Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Understanding Scripture

Puzzles In The Air, photo from Into Thy Word

“No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.” –1 Corinthians 2:11-12

When it comes to interpreting and applying the Bible, two extremes seem to be a common trend. This first extreme is approaching the Bible without care or concern for the true meaning of the text. The second extreme is an elitist view which holds that only the experts who understand the original languages of the Bible and have been to seminary can study understand the true meaning and application of scripture.

In the first extreme, the Bible is treated like an advice column. Scripture is utilized or taken out of context to support someone’s presupposed ideas, beliefs or desires. Someone who disregards scripture like this may flip through the Bible at random and point to a passage with their eyes closed to randomly select a word from the Lord. In this extreme, scripture verses are ripped out of context to illustrate a thought or idea, to arrive at a desired outcome, or to justify a preconceived notion. This is proof texting.

In the second extreme, the scriptures are looked at as untouchable or unknowable, unless you are part of the elite class who has been theologically educated, and only if you know Hebrew and Greek, and only if you have been to seminary, can you rightly interpret and apply the Bible. Those who hold this view believe that scripture reading should be left to the professionals. They believe the average layperson cannot accurately interpret and apply scripture unless they have a mediator from the elite group of experts. This group believes the Bible is not for the commoner.

These two extremes are very dangerous and prideful. Both center around the individual or group and not on God or His Word. There is a third or middle way to look at interpreting and applying the Bible. This third way is a humble acceptance that we have been given the Bible as a gift from God in our own language. And because of this gift, we should not take the responsibility of reading and applying the Bible lightly, nor should we arrogantly assume that the scriptures are only for the educated elite who know the original languages and have been to seminary.

It is very important to read and rightly interpret and apply the scriptures. We should always carefully read the scriptures as a whole and we should read them in their intended context. Reading and understanding our Bibles is hard work and we should be thoughtful in how we interpret and apply it.

While the Bible is for everyone, it is not some fortune cookie we can take lightly or flippantly read and disregard. We must treat the scriptures with the respect they deserve as God’s Word. We must also do the hard work in interpreting the Bible as we read it. We must rightly handle the scriptures.

In the short article Seven Keys to Understanding Scripture, by Tremper Longman III, Longman says:

Everyone who reads the Bible interprets the text. Unfortunately, however, the Bible is not always easy to understand. Even when the text seems straightforward, we may feel uncertain that our interpretation is right. All of us want to treat the Word of God with the respect it deserves, and we certainly don’t want to read into it things that are not there. For these reasons, we need to apply the basic principles of hermeneutics—the science of interpretation—as we read the text.

In the short article Seven Keys to Understanding Scripture; Longman gives seven simple guidelines to help the reader of the Bible to comprehend what God’s Word is saying. These keys help the reader to think through important factors of Biblical interpretation like the author’s original intended meaning, the context of the passage, the literary genre of the passage, the historical and cultural background of the passage, the grammatical structure of the passage, interpreting experience in light of scripture, and looking at the Bible as a whole.

The seven keys to understanding scripture are:

Principle 1—Look for the Author’s Intended Meaning.
Principle 2—Read A Passage in Context.
Principle 3—Identify the genre of the passage you are reading.
Principle 4—Consider the historical and cultural background of the Bible.
Principle 5—Consider the grammar and structure within the passage.
Principle 6—Interpret experience in light of scripture, not Scripture in the light of experience.
Principle 7—Always seek the full counsel of Scripture.

Recognizing that the Bible is a gift to us from God, we should give the Bible the prayerful respect it deserves in reading, interpreting and applying it to our lives. We should avoid the extreme of prideful and passive self-service in our reading and the prideful extreme of arrogant elitism. May we choose the third way, reading our Bibles responsibly, reading them with discernment, and reading with thoughtful consideration and research, while taking comfort in what Longman asserted, “The God who gave us His Word longs for us to understand it even more than we do.”

Prayer of Saint John Chrysostom Before Reading Sacred Scripture

O Lord Jesus Christ, open the eyes of my heart, that I may hear Your word and understand and do Your will, for I am a sojourner upon the earth. Hide not Your commandments from me, but open my eyes, that I may perceive the wonders of Your law. Speak unto me the hidden and secret things of Your wisdom. On You do I set my hope, O my God, that You shall enlighten my mind and understanding with the light of Your knowledge, not only to cherish those things which are written, but to do them; that in reading the lives and sayings of the saints I may not sin, but that such may serve for my restoration, enlightenment and sanctification, for the salvation of my soul, and the inheritance of life everlasting. For you are the enlightenment of those who lie in darkness, and from You comes every good deed and every gift. Amen.


Seven Keys to Understanding Scripture, by Tremper Longman III:

Prayer of Saint John Chrysostom Before Reading Sacred Scripture:

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