Book Review: How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth

In How to Read the BibleHow to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart attempt to help the reader understand and interpret the Bible with particular consideration of the genre of each book. They explain that the “Its” of the title is deliberate, rather than “It Is,” saying, “‘Its’ is a deliberate wordplay that works only when it appears without the apostrophe; and in the end our own emphasis lies with this possessive. Scripture is God’s Word, and we want people to read it because of its great value to them. And if they do it ‘for all it’s worth,’ hopefully they will also find its worth.”

The first chapter covers general principles for reading and understanding the Bible: exegesis, “the careful, systematic study of Scripture to discover the original, intended meaning,” which involves learning “to read the text carefully and to ask the right questions of the text,” questions of context (historical and literary) and content; interpretation, and hermeneutics, learning “to hear that same meaning in the variety of new or different contexts of our own day.” They insist, several times over, that we must understand what the text meant to the original readers before attempting to apply it to ourselves.

The concern of the scholar is primarily with what the text meant; the concern of the layperson is usually with what it means. The believing scholar insists that we must have both. Reading the Bible with an eye only to its meaning for us can lead to a great deal of nonsense as well as to every imaginable kind of error—because it lacks controls. Fortunately, most believers are blessed with at least a measure of that most important of all hermeneutical skills—common sense.

Whether one likes it or not, every reader is at the same time an interpreter. That is, most of us assume as we read that we also understand what we read. We also tend to think that our understanding is the same thing as the Holy Spirit’s or human author’s intent. However, we invariably bring to the text all that we are, with all of our experiences, culture, and prior understandings of words and ideas. Sometimes what we bring to the text, unintentionally to be sure, leads us astray, or else causes us to read all kinds of foreign ideas into the text.

Let it be said at the outset—and repeated throughout—that the aim of good interpretation is not uniqueness; one is not trying to discover what no one else has ever seen before. Interpretation that aims at, or thrives on, uniqueness can usually be attributed to pride (an attempt to “outclever” the rest of the world), a false understanding of spirituality (wherein the Bible is full of deeply buried truths waiting to be mined by the spiritually sensitive person with special insight), or vested interests (the need to support a theological bias, especially in dealing with texts that seem to go against that bias). Unique interpretations are usually wrong. This is not to say that the correct understanding of a text may not often seem unique to someone who hears it for the first time. But it is to say that uniqueness is not the aim of our task. The aim of good interpretation is simple: to get at the “plain meaning of the text.”

Because the Bible is God’s Word, it has eternal relevance; it speaks to all humankind, in every age and in every culture.

The second chapter deals with the different translations of the Bible. You may not agree with the one they feel is best (I later learned one of them was on the translation committee for it), but this chapter will help you appreciate the difficulties involved in translating and the reasons there are so many translations, but will also reassure you that we have a few today that are especially accurate and trustworthy. There are a number of considerations, but the main differences in translations are those which use formal equivalence, “the attempt to keep as close to the ‘form’ of the Hebrew or Greek, both words and grammar, as can be conveniently put into understandable English”; functional equivalence, “the attempt to keep the meaning of the Hebrew or Greek but to put their words and idioms into what would be the normal way of saying the same thing in English” at the time of the translation, and free translation (or paraphrase), which is more concerned about translating the ideas rather than the “exact words of the original.”

The problem with a “free” translation, on the other hand, especially for study purposes, is that the translator updates the original author too much…On the one hand, these renditions often have especially fresh and vivid ways of expressing some old truths and have thus each served to stimulate contemporary Christians to take a fresh look at their Bibles. On the other hand, such a “translation” often comes very close to being a commentary, but without other options made available to the reader. Therefore, as stimulating as these can sometimes be, they are never intended to be a person’s only Bible; and the reader needs constantly to check particularly eye-catching moments against a true translation or a commentary to make sure that not too much freedom has been taken.

