The Serious Call: Here is How You Can Interpret Any Verse in Bible (Part 1)



In an era of charismatic movement (s), men and women of God, claiming to be under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, keep interpreting same Biblical books, Chapters, and Verses differently.

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Questioned about this, each one of us throws up a defense in the name of the Holy Spirit who, as we claim, reveals different things to different people as He wishes. We simply forget or adamantly ignore the truth that even the Bible itself is the Spirit’s revelation and, painfully to us, the Spirit is one.

If He is one and the Bible is His own revelation, then (at least logically) there should not be contradictions or differences in our interpretations no matter where, who, when, and what circumstances we are in. Nevertheless, it does not happen this way; we never agree on one interpretation! What can we do about it? Let us see how we can harmonize all our interpretations.





Exegesis and Hermeneutics; do we really need this?

In the book, how to read the bible for all its worth, Gordon D. Fee and his friend Douglas Stuart define exegesis as ‘the careful, systematic study of the Scripture to discover the original, intended meaning’. 

In other words, an interpreter (to interpret is to give meaning or make sense of or simply understand the meaning or message) must understand the exact meaning or message of the Biblical text in reference to both God, the writers or authors, and the audience of those times (purely, this is history). 

The above requirement is born of the Biblical and scholarly fact that Bible, as we know it, is actually a historical book; meaning that it was written over some time, to various historical audiences, and by various historical authors. Listen to the words of Professor George Ladd: “The Bible is the Word of Cod given in the words of [people] in history.” (Fee and Stuart, 1993; page 8). Therefore, for any good interpreter, the first and important task is to understand the original meaning of Biblical text (exegesis).


Again, Fee and Stuart (1993) define Hermeneutics as, in narrow sense, the seeking of contemporary relevance of the ancient text. In other words, it concerns with understanding the meaning of Biblical text in our days (‘now and here’). In our usual language, we can call it ‘applying it to our day-to-day life contexts’. In the book, Biblical interpretation, Graig S. Keener gives justification for this other task in these words:


…..But it is also a record of the message of God’s heart to His people, so we dare not approach it as merely a matter of intellectual interest or curiosity. Those who become “experts” from a purely intellectual or even religious standpoint can become like the scribes who opposed our Lord Jesus. We must remember that this book, unlike normal books, has the right to make moral demands on our lives. We do not become “experts” who show off our knowledge. We must humble ourselves before the God of Scripture (page 6)

In other words, while the Bible is historical: that is, revealed to specific audiences, in different specific times, and through different authors in histroy, it is still God’s word, living eternally and whose purpose and audience extends beyond time; the earth and heaven shall pass away but my Word shall forever live. 

Fee and Stuart elaborate the above point in these words: ‘Because the Bible is God+ Word, it has eternal relevance; it speaks to all humankind, in every age and in every culture. Because it is God’s Word, we must listen-and obey.’ (Page 8). 

Therefore, a responsible interpreter, as John Piper usually says, should be keen and interested in both exegesis and hermeneutics for, I think, it is incomplete to take on one and leave out the other; after-all, it is proper exegesis that results into true and proper application of God’s word.


How do you understand or interpret and apply any Biblical verse, book, or chapter?


First, we have agreed that Bible is God’s word revealed to human kind through history and thus the need for any responsible Christian to be concerned with both its original (historical) meaning and then the contemporary meaning in our times. Secondly, we want to understand how we can accomplish both tasks of exegesis and hermeneutics. To ease our work, we shall treat each of these parts (exegesis and hermeneutics) separately.

1.    Exegesis


As have been made clear, this is the study of Biblical meaning to the original authors, audiences, and in their times. In other words, it is historical (and theological or religious) implications of what God said to them in those days. As agreed by almost all theologians and Biblical scholars (Fee and Stuart, John Piper, Baker Illustrated Bible Handbook, Graig S. Keener, and others), to do exegesis is simply to understand the Biblical context and content. In other words, before we can apply God’s word to our own contexts and situations, we need to take into account the original context and content

Ø  Biblical context.


According to Baker Illustrated Bible handbook, there are two types of contexts; literary and historical-cultural contexts. 


