JumpIntoTheWord

Bible Engagement Blog


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Interpreting the Bible

“If the Bible is indeed God’s Word written, we should spare no pains and grudge no effort to discover what he has said (and says) in Scripture” John R.W. Stott.

So how do we interpret the Bible accurately, so that it’s not just our opinion? What are the basic hermeneutical guidelines? Here are three teachers, three principles, three questions, and three rules:

Three Teachers.

  1. The Holy Spirit. The best interpreter of any book is its author. The Holy Spirit is the only One who can reveal and illuminate truth (cf. Psalm 119:18, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Matthew 11:25-25).
  2. The Church. God reveals truth (from the past to the present) to and through the community of faith (cf. Ephesians 3:18-19, Colossians 3:16).
  3. Personal We must also teach ourselves, yet do so in full dependence and humble submission to the Holy Spirit (cf. Luke 12:57, 1 Corinthians 2:14-16, 10:15, 2 Timothy 2:7).

 

Three Principles.

  1. Natural Sense (the principle of simplicity). Look first for the obvious and natural (figurative or literal) meaning of the text. Consider the intention of the author/speaker.
  2. Original Sense (the principle of history). The message of Scripture can only be understood as it relates to the circumstances in which it was originally written.
  3. General Sense (the principle of harmony). There is an organic unity to the Bible. Approach the Scripture believing that God doesn’t contradict Himself.

 

Three Questions.

  1. What did it mean to the original audience? The Bible was written for us, but not originally to us. Pay attention to the first life setting (sitz im leben).
  2. What type of literature is it? Each genre of biblical literature must be interpreted on its own terms (the different genres of literature in the Bible includes history, narrative, wisdom literature, poetry, prophecy, apocalyptic, law, parables, gospels, and letters/epistles).
  3. Where does it fit in the Bible’s overall story? Read with the meta-narrative in mind. Track the trajectory of the passage in relation to the major ‘acts’ within the ‘drama’.

 

Three Rules.

  1. Use several good translations so that you are not committed to the exegetical choices of a single translation (e.g. NIV, ESV, NRSV, GNB, NLT).
  2. A text cannot mean what it never could have meant to its author or his/her readers.
  3. When we share similar life situations to the first hearers, God’s Word to us is the same as it was to them.

 

And a vital closing comment from Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, “The Bible contains its own hermeneutic … In a word, Jesus is the thread that holds all Scripture together … The Bible has no real meaning unless it is grounded in Christ.”

Have your say. Share three things about interpreting the Bible.

Sources:

Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Zondervan, 2003.

John R.W. Stott, Understanding the Bible, Zondervan, 1999.

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5

 


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How To Help Seniors Get Into The Word

Every age and stage of life uniquely impacts how we connect with the Bible. Here’s how to help seniors get into the Word:

Use versions of the Bible thoughtfully. When someone’s been reading a version of the Bible for many years, an affinity develops, much like a long-time friendship. If you’re working one on one with a senior and s/he loves a particular version, then use that version. If you’re working with a small group of seniors it may be wise to ask, “What version of the Bible do you like reading?” If there’s consensus, use the version they want to use.

Discuss pertinent topics. Seniors have interests and needs that are specific to their stage of life. They’re trying to figure out how to age gracefully, thrive in the empty nest, make retirement meaningful, enjoy the joys or cope with the trials of grand parenting, deal with health problems, face death, and look forward to Heaven. While Bible reading/reflection of the whole Bible should be encouraged, opportunities to explore texts that are relevant to seniors should also be facilitated.

Listen and learn. Some seniors are veteran Bible readers who have been feasting on the Bible for a lifetime. Their love for the Word, insights and understanding can help younger Christians grow in faith. Facilitate mentoring relationships and opportunities for seniors to interact with younger Christians (cf. Titus 2:3).

Deal with competing priorities. Some seniors have very active lifestyles and may need help cultivating Bible engagement disciplines. Invite them to be part of a seniors Bible study group. Introduce and teach different Bible reading methodologies.

Be aware of fatigue. As a person ages, they tire more easily. When attention span diminishes, times of Bible reading/reflecting may need to be shorter.

Be cognisant of physical challenges. Failing eyesight can make it hard for seniors to read the Bible, and hardness of hearing can make it difficult to hear audio Bibles. Some medications have side-effects that may restrict a person’s capacity to adequately read/reflect the Bible.

Use large print resources. There are large print Bibles and guides that make it easier for seniors to read/reflect on the Scriptures. Some seniors who use laptops or tablets to read the Bible may need to be shown how the font size can be enlarged.

Equip seniors with tools/resources. Encourage seniors to share/give/teach the Scriptures to their children, grandchildren and others. Children aged 4-8, for example, enjoy reading Scripture Union’s Rhyming Books with their grandparents.

Use specialized resources. Bible reading/reflecting curriculum has been written for people with dementia, Alzheimer’s and similar health issues, e.g., Scripture Union’s Being With God series.

Be respectful. Seniors have a lifetime of experience and knowledge behind them. Maybe that’s why the Scriptures say we should, “stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God” Leviticus 19:32. When we help seniors get into the Word we must do it in a way that honours them for who they are.

Have your say. How do you help seniors get into the Word?

© Scripture Union Canada 2017

2 Corinthians 4:5