The rest of the book’s chapters discuss the different genres of literature in the Bible: epistles, narratives, Acts, the gospels, parables, the law, the prophets, the psalms, wisdom literature (Job, Proverbs, Song of Solomon), and Revelation.  They apply the principles they discussed in Chapter 1 to each and also discuss their forms and the particular difficulties or concerns in reading and interpreting each one. For instance, concerning the epistles, the authors  “offer the following guidelines, therefore, for distinguishing between items that are culturally relative on the one hand and those that transcend their original setting on the other hand and are thus normative for all Christians of all times.” Of the OT narratives, they say:

Our concern in this chapter is to guide you toward a good understanding of how Hebrew narrative “works,” so that you may read your Bibles more knowledgeably and with greater appreciation for God’s story. Unfortunately, failure to understand both the reason for and the character of Hebrew narrative has caused many Christians in the past to read the Old Testament story very poorly. If you are a Christian, the Old Testament is your spiritual history. The promises and calling of God to Israel are your historical promises and calling. Yet, in our experience, people force incorrect interpretations and applications on narrative portions of the Bible as much as or more than they do on any other parts. The intended value and meaning are replaced with ideas read into rather than out of the text.

Old Testament narratives are not allegories or stories filled with hidden meanings…[and] are not intended to teach moral lessons. The purpose of the various individual narratives is to tell what God did in the history of Israel…

However, even though [they] do not teach directly, they often illustrate what is taught explicitly and categorically everywhere.

One crucial thing to keep in mind as you read any Hebrew narrative is the presence of God in the narrative. In any biblical narrative, God is the ultimate character, the supreme hero of the story.

Even though the chapters on the different genres make up the bulk of the book and I have multitudes of places marked in them, for the sake of space and time I’ll stop there.

They have an appendix for “The Evaluation and Use of Commentaries” and their recommendations for good ones.

Overall, though I would not agree with every little point, I found the book very helpful. Though there is value in reading it through as a whole, I think there would be more value in reading the chapter on a particular genre just before reading that genre, and I may try to do that, or at least refresh myself on some of the applicable points, on starting a new genre in my own reading.

The authors are scholars who try very hard to make their points readable and understandable to the average layperson, and they mostly succeed. I don’t know if this is a book I would give to a brand new Christian right off the bat, though. It might be overwhelming, like trying to get a sip from a fire hydrant. But maybe not. Maybe it would help people get off on the right foot.

One frustration was that the authors often referred to what they called “How to 2” for further reading or for information they evidently didn’t want to reprint here. Since this is a third edition of the book, I thought they were referencing the second edition, and wondered why they didn’t just include that information here. But as I reread the first part, “How to 2” is referring to a different book of theirs, How to Read the Bible Book by Book.

I got this book on a Kindle sale because I had seen it referred to often, and it happened to be the third edition, which apparently is no longer available in the Kindle format. There is now a fourth edition, though, available both for print and ebook form.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, and Carole’s Books You Loved)

lmml-button-2-6

Books you loved

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Laudable Linkage

img_0015

It’s been quite a while since I have been able to share with you some interesting reading I’ve found online the past few weeks. So here goes:

What Grieving People Wish You Knew at Christmas. “For those who’ve recently lost someone they love, the holidays can seem more like something to survive than to enjoy.” That’s true for other holidays and occasions besides Christmas and for other losses or hard times as well.

We Need to Talk About Church Scheduling.

How Not to Parent a Strong-willed Child.

Honoring the Dishonorable. How do we honor parents when they act in ways undeserving of it?

Taking Back Christianese” “America Is a Christian Nation

Dear Women’s Ministry: Stop Telling Me I’m Beautiful. “The question is not whether or not these things are true, but whether or not this is the most important message women need to hear.”

This is the time of year a lot of people rededicate themselves to reading their Bibles, so there have been a lot of articles touching on that:

One Reason to Dedicate Yourself to Bible Reading in 2017.

4 Reasons to Have a Quiet Time.

5 Ways Daily Bible Reading Impacts Your Life.

3 Fresh Ideas for Improving Your Bible Reading in 2017. Love the opening sentences here: “I am still blown away by the idea that the God of the universe wants to communicate with us on a daily basis and that he has chose to do so in this miraculous book we call the Bible. Historically—both the history it contains and the history of its shaping and transmission in the community of faith—it is astounding. Literarily it is magnificently crafted. Narratively it is riveting, and poetically it is breath-taking. Theologically it is deeply grounding, and practically it is life-altering.”

