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Interpreting the Bible – Part 4

posted Apr 9, 2012, 12:36 PM by Unknown user

In this week’s article, I would like to provide an example of some of the key things I’ve been sharing with you with respect to interpreting the Bible.


Recently, I had the opportunity to be part of a group studying the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32).


Obviously, this is one of the most beloved and powerful passages in all of Scripture. Most Christians are reasonably familiar with it.


Numerous thoughts were expressed as to the meaning of the parable. Each was quite reasonable and insightful. Perhaps the most compelling interpretation was that many in the church today are like the older son in that they (we) serve the father (i.e., God), but don’t really have a relationship with him.


It was a lively, interesting discussion, but unfortunately, we (the group) broke one of the key “rules” of biblical interpretation; that being, a passage must be understood in its literary and historical context.


One of the first things that should have been considered is the nature of first century parables. The interpreter needs to keep in mind that, by their nature, parables are intended to teach a single, basic point. As a result, not every detail means something and may be included simply to add life and color to the story.


To arrive at the single, basic point, the interpreter needs to pay attention to whom (or what) receives the most attention. In the case of the Parable of the Lost Son, it’s the younger son who receives -- by far -- the most attention, followed by the father. Thus, our focus should be on these two characters, not the older son. This doesn’t mean that reflection on the older son is illegitimate; only that it should be secondary to that of the younger son and father.


Secondly, we should have considered what comes before & after the passage being studied. In this case, what comes before seems particularly relevant. The Lost Son parable is preceded by two other parables: The Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin.


Clearly, the author (Luke) intended for these parables to be studied (and interpreted) together, which means that studying them in isolation may well lead to an incorrect interpretation (i.e., a different meaning than the one intended by the author).


By studying the Parable of the Lost Son in its context (all 3 parables), the main point becomes fairly obvious: Luke is describing the different ways that people get “lost” (separated from God) and the different ways that God goes about “finding” them.


As we then seek to apply these parables to our own lives, we might first consider how we are most apt to get separated from God (here is where reflection on the older son may be most fruitful). We also need to think about God, and the different means by which He pursues the lost. Interestingly, in the case of the Lost Son, He doesn’t pursue. Instead, He waits.


May God bless you as you read & study God’s Word this week.


Pastor Dan