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One Interpretation, Many Applications April 23, 2016

Posted by TJ Friend in General Principles.
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One of the criticisms of the Bible is that everyone interprets it differently. This a legitimate concern. There are many people that come to different ideas on what parts of the Bible are actually teaching. Some people base their interpretations based on only one or two verses completely overlooking the literary context these verses came from. Picking out isolated verses to prove a point is called “proof-texting”. The problem with proof-texting is that it starts with the individual (their views, beliefs, experiences, etc.) and imposes those ideas onto the text. If you take verses out of their context you can find justification for almost anything you want. People have used the Bible to condone slavery, racism, the Crusades, polygamy, homosexuality, and numerous cults. The teachings on baptisms for the dead and the high status of the Pope both come from Biblical passages. There have been many things that people have wrongly believed simply because they had a misunderstanding of what the Bible actually taught.

The Church today is fractured and schizophrenic in its beliefs. We have hundreds of denominations in the US today. Most of these came about because of differences of opinions on doctrine and practice. We have some churches that put a big emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit, while others see the gifts of miracles and prophecy finished with the completion of the Bible. Some people believe it is a sin to read any other translation other than the KJV. Some churches don’t allow women teachers. Some believe if you are not a Calvinist you are not a Christian. Some of these differences are a matter of tradition, but for the most part we simply disagree on what the Bible teaches.

Some people think the Bible is like an artistic painting or piece of modern art, that you look at and interpret based on how you feel. This is exemplified in the question a lot Bible study groups ask: “What does this passage mean to you?”This version of Bible study a lot of times ends up as just a pooling of ignorance. People say whatever comes to their mind, whether or not it is relevant or even accurate. Studying the Bible takes time and effort. Most people tend to give up too quickly. They think that a cursory reading of the text is sufficient.

In case you were wondering, studying and understanding the Bible is difficult and takes time. It was written in an ancient language (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). It was written thousands of years in the past in a culture that we are unfamiliar with. It was originally written for a specific audience, and because of this there were things the authors didn’t say because they didn’t have to. Their audience was already familiar with the culture and language. It is our job as faithful readers to attempt to understand what the author’s of the Bible were trying to say to their original audience. Only after we understand what it meant to those people can we make application to our lives today.

People say that since there are so many different views on what the Bible says, we can’t know what the Bible actually teaches. If we have such a diverse range of interpretations, even in the Church and among scholars, how can we know which one is correct? This is the whole reason why we have exegesis and hermeneutics. Even though it is difficult to get at what the author’s original intent was, this should be our goal.

The people who wrote the Bible, had a specific purpose for writing what they did. They had a distinct and deliberate message they were trying to convey to their audience. This is what we should be trying to uncover. This becomes even more important when we realize that these people were inspired by God.The Holy Spirit led these writers to convey a message. This wasn’t some symbolic or hidden message He was trying to convey. God had a specific message He wanted the people to understand and He gave it in a way that the people could comprehend. The more we can put ourselves in the shoes (or sandals) of the audience to which the Bible was originally written, the better we will be able to interpret the message to them. Once we understand what God was trying to say to them, we can make application to our modern context.

No one is perfect in their interpretation. Because of our distance from the original readers, there will inevitably be things we will not be 100% sure about. But, there are also things that the Bible is so clear on that we should be unified in our theology. The way I think about it is that there are two categories of the things the Bible teaches. There are essentials and non-essentials. The essentials include things like the basic Gospel message (Jesus died for our sins, was buried and resurrected), Jesus’ divinity, the trinity, the idea that Christ is coming again, etc. The non-essentials are things like style of worship, speaking in tongues, tattoos, eating pork, issues surrounding the second-coming/end times, etc. Basically, the things that you must believe in order to be saved are essentials, and those things not affecting salvation are non-essentials.

Past interpretations

We are not the first generation to read the Bible. Many people in different cultures and contexts had to make sense of what the Bible was saying for them. This is what is so great about the Bible. Its message transcends time and culture. Throughout history people have had to do the same thing we do today – read the Bible, attempt to understand its original meaning and then apply it to their lives.

I do want to make mention of some alternate interpretive methods, particularly the Jewish interpretation. One of their methods is known as PaRDeS. It is basically an acronym for Pashat, Remez, Drash and Sod. The four levels of interpretation. The Pashat is the “simple” interpretation which is essentially what I have been referring to, getting at the meaning of the author. The other three are increasingly deeper levels of meaning that attempt to find hidden meanings that can be found in the patterns of words and letters of texts. These interpretations range from symbolic (reading an idea like circumcision into a text that doesn’t explicitly talk about it but may have verbal parallels to other passages that do mention circumcision) to more hidden interpretations. These hidden interpretations often would rely on numbers. By assigning numerical values to numbers and words they would make comparisons to other words or phrases with the same numerical value. In this way, they would connect passages together that otherwise wouldn’t be connected. One thing they did believe though was that the simple meaning was the baseline, and so none of the other levels could contradict it.

There are some dangers in these types of interpretive methods. I think a lot of people see the Bible as this mysterious book with all kinds of hidden meanings that once uncovered will unlock some secret message in the text. I’ve noticed this a lot when it comes to word studies. Because most people are unfamiliar with Greek and Hebrew, they think that they can uncover vast meanings hidden in the definitions of certain words. This is not the purpose of word studies. While it is true you can get a more nuanced understanding of a passage by looking both at the grammar and the Greek or Hebrew words used, this is different than trying to get a new meaning from a text by searching through a list of definitions for a word. The words themselves only have meaning because of the sentence they are in. A word doesn’t import all its different definitions to each context it is used in. It is constrained to its chosen usage. In the same way sentences or verses are limited to the context of the paragraph to which they are in.