3 Tips For Reading the OT like a Christian. Helpful for times like when you get bogged down in Leviticus.

A 5-Day Bible Reading Plan. Nice because it gives you some leeway for those times when the unexpected comes up.

And, finally, I could have used this tip when singing soprano in the choir. 🙂 I like how they keep a straight face through it all:

Happy first Saturday of 2017!

Book Review: Knowable Word

knowable-wordKnowable Word: Helping Ordinary People Learn to Study the Bible by Peter Krol lives up to its title. It begins with a section about why to study the Bible (to get to know the Person behind it). It concedes that Bible studies and commentaries and such are valuable in many ways, but promises to give the tools for the reader to mine from the Bible on their own and to get to know God better.

Sometimes…we seek a mountaintop experience where we can behold His glory and see Him face to face. We want to hear His voice speaking with clarity and power. We long to be wowed from on high. The apostle Peter had such an experience with Jesus, and he concluded that you and I don’t need to have to same experience.

“We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place.” (2 Peter 1:16b-19a) (pp. 13-14).

After a brief discussion of a few off-base approaches to Bible study, Krol dives into the method he advocates and teaches, which is not new but today goes by the acronym OIA:

  1. Observation – what does it say?
  2. Interpretation – what does it mean?
  3. Application – how should I change? (p. 16)

He discusses each in more detail, explains why each is important, illustrates it from everyday conversation and from Jesus’ teaching when He brought out truth from the OT. He reminds us that no method or set of tools replaces our dependence on the Holy Spirit to guide and illuminate us.

The next several chapters discuss each of these steps in more detail and shows how to use them by applying them to Genesis 1 and 2. Observation, for example, means that we don’t bring in preconceived notions or gloss over familiar passages because we think we know what they say. Observation involves considering genre, the author, repeated words, grammar, structure, and mood or tone. He similarly delves into more detail with interpretation and application.

This a short book at 117 pages, but it is densely packed and contains little to no fluff. I have sticky tabs and markings on almost every other page.

One area where I would disagree with Krol just a bit is in application. I agree that we need to be doers of the Word and not just hearers (James 1:22) and we need to be specific rather than vague. He does admit that he delves into this more in the book for illustration and that in reality he would just take one or two specific applications. I agree that we need to apply the Bible inwardly as well as outwardly, and as he advocates, apply it to head, hands, and heart. The point where I have a problem is in coming up with measurable actions steps from each day’s reading. Sometimes that might be the case. As we read, we need to be asking God for wisdom in applying what He teaches us and we need to act on anything He convicts us about. But I imagine a scenario like this: I’m convicted about my need to be more loving (often) and my need to get out of myself and reach out to others. So after reading a Bible passage about Christian love, I might sit and think of ways to show more love to others and interest in them. So I decide I’ll bake some cookies for my neighbor and make my husband’s favorite dinner. And that may be exactly what I need to do. But in my thinking, after I have done those things, I can check “be more loving” off my list because I have done my good deeds for the day. On the other hand, if I ask God’s help to carry the reminder to be more loving with me throughout the day, He can guide me into situations that I didn’t know were going to come up and apply it all day. (Actually I have found that telling myself to “be more loving” focuses on my lack and inability. But if I remind myself to “love as Jesus loved me,” that removes the focus from me to Him, from my lack to His fullness.) There are points in the day I know I will desperately need that reminder, like when someone interrupts me at the computer and I lose my train of thought for the paragraph I am writing, and I have to remind myself that people are more important than tasks. Or when I go in to change my mother-in-law. Since she’s not verbal and often groggy, it’s easy to fall into just doing the task at hand and forget the person. But I have to remind myself to look her in the eye, smile, speak even if she doesn’t respond, show love and care and interest in her as a person. As I read about loving as Christ loved, those two examples come to mind first. But I’ll need to apply that truth in multiple ways, not just the two I thought about while considering application. I think Krol would agree with this: he’s not advocating just generating lists to check off. And measurable action steps are not necessarily a bad result of Bible reading. I just don’t know that I would end every Bible reading time with such a list.

