Saturday, February 25, 2006

Understanding the Bible

It is generally believed that anyone able to read reasonably well can interpret the Bible without much or any outside help (except the Holy Spirit). While there are many clear statements in the Bible, biblical interpretation is not as simple as it might seem.

One problem we have is that we tend to read the Bible through the grid of our culture and our belief system. This filtered reading can never be completely avoided, but trained, Spirit-filled students of the Bible can minimize the distortion that can result.

I meet people all the time who say, “I just take the Bible for what it says.” But when I try to explain to them that their interpretation of a particular passage is in fact erroneous, they accuse me of trying to change the Bible. They can’t understand why I would take issue with the “plain sense” of what is there in black and white (or maybe red).

The first thing most Christians don’t realize is
what is involved in producing the book that they hold in their hands. There is much research that has to take place and many decisions that must be made before the process of translation can even begin. And the translation process requires its own scholarship and choices.

So before we even start the process of interpretation, there is a lot going on behind the scenes.

Now we have to deal with the mechanics of
hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the science and art of interpreting a written work, especially the Bible. And our understanding of biblical inspiration will shape our interpretation as well.

See, I told you this was more complicated than it seemed.

Let’s see what happens with a relatively straightforward passage from Matthew:

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13–16).

What does this mean?

But wait! Before you can answer that question you must answer these questions:

Where is
Caesarea Philippi?
What does Jesus mean by “the Son of Man”?
What is the significance of
John the Baptist here?
What is the significance of
Elijah here?
What is the significance of
Jeremiah here?
What does Peter mean by “Christ”?
What does Peter mean by “Son of the living God”?
When did this conversation take place?
Why did Matthew include it in his gospel?

So what does this passage mean? It means that the disciples were beginning to understand that Jesus was the predicted Messiah. It means that Jesus was trying to show them what this meant. He wants to redefine who the Messiah is and what his mission will be. In verse 20 he tells his disciples not tell anyone that he is the Christ.

As a part of his instruction, “from that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (v. 21).

Not only did they not understand what he was trying to tell them, but Peter told Jesus that he would not allow this to happen. Jesus replied with, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (v. 23).

Clearly Peter did not mean the same thing by “son of the living God” that we use it to mean today. He still had a lot to learn about who Jesus was and what his mission was.

And you thought you knew
what that passage meant.

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”

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