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Interpreting the Bible

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HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW THE BIBLE?

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth Chapter 1: Introduction: The Need to Interpret

“You don’t have to interpret the Bible; just read it and do what it says.”

BI100 Learn to Study the Bible Introduction: Getting to the Meaning

A lot of people read the Bible and they think, perhaps naively, that they immediately know what the text says. That’s not always the case

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth The Reader as an Interpreter

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 as the Holy Spirit’s or human author’s intent

2 Corinthians 4:2 NIV
Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
2 Corinthians 4:2
2 Peter 3:16 ESV
as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

KEY WORDS

HERMENEUTICS is the science and art of interpreting the Bible

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth The Second Task: Hermeneutics

Although the word “hermeneutics” ordinarily covers the whole field of interpretation, including exegesis, it is also used in the narrower sense of seeking the contemporary relevance of ancient texts

Exegesis is the actual interpretation of the Bible, and hermeneutics consists of the principles by which the meaning is determined

INTERPRETATION is the ability to answer the question, “What does it mean?”

The English word interpret is used at times to mean “explain” and at other times “translate.”

EISEGESIS is the process of interpreting a text with one’s one bias or agenda

This is called exegesis, reading the meaning out of the text, and is the opposite of eisegesis, reading a meaning into the text.

GOALS OF INTERPRETATION

1) Author’s Intent

The goal of exegesis, you remember, is to find out what the original author intended.

The Handbook to Bible Study Understanding “Messages”

In everyday communication we determine the meaning of a whole utterance that we hear or a text that we read (and thus gain information) by means of all the clues contained in the message

TIP: This is done through the “then and there” approach (historical context)

2) Plain Meaning

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth Chapter 1: Introduction: The Need to Interpret

The aim of good interpretation is simple: to get at the “plain meaning of the text,” the author’s intended meaning

Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth Bible Interpretation Is Essential as a Step beyond Observation

In observing what the Bible says, you probe; in interpretation, you mull. Observation is discovery; interpreting is digesting. Observation means depicting what is there, and interpretation is deciding what it means. The one is to explore, the other is to explain.

Granted, some passages of the Bible, as already stated, are difficult to understand. And yet the basic message of the Bible is simple enough for any person to comprehend. The Scriptures are not obscure in themselves.

TIP: Start by reading the text literally (literal-historical-grammatical approach)

DANGERS OF INTERPRETATION

1) Pride

BI100 Learn to Study the Bible Relying on Your Own Understanding

So why should you think [that] in the few minutes that you sit with an open text, you could do better than someone who, say, has spent twenty or thirty years working in a passage and developed a specialty about it?

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth Chapter 1: Introduction: The Need to Interpret

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

Philippians 2:12 ESV
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,

2) Prejudice

The Handbook to Bible Study Preparing Spiritually

We will always take our presuppositions and prejudices to the text. That does not mean that disagreement is good or desirable. But we should not be alarmed that it occurs.

Becoming aware of our cultural assumptions and how they influence our reading of Scripture are important first steps beyond the paralysis of self-doubt and toward a faithful reading and application of the Bible

When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

3) Presuppositions

The Handbook to Bible Study Preparing Spiritually

If our study of the Bible only confirms what we already believe, we have not allowed it to speak.

This is the practice of interpreting Scripture by quoting a verse without regard for its immediate context or larger context in its literary unit. This removes the verses from the original author’s intent and usually involves the attempt to prove a personal opinion while asserting biblical authority.

THE

Matthew 1:21 ESV
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

TOOLS OF INTERPRETATION

At its highest level, of course, exegesis requires knowledge of many things we do not necessarily expect the readers of this book to know: the biblical languages; the Jewish, Semitic, and Greco-Roman backgrounds to much of what is written; how to determine the original text when early copies (produced by hand) have differing readings; the use of all kinds of primary sources and tools

1) Basic Grammar

Those who read the Bible did not need to read into, beyond, or between words for some “deeper” or other-than-normal meaning. God communicated truths about Himself in the languages of the people who first read the Scriptures—languages they knew.

The words were immediately understandable. The readers knew immediately the concepts being conveyed by the sentences in the Bible. They understood them in the way they would normally understand other sentences written in their languages. They did not need to call on a wizard, a sorcerer, or a person with unusual spiritual insight or mystic intuition to convey its meaning.

Of course that language included idioms, unusual expressions unique to that language, and figures of speech.

John 16:25 ESV
“I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.

2) Basic Resources

At its highest level, of course, exegesis requires knowledge of many things we do not necessarily expect the readers of this book to know: the biblical languages; the Jewish, Semitic, and Greco-Roman backgrounds to much of what is written; how to determine the original text when early copies (produced by hand) have differing readings; the use of all kinds of primary sources and tools.

2) Bible Commentaries

A good commentary lets you know first of all what the passage might mean, and then helps you sort out to determine what it does mean and, importantly, why it means that—why that meaning is better than the alternative meaning

BI100 Learn to Study the Bible Being Aware of Interpretive Options

what you’ll find when you start to use commentaries is that commentators don’t always agree on what’s going on in the passage, and they discuss the options. They may make different choices between one another

3) Basic Conversations

3) Bible Concordances

Differences in interpretation are fine as long as we keep in mind that the conflict is not in the text, but in our limited understanding of the text. God is not confused about what He has said, even if we are

PRACTICING INTERPRETATION

So whenever you study a verse, a paragraph, a section, even an entire book—always consult the neighbors of that verse, that paragraph, that section, that book. Whenever you get lost, climb a “contextual tree” and gain some perspective.

Example 1:

1 Corinthians 6:20 ESV
for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19–20 ESV
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 18:20

COMMON INTERPRETATION: No Tattoos

1 Corinthians 6:18–20 ESV
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:
1 Corinthians 15:29 ESV
Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?
3 John 2 ESV
Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.
3 John 2

ACTUAL INTERPRETATION: No Sexual Immorality

Example 2:

Philippians 4:13 NKJV
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

COMMON INTERPRETATION: God blesses everything that I do

Philippians 4:11–13 ESV
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Phil 4:11-13

ACTUAL INTERPRETATION: God strengthens me in every season

Example 3:

Malachi 3:8–9 ESV
Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.

COMMON INTERPRETATION: If you don’t give, you are cursed

Malachi 3:3–4 ESV
He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
Malachi 3:3-4

ACTUAL INTERPRETATION: God cursed Israel for not being generous

CONCLUSION

Interpretation requires transparency...

The Handbook to Bible Study Preparing Spiritually

Once the text is given priority and once the interpreter ceases to erect a barrier between himself and the text, he will find that as he seeks to interpret the text, the text will, as it were, interpret him. When this happens, the authority of Scripture is being taken seriously; God’s word is not a dead letter to be observed coldly but a Word which speaks to me in my situation

Interpretation requires community...

Acts 18:24–25 ESV
Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.

Interpretation leads to discovery...

Acts 18:24-25
Matthew 13:11–12 NLT
He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.
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