Whether trying to get at a deeper meaning through improper use of word studies or through some sort of numerological code, we end up missing the message of the author. And this is what is important. Whatever other messages we “find” in the text, if we overlook the message of the author they are worthless. In fact, by looking for these other things instead of what the author is trying to tell us, we hinder ourselves from understanding the original message.

Application

I guess what bothers me in all this is that we aren’t satisfied with the simplicity of the Bible. Why do we think that a deeper meaning is somehow more spiritual than the plain meaning of the author? Earlier I mentioned the difficulties in the interpretive process due to time, context and language, but there are also things that are clear. A lot of the message of the Bible translates easily through all cultures and times. The ideas of love, justice, mercy, righteousness, holiness, and humility don’t need much interpretation to understand them properly. We get so caught up in the intricacies of interpretive method, that we forget to actually do what it says. The Bible isn’t just a book of a bunch of theological ideas, it is handbook for how to live. We follow it best, not when we understand it fully, but when we live out the parts we do understand.

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Creativity and the Bible September 15, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Application, General Principles, OICA.
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Hello again. This will be my final blog, at least for awhile. I wanted to finish things out with an important and extremely overlooked aspect of reading/studying the Bible: creativity. Everyone is creative to some degree or another. Unfortunately, must of us do not get the chance to use the creative gifts God has given us. I think this is sad, because for me creativity is a way of getting past our logic and reasoning side and tapping into a freedom that allows for true expression of who we are. Through creative expression we can understand ourselves and our emotions/feelings better. Being creative also gives us a way to communicate to others in a way that speaks past a person’s mind and touches their heart.

Reading the Bible is a spiritual exercise. God doesn’t just speak to your mind. He speaks to your heart and your soul. Because God often speaks things that go beyond comprehension, it can be hard to integrate them into your life. There are a few different ways to accomplish this. As I mentioned in a previous post, talking about what God has revealed to you can help you integrate that truth into your life. You can also journal or simply pray back to God what He has shown you. But, what I want to talk about today is finding a creative outlet to express what God is speaking.

Art can be and often is a form of worship to God. We bring glory to God as we represent part of his creation to others through an artistic medium. But we also glorify God simply by exercising the gifts and talents He has given us. Artistic expression revolving around the Bible and what God has revealed is even more glorifying to God, because it allows God to speak directly to others.

How important is drawing, or painting? As I said earlier, creative expression allows you to connect with God in a way that you would not be able to see otherwise. God is spirit and those who worship Him must do so in spirit and in truth. Just comprehending truths about God is not enough. There is a second aspect that involves our spirit connecting to His Spirit. I think creative expression is the way to do this.  God is a creative God. He created the entire universe. And although not to the same degree, there is are things which we can create as well. In so doing we are coming in line with our created purpose.

What am I suggesting through all this? We need to take what we have learned from God through the Bible and creatively express it to ourselves and others. Paint, draw, sing, write a song, write a peom, make up a dance, sculpt something, make a collage, take a picture, write a script, write a story, sew something, carve something, build something. Just do something creative! I will leave you with no summary today or reflection. This whole post is actually a reflection on the theme I’ve been building since day one. Instead I leave you with a poem I wrote about the Bible. Enjoy!

The Sword of the Word

let me tell you a tale

without the Bible

we are liable to grow stale

and pale as our spiritual muscles fail

due to atrophy

its a catastrophe how easily

we deny our need for help

and instead rely in our feeble self

we stumble through this life

hoping to get it right

accepting our plight

we have lost our “fight”

We need to get back to the Book

give it more than a look

but instead we are hooked

on feeding our minds

with shows designed to entertain

and drain our desire

for what is good

and although we should

feed our soul

we’d rather feed the hole

that is formed as we dull

our desires and quench the fire

of passion for Jesus.

He wants to free us and make us

mature and complete

I repeat

the reason our lives get off track

is that we turn our back

instead of facing the attack

with the sword of the word

it is absurd

to have a weapon of such power

and then cower with fear

when the enemy draws near

so take the Bible off of the shelf

and get back your spiritual health

as you feast on the abundant wealth

of truth

you may feel weak

or your situation is bleak

let God speak

and let His words wreak

havoc on Satans lies

when he tries to speak doubt or shame

don’t play his game

you have authority in Jesus name

you are free

and when you speak

and believe

Satan has to flee

reading the word is not about being smart or super skilled

it is the humble that see God and it is the hungry that are filled

Sharing What You Know August 18, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Application, General Principles.
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Hello. If you have made it this far, you should have a lot of the tools necessary to understand what the Bible is saying and study it for yourself. The mesage of the Bible is not just for you, though. It is something that needs to be shared with others. If you just keep it to yourself, you are missing the point.

Before Jesus ascended to heaven he left his disciples with some parting words. At the end of Matthew 28 Jesus tells his disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations…” We are called to be disciple makers. Whatever knowledge or wisdom God gives us is not just for us. We need to share what we are learning with those around us, especially those who are new or young believers. Whenever God reveals something to you, do your best to apply it to your life, but don’t just leave it at that. Share what you have learned with someone else.