One other section that had me scratching my head a bit described his church hiring a brand new preacher who made some mistakes in his first sermon, realized it, and braced for some criticism from the leadership. I agreed with them in dealing with the issues but assuring him that Jesus had died for him, including these issues, and they’d rather he “give it his all, making a few mistakes in the process, than that he hold back out of fear of imperfection. He was free to live out his calling as a preacher with confidence that he was accepted by God and already approved” (p. 96). But what I thought odd was that, under the idea of “If you’re going to make a mistake, make a big one,” the author said, “So let’s study (and especially apply) the Bible with such great confidence that we can ‘sin boldly,’ as Martin Luther once advised his student Philip Melanchthon, ” and then he shares this quote from Luther: “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.” I don’t know the context of Luther’s quote, and I do know that “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20), and I agree that we should “give it [our] all, making a few mistakes in the process, [rather] than…hold back out of fear of imperfection.” But still – I don’t see any encouragement in the Bible to “sin boldly” because we’re under grace.

As I said, I have multiple places marked in the book, but I’ll try to share just a few of the quotes I found most helpful:

Careless presumption will kill your Bible study. It will strangle observation and bear stillborn application. It will make you look like the stereotypical, narrow-minded Christian, and it will diminish your influence for the Lord. By strengthening your confidence in questionable conclusions, presumption will cloud your relationship with Jesus and your experience of his grace. When it comes to Bible study then, guard yourself against every form of unexamined presumption (p. 47).

Since we’ll continue observing new things in God’s Word until Jesus returns, our observations could be infinite in number. But interpretations are not infinite (though our grasp of them may mature over time). Biblical authors had agendas, and we are not authorized to add to those agendas. We investigate the facts of the text until we’re able to think the author’s thoughts after him. And since biblical authors wrote God’s very words, good interpretation trains us to think God’s thoughts (p. 49).

Don’t use minor details to make the text say what you want it to say. Don’t build a theology from one unclear verse (p. 51).

Ancient authors didn’t waste space with meaningless details. Every word has a purpose. Every sentence captures an idea. Every paragraph advances the agenda. And every section has a main point. The accumulation of these points promotes the goal of bringing the audience closer to the Lord. And once we understand how that main point directed the original audience toward the Lord, we’ll be ready to consider how it should shape us (p. 59).

I’d highly recommend this book to anyone, whether a new reader of the Bible or one who has read it multiple times for years.

Genre: Nonfiction
Potential objectionable elements: A couple of minor areas of disagreement.
My rating: 9 out of 10

(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carol‘s Books You Loved )

Books you loved 4

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Wiersbe “BE” Commentaries

I’ve mentioned before that I like reading the Bible through, for a number of reasons, but I don’t do it in a year’s time any more. I like to be able to stop when I want to spend more time digging in.

I like to really slow down in the NT epistles especially. Many of them are so short, they could easily be read in one sitting. But they’re so densely packed with truth you wouldn’t want to do that. Previously when I’ve come with them I’ve read the same one over several days in a row until I felt I had gotten a grasp on it.

For the past year or so a couple of friends have been posting when one of Warren Wiersbe’s “BE” Commentaries has come up on a sale for the Kindle app. I really enjoyed his 50 People Every Christian Should Know and With the Word: The Chapter by Chapter Bible Handbook , so I thought I’d look into these. He has written one for every book of the Bible. For larger books, like Genesis, he has taken 2-3 books to cover them. He has combined smaller ones together in one volume. I don’t have them all, but I’ve collected several.

Unfortunately I forgot I had them in my current trek through the epistles until I had already read a number of them.

I wish I had reviewed each one, but at the time, I thought, “How do you review a commentary?” But these are the ones I have read with some stand-out quotes from each:

be-readyBe Ready (1 & 2 Thessalonians): Living in Light of Christ’s Return

The Christian who is feeding others must be careful not to feed on the wrong things himself.

Paul also comforted them. This word carries the same idea of “encouragement,” with the emphasis on activity. Paul not only made them feel better, but he made them want to do better. A father must not pamper a child; rather, he must encourage the child to go right back and try over again. Christian encouragement must not become an anesthesia that puts us to sleep. It must be a stimulant that awakens us to do better.

How does God cause our love to “increase more and more”? By putting us into circumstances that force us to practice Christian love. Love is the “circulatory system” of the body of Christ, but if our spiritual muscles are not exercised, the circulation is impaired. The difficulties that we believers have with one another are opportunities for us to grow in our love.

