The goal of all biblical interpretation is to discover the timeless, moral principle being established (“What’s the point?” [WTP]). The reason every Christian should be striving to do this is because this is how we grow in our relationship with God. We do it by discovering Who He is through the principles He has established in His Word (by discovering WTP?). The bible is God’s self-disclosure: the means to understanding Him – or getting to know Him, so that we will trust Him, obey Him – and be passionate about following Him. Learning how to interpret the bible is therefore not a hobby –or something that only those who like reading books or studying grammar and history do for fun. It is again, essential to every Christian to grow in their relationship w/God. Hence the reason a person’s lack of trust (or obedience) to God is often (if not always) proportional to their neglect in attempting to discover WTP? (e.g. Mat 22:29 = Sadducees’ distrust/disobedience directly tied to their failure to “understand” WTP? when it came to Scripture – and in turn, “the power of God”). To discover WTP? (however), first, requires the mental effort (and work) of understanding WGO? [“What’s going on?”]. The following represents what must be among our most basic considerations if we are to understand WGO?:
- Who was the original audience? (it’s not you or me – e.g. Jer 29:11)
- What was the culture or their cultural biases? (e.g. their view of children [as cheap labor and security] – e.g. Psa 127)
- How is the word/phrase being used (or what is it associated w/) in the book? (“works of the law” [a reference to the OT clean laws versus earning our way to heaven]- e.g. Rom 3:28)
- How is this action or idea used elsewhere that might give additional insight into its meaning? (e.g. faith [baptism] – e.g. 1Pe 3:21 – “baptism now saves you”; Act 2:38 – “repent and be baptized”; Gal 3:27 – “as many of you were baptized into Christ have put on Christ”)
- Am I dealing with an ancient idiom? (“him who has an ear let him hear” – those who are seeking righteousness and welcome to God – e.g. Mat 11:15)
- Have I practiced attention to the details? (Gal 6:2 = “gentleness” in restoration – not discipline)
- Have I vetted my conclusions based on their consequences? (Gen 6:1-4 = If “sons of God” refer to fallen angels then God is guilty of sin since He gave them sexual organs and desires w/no ability to fulfill their purpose – Mat 22:30)
- Is this an allusion to something in the OT? (Joh 8:20-24 an allusion to Zec 8:23 and Christianity as a very Jewish religion in how it functions)
- 9. Have I looked for parallels or parallel versions for additional information? (OT and NT)
9.1. In the OT (1Ch 21:1 w/Jam 1:13 [?] w/2Sa 24:1 = 1Ch 21:1 is not teaching that God tempted David to sin. God does not tempt anyone (Jam 1:13). He instead allowed Satan to entice (or temp) David to rely on the strength/number of his troops rather than God (bc of David’s prior sins and God’s subsequent anger – Pro 22:14 “the mouth of forbidden women is a deep pit; he w/whom the Lord is angry will fall into it – i.e. God will not protect those who continue to covet a particular sin but allow it to come and capture you. IOW: God gives us what we desire – good or evil).
9.2. In the NT (Mar 10:1-12 w/Mat 19:1-9 = Divorce for any reason is not prohibited. Sexual immorality is the exception.)
- I am familiar with the genre (or how it works)?
(For example) prophecy
10.1. Big on signs, symbols and metaphor (Rev 1:1 “made it known” = σημαίνω) = To reveal by way of signs, symbols or metaphor (LXX – Dan 2:30 of 28-44 [σημαίνω])
(e.g.) the day of the Lord/the Lord coming on the clouds =
The actual day of Christ’s return or final judgment (1Th 5:2; 2Pe 3:10-12) is often used as a metaphor to refer to God’s temporal judgment against dignitaries or nations in the form of human or (even) insect invasion (Isa 13:1-16 = Invasion by the Medes/Persians (vv17-19); Joe 2:1-11 = Locust invasion; Amo 5:18-20 = The Assyrian invasion and exile of Israel//Psa 104:3; Isa 19:1 = Coming civil war, corrupt princes and [eventually] invasion by the Babylonians and Persians [vv2-3]; Psa 18:10-11 = David’s deliverance from king Saul; Psa 104:3; Mat 24:29-31, 26:64 and Rev 1:7 = 70 A.D.).
