Here is some powerful information that can help you understand the Bible better and therefore can make you more comfortable and confident with it. (I compiled this while reading this lesson.)
It doesn’t guarantee that you will always understand the Bible perfectly. But you can use it to help you think of what questions to take to your coach — the books or other resources you use that help you focus on the most important information (see my previous post).
The science and art of interpreting a text and getting meaning out of it is called hermeneutics. Here are the first four of seven reasons we need hermeneutics, as explained by pastor Noel Nadado.
1. Although the words may be intelligible, the meaning of the statement may still be unclear.
Nadado explained that meaning isn’t actually in the words themselves, it’s inside of human brains. We assign meaning to words; we agree in a society and culture what they mean. So it takes work to find out what a text or a word means when it was written in a different culture thousands of years ago.
2. Some people make the mistaken assumption that a part always equals the whole.
This happens when people read a single verse and then assume that is sums up the message of the whole Bible. When some single verse seems super confusing or illogical or judgmental, you need to look at more of the Bible to see what the entire message is.
I think it’s a good rule of thumb usually not to try to decide an issue using a single verse. In my experience, when someone ends an argument with one verse and walks away with an attitude that says, “There, that one verse proves you’re wrong,” it ends up diminishing the love between the parties and painting a harsh picture of God and of the Bible.
Jesus’ example is best, from Luke 24:27, when it says, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.” He showed the message of all of Scripture, not just one verse.
3. Word meanings change over time.
For example, the King James version of the Bible has over 850 words that mean something quite different today than they used to. If you enjoy the King James, it’s good to be aware of these changes.
For example, a confusing word is “meat.” In 1611, “meat” meant any kind of food, whether flesh fruit, nut or vegetable, but today it means only animal flesh. This is a minor issue for some people but a major issue for others. So when a word seems confusing or seems to contradict the rest of the Bible, more research is needed to understand the original meaning of the original word.
4. Cultural factors affect meaning.
Apparently, a prominent Christian author wrote an article in the 1890s renouncing people who bought bicycles. Over a century later, she seems unreasonable. But apparently at that time and in that culture, a bicycle was a luxury item, like buying a nice BMW today — seriously.
So when Christians bought them instead of giving money to missionary work, they were, for a hobby, neglecting souls who were dying without hearing about Jesus. Today, you can buy a bike for $5 at a yard sale, but not back then.
Similarly, in the Bible we find verses that seem extreme to us today. Idolatry comes to mind: we don’t understand today how horrifying some religious practices were back then, especially when human sacrifices and fire were involved. Studying the ancient culture using a commentary or through another resource makes some difficult passages suddenly simple.
Take One Hermeneutic Principle and Practice It
You can’t become a Bible expert overnight. It takes practice to develop a skill. So I recommend taking just one of these principles (or a principle from part 3 of this series) and try to notice it in action when you are reading the Bible. Then, move on to another principle after you have gotten some skill in the first one, and so on.
Stay tuned for the last three principles!
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)