The goal of all biblical interpretation is to discover the timeless, moral principle being established (“What’s the point?”) (1Co 9:7-11). To do that, however, first requires we determine the context (“What’s going on?”). The following represents what must be among our most basic considerations:
- Who was the original audience?
1.1. The word, “you”
The “you” in Scripture refers to the original recipients/audience (not the current reader) (e.g. Jer 29:11)
1.2. The Jew and Jesus
Unless otherwise indicated, Jesus’ audience was always Jewish and already in covenant relationship w/God. This means the issue He is most concerned with addressing is covenant maintenance (not entrance) (Mat 15:24 w/Mat 19:16-17; Luk 10:25-28).
What Evangelicals do bc they miss this: they interpret Mat 19 and Luk 10 as men trying to earn their way to heaven and Jesus is playing along [as the means to discouraging them] and so that they will eventually look to Him in faith).
- What was the culture or their cultural biases?
2.1. In re: to culture: The culture during biblical times (or in the ancient Middle East) was essentially agrarian and archaic – i.e. sustenance farming w/o the governmental resources/infrastructure to protect personal property.
How this impacts interpretation (or WGO?)
(Psa 127:3-5) = In the aforementioned culture, where there was also the frequent threat of bandits, children provided not only the cheapest form of labor but also security.
As such, the author is not making some blanket statement like “the more children you have, the more blessed you are” (the homer-cult interpretation). Rather, he speaks this way for practical reasons. They were instead to be viewed as the Lord’s blessing because of their ability to provide extra (and cheap) hands in labor and security.
2.2. In re: to cultural biases: Employment outside of the home for women was limited to prostitution or begging.
How this impacts interpretation (or WGO?) (e.g. Tit 2:5) = Given what we know about employment for women in the ancient Middle East, the emphasis (in this verse) sb on what the women are doing not where they are doing it. They are to be “working at home” versus “idlers” and “busybodies” (1Ti 5:13).
The summary distinction then is this: God wants women to not be lazy while at home, but productive contributors to the family (e.g. Pro 31) — versus God wants women to be housewives and not pursue work or a career outside of the home (the homer- cult interpretation).
Again, based on what we know about the culture (or its biases), the emphasis in this verse is to be placed on what the women are doing NOT where they are doing it.
- How is the word/phrase being used (or what is it associated with) in the book?
3.1. “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5)
Interpretative options: 1) Paul’s mission is to get people to obey God’s command to have faith, [OR] 2) Paul’s mission is to get those who have faith to obey God’s commands.
Answer based on usage: Option 2 since Paul is including the Roman Christians (those already possessing faith) in those who he intends to “bring about the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:6-8 “including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, to all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints…your faith is proclaimed in all the world”, See also 11-13a “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith both yours and mine…brothers”).
3.2. “the works of the law” (Rom 3:28; Gal 2:16)
Interpretative options: 1) A reference to people attempting to earn their salvation through their good deeds (or obedience to the law) [OR] 2) A reference to circumcision and its corollaries, the OC atoning sacrifices or prescriptions regarding separation.
Answer based on usage: Option 2. The phrase is always and only used in relation to discussions about the need or value of these OC cleansing practices continuing in the future (Rom 3:1 w/20 w/28 w/29-30; Gal 2:1-16).
3.3. “heavenly places” (Eph 1:3)
Interpretative options: 1) Heaven, the home of God, good angels, and the dead saints, [OR] 2) Those places that exist or are a part of the spiritual realm.
Answer based on usage: Option 2 given that this word is also used to refer to demonic forces (Eph 6:12).
- How is this action or idea used elsewhere that might give additional insight into its meaning?
4.1. The action/idea of love. We often think of love only as it regards affection/attraction (Jug 16:1 w/4). However, when studied throughout the whole of Scripture, we find that the thing most often communicated by this word is “loyalty”.
This means that whatever else is being communicated about it (such as affection), this (too) must be included in our understanding (e.g. Joh 13:34-35).
4.2 The action/idea of belief. The NT reveals the sacrament of baptism to be synonymous with belief — at least from God’s perspective. IOW: He views your baptism as your belief (1Pe 3:21; Act 2:38 w/Mar 1:15).
Hence when we think of belief, we are to think of baptism (or better yet, when someone claims to be a believer/Christian, our first question sb, “When and where were you baptized?”)