I was reading a discussion about how we teach people to interpret the Bible. That came at an interesting time, for I’m dealing with some of the same in a video course I’m preparing.
Here are some interpretive concepts that I think are needed:
- Context: We need to recognize where a text fits within the framework of the Bible and the framework of the book it’s in. We need to understand the cultural and historical milieu of the writer and the intended audience.
- Genres: We need to understand how to read different types of books in the Bible and different literary types within those books. You don’t read Proverbs the same way you read Leviticus. You don’t read a parable the same way you read a sermon.
- Major themes of the Bible: We need to learn to identify the overriding themes within Scripture.
- Limited application vs. universal application (cultural vs supracultural): We need to be able to see the difference between instructions for a specific situation and general instructions for all believers everywhere.
At the same time, some personal concepts are also needed:
- Reverence: I believe that it’s impossible to read the Bible correctly without believing that it is more than a human book. We have to believe in inspiration, even as we may differ on exactly what that looks like. We need to respect the authority of the text. We need to avoid placing ourselves above the Bible.
- Grace: We need to remember that we are saved by grace, not by works. We seek to be as pleasing to God as possible, not out of a fear that any misstep will send us to hell, but out of a desire to do what our God wants. And because we receive grace from God, we can extend grace to others.
- Humility: When reading Scripture, we need this in large doses. Most of us have changed our views over the years; in fact, if we haven’t, I’m afraid we’re not growing. This should lead us to state our understandings gently, recognizing that we could be mistaken.
- Spirituality: Without God’s Spirit, we cannot truly comprehend God’s Word. Alexander Campbell talked about needing to draw near enough to God to be able to hear and understand his voice. All of this makes prayer an essential part of Bible study.
That’s a start. I’ll try and build on some of those going forward. What sorts of things would you add?