January 24, 2006

How to Interpret

The Bible is a complex book. It is actually combination of 66 books from different authors and time periods. It has books of history, books of poetry, apocalyptic books, books of prose, books of history, and books meant for instruction. All of these different books require different methods of understanding them within their own literary genre.

Some in Christian history, and in today's church, attempt to interpret the Bible as though it were only one form. Or, they use the Bible as simply an answer book where they go expecting to find the exact answer to all of their questions.

But the Bible is more than an answer book. It might be better to refer to the Bible as a question book. Jesus' stories are a good example. Very rarely does Jesus give a direct answer to a questions, instead He tells a story. He tells a story that has to be wrestled with and applied in a variety of different ways. He uses allegory, parable, and exaggeration to get His message across.

This makes the Bible more valuable than simply believing the Bible to the literal words of God. God inspired writers through the Holy Spirit to write the books that make up the Bible. The text of the Bible was not dictated by God. The writers authorial stamp is on every word; their personal style and technique.

Scripture was meant to be wrestled with, discussed, and re-evaluated. The Truths are timeless. The only Word of God that 100% represents what God wanted to say and do in the world is Jesus. What if we understood many of the passage in the New Testament that spoke of the Word of God to be referring to Jesus rather than scripture?

The Quadrilateral has been helpful in my study of the Bible. The Quadrilateral is like four legs on a table. Each leg is necessary to help hold the table up. (Yes, I know there are three-legged tables, but it ruins the illustration.) The four parts of the Quadrilateral are: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.

Scripture: What does the Scripture have to say on the topic? What does it interpret itself? What do the words mean in the original language? What was the original audience like? How would they have understood it? What cultural aspects might play a role in understanding this passage?

Tradition: What has the church and theologians said about this passage? What does theology have to offer our understanding of this passage? What has been handed down through the centuries by men and women much smarter than us?

Reason: What makes sense?Is the understanding and interpretation reasonable? What makes the most sense with all the information given?

Experience: How does this work out in real life? Do we have evidence of this happening? Does it work in the life of the believer? What are the effects in real life of believing this way?

All of these work together to help us understand a passage and how it is lived out. Dr. David Cubie, one of my undergraduate professors, said this should actually be a quinquilateral (meaning he added a fifth). The fifth being love. Is it loving? By love he meant love as defined in the person of Jesus Christ (self-sacrificing and unconditional).

I want to know how a passage is supposed to be lived with (I know the English is uneasy) and what effect a way of thinking has on the life of a believer. Anything that does not help you love God and love others more is suspect.

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