Your Uniqueness

You are unique. Not only do you have a unique blend of gifts and talents, but you also have a unique way of understanding the Bible. Even if you don’t have all the skills or tools of a Biblical scholar, you still have a lot to bring to the study of the Bible. In fact sometimes an overly scholarly look at the text can be harmful. It is possible to overanalyze the text and end up missing the point. Sometimes a simple observation or question can bring a text alive. Although it is important to study and try to get at the intended meaning, don’t discount yourself if you don’t have all the tools necessary. God can speak not only to you, but through you!

There is no one person who fully understands the Bible. We all have our own lens with which we view the Bible. We actually need each other so that we can see the different angles. What you gain from your reading of the text may be something that someone else would never see, simply because of how they read the text.

Understanding the Text

There are different ways to learn things. You can hear it, see it or interact with it. Each of these methods will help you to remember what you learn and understand it. The best way to learn something though is to teach someone else. This principle is just as applicable to the Bible. If you share what you are learning it is solidified inside of you and you really learn it. So, not only does it help out the person you are sharing with, but it helps you out as well.

Summary

You are awesome.

You can read and understand the text.

Sharing what you know can help others out.

Sharing what you know helps you learn it yourself better.

Reflection

What is the last thing you learned while reading the Bible? Find someone to share that with.

OICA: Application August 12, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Application, General Principles, OICA.
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Hello. It has been awhile, but here we go. This is the last step in the OICA process. Application is extremely important, for what good is it for you to learn things if you never do anything about them. Now, saying this is the final step does not mean that you should wait till the end to apply things to your life. At any point during this process, even if you are simply reading a verse, if you feel like God is speaking to you, then you should try to apply whatever it is to your life. The reason this is the last step is because it is at the end of the process when you should reflect on what you have learned, not at the beginning or middle.

Application is broken into 2 categories: What you should do and what you should believe. Both of these are important. We need to do what God desires, because that will lead to better living and will glorify Him. But, we also need to have right beliefs. There are far too many lies in the world and we need to be saturated with the truth so that we are not deceived. Also, what we believe and think about shapes our values and morals and makes us who we are.

How to Live

The Bible is full of the wisdom of God. Our lives would be radically transformed if we simply did what the Bible said for us to do. We can see what God wants us to do in a few different ways. First, there are commands that are direct and specific for us. It is clear that we should love each other and not kill or steal, because these are explicitly stated in scripture. Some things though are not stated this explicitly. Sometimes we need to follow the example of one of the characters in Scripture. For instance, at the end of 2 Samuel 24, David wants to buy a field from Araunah, so that he may build an altar to sacrifice to the Lord. Araunah wants to give the land to the king, and in reality the king could have simply demanded it and he would have had to give it over. But David says, I will not sacrifice something to the Lord which does not cost me anything. This is not a command, but more of a principle which we can apply in different ways. God doesn’t want us to honor Him solely out of our excess, He wants us to obey even if it stretches us. As you are studying a passage, look for these principles to see if you can actually do something with what you are doing. In the example I just gave, God may want you to set aside some money from your budget and just bless others with it.

When we see people doing things in the Bible it does not automatically mean that we should do the same things. In fact a lot of things that the Biblical characters do are not for us today. The exception to this is Jesus. Jesus is the standard of how we should live and behave. We should not seek to live the same life as Jesus (collecting 12 disciples, doing miracles, and eventually dying on a cross). That was his mission, not ours. What we should focus on is his lifestyle. Jesus spent his life pouring into others, he spent a lot of time in prayer, he lived with integrity and did not compromise in the face of persecution and he gave glory to God. We can learn a lot simply by looking at the life of Jesus and seeing how we can live like him.

What to Believe

After you read/study a passage there are a few questions you can ask to get you thinking about what to believe. Obviously, not every question will apply to every passage, but every passage will have an answer to one of these questions if you think about it long enough. 1 Timothy 4:12 says that all scripture is useful for equipping and training in righteousness. Don’t give up on a passage if it seems difficult, just bring it to God and ask Him to reveal what you can learn from it?

1. How does this reveal Jesus?

2. What can I learn about God?

3. What does this tell me about humanity?

4. What can I learn about the interaction between God and man?

Write down whatever you learn and meditate on it until it sinks in.

Reflection

1 Cor 2:16 says that we have the mind of Christ. What does this mean for us? How would our lives be different if we actually believed this?

Summary of Biblical Genres June 23, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in General Principles, Genre, Interpretaion, OICA.
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Hi. Today I want to review the major genres found in the Bible. I have already devoted a post to each of these genres, but I thought it would be good to have a short summary of each of them that you can refer to help you in the interpretation step of OICA. By placing the genres together, with a short description of each, you can see which genre you are dealing with and some of the things to look for as you try to interpret it. For a more detailed look you can review the longer posts I have done on the genres.

Narrative

This is the most basic genre. It is where the author is describing events. This is the genre of books like Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Ruth, Esther, Acts and other places where there is a story being told.

1. Take it Literally

2. Treat it as a story. Find out what is going on, who the main characters on and why things are happening the way they are.

Discourse

This genre is where people are speaking. It can be a sermon, a prayer, or any other long speech. The book of Job has a lot of this, but there are also examples in the Gospels, such as the Sermon on the Mount, and in the book of Acts.

1. For the most part take this literally. The exception to this is if it is in another genre like a parable, a poem, or a prophecy.

2. Determine the main point of whatever the person is saying.

3. Take things literally, but don’t believe everything that people say. In the book of Job, there are a lot of things said that are simply not true. If you know who is speaking you can determine if what they are saying is true or not.

