What is needed and not needed
This is the first of 6 articles written to those who plan to be teaching others the Bible. This may not be exactly lesson on the Bible teachings. Rather it is aimed to show someone the problems and tool needed to better teach the Bible. This is the first in a series of articles. This article will deal with some definitions. It is important to get definitions established so we will all on the same page when talking about issues and solutions. Definitions discussed here will include: Interpretation; Enlightened and Exegesis.
People and Methods
Many people read the bible regularly. ·Many of those are not aware of the method of reading they use. ·When asked about it they answer "I just read". However, consciously or unconsciously they employ one of two very different methods. ·The first method is known as exegesis. ·The second method is known as devotional. Each method has a place in the study of the scriptures. One will not replace the propose of the other. ·Both are ·employed for completely different reasons. They have completely different outcomes.
The task set before a Christian
Before going on, I believe it would be wise to examine the task in store in the life of every Christian, teacher or not.
Christians have several tasks cut out for them:
- Task one is to read the Bible
- Task two is to believe what is read
- Task three is to obey what the Bible teaches
Is The Bible hard to read?
The Bible is not just one book. The Bible is a volume of books. However, most consider it a "book". The Bible actually consists of 66 separate books, each written for a definite, defined purpose. Please have the understanding that the Bible is not a hard book to read, if done correctly.
You cannot get around this fact when doing Bible study: Reading is required. Not only that: Careful reading is required. Professional scholarship is not an absolute need; in the sense it is necessary. Sometimes, as we will see, it will be very helpful at times. It is not a job for a scholar to get the teaching of the Bible into the readers understanding. That will be your job.
Actually, sometimes the problem is the very opposite. The reader knows exactly that the Bible is say and the problem is: The reader is not willing to do it. The problem is not understanding, but putting the understanding into practice.
Looking At Examples
The ten commandants can be used to illustrate this point.
Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
The Ten Commandments
Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, "Israel, listen to the statutes and ordinances I am proclaiming as you hear them today. Learn and follow them carefully. The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. He did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with all of us who are alive here today. The LORD spoke to you face to face from the fire on the mountain. At that time I was standing between the LORD and you to report the word of the LORD to you, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain. And He said:
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.
Do not have other gods besides Me. Do not make an idol for yourself in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them or worship them, because I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers' sin to the third and fourth [generations] of those who hate Me, but showing faithful love to a thousand [generations] of those who love Me and keep My commands. Do not misuse the name of the LORD your God, because the LORD will punish anyone who misuses His name.
Be careful to dedicate the Sabbath day, as the LORD your God has commanded you. You are to labor six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. You must not do any work-you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or donkey, any of your livestock, or the foreigner who lives within your gates, so that your male and female slaves may rest as you do. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That is why the LORD your God has commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and so that you may prosper in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
- Do not murder.
- Do not commit adultery.
- Do not steal.
- Do not give dishonest testimony against your neighbor.
- Do not desire your neighbor's wife or covet your neighbor's house, his field, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
What is the point?·
This is the point. Are these rules hard to understand? No, I do not think so. Are these commands some mystery? Not really. I do not think there are many people can't understand these words. Here is the problem. The problem is obeying them. The problem is we make excuses and cite exceptions to the rule. It is the putting them to task becomes another matter all together.
Another example is:
Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
43 Jesus answered them, "Stop complaining among yourselves.
Not hard to understand but hard to do.
The Bible needs to be Interpreted
Interpretation is a natural part of communication.
We all interpret with out giving it a second thought. Interpretation is an essential part of communication in the day to day world. However, when dealing with the scriptures, you should, you must give it a second thought. Many times good interpretation is a result of asking good questions.
First, let's talk about the results of interpretation . The sought after goal of interruption is not to see if you can produce the most unique, cute, different, or startling meaning to what is being read. This is not an acceptable method to be used. If you find yourself engaging in interpretation in this manner for these effects, you need to examine your motive. This approach often is pushed along by the wrong motive. The motive here is usually pride. To be truthful, we all have suffered from time to time from this motive: Pride. Even if it is not evident to yourself, it is evident to those around you. The impression that is given is: " I am more spiritual". "Look at how hard I work"; "Look at what I came up with" ; " Haven't I a good and cleaver mind? These things shout out from this approach.
The result of proper interpretation will be: The plain sense of the text at hand meaningful to the reader in the 21st century. Someone has said" The plain sense is the best sense and any other sense is nonsense" I would add that the plain sense conveys the authors original intent.
Second: the definition of the word: Interpretation.
Definition of Interpretation
1. The act of or result of interpreting:
2. To explain or tell the meaning of.
3. Present in understandable terms
What then, Is Good Interpretation?
Plain sense meaning.