The purpose of Bible prophecy is not for us to make a calendar but to build character.

Any teaching that encourages us to disobey another divine teaching is not Bible teaching.

be-faithfulBe Faithful (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon): It’s Always Too Soon to Quit!

But many prefer the “vain jangling” (1 Tim. 1:6) of those who teach novelties rather than the pure Word of God that produces holiness in lives.

It is not enough for a local church to teach sound doctrine and to proclaim the gospel. The church must also defend the faith by exposing lies and opposing the doctrines of demons (1 Tim. 4:1).

The purpose of prayer is not to get man’s will done in heaven, but to get God’s will done on earth.

Not all unity is good, and not all division is bad. There are times when a servant of God should take a stand against false doctrine and godless practices, and separate himself from them. He must be sure, however, that he acts on the basis of biblical conviction and not because of a personal prejudice or a carnal party spirit.

“That they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Tim. 6:19) does not suggest that these people are not saved. “That they may lay hold on the life that is real” would express it perfectly. Riches can lure a person into a make-believe world of shallow pleasure.

What germs are to a physical body, false teaching is to a spiritual body, the church.

Note his emphasis on the person of Christ: “I know whom I have believed.” Salvation is not the result of believing certain doctrines, though doctrines are important. A sinner is saved because he believes in a Person—Jesus Christ the Savior. Paul had deposited his soul in the care and keeping of the Savior, and Paul was sure that Jesus Christ would faithfully guard that deposit.

be-matureBe Mature (James): Growing Up in Christ

The epistle of James was written to help us understand and attain spiritual maturity: “… that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1: 4). I like the way J. B. Phillips puts it: “… and you will find you have become men of mature character, men of integrity with no weak spots.”

In the Bible, patience is not a passive acceptance of circumstances. It is a courageous perseverance in the face of suffering and difficulty.

“A temptation is an opportunity to accomplish a good thing in a bad way, out of the will of God.

Christian love does not mean that I must like a person and agree with him on everything. I may not like his vocabulary or his habits, and I may not want him for an intimate friend. Christian love means treating others the way God has treated me. It is an act of the will, not an emotion that I try to manufacture. The motive is to glorify God. The means is the power of the Spirit within (“ for the fruit of the Spirit is love”). As I act in love toward another, I may find myself drawn more and more to him, and I may see in him (through Christ) qualities that before were hidden to me.

be-hopefulBe Hopeful (1 Peter): How to Make the Best Times Out of Your Worst Times

Hope is not a sedative; it is a shot of adrenaline, a blood transfusion. Like an anchor, our hope in Christ stabilizes us in the storms of life (Heb. 6: 18–19), but unlike an anchor, our hope moves us forward, it does not hold us back.

The Word reveals God’s mind, so we should learn it; God’s heart, so we should love it; God’s will, so we should live it.

We do not study the Bible just to get to know the Bible. We study the Bible that we might get to know God better. Too many earnest Bible students are content with outlines and explanations, and do not really get to know God. It is good to know the Word of God, but this should help us better know the God of the Word.

It is necessary to understand that God is not going to replace suffering with glory; rather He will transform suffering into glory. Jesus used the illustration of a woman giving birth (John 16: 20–22). The same baby that gave her pain also gave her joy. The pain was transformed into joy by the birth of the baby. The thorn in the flesh that gave Paul difficulty also gave him power and glory (2 Cor. 12: 7–10). The cross that gave Jesus shame and pain also brought power and glory.

I’m currently working through Be Real (I John): Turning From Hypocrisy to Truth.

I’ve been going through a study Bible this year, so I’ll read one chapter of the epistle with the study Bible notes. Then the next day I’ll read the corresponding chapter in Wierbe’s book. If it takes him more than one chapter in his book to cover a chapter in the epistle, I’ll read one a day (sometimes half of one a day) until I finish with with however many chapters in his book it takes to cover that chapter in the epistle.

So, for example, on Monday I’d read the introductory material on 1 John from the study Bible, and on Tuesday I’d read the first chapter of 1 John with the notes from it. Wiersbe takes two chapter to cover 1 John 1, so I’d read those on Wednesday and Thursday – or I’d take longer if I need to. The important thing isn’t that I finish a chapter in a day, but rather that I take the time to read carefully and understand what I am reading.