Poetry

Poetry is the genre of Psalms. It is full of symbolic language and is full of emotion.

1. Look for repetition. In ancient times, repetition was used for emphasis, so pay attention to the things that are said more than once.

2. Look for parallelism. Sometimes (especially in Proverbs) an idea will be stated and then restated either as its opposite or from a different perspective. The two ideas are basically saying the same thing

3. Don’t take the figurative parts literally! Look for the comparisons being made by the figures of speech.

Prophecy

The genre of prophecy is found wherever there are prophecies. These books are easy to recognize: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Amos, etc. There are also prophecies in the Gospels, the Epistles and Revelation.

1. When you come across a prophecy see who it was given to originally (Israel, Judah, everyone). Interpret it first in light of the original hearers of the prophecy.

2. Look to see if the prophecy has already been fulfilled.

3. Please do not read too much into prophecy. Prophecy is not meant to be a map that lays out exactly what will happen in the end times. It is there to draw us to repentance and help us to be ready for when Christ returns.

4. Because of the symbolic nature of prophecy, there are many ways people have interpreted it. We need to be alert and keep watch for the signs of Christ’s return. But, ultimately, we do not know what it will be like. There are far too many debates and arguments over one persons interpretation of the end times vs. someone else. Eschatology (the study of the end times) should not supersede soteriology (the study of salvation). Our focus is and should continue to be the lost, not the last days, souls not signs.

Epistle

The epistles fall under the bigger category of discourse. These are the letters that were written either to single individuals or groups. The majority are found in the New Testament, although there are some in the Old Testament as well (there are some in Nehemiah). They are addressed to a specific group for a specific purpose.

1. Find out who the author and the audience are.

2. Read the epistle in light of what the author was trying to say to the audience.

3. Try and figure out why the letter was written in the first place. What was it written in response to? You can actually answer a lot of these questions, simply by reading the epistle and looking for clues as to who it is written to and why it was written. Observation is the key.

Gospel

There are four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They are written as witnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

1. Look for what each author emphasizes in his gospel. What are the important events or discourses that are recorded? Why are these recorded?

2. Try and read them with a fresh perspective. We have been so inundated with the story, that we can easily forget what it must have been like for the original hearers would have felt as they heard these Gospels. As you read them, forget the ending and put yourself in the shoes of someone reading it for the very first time. What would stand out?

3. Compare other Gospels. Because there are four Gospels, there are many things that are repeated in different Gospels. As you compare and contrast what is said in the different Gospels, you can get a sense of what each individual author was trying to emphasize.

4. Unless you are reading a parable or allegory, or someone is using a figure of speech take these books literally. Jesus actually did come down, become a man, die on a cross and rise again in 3 days.

Apocalypse

Apocalypse is the genre of revelation. It is something big revealed to someone. This is similar to prophecy although in an apocalypse the events being described are of a large scale. This genre can be found in the book of Revelation and also parts of Daniel.

1. The goal of this genre is to get a big picture understanding of what is going on. Because of all the figurative and symbolic language there are certain things that we simply will not be able to know until they happen. We don’t need to understand every single detail, but merely let the pieces come together to show us a picture of what is to come.

2. This genre should not be taken literally.

3. As you read through, try and see how you would live your life differently if you had an eternal, God-prevails focus.

Wisdom Literature

Wisdom literature is basically Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, although there are other small sections throughout the Bible. This is the genre of wise sayings and the wisdom of man.

1. Proverbs – These are not promises. They are general truths that will help you live out your life in a godly manner.

2. Job/Ecclesiastes – There is wisdom in these books, but it is found at the end. Job’s friends spout out their false theology which God rebukes at the end. The writer of Ecclesiastes gives a cynical view of life, but then comes back at the end and points to God as the only one who gives meaning to life.

Parable/Allegory

Parables are short stories that have a moral to be learned. Allegories also are short discourses, but are different from parables in that they have more than one point of comparison. These are mostly found in the Gospels.

1. Look at the situation or question to which the parable/allegory is a response to. How does this answer the situation/question?

2. For a parable find the one key point being made and don’t try to see more than is there. For an allegory look for the main point and see how each of the points of comparison adds to this main idea.

Ethical Instruction

In this genre I would put proverbs, laws, and promises.  These are found throughout the Bible, but there are a lot in Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and of course Proverbs.

1. Proverbs are not promises and should not be taken as such.

2. Promises are not universal. See who they are for and if they apply to you.

3. A lot of the Old Testament laws were only for the people back then. As a general rule, we need to follow the Old Testament laws that are also found in the New Testament.

Reflection

What is your favorite genre and why?

Topical Studies January 7, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in General Principles.
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Hello, again. Last week we talked about the importance of concordances and a little bit about how to use them. Today I want to go more in depth on topical studies and how to do them. It seems that most people start off with topical studies before  moving on to studying whole passages. Conceptually, topical studies are easier and depending on the topic could also require less study time. Topical studies are good because they allow you to look at a topic from a wide variety of contexts and come to a deeper understanding of what it is all about. Exegetical studies are studies which focus in on a specific passage and drawing out its intended meaning. While a topic may be mentioned in a specific passage to truly understand the topic you need to look at many different contexts and (if possible) all the contexts which it occurs in. To be thorough, when you do a topical study, you should also do exegetical studies of each individual passage the topic occurs in. This is probably the biggest problem with topical studies. When people read through so many passages, there is little or no motivation to study them out to make sure they are not taking the topic out of context. Even with this potential to eisegete some passages, I think topical studies are a good starting point for studying the Word. Alright lets do some topical studies.