A good interpretation is the plain meaning of something. Nothing fancy. A good interpretation of someone's behavior, interpretation of a novel, interpretation of a play, or of the Bible comes down to: What is the plain sense of the thing. Does your interpretation make good sense of what you are reading? Does it take into account of culture, language, context, and authors' original meaning? As Gordon Fee says in his book, How to read the Bible for all its' worth, "one of the most important ingredient one brings to this task is enlightened good sense.
Enlightened good sense has to be sought after and worked for. I was not born with it and as most people, I learned it through experience in life, education, study, and prayer, among other things..
The meaning of enlightened:
1 : freed from ignorance and misinformation
2 : based on full comprehension of the problems involved
Please underline in your mind: The idea that it is free from ignorance and misinformation. Please remember the word Enlightened : avoids less then full comprehension of the problems when dealing with a passage of scripture.
Proper and good Interpretation is learned skill. It is not effortless. It does not come naturally. Interpretation needs to be learned. As I have said before, everyone engages daily in interpretation. It is essential to the communication that goes on around us. We interpret what our spouses or friends say. And are often wrong. Most of the errors are cause by preconceived ideas, out of context notions, and assuming of certain facts.
I come from a culturally mixed family. My wife is a Malaysian Chinese and British English is just one of the languages she speaks. Not always, but sometimes, what she thinks she is saying in British English and what I understand what she means in American English is very laughable. Some one once said that the United States and England are separated by a common language.
We need to put the plainest meaning of what the author of scripture has put down for us to read. Hence we must learn how to interpret, especially how to interpret in the Biblical context.
The first goal of reading is understand what we read. Please make no assumptions. Do not assume that what you are understanding is what the author was trying to get across to you.
Your understanding is just that: Your understanding. Your understanding is unique to you. It is based on your experiences and your context in life. You must make sure that your understanding of what you are reading matches up with the author intended for you to understand. When you read, you are depending on your past experiences, culture in which you live, your life experiences and sometimes what you ate for dinner the night before. These things will affect the interpretation you put on the written word you are reading.
Very often, when the author uses a certain word, this word brings to mind an idea connected with the world you live in. The author of what you are reading, more likely than not, has not experienced what you have and the meaning of that particular word has a greatly different meaning.
As an example:
Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
17 For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don't do what you want.
The Problem here
The problem here is the word "flesh." In our culture , most of us will have the word "body" substituted in our minds when we read the word "Flesh" So most people will think of this as referring to something having to do with the body and its' nature.
What the word used here in this translation is referring to is our sinful nature. Sinful nature characteristics is something that tends to be totally self-centered
Involvement in Translation
Just by reading the Bible involves you in the process of translation
The Bible you use is the beginning point, your first tool in the study of the Bible. However, think of it this way, the Bible you are reading is a result, the final output , the end point of literally hundreds of years of dedicated individuals with a background in the scholarship, interpreting languages not spoken today into modern languages.
Faced With Choices
Lets' pretend that you have a letter from someone written in Chinese and you need to pass the information in the letter along to someone who only speaks English. If you have every studied a language not native to you, you will realize the problems involved.
Context, Culture, Intent.
The context, culture and content of the words of the letter present choices to be made by you. These choices deal with your understanding of the meanings of the words used. What ever you choose as a meaning for a particular words will influence those who pick up your translation ( you thoughts of how meanings are to be rendered) and read it.
The Problem Is This
The interpretation of the Bible involves the end user as well. The end user is the one who is going to read the Bible; study the Bible; and teach the Bible. This person needs to hear what someone walking beside Jesus 2000 years ago heard. The need is to hear the original word and understand it as they understood it.
After you have accomplished this task, then you put that in a meaning for someone living in the 21st century, unbiased by culture. The first task is called exegesis and the second task is called hermeneutics.
Definition of exegesis:
a setting forth of the meaning or purpose (as of a writing)
2: discourse or an example of it designed to convey information or explain what is difficult to understand.
An explanation of a text, expecially an critical interpretation of a text.
Usually this term is used primarily for exegesis of the Bible It is a critical explanation of the source texts of the Bible.
The goal of Biblical exegesis is to explore the meaning of the text which then leads to discovering its significance or relevance. It is an ordered, systematic study of words used and their intended meaning. One of the questions to be asked in this sort of research is this: If I was born and raised in 31 AD, and I heard Jesus speaking this word, what would it have meant to me then and there, in that culture, in that language? When Jesus spoke this word, what did he mean, then and there?
Done every Sunday
You hear this done all the time and it is common place today. Have you ever listen in church to someone explain something out of the Bible and tell you what these words mean for us today? Sometimes the talk given starts out as "This is what Jesus meant to say......", or "Way back in those times they said this but the meaning for use today is that....." or " "The exact meaning of this has been lost, but this is really what was going on...."
If you think about it you will realize that many, many difference between the churches that exist are operating today because of a choice of the exegesis method employed. Exegesis is responsible for so many church divisions in America.
