Biblical Interpretation

July 27, 2019

Rector’s Weekly Letter to the Congregation for Sunday, July 28, 2019

Biblical Interpretation

The interpretation of the Bible, hermeneutics, is an important study. God has indeed spoken in the Bible, but what has He said? Different voices offer different answers to that question. Some posit that we cannot know what God has said in the Bible due to the distance between us and the times of the Bible. We are separated by history, geography, culture, and language.
The evangelical voice though maintains that much as we are separated by many years from the times of the Bible, surely we can use our human faculties, with the help of the Spirit of God, to determine what God has said to human beings through His Word, the Bible. When God spoke, He didn’t speak to intellectuals or to people with exceptionally brilliant brains as if to say such are the only ones who can use their high genius to decipher what God said. God spoke to every human being who can add two and three and make five. 
It cannot be expected that the human writers of the Bible wrote for the purpose of concealing the meaning of what they wrote. They used words and examples and stories that they deemed appropriate to convey the meaning they intended. The task of the Bible interpreter is to attempt as much as possible to arrive at that meaning which the writer intended, and that meaning which the recipients might have actually received. 
It is to be admitted that indeed there’s the need to study the circumstances and geography, etc… under which the biblical text was written. Knowledge of the original languages also helps to understand the biblical text better. With all this said, still it is to be maintained that the Bible is a book for the common person on the street to read and understand and obey. 
An important qualification for anyone who would interpret the Bible is that one must come to it with humility and the desire to hear God speak, and thereafter to obey. If one has only the desire to argue, criticize, and disagree with the Bible, the same is disqualified from attempting to understand what the Bible says because such an attitude doesn’t have the capacity to discover its mysteries. 
Biblical interpretation is both a science and an art. It is a science because it uses specific rules and principles, and it’s an art because it calls one to practice to master it. And the words of the Bible, like the words of all documents, are to be understood in their natural, everyday sense unless the context dictates otherwise. If it says “Jesus’ tomb was empty,” we are to understand that the writer wants to tell us that Jesus’ body was not  in the tomb anymore, and not be bogged down arguing that the text is wrong to say the tomb was empty since in the in same context it says that the grave clothes were present and that therefore the tomb was not empty.

The Bible contains different genres of writing. It has narratives, figures of speech, parables, poetry, prophecy, and laws. Different genres have unique rules of interpretation.  In order for the interpretation to occur and be accurate or reliable, the interpreter must be able to understand the meaning indicators that the original writer used to convey what he intended to communicate. There are therefore five essential items to consider in interpreting a biblical text:

  1. The literary context of the passage: The literary context of a passage comprises the material immediately before and after the passage under consideration. The intended meaning of a passage of Scripture must be in agreement with the sense of the material around it.  Taking a passage out of context and making it yield a sense different from the sense of its context is unacceptable to proper hermeneutics. Context, however, is wider than the material before and after the passage under study. That is just the immediate context. There’s also the context of the book the passage appears in. If it is the Gospel of Matthew, say, the meaning will be expected to rhyme with Matthew’s style. If it is in Revelation, the meaning will be expected to be consistent with the sense of Revelation, and so on. Then there’s the context of other books written by the same author, the Testament in which the book appears, and the context of the entire Bible. A passage of Scripture cannot be interpreted to mean something the Bible is against as a spiritual book, nor to contradict other parts of the Bible. The Bible’s unity of purpose is presupposed in biblical hermeneutics.
  2. The historical-cultural background: A biblical passage must be understood in the sense consistent with the perspective and mindset of the original recipients, and then be contextualized for today’s hearers. The interpreter labors to determine the original impact of the passage to its hearers, and to express the results in contemporary language that corresponds as much as possible to the Bible times.
  3. Meanings of words: Every language has words. Words express ideas. And it is not uncommon for the meanings of words to change over time. Some words have a range of meanings. The biblical interpreter has the task of digging for the original meaning of the words used in a passage at the time they were written in the Bible.
  4. Grammar: The interpreter is tasked to be competent in the morphology and syntax of the language, that is, how words are crafted to make sense, and how they are put together to form meaningful sentences. This includes knowing parts of speech and how each part affects others.
  5. Literary genre: As was mentioned earlier, each literary genre has unique rules for its interpretation in order to yield to us the sense closest to what the original writer intended for his audience. The original intended meaning of a passage, the meaning the original recipients were meant to get, is the same meaning we are intended to get from the same passage.


The Anglican Catechism (ACNA)

The catechism is a question and answer format of teaching the basic principles of the Christian faith. The catechism is not meant just to be memorized by rote. Rather, it is meant to be discussed, reflected upon, internalized, and allowed to form us. I urge every family to take the time to study the catechism at home, discussing it word for word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence, without passing over any statement that is not understood or is unclear. Parents, please take the lead to teach your children and to anchor them in the Christian faith. Let everyone ask questions and get answers. Please write down any questions that arise in your discussions, questions you cannot answer locally, and pass them to the Rector. May the Holy Spirit guide your learning.
(Continued from last week…)


40.  Who is God the Father? 

God the Father is the first Person of the Holy Trinity, from whom the Son is eternally begotten and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds. (John 1:1, 14; 14:16-17, 26; 15:26, Nicene Creed)

41. Why do you call the first of the three divine Persons “Father?”

Our Lord Jesus called God “Father” and taught his disciples to do the same, and St. Paul teaches that God adopts believers as his children and heirs in Christ, sending his Holy Spirit into our hearts crying “Abba, Father.” (Matthew 6:9; Romans 8:15-17; Galatians 4:4-7).

42. What do you mean when you call God “Father?”

When I call God “Father,” I acknowledge that I was created by God for a relationship with him, that God made me in his image, that I trust in God as my Protector and Provider, and that I put my hope in God as his child and heir in Christ. (Genesis1:26, Matthew 6:25-33; Romans 8:16-17)

43.  Why do you say that God the Father is “Almighty?”

I call the Father “Almighty” because he has power over everything and accomplishes everything he wills. Together with his Son and Holy Spirit, the Father is all-knowing and ever-present in every place. (I Chronicles 29:10-13; Psalm 139)

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