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Entries in Bible Study (120)


Do we know what "meaning" means?

Earlier this month, I read Ed Hirsch's seminal work Validity in Interpretation. It was one of those books I had to read in small portions because the principles were ones I had to stop and think through. A lot of what he talked about had to do with how we understanding meaning. How do we determine what something means? Do words have an intrinsic meaning? This approach, of course, assumes some authorial control. Meaning originates in the author. That is not a universal sentiment, as we know. Much has been made of the principle that meaning is what the reader makes of it. I'm not on board with that idea.

When it comes to Bible study material, we often see a focus on what a word means. It's an interesting diversion in a study to talk about what the original meaning of the word is, and how that may (probably does NOT) affect our understanding. D.A. Carson has written a whole book about fallacies we engage in as we study Scripture. It's a short read, and worthwhile. I've read books by Christian authors who would have benefitted greatly from having read the book before writing.

I like what Grant Osborne has to say in his book The Hermeneutical Spiral about meaning:

. . . terms have meaning only as part of the larger structure. Naturally, "love of God" does have meaning as a technical phrase; however, a better label is "potential meaning" . . . I can only know what it does mean when I see it as part of a larger context like Romans 8:39.

The problem with too much focus on word studies is that it does rip the word out of its larger context. If it's one thing I've learned over the past year it is that the layers of context within a Scripture passage are really crucial. The biblical authors didn't just write dictation style, with someone whispering in their ears with the content. They planned things; just like writers today do. Rather than spending a lot of time in individual word meanings, looking at the grammar of passages is more fruitful, even if it is harder work.

Too much focus on word studies is definitely an error I made far too often as a younger teacher. I was copying what I heard from other teachers and from the pulpit. I'm thankful for God's mercy. I didn't really know better. And that just reminds me again of the need to study in order to be an effective teacher. I've been teaching for 23 years, and at this point in my life, I feel more inadequate than ever to the task. Praise God for the presence of the Holy Spirit and for the reality that he will cover our shortcomings.


Very brief thoughts about biblical context

"Please come to my office at 8:30 a.m. on Friday."

That seems a very simple statement. One thing is being asked: to come. If the verb were in Koine Greek, we'd know immediately that it's an imperative because of its construction. In English, we discern it.

Of course, that phrase, simple as it is, can mean a lot of different things.

It can mean a student is wondering what he did wrong to be summoned to the principal's office.

It can mean a woman is wondering what the test results of her biopsy were.

It can mean a man is wondering if he's about to be fired.

it can mean someone is getting a large inheritance from her old Aunt Annie.

Communication that works is a relationship between speaker (or author) and listener (or reader). We are all interpreters, even of the smallest bits of conversation. Recently, my husband and I were washing dishes together, and as I was bent over a pot, scrubbing, I heard his voice say, "Where does this go?" My question, of course, was "Where does what go?" I needed to see the context for the question.

When we read the Bible, we must muddle through more than the immediate context of the words, although that is crucial. There are place names and names of gods and dieties in the Bible which are unfamiliar to us, but for the original listeners present no problem. Historical, cultural, and geographical contexts inform the text we are reading. Likewise, in the New Testament letters, the context which the authors wrote is crucial. Unfortunately, it is difficult to piece together the context because we only have one side of the communication. 

In the past, when I have studied the Bible, teachers have rightly suggested that study in the text occupy our efforts first before we look at commentaries. That said, there is also the reality that we may not be able to understand the text without looking at a commentary. We are encouraged to let the Holy Spirit teach us, and ultimately, he does. But certainly finding out some historical context is useful. The Holy Spirit is not offended if we use our intellect or benefit from someone else's.

A book I picked up earlier in the year is The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. It