Sunday, August 24, 2014

Session 10: Historical-Grammatical Interpretation

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength  ~Mark 12:30
Writing about Session: 10 Historical-Grammatical Interpretation, Andrew Lee shares his thoughts on the historical-grammatical method of biblical interpretation.

Understanding the true meaning that the authors of the Bible intended doesn't seem too hard, right? I always thought that you just take your time and be intentional about comprehending it and keeping it in context. Well, after the most recent session of the theology program, I learned that it takes much more care to keeping context than I ever imagined. The session covered the history of Biblical interpretation, principals of proper interpretation, and common fallacies and mistakes that people make while interpreting the Bible. In hind-sight, this is all vitally important information for any Christian who studies the Word and I wish I would have known years ago.

In the section about the history of interpretation we learned about the medieval church, before the protestant reformation. It blew me away that regular Christians were actually forbidden from owning a copy of the scriptures. The church leadership feared heresies starting due to uneducated people interpreting scriptures on their own. Well, this ended up causing tradition to not only be the rule of faith, but actually a source of revelation not found in the Bible; a serious heresy in itself. However, once the printing press was created it was not possible to prevent the truth from going out, and in to the hearts of the people. The church started studying the word in the original languages, and compared it to the institutionalized church's teaching.

To no one's surprise, there were inconsistencies. What I learned through this is that you must understand, in the words of the author, what is being said or you may be seriously mislead. We cannot understand the author only from a modern perspective, or in light of what the church teaches today. We must find the exact point and purpose of the original author (or, as the course content puts it, the original historical, grammatical, and literary context). Anything else twists and tweaks the true meaning.

Now when I read the Bible I take more care. I take a look at the historical context, who the author was, who he was writing to, what the purpose of his letter was, and what was going on at the time and many other things, in order to filter my understanding of the passage through it. This lets me understand what he was trying to say, not what my 21st century American mind hears. Then I pull out the idea that permeates all time and situations. Then I apply that never changing (or timeless) principal in to my life today.

For example, in Proverbs 31, a popular passage concerning wives, the author says many things that are out of our cultural context, such as "She seeks wool and flax and works with willing hands." (v. 13) and "She is not afraid of snow for her household for all her household are clothed in scarlet." (v. 21). Does this mean that if a woman is married and doesn't look for wool and flax and doesn't have her entire family wearing all red everyday that she's not a good wife? Of course not. The timeless principle here is that she seeks the good stuff for those she takes care of and is always willing to do the various work that she does. Then, with this timeless principle, you apply it our life. This probably looks similar to a wife ensuring that her family has weather appropriate clothing, has the necessary things to ensure this (and other necessary things) will not go away in the future, and is always willing to do this (among other things) well. Not too hard, so don't be discouraged.

As simple as this sounds to do, one would be surprised at how often Christians utterly fail to properly interpret the Bible. This week's lesson gave a very good list of the mistakes Christians have made and continue to make along with a good explanation of them. One that really stood out to me is called the incidental fallacy. The incidental fallacy is committed when one reads incidental historical texts as prescriptive rather than descriptive. Prescriptive information is that which is to be applied to our lives and descriptive information is that which describes an event, but does not necessarily encourage us to do it. A good example of this are New Testament events in which people speak in tongues when the holy spirit enters them after being saved (Acts 10:34-48 as one example).

There are many today who believe that once you are saved you will speak in tongues, and if you do not speak in tongues, then the Holy Spirit is not in you, thus you are not saved. They consider historical information given, that is never commanded (we are actually warned to be cautious about speaking in tongues by Paul in 1st Corinthians), to be a prescribed necessity for salvation. Seeing as we believe in salvation through faith alone at Lakeside, we must be especially careful of false prescriptions in order to protect the gospel we share with our community.

After this class I have learned there is more to interpreting the Bible than simply taking it at face value and that you cannot try too hard to find meaning that is out of context. Moreover, I've learned how to do this, which gives me confidence to read the Word without fear of getting it wrong, the same fear that medieval church leaders had of the laity, and that resulted in blatant disregard of the Word.

Andrew Lee

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