Recently I saw the piece by Professor Todd Miles of Western Seminary. He had some good ideas about what we must remember not to forget as we study our Bibles. These simple points will help us stay away from bad habits than can creep into our time in the Word. Here they are…
- Don’t forget that the Bible is not a magic book.
What this means is that we must remember to seek to understand the immediate setting and context of the passages that we read. Have you ever noted that politicians and movie stars, when they are trying to get off the hook for saying something foolish, will claim, “I was taken out of context!” Basic to human understanding is what is going on in the setting where we speak and that is true of the Bible as well. When we rip words out of the context and derive meanings for verses that are not meant in the original setting, we use the Bible as if it were a series of magic incantations that we can “claim.” Let’s remember to not do that!
- Don’t forget the historical setting of the passages you read.
What this means is that the original audience for which the Bible was written is very different from our modern age. Of course we are all humans trapped in the human condition and in need of a savior. However, we are separated from the original readers by geography, culture, chronology and language. Thus we must resist the temptation to woodenly apply passages to our setting, but seek instead to read for meaning and principles that last across culture. Here is an example: When Paul says to greet one another with a holy kiss, it does not mean that our greeters at the front door should start kissing people. It means that we should welcome one another warmly.
- Don’t forget that you are reading a variety of kinds of literature when you read the Bible.
What this means is that the Bible contains a host of different literary genres. With the words there are poems, historical narratives, prophecies, laws, letters and more. Which of us has ever confused a baseball box score in the newspaper with the letter to the editor on the back page? We pick up on the difference between this kind of writing in modern usage, and we must watch for it as we read the Bible as well. Once we have an insight into the sort of literature we are reading, it will help us avoid making claims that the Bible is teaching something that it never intends to teach. A primary example is that proverbs are not promises, they are expressions of observations of things that are generally true and thus proverbial.
Most of our interpretive errors can be avoided by pausing to ask these two questions: What is the context? and What is the genre? So, be a reader and a student of the Word and as you are, remember not to forget these principles.