Three Rules of exegesis
First Rule: Perform exegesis each and every time the scripture is read.
Do not only do it on the hard sayings of the Bible. Do not assume that the "easy" parts of the scripture are easy or straight forward. Do not be selective in your application of the process of exegesis. This can not be over emphasized : It must be done in a consistent manner each and every time you read the Bible.
You must have an "accurate" translation to work from. Much more will be said about this topic later.
Second rule: Scripture was written and spoken for the people of the first century. Each verse has meaning for the intended audience of that verse.
Third rule: The meaning of a word is determined by its context in Scripture.
You will come away with a richer, more meaningful and a more perfect picture in your mind about what the Bible is all about. You will become closer to the Lord.
Aids to your quest for reliable exegesis
There are many aids to choose from. A Representative few will be introduced here. Choose your aids to study carefully. None of them are perfect. Without being perfect, for the most part they are very useful. There will be times when you will have to consult with others that have spent their whole lives involved in exegesis.
To help with problems of exegesis and to grow in the understanding of the Bible, a good commentary can be a very helpful tool indeed.
There are many commentaries to choose from Both Old Testament commentaries, and New Testament commentaries..
Comments on the Commentaries
There are all sorts of commentaries on the market place. Some of the time, you will be looking for more technical and academic commentary, while on the other hand you may be wanting a good devotional commentary.
This is the difference
The devotional commentary does not feature detailed information on the technical aspects of a particular scripture as the technical commentary does.
Many details such as introductory material on authorship, place and date of writing, historical and cultural setting, context and recent scholarship may not be covered in the purely devotional commentary.
On the other hand, the devotional commentary will not get bogged down in issues and research concerning textual problems and problems that question the proper linguistic and grammatical rendering. The readers of the devotional commentaries will not be distracted by translation and exegetical issues. The reader will be exposed to some of the finest devotional work in print.
Examples of the writers who produced devotional commentaries:
- F.B. Meyer
- Matthew Henry
- Sam Storms
- Andrew Murray
- George Knight
- Dwight Hill
- Charles Hodge
- Rossetti, Christina
- Larry Richards
- Thomas, W. H. Griffith
- Carl Manthey Zorn
- Dr. Larry Richards
Technical and academic commentaries contain much more than a book of devotionals. They contain information that deals with textual and language problems. These types of commentaries are designed to equip you in dealing with problems arising from Greek and Hebrew language matters. Along with this, technical commentaries will also help you deal with the historical background, contextual information, linguistics issues, word backgrounds, critical comments, information dealing with hermeneutics, and offer culturally correct applications. Not any one of these volumes are completely perfect for your needs in all matters. With all that being said, the technical commentary is a good place to start.
When selecting your commentary, read the reviews, consult the website; then, make your selection. If you are selecting commentaries for the whole Bible or for the Old Testament or the New Testament instead of a single book, select several. It is a well know fact that one author cannot give full treatment to a wide variety (66 ) of books. When reading the reviews, it is a general rule that the most recent publication will have the most recent findings in manuscripts and the most recent results from archaeological diggings. Caution: When a one volume commentary is added to your library, usually it will not cover much in detail because of space and final cost.
Some very good authors that schools and universities have a required reading are:
- Gordon Fee
- Douglas Stuart
- F.F. Bruce
- O Brooks
- Turner, David L.
- Stein, Robert H.
- Bock, Darrell L.
- Köstenberger, John
There are others. The best guide to selection is to read the reviews.
As one can see, to do exegesis properly, the requirements are set high and is not an effortless task.
One of the key ingredients to doing worthy exegesis is your careful reading of the texts. Along with the careful reading is the asking of questions. Of course you will exhaust you skills. Then you can consult the commentaries.
I recently had a talk with a very successful Sunday school teacher. When He started, he had about 8 students in his Sunday morning class. With in a year, the class has grown to over 100. I asked him how did that happened? He told me that he learned to read the Bible and he spends 16 hours of reading for preparing one Sunday morning class.
I asked him what books do you use? What devotional do you use? What dictionaries do you use? What are the commentaries do you consult? He replied that the secret is to read the Bible carefully and ask questions of the text as he reads.
There is a book that I can recommend highly:
"How to read a book" by Van Doren.
Most of us are not skilled in reading and even if you are, this book will add to your tool list for study. It helped the Sunday school teacher.
In future articles planned we will cover the following subjects of exegesis:
- How important it is to know the historical context of the passage you are reading and how to dig it out.
- How important it is to know the literary context of the passage you are reading and how to dig it out
- How important it is to know exactly what the author was talking about and how to dig it out..
After covering these topics, a section on hermeneutics will be published.
Some words will be written about the variety of existing translations of the Bible and the features presented .
Your comments and suggestions are welcome.
The good Bible translation
How to choose a good translation
What are the choices and will it make a difference?