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Basic Foundations to Understand the Bible

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            The Bible is unique – set apart from all other books; thus it requires us to approach it with a special understanding of its content and origin.  The fact that the Bible is both divine and human will affect how we go about interpreting it.  Its divine authorship means that it has authority, it has unity of message, it is unique and it is infallible.  Its human authorship means that it uses language in commonly understood ways, it is given in a particular historical, geographical, and cultural setting, and that it is literature conforming to distinctive styles of language understood by the author and the original audience. 

We can’t rightly interpret a Bible verse without first understanding what the author’s intent was to his audience.  Secondly, we must let the Bible interpret itself from within…meaning, where the Bible interprets another verse must be taken as the correct understanding, not something we try to make it mean.  When we correctly interpret a passage, it will not run counter to anything else in the Bible.  When we subjectively make the Bible say something it didn’t originally mean denies Scripture’s authority and we fall into the danger of proposing false doctrine.

We are 2000 years removed from the culture and language of the New Testament, and 6000 years removed from Abraham.  Thus we need a tool to understand the differences these many years create between the original intent and what we would take it to mean.  That tool is the Bridge of Communication.  On one bank of the river is the biblical culture of the author; on the other bank is our contemporary culture.  The span between the two is supported (like the Golden Gate Bridge) by two pillars: 1) Exegesis of the text, and 2) Hermeneutic principles that apply the exegesis to our culture.  Exegesis is the taking apart of the original text to understand the original intent of the author.  Hermeneutic principles are agreed upon guidelines of application to help us understand the meaning using knowledge of our own culture.

The Canon

            There were more books written during Bible times than what we find in our Bible today (both OT & NT).  Many of you might be aware that Catholic Bible has more books in their Bible than Protestant Bibles do.  Who decided what was in and what was out, and on what basis?

            The word “cannon” refers to those books that are included in the Bible; those which were deemed authentic, genuine, with divine authority, inspired.  During the first couple hundred years following the writing of the New Testament, debates over the content of the Bible occurred.  The final debate and conclusion to the Bible’s content was decided in the Council of Nicea in A.D. 367.  They considered criteria such as authorship, time of the writing, the language used, whether divine judgments occurred as predicted by the prophets, whether it conformed to the character and purposes of God previously revealed, and was free of factual errors or contradictions.  The Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in 1545 declared the Apocrypha (14 additional OT books) was to be added to the canon.  The Protestant churches did not accept the Apocrypha into the canon because these books were never part of the Hebrew canon, Jesus and the Apostles did not consider them as Scripture, and none of the New Testament writers quoted from the books in the Apocrypha.

            There are over 5400 manuscripts of the New Testament and 800 manuscripts of the Old Testament that have survived; from mere fragments to whole books.  These are copies from the original manuscripts.  The careful study and comparison of these manuscripts is called Textual Criticism.  Though there are minor variants in these copies, all scholars believe that no doctrine has ever been in question on the basis of differences between manuscripts.  Therefore we can be confident that the Bible we have today is essentially as it came from the inspired authors.

Preparation to Study the Bible

            Our own study of God’s Word should begin with prayer.  We need to be guided by the same Spirit who inspired the Bible.  Inspiration is the work of the Spirit upon the writers of the Bible, but illumination is the work of the Spirit upon the readers of the Bible.  The Holy Spirit is also the One who gives the power to do what it says.

Digging Out the Gems

Ø      Understand the author, his setting, his culture & customs, his audience and the purpose of his letter.

Ø      What did it mean to the original hearers?

Ø      What is the context (theme, chain of events) of the verses I am looking at?

Ø      Who are the characters of the story?  (main characters or other, their backgrounds & personal character)

Ø      Do the characters accept what was said to them, ambivalent to the message, or do they reject the message given to them?

Ø      What about the text was written specific to their culture?

Ø      What about the text is a timeless principle for us?

Ø      Is the promise or command intended only for the original audience or for us too?

Ø      Is the text a good or bad example for us to follow?

Ø      Are there other verses (cross references) about the subject elsewhere in the Bible?

Ø      Look for problems that develop, a conflict between the characters, the crisis and/or climax it leads to, the resolution of the conflict, and finally, the following action that results from it.

Ø      Pay attention to repeated words or ideas, and unusual or extravagant details.  They indicate a key point.

Ø      Look for irony; the correct interpretation of words or events that are the opposite of the apparent meaning.  See John 11:49-52; Matt. 27:27-31.

Ø      What actions/beliefs does God bless or condemn in the text?

Ø      Look for cause and effect statements.  “If you do this…then this will happen…”  Other key words to look for are: “in order that,” “therefore,” “since,” “then,” “nevertheless,” “consequently.”

Ø      What is the redemptive thrust of the passage?  (How God is gracious in His way of redeeming us.)

Ø      The point of application is where hearts must begin if there is to be change.
- Application begins by facing life issues of the text characters, then leads us to reflect on our issues.
- Application often begins when we recognize our need for God’s guidance.
- Look in every text for a remedy for some aspect of our fallen human condition.
- Application should always show how God heals some part of our sin and brokenness.
- Good application bridges the gap between the culture of the Bible and our culture.
- The application should bring the lesson to a central point that is in unison with the theme of the text.

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