The literary context considers the genre or type of the writings (for example, the law, narratives, Psalms, Proverbs, epistles, or letters), and the immediate surrounding context (below and above the verse or verses of interest). It is not necessarily the literal meaning of the words in the text, but the confession that, actually, words have meaning in sentences and not in isolation (of course, there is when a single word in isolation has the whole meaning but we need to be slow with this; we may find time to come back to it).


Fee and Stuart explain the literal context in these words:


This is the crucial task in exegesis, and fortunately it is something one can do well without necessarily having to consult the “experts.” Essentially literary context means that words only have meaning in sentences, and for the most part biblical sentences only have meaning in relation to preceding and succeeding sentences (Page 11)

These authors go ahead and help us to understand the relevant questions we could ask to get most of this exegesis without necessarily consulting other books or people;


The most important contextual question you will ever ask, and it must be asked over and over of every sentence and every paragraph is, ‘What’s the point?” We must try to trace the author’s train of thought. What is the author saying and why does he or she say it right here? Having made that point, what is he or she saying next, and why? (Page 11)

Historical-cultural context is simply the background (political, social, topographical and geographical, economic, cultural, etc.) context of the author, his relationship with the audience, the audience’s times and situation, and all sorts of background information that relates to the text.


It is here that we dig deeper into the lives of the authors, social, economic, religious, and cultural practices of his (author) audience, the religious or theological events in those times, the challenges, opportunities, and ceremonies of those days, and why such word (God’s word) was delivered at that time through some means or people and not others. 

While it looks intimidating, we can even do this minus secondary help (some Bible writings are detailed enough). However, to get most of it, we need secondary literature (like Biblical encyclopedias, dictionaries, commentaries, and many other tools). We shall probably find time to discuss important and trustworthy tools a Christian interested in understanding and applying the Bible could use.

Ø  Biblical content.


Concerning content, it is about going to the real text and make sense of the message. This may involve consulting different translations, using commentaries, and going over the words and verse (s) again and again (noting emphasis, figure of speech, commands, conditional clauses, purpose of the text, contrasts, results, consequences, text tone, important conjunctions, key nouns and verbs, answers to questions, and much more). To make sense of this content-related context, let us again borrow their (Fee and Stuart) example:

When Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5: 16, “Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer” (NASB), one should want to know, Who is “according to the flesh,” Christ or the one knowing him? It makes a considerable difference in meaning to learn that “we” know Christ no longer “from a worldly point of view” is what Paul intends, not that we know Christ no longer “in His earthly life.” (Page 12)

Baker Illustrated Bible handbook emphasizes thatin light of everything, make a past-tense statement summarizing what the text meant for the Biblical audience’ (page 884). In other words, content is about the meaning of words you have read or you intend to study. Just keep in mind that words make true meaning, mostly, when in sentences (context) and not on their own.

Summary


As we wind up on this first part of bible interpretation and application, let us summarize our work; a true Christian and Biblical scholar should be concerned with both exegesis (what the text means to the original audience ‘then and there’) and then hermeneutics (what the text means to us ‘now and here’). This is because Bible is both an everlasting God’s word to all generations and a historical message that delivered through people to people over a time. To understand what the Biblical text meant to its original authors and audiences is possible if we consider the context and the content (to make it easy, just remember the word ‘context’). Context is both literal and cultural-historical and content is simply the careful examination and understanding of the message or words as they appear in their sentences and different genres of Biblical books.


God bless you

Next time, we shall discuss how to do hermeneutics and share some practical application of this guide. I am waiting for your comments (write them here or send an email to thecompletey@gmail.com)








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Nemeyimana Nemvicx Vicent

Born from Uganda, Nemeyimana Vicent (Nemvicx) has become what people call, "coming from nothing to something". Professionally, he is both a nurse and public health officer and currently works with Mulago National Referral Hospital. In 2016, he wedded his wife and great sweetheart, Amulen Winfred (also a professional Midwife and counsellor). Besides their professions, Nemvicx is an inspirational writer, singer, motivational speaker, author of several digital books. He a theologian and blogger at www.nemvicx.com (The Complete You Ministry).

Contact them at thecompletey@gmail.com