So I feel this has worked well to slow me down in those short epistles and really take time to soak in them and put them together as a whole rather than reading isolated chapters.

I appreciate that Wiersbe’s tone is, as one preface says, “theologically sound but not overly academic.” He tends to take the passages in sections, explains what they’re about, relates them to the rest of the book, sometimes provides cross references and illustrations or examples.

My only criticisms are that some chapters do get a bit long and might have benefited from being broken down even further, and I wish that, as he discusses the chapter in smaller sections of a few verses at a time, he’d put those verses at the beginning of that section. It would just make it easier than having to go back and forth between the Bible and the commentary.

I haven’t yet used one of his commentaries on a longer book, but I am especially looking forward to the one on Ecclesiastes after reading Hope’s review of it. That book is a little different from the rest, so I’d appreciate his expertise in studying it. Incidentally, she has a Facebook page where she lists free or sale books for the Kindle at Worthwhile Books.

I think when I finish 1 John I might try to review it: if not I may just share pertinent quotes then.

At any rate, I wanted to make you aware of these resources. I’ve found them very helpful.

(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Literary Musing Monday)

literacy-musing-mondays-300x300

Save

Save

Laudable Linkage

I’ve discovered some great reads around the Web recently. Here are the latest:

Treat Yourself to the Voice of God. “We’re prone to take one of the single greatest gifts available to us and treat it as a life-sucking obligation rather than a life-giving opportunity.”

After my post about Principles For Interpreting the Bible, I was pleased to see “Contending For Old School Hermeneutics” said some of the same things but also said some things I didn’t.

The Whole Sentence Matters. An illustration of the above, how one “popular” verse changes meaning a bit when read with the verse above it.

Kindness Changes Everything, and it’s different from just being “nice.”

Waiting to Die, HT to Challies. Working through the dark thoughts and emotions that come with a terminal diagnosis.

On Empty Nests, Christian Mommy Guilt, and Misplaced Identity by Jen Wilkin. “It’s as if our love is a cosmic batch of heart-shaped cookies we must divvy up. Give anyone more cookies than Jesus and your identity is misplaced. But shouldn’t there be a way to give Jesus all the cookies without depriving our families as well?”

A Prayer For Kindred Spirits. “The nurturing of just one kindred spirit can be enough to keep the voices at bay. It’s as if this secret I’ve been carrying around, afraid to share, has been loosed into the world, and it’s okay. There’s nothing like the deep, soul hug which takes place when realizing you’re amongst those who know the kind of person you really are. And it’s okay.”

3 Reasons Your Small Group Is Not the Church.

4 Practical Guidelines For Reading Old Testament Stories.

Do’s and Don’ts For Visiting Someone With Alzheimer’s.

Everyone Can Do Something.

9 Things You Should Know About Mother Teresa.

[Food and the Bible] When Eating Is Sinful.

Spelling Out Unconditional Love.

The High Calling of Bringing Order From Chaos. Sometimes I feel frustrated that this is such a constant battle, but this helps give it perspective.

Old Books, Disagreements, Loving People, HT to Worthwhile Books. Reasons to read books that contain things you disagree with.

Permission Not To Change a Thing. With all the nice photos on Pinterest and plethora of decorating and house-flipping shows, sometimes we feel a constant urge to do something to our homes. It’s certainly not wrong to redecorate or freshen things up or even do a grand remodeling. But it’s also ok not to.

With the 15th anniversary of 9/11 tomorrow, there are a lot of articles about it. I’ve only read a couple in depth so far: “We’re the only plane in the sky” about the president and those with him the first 8 or so hours (warning: a bit of bad language) and The Story Behind the Haunting 9/11 Photo of a Man Falling From the Twin Towers.

That’s it for today – hope you have a good Saturday.

Principles For Interpreting the Bible

IMG_0039

Have you ever wondered why two people can take the same Bible passage and come up with different meanings for it? Have you ever heard anyone say, “Oh, you can make the Bible say anything you want it to say,” especially when you’re trying to bring spiritual truth to bear on a situation? It’s true that people wrest Scripture to make is say something it wasn’t meant to say. Whole false religions have been created by doing just that. How can we guard against doing that ourselves? By applying good principles of interpretation, called hermeneutics.

