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Interpreting the Bible - Part 3

posted Mar 29, 2012, 10:04 AM by Unknown user
Last week, we learned there are two basic steps in correctly interpreting the Bible.
  • Step 1 – discovering what the author of the text intended to say to his original readers.
  • Step 2 – discovering what the text means to me/us today.
Unfortunately, we tend to pass over the first step and go right to the second. However, what the text MEANS must flow out of what it MEANT.
So, how does one go about discovering what the author intended to communicate to his original readers?
First, every passage must be understood in its LITERARY CONTEXT.
This simply means that we need to pay attention to what comes before and what comes after the passage being studied. The literary context extends to the entire document (i.e., book of the Bible), but the section before and the section after is most important.
We’ve all had the experience of our words being taken out of context, and it’s pretty frustrating. The irony is that we do the same thing almost routinely in our reading/study of God’s Word. As much as possible, we need to avoid isolating a passage and trying to assign meaning without considering what comes before and after.
Second, every passage must be understood in its HISTORICAL CONTEXT.
We need to learn all we can about the circumstances surrounding the writer and the recipients of the document. After all, the Bible was written at least 2,000 years ago, by & for people in much different circumstances. The political, economic, social, cultural, geographic, and religious “climate” of the day is all relevant & necessary for our understanding. For this, we need a good Bible dictionary, 1-2 commentaries, and specific books on Bible history & culture.
As I prepare to preach on a passage, I spend a great deal of time studying both the literary & historical contexts. I may not share all of it in the sermon (or even very much of it), but the old adage is true: A verse (or passage) without context is a pretext for the interpreter’s biases & prejudices.
Bottom line: Interpreting the Bible correctly and responsibly takes time and diligent study.
With appreciation,
Pastor Dan