Step 1: Pick a Topic

The first thing you need to do is find something you are interested in studying. You can pick a character in the Bible that you want to learn more about like Elijah, Abraham, Joseph, Ehud, Barnabas, or even Og. You can pick a theological idea like sin, angels, the resurrection, baptism or faith. You can pick a place like Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Patmos, Mt. Sinai or the Jordan River. You can pick random topics like hospitality, sandals, clouds, fruit, swords, or donkeys. You can pick abstract topics like the questions Jesus asked people, left-handed people, laughter, inheritances, or feasts. You can even pick modern day topics like tatoos, alcoholism, or divorce.

The less abstract your topic is the easier it will be to study, therefore start with something more concrete like studying a specific person or something tangible like city gates. Also, don’t overwhelm yourself with a huge topic like salvation or the Holy Spirit, otherwise you may end up studying the entire Bible for one topic. Instead choose something specific like the gifts of the Spirit. For now, since we are just starting, pick a topic that is only one word, such as joy, or offering. Also, make sure this word is actually in the Bible. If your topic is dating, you will have a difficult time finding things about it.

Step 2: Find the Passages

Here is where you need your concordance. If you have a Strong’s you can use that. But even if you just have a concordance in the back of your Bible, you can use that as well. Either way, you need a list of the passages that your word occurs in. If you have a more abstract concept and your topic is in a passage but not specifically stated write down those passages as well. For instance, you may have the topic of forgiveness and realize that John 8 relates to the topic but doesn’t specifically say “forgiveness”. Write it down.

We have not talked about cross-referencing, but this is a great way to find passages that relate to your topic without actually using the terminology. If you have a study Bible, it will hopefully have some cross referencing tools. Usually, there will be a number or letter in the passage you are reading that will be keyed to a verse in the margin. This verse will be somehow related to what you were reading. Check these references out and see if they actually are related to your topic and if so, write them down.

If you have a lot of verses, you may want to restrict your study to only one book of the Bible or a few books. This will not give you as thorough a picture of the topic, but it will give you a start and hopefully you will still learn some things.

Step 3: Study the Passages

At the very least you should read the paragraph of each verse you have written down. If it seems like one verse is particularly important then read the whole chapter, just so that you can get a better feel for what it is saying. For each reference that you have, make some observations on what it saying in relation to your topic. If your topic is joy, and you get to Phil. 4:4, you may want to note that it is right before a call to not be anxious. You may also see that Paul thinks it is important enough to say it twice. Or you might notice that this is a command and as such is not some emotional feeling based on their circumstances. It is something they can actually do, despite what is going on around them.

On a practical note, you should write a small section of each verse you are studying along with the reference, so that you will remember what the verse was actually about. I also like to summarize the context to get a better feel for the verse.

Step 4: Organize and Summarize

After you have studied out all your verses and passages you should see some similarities. Go through all your findings and try and bring together similar ideas. Find some categories to help you organize these ideas. If you were studying a person you could organize their life by stages such as Moses’ Birth, Time in the Wilderness, Leader of Israel. Or you could organize it another way like Moses’ Relationship with God, With Pharoah, With Israel, With Israel’s Leaders. Just find something that makes sense and incorporates everything you have found.

Once everything is organized then you can summarize your findings and try and draw some conclusions. You should try and come up with a definition of your topic or some sentence that describes it well. At this point you should have a pretty good idea of your topic. If you have access to a Bible Dictionary you can look it up and see how their description compares with yours.

Reflection

What is a topic from the Bible that you are interested in learning more about?

Concordances December 31, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in General Principles.
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Hello. This will be my last post…of the year! 2010, here we come! I can not think of any better topic to end the year with than concordances. It is amazing how such a simple concept can be of such great value. Before I even went to Bible college I was interested in the Bible. Even in those early days I would frequently use the concordance at the end of my Bible to find verses or passages. I remember the excitement I felt when I was first introduced to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities for studying the Bible. With that book alone, I was doing word studies, before I even knew what a word study was. Even though I have tons more resources today for studying the Bible, I still use Strong’s all the time. And I am not alone in this. One of the first classes I took at Life was Biblical Languages and Exegesis with Professor Larry Powers. His class helped me understand the fundamentals of Biblical studies, and most of what I gained from that class I have incorporated in this blog. He said that Strong’s was his favorite book for studying the word. So, what is a concordance, you may ask?

Basic Functions

A concordance is a listing of the words within a book. A concordance of the Bible will have the words listed alphabetically and (depending on how thorough) will have a list of verses that the word occurs in. Most Bibles (or at least study Bibles) have an abridged concordance at the back to help locate major passages or verses. Even these abridged versions are helpful in finding a verse that you know is in there, but have forgotten where. Also, these mini concordances can give you a basic idea what a word means simply by scanning through the other occurances of the word. Or you may find some inspirational verses inadvertantly as you are looking for something else.

Obviously the best thing to get is an exhaustive concordance. With an exhaustive concordance, every word is listed and you can more easily find what you are looking for. The only downfall is that, because of its thoroughness, it may be possible to overlook the passage you are trying to find. This leads me to the three main things you can use a concordance for:

1. Finding passages – If you can remember part of a verse, but not all of it, you can simply look up one of the words that you remember and hopefully find the verse.