 “Biblical hermeneutics is all about finding the correct interpretation of the inspired text. The purpose of biblical hermeneutics is to protect us from misapplying Scripture or allowing bias to color our understanding of truth.” (http://www.gotquestions.org/Biblical-hermeneutics.html).

Some of you might think something like, “I will never be a preacher; I’m not even a teacher—so what does it matter how I interpret Scripture?”

It matters, first of all, because we’re instructed to “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (II Timothy 2:15). Even though that verse was written as instruction to a preacher, it’s also God’s inspired Word to us. Really, is there anyone who shouldn’t rightly divide the Word or study it aright? We want to understand what God said to us and not be led stray by misunderstanding His Word.

It matters, secondly, because each of us has a sphere of influence. Whether we ever stand in front of a classroom or audience or not, we come across people in our daily walk, we have relatives, friends, neighbors. What we read and how we read Scripture forms our understanding of spiritual matters (and our spiritual understanding of practical matters) and will influence our views, which in turn will affect our conversations and character and witness and influence.

Besides paying attention to the words themselves and how they are put together grammatically, like you would do with any reading, here are a few principles for rightly interpreting Scripture:

  • Pray. In Psalm 119:18, the psalmist prayed, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” Several times he asked for God to give him understanding or teach him. In How to Master the English Bible, James Gray said, “The most important rule is the last. Read it prayerfully. Let not the triteness of the observation belittle it, or all is lost. The point is insisted on because, since the Bible is a supernatural book, it can be studied or mastered only by supernatural aid. … Who is so well able to illuminate the pages of a given book as the author who composed it?” (I don’t know anything about the author or book than this, but thought the last two lines especially good.
  • Take the passage literally unless it’s obviously not meant to be literal. Someone once said about understanding the Bible, “When common sense makes good sense, seek no other sense.” There are some who “spiritualize” much of the OT, saying that the creation account, among other things, is just a myth and there was no real historical Adam. But the Bible presents creation and OT history as literal events in the lives of real, literal people. In Genesis 1, there is no reason to interpret the days of creation as anything other than 24-hour days. But when Jesus speaks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, we know He is speaking figuratively, partly because of the reaction of the disciples—or lack of reaction they would have had if they thought he was speaking literally.
  • Context, context, context. Taking a verse or passage out of context is one of the biggest violators of its meaning. Just one example: You can find nice plaques or Pinterest quotes that take Exodus 14:13-14 (“And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace”) and condense it down to a pithy saying like, “Be still! Your God will fight for you.” But in the very next verse, God says, “Wherefore criest thou unto me?” And then He tells them what to do. Later, though there were times God supernaturally gave Israel the victory, most of the time they had to take up swords, spears, and shields, and fight. They still couldn’t win unless they were depending on Him rather than their own strength, but they trusted God to work through them.

Sometimes even good people will defend a stand or draw a good principle from a passage that isn’t teaching that principle. If the person you’re speaking with then does go back to look up the passage mentioned, your whole position is weakened if the context doesn’t support it. If the principle arises from the context, however, it is all the stronger and more enriching.

