean whatever any given reader wishes them to mean. The goal after all, of studying the bible, is to try and find the true meaning of God’s intended word, not our own. Ultimately we want to know what the Bible means for us and how we can use that understanding to serve God, obey him, worship him and adore him.
(This post is a summary and partial abridgement of Fee And Stuart’s book “Reading The Bible For All It’s Worth.” It is based solely on Fee And Stuart’s work and any help that this content gives should be credited to God’s grace through their effort. In other words, give God glory, thank Fee and Stuart and buy the book.)