2. Word studies – I plan on doing an entire post on word studies, but for now just realize that the concordance is the base of word studies. Words are defined by the different contexts they are in and so if you have a tool that lists all the contexts, then you can come to a pretty good understanding of a word. The big problem though, is that the Bible was not written in English and so a word study based only on the English will be not only incomplete, but potentially erroneous. This is because sometimes there are different Greek or Hebrew words which are translated by only one English word and also there are single Greek or Hebrew words that are translated with many different English words to fit their contexts.

3. Topical studies – Concordances are perfect for topical studies. Unlike word studies which necesitate an understanding of the language differences, you can study out a topic simply from the English. This is because topical studies are more holistic and are used to get at the big picture of a concept. There may be different Greek words for healing, but they all come together to make up the general topic of healing.

Basic Layout

I like Strong’s and so I am going to use it for my example. But, there are many concordances out there. There are concordances specifically designed for different translations of the Bible (like the NIV Concordance). And there are more specific types of concordances, like Young’s Analytical Concordance (which organizes words according to their respective Greek or Hebrew words). And of course, with the advent of computers there are software programs and online applications that allow you to simply type in a word into a search box and instantly see all the verses which that word occurs in. Some of these computer programs even have concordances based on the Greek or Hebrew, where you can type in a Greek word and find all the places it is found (even including the Septuagint). If you like speed and efficiency, online concordances are the way to go. Maybe I am stuck in the past, but I find something satisfying about actually opening up a book and finding something.

That being said, Strong’s is the standard concordance. It is based off of the King James Version of the Bible and has a dictionary in the back. Every Greek and Hebrew word is assigned a number. (These are the Strong’s numbers) In the back of the book, all the Greek and Hebrew words are listed both alphabetically and numerically. When you open up the main concordance you will see every English word listed alphabetically. There will sometimes be words next to the title in parenthesis. These words are names of other entries that are similar words. Under each entry is all the verses the word occurs in, each with a small part of the verse for context. If a word is used two or more times in a verse there will be more than one listing. Usually the word will be abbreviated in the verse to set it apart, sometimes it may even be just the first letter. (For some extremely common words, like “the”, the verses will simply be listed in an appendix and there will be no context given.) Next to the specific verses are the numbers (sometimes there may not be a number because there are a lot of words with the same number, so they will just write the number once for all the verses under it). These numbers are the codes to the Greek and Hebrew words in the back. Make sure if it is a Greek word you look in the Greek section, not the Hebrew section and vice versa. If it is a New Testament word it will be Greek, and the Old Testament words are in the Hebrew section. Because the numbers represent different Greek/Hebrew words, you can see how a word in English can represent different Greek and Hebrew words. You can easily compare which verses have the same number after them, and so compare and contrast different Greek or Hebrew words.

Strong’s is primarily a concordance and so the dictionary in the back should not be given much weight. This dictionary basically just tells how a word is translated into English, with a basic definition and a list of any roots the word may have. Understanding a Greek or Hebrew word is difficult and cannot be understood simply from the dictionary in the back of Strong’s. It can be tempting to use the roots of the word to gain a “deeper meaning” of the word, but this is extremely dangerous and one of the more common fallacies people make when doing word studies.

Reflection

This will be an easy one, but hopefully valuable. Pick a word (like one of the fruits of the Spirit, or one a virtue such as holiness or righteousness) and look it up in the concordance in your Bible. If you picked an uncommon word that has only a few entries, look up each verse and try and get an understanding of the context they are in. If it is a common word just look up the verses that are in one book or maybe in a larger section like the Gospels. As you read each verse try and see what that verse adds to the meaning of the word, or how it reinforces another verse. Take special note of the first time the word is used in the Bible and also where the word is used the most. Is it primarily used in one book? Or is it only in the Gospels, or Paul’s writings, or only in the Prophets, or mostly in the Pentateuch. Write down everything you discover and then come up with a one sentence summary of the word you picked.

Happy New Year!

Review #1: Context and Genre December 17, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in General Principles.
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Hello again. Today I would like to give a review of the two most important aspects of studying the Bible. A lack of understanding of these two areas causes most errors in interpretation. On the other hand, and understanding of these two areas will bring a significant amount of understanding to a text. I have already talked a lot about both of these aspects, but because of their importance I wanted to review and summarize them.

Context

First off, let me say that the chapter and verse numbers in the Bible were added in long after the Bible was actually written. (The chapters were added in 1227, and the verses in 1555.) These were added to aid readers in finding their place in the text. Although these are helpful in locating portions of scripture, their addition has inadvertently caused a misunderstanding of the text. Because each verse is numbered individually it is tempting to take each verse as a unique statement of truth. The numbering system is so powerful that some people will take a verse as a unit of thought even if it only contains half a sentence. At the very least, we should read a verse in light of the context of the sentence it is in. But reading in context is much more than just reading whole sentences at a time. When we read scripture, we need to think in units of thought. We need to take each verse in light of the paragraph it is found in,  and we need to take the groupings of paragraphs, not in light of the chapter they are in, but in light of the section they are in (remembering that the paragraphs were not their originally either). Let me make this clear: Never try and draw meaning from a verse without reading at least the paragraph it is in. A verse on its own does not even have meaning apart from its context. The meaning is in the block of text, not the individual verses or sentences.

An Example

“My shadow was following me.” Think about this sentence. What does it mean? If this was a verse in the Bible could you interpret it? Now, read this paragraph:

I had just put Adam down for his nap and quietly made my way down the hallway. I slowly opened the closet door and reached way back to pull out the parcel I had hid there a few weeks ago. I turned around and what did I see? My shadow was following me. He grinned and shyly asked for a cup of water. I quickly stuffed the package back in the closet, hiding it behind some boxes.