  • Don’t imprint your thoughts onto the text, but let the text reveal its meaning. A former pastor used to say that when he first started preaching, as he studied the passage he was going to preach on, he would ask himself, “What can I say about this passage?” After some time he realized that was the wrong question. The right one was, “What does this passage say?” For example, for years I heard that the people’s surprise at Peter’s release at the prayer meeting in Acts 12 was evidence that they weren’t praying in faith. But Dr. Layton Talbert, in his book Not By Chance: Learning to Trust a Sovereign God, brings up a different viewpoint. We don’t know that they were praying for Peter’s deliverance from prison. He points out that the text doesn’t say. James was killed by Herod earlier in the chapter: since he was not delivered they may not have expected Peter to be, either. “The only precedent we have for the church’s prayer under similar circumstances is in Acts 4:23-30. There, in the face of recent imprisonment, persecution, and renewed threats, the church made only one request. And it wasn’t for deliverance from prison or persecution; it was for boldness in the face of both (4:29)” (p. 203).
  • Compare Scripture with Scripture. The Bible is the best commentary on itself. One of the most important reasons for reading it through is to keep balanced and to keep the “big picture” in mind. A lot of theological error comes from emphasizing one part of a truth and neglecting or deemphasizing of the rest of it. Sometimes seemingly contradictory passages balance one another out or present different sides of the same truth. For instance, Proverbs 26:4-5 says, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” Those sound like two different instructions, but there is a time to answer and a time it would be unwise to answer, and we need God’s wisdom to discern when and how.
  • Consider the genre. Though all the Bible is inspired and true, we would read Deuteronomy, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Romans, and Revelation all a bit differently, taking into account the different kinds of literature each is as we seek to understand them.
  • Consider the historical setting or culture of the passage. Understand that OT Israel was under a theocracy and was given specific promises (like the promise of a particular piece of land) and were under certain restrictions that New Testament believers are not (Acts 15:1-31). Even though some situations discussed in the Bible, even in the NT, are not ones we have to deal with today (like eating meat offered to idols), it’s still important to read them and discern the principles involved.
  • Note the difference in passages of direct instruction and passages of example. I once heard a message that used Abraham’s seeking out a bride for his Isaac as a springboard for telling parents how to find spouses for their children. While there are good principles to glean (like seeking a godly spouse, praying, seeking God’s guidance, etc.), it doesn’t mean that since Abraham found a wife for Isaac, parents today need to find spouses for their children. That was the culture then (see #7), but nowhere in the Bible are parents instructed to find spouses for their children in this way.
  • Note what is said to whom, determine what it meant then, and then determine how it applies to us today. For instance, as a younger Christian I wrestled with whether what Jesus said to the “rich young ruler” in Matthew 19:16-26 about selling his possessions and giving to the poor was something every Christian should do. But then I realized no on else wads told to do that. Though the Bible has a lot of instruction about our possessions (“compare Scripture with Scripture”), that particular admonition was to convict that particular man about his core problem.
  • Don’t “surface” read. Take time to read carefully and meditate on the passage. Biblical meditation isn’t an emptying of your mind, but rather thinking over and over a passage and “chewing” on it.

There is much more that could be said. In fact, every time I come back to this post I think of something else to add. Whole books have been written about this, so I can’t possibly cover every aspect in one blog post. But this gives us plenty to ponder.

Even with these principles in mind, sometimes good people can differ in their interpretations. There are some mysteries that we won’t be able to resolve until we get to heaven. We need to pray, study it out for ourselves, and consult commentaries of those who have had more time and tools to study. Where the Bible speaks clearly, we need to stand firm. But in those areas that are less clear but aren’t a matter of heresy, we need to give grace to those who might not see it exactly like we do.

I’ve wondered through the years why God did not spell everything out so there could be no mistaking the meaning or application of it. Perhaps one reason is to test our own hearts, to encourage our study, our dependence on Him, and grace toward each other.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Mondays, Literary Musing Mondays, Works For Me Wednesday, Woman Word Filled Wednesday, Thought-Provoking Thursday)

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Laudable Linkage

Here are some good reads discovered recently:

Women: Trade Self-Worth For Awe and Wonder. Yes!

Trouble, We’ve Been Expecting You. Excellent.

Stop Trying to Make the Bible Relevant to Teenagers, HT to Challies, by which he means, you don’t have to present it in a way to try to make it “cool” to them. Its truth relates to all of us: just show them how it speaks to their needs.

Back to the Early Church? Excellent. Sometimes people idealize the early church in Acts, but it had its problems, too.

On Bible study:

What Is Bible Study?

4 Reasons Why Every Bible Reader Should Do Word Studies.

On prayer:

The Busy Mom’s Guide to Prayer. Good tips not just for moms.

4 Ways to Keep a Fresh Prayer Life.

On caregiving and dealing with aging parents:

What I’ll Say to My Children If I’m Diagnosed With Alzheimer’s.

What Caregivers Know and You Can, Too.

Her New Happy.

On parenting:

As Seemed Best to Them. Yes! Parenting is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor.

Why We Don’t Punish Our Kids. Not advocating not dealing with sin, but explaining the difference between punishment and discipline.

And to end on a smile…I saw this on Pinterest and cracked up:

Lego

Happy Saturday!

Save