10.2. Multiple and diverse fulfilments w/majority of relevancy to original audience (Rev 1:1-3 “soon take place…the time is near”; Mat 24:34 “this generation will not pass away”; Isa 7:10-16 w/8:3-4 then [700 yrs to Mat 1:23]).
What many Evangelicals do w/the prophetic book of Revelation (bc they do not recognize/follow what the genre prescribes or demands in order to interpret correctly) : They fail to acknowledge the earlier “day of the Lord/the Lord coming on the clouds” language (in the OT) and apply a strictly futurist-literal interpretation w/no relevance to the original audience to those passages found in the NT (i.e. all prophecy in the book takes place thousands of years after its original audience – which means no real relevancy to them). They also fail to treat the rest of the things mentioned in the book from the prescribed symbolic (and OT allusory) viewpoint. As a result, the locusts w/power like scorpions in Rev 9:3 become Apache helicopters and the bloody sea of Rev 16:3 becomes the overgrowth of algae known as a red tide).
- Do I understand the backstory?
11.1 (Mat 5:48)
The backstory = (Mat 5:43-47) = Jesus is demanding that we treat all people –including our enemies righteously (i.e. that we “love” them also) since this is how God functions. He too treats all people righteously (the “evil” and “good”) as demonstrated by His provision of the “sun” and “rain” for their crops.
How this helps us understand the text = We are to be perfect in who we love/treat righteously (which is all people, good or bad) not how we love. IOW: it is perfection in scope not behavior – -how Evangelicals misinterpret this passage (“God calls us to be perfect in our behavior/obedience.”)
11.2 (Mat 19:16-17)
The backstory = Jesus’ ministry was to the Jews (Mat 15:24). This means unless otherwise indicated, we are to assume those Jesus interacts with are Jews –or those already in covenant relationship with God (i.e. not needing to gain a relationship w/God)
How this helps us understand the text = Jesus is reinforcing that if this Jewish man (already in covenant w/God) wants to get to heaven, he needs to maintain what he has gained (i.e. be faithful to “keep the commandments”) – Jesus is playing a cruel joke by setting up (or reinforcing) a standard of earning your way to heaven He knows this man cannot achieve (The Evangelical interpretation)
11.3. (Act 15:19-21, 28)
The backstory = In the first century (and in most cities) Gentiles bought their meat from pagan temples. The meat came from animals that were killed in a cruel way, their blood not fully drained and their deaths often in front of temple prostitutes performing sexual acts to their false god.
How this helps us understand the text = The apostles on not prohibiting several things – just one, the purchase of meat from pagan temples (something common among Gentiles living in the cities). Why? Though it was still only a piece of meat (there are no gods beside true God, 1Co 8:4), it would be an immediate hindrance to Jews receiving the gospel. As such, we need to place a colon after “by” in verse 20 and “sacrifice” in verse 29).
11.4. (Psa 51:1-19)
The backstory = (See the [inspired] intro to the Psalm)
How this helps us understand the text = David is out of covenant w/God bc of his capital crime with Bathsheba (Hence v 12). As a result, God will NOT receive his “burnt offering” (v16) (i.e. will not grant atonement/forgiveness) until David does repentance in attitude and action (vv17-18). Then God will accept such atoning sacrifices from David and grant him forgiveness and restoration to the covenant (v19) versus casting David away in apostasy (v11). The fact that David is praying for such forgiveness (vv1-2, 7-10), confessing his sin and God’s justice for his sin (vv3-6), also TEACHES US that THIS IS WHAT GOD ALLOWS for those out of covenant IF THEY are indeed seeking to be right again w/God through repentance in attitude and action (IOW: Pro 28:9 and “those who have turned their ear away from listening to the law” [or the “wicked” in Pro 15:8 and 29] does not include those out of covenant if they are seeking righteousness and repentance).