As you can see, without the context a sentence does not have its full meaning. In fact, if you read any of the sentences in the story alone without the whole paragraph you will have an incomplete understanding of what is going on. And, on a broader level, this paragraph is also incomplete. This could be a story about a present being hid or the parcel could contain some illegal/immoral stuff that the narrator does not want the child to see. Without the greater context this story is incomplete.

Genre

While context is the primary concern we should have when interpreting the text, proper interpretation is impossible without a proper understanding of genre. Even if we read a verse in the context of the entire book which it is written, if we interpret it as a different genre then it is, then we could end up missing the whole point. It is vital to understand what genre a text is and how to properly understand it in light of that genre. The Bible is written in many different genres and sub-genres and we cannot read every part the same way. I spent a lot of time going over the different genres, so that hopefully whatever passage of scripture you come to, you will at least have a starting point in understanding it.

I see two main mistakes that people make with regards to genre. By reading this I hope you will avoid them. The first is taking poetic or figurative language as literal. I have already spent an entire blog on this issue, (Figurative Language)  so I don’t want to say too much about this. I will simply warn you to be careful when you are reading the poetic and prophetic books not to form theological ideas based on metaphors or similes. There are many examples I could give, but I will just give you one. In Isaiah 66:13 it says, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you”. This is speaking of God, but it is not saying that God is a mother. God is spoken of throughout scripture as masculine and even Jesus’ prayer that he taught his disciples referred to God as “Our Father”. This passage is using the metaphor of a mother and child to show the comfort God wants to bring to Israel.

The second issue I need to address is the descriptive/prescriptive distinction. Again I have already written a post on this, but just to reiterate: Prescriptive texts tell us what to do and how to behave. Descriptive texts simply describe what is going on and are not meant to be laws or commands we are to follow. Should we go around building altars, just because people in the Old Testament did so? Should we put on sackcloth and ashes when we are really sad? A lot of the OT laws and customs were culturally based and were not meant for us today. Our only concern is finding out what God wants us to do and doing that.

Reflection

1. When Jesus says “turn the other” cheek, is this figurative or literal and what message is he trying to convey?

2. Read John 3:1-21. What questions does Nicodemus ask and what is Jesus’ answer to them?

Simplicity and Simplification December 10, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in General Principles.
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Hello all. Today I want to talk about two important ideas: simplicity and simplification. These are not technical terms. I actually just picked these two words because they sound similar and hopefully will be more memorable. I am using the word simplicity to refer to the idea that the authors of the Bible wrote with the intention that they would be understood. Although they may talk about complex ideas, they put these ideas in simple enough terms for their hearers to understand. Simplification on the other hand is an interpretive procedure where we take large (or small) blocks of text and try to simplify them to get to the basic meaning that is being conveyed. These two ideas are related. On the one hand the author has a basic idea that he is trying to get across and is writing with the goal that his meaning would be understood. On the other hand, we as readers should strive to get at the meaning that is being conveyed. Let us take a closer look at these two ideas.

Simplicity

Again simplicity is the idea that the author writes in such a way as to be understood. What this means is that the simple meaning should be taken over the complex one.  Sometimes people come up with interpretations that are extremely complex. They may overemphasize a word study or read too much into a cultural issue.  This brings us back to the importance of context. Reading a verse in its context limits its possible meanings to those that fit in with the surrounding verses. There is a trend out there to find “hidden” meanings in the text. People will analyze a verse way beyond the initial intent just to find something new or profound. Just because something may sound good or logical does not make it right. The authors of Scripture did not inject their writings with complex hidden meanings that only a few select individuals would be able to figure out. They wanted people to understand what they wrote. The Bible as a whole is pretty clear. You can learn how to be saved and what to do from there just by reading it. Verses like “love your neighbor as yourself” or “pray continually” do not need to be hyper analyzed to figure out what they mean. Our problem is not a lack of understanding of certain portions of scripture, but a lack of application of the portions we do understand. When we come to obscure passages, it is good to study them and try to interpret them. But it is more important to live out the truths that we already know then to search out new ones, especially if that means we force an interpretation onto a passage. Although the authors of the text tried to be clear, there are just some things that we will not understand because we are in a different time and culture. In our interpretation of Scripture we need to keep it simple. Once we bring in a bunch of extra-biblical sources and the interpretation starts to become complex we should step back and make sure we are staying in the context and that we are reading it the way the author intended for it to be read.

Simplification

ABC Always Be Condensing. This is the general approach we should take when we come to Scripture. Unless you are reading a proverb it is best to read more than one verse at a time. The smallest unit you should interpret is a paragraph. When you read a paragraph or a chapter the goal is to find the main idea and simplify that down to its most basic components. In order to fully understand the intricacies of a text, we need to strip it down to its most basic idea and then we can see how all the pieces fit together. If you are reading a narrative, try and figure out the basic action that is going on. This could be Saul’s disobedience in 1 Sam 15 or Job’s restoration at the end of Job 42. when reading discourse material (like an epistle or a prophecy) we should look for the main point the speaker is making. What is the main point of John 15? What is Paul saying in Rom. 8?  As we read a paragraph or a chapter or a section of a book or an entire book, we should look for the ideas and themes that tie it together. If we can simplify a few paragraphs into their main ideas then we can take those and see what the bigger is of the chapter that those paragraphs make up is. Our goal is to take the text, whether it is a paragraph, a chapter or a larger section and simplify it down to a one sentence summary. The more that you understand something, the easier it is to simplify it. If the simplest explanation you can give of a paragraph is a paragraph in itself, then you haven’t fully understood it and need to keep studying it. Even if you get your summary down to a sentence, but that sentence is long and complicated, there is still room for more understanding.

Let me give an example of this. Lets say you are reading Psalm 23 and your summary is that God feeds his sheep and helps them rest and protects them from danger and gives them food in front of their enemies. This summary is way too long and complicated. It would be much easier to say that Psalm 23 is about how God watches over his people as a shepherd watches over his sheep. The idea of simplification is to express all the main ideas in the shortest most efficient way possible.

Reflection

1. The Bible Code is a study of various patterns of letters in the text that reveal hidden messages in the text. Based on what we have learned here, what is wrong with this method of Biblical study.

2. Read Psalm 150. How would  you summarize this chapter using only one sentence?

Figurative Language September 30, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in General Principles.
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There are three common errors people make when studying the Bible. By understanding and recognizing them, we can hopefully avoid them. But, on the other hand, if we truly grasp and apply these three aspects of Biblical study then we can dramatically improve how much we get out of our time in the word. So, first off we have the role of context. You can’t expect to understand the message of the Bible if you only read selected verses, or isolate verses from their surrounding context. Because of its importance I have already devoted an entire post to this topic.  Secondly, we have the distinction between exegesis and eisegesis. If we want to be faithful to the text we have to come to it humbly and allow its message to speak to us, not impose our preconceived meanings into the text. I have also elaborated on this issue in a previous post. The third biggest error in the study of the word has to do with a misunderstanding of genre. Because this is such a big issue I am devoting the next few posts to developing this idea further. For now, I would just like to give an introduction to genre and talk about figurative language.

First off, it is important to realize that the Bible is true and reliable and is in a sense literal. But even though the Bible is literally from God, not everything in it is to be taken literally. Also, although the Bible is true, not everything said is true. This may seem complicated, but it is actually quite simple. The Bible accurately represents what people say and do, even if what they do is unholy, or what they say is a lie. For instance, when Abraham is travelling through Egypt, he tells the Pharoah that Sarah is his sister so that Pharoah wouldn’t kill him and take his wife. Another example is when Moses goes up to the top of Mt. Sinai to get the ten commandments and when he comes down he sees a golden calf that the people had made. When he questions Aaron about it, Aaron’s reply is, “I threw in the gold and out came this calf”. Seeing people lie or practice deceit does not negate the truthfulness of God’s word. It actually shows the fraility of man and the grace and power of God to use broken vessels. The “heroes of the faith” were not perfect and God still used them. He can certainly use us if we are willing.

It is pretty easy to recognize when people are lying in the Bible. Usually, we can see from the surrounding context the actual events that are going on and the consequences of their deceit. A lie is a very specific small area of genre. It is a sub category of discourse. When you come across a lie in scripture, we need to recognize it as such and understand it differently than a statement of truth or a question. When you see a lie in the text, you might ask what motivated the speaker to this deceit. Or if you see a quetion in the text you might wonder if the question is simply to gain information or are they asking to discredit someone (like the Pharisees did to Jesus). It helps to think through the different possibilities of motives whenever people are saying things.

Figurative language is not a genre, but it is used in more in some genres than others. Genres are just texts with common features that we have categorized to help us understand them more. Figurative language shows up in all the genres, but some genres have this as their primary feature. Figurative language is a broad category that encompasses everything from poetry and dreams/visions to parables, allegories and even simple metaphors. It is used to help describe things and make things more real. One use of figurative language is “anthropomorphisms” which are statements describing things with human characteristics. In Proverbs wisdom is spoken of as a lady. There are also metaphors and similes which compare things. The word of god is like a lamp. God is like a shepherd. Satan is like a lion. Fear of man is like a trap. The love of money is a root. Abiding in Christ is like a branch abiding in a vine. There are many more examples throughout scripture. Our job is to recognize these and ask why they are used and what comparison is being made. Sometimes the point being made is so complicated that it takes a picture or an analogy to explain it. And sometimes using a figure of speech helps us remember or see the comparison better.

Jesus used figurative language all the time. He spoke in parables and allegories. He used words with double meanings and used a lot of symbolic language. Part of the reason Jesus used so much figurative language was that he wanted people to ponder what he was saying and seek out the truth. Often times the disciples would come to Jesus after he said something and ask him what he meant.

The Old Testament has a lot of figurative language. Psalms is mostly songs and Proverbs is full of catchy sayings and analogies. The prophetic books use symbolism and metaphor all the time to reveal what God is saying. Sometimes, like in Hosea, the prophet will actually act out something symbolically as a message to the people.

The most important thing about figurative language is simply to recognize when it is being used. If you are reading through Psalms or Isaiah, most of what you are reading is using symbolic imagery. For instance, when it says that to God a thousand years is like a day we can take this either literally or figuratively. When people take this literally they end up with weird views like the day age theory, which says that it didn’t take God six days to create the earth, but rather 6 thousand years. There are two problems with this. First it imposes a literal meaning on a figure of speech, and second it assumes that the Creation narrative is figurative, when it is actually literal.

Figures of speech are natural in the Bible and even in our speech today. When we come across figurative language in the text we should take time to seek out what the author is trying to say and how the imagery helps illuminate this idea.

Reflection

Psalm 91:2 says that the Lord is my refuge and my fortress. How do these images help describe the character of God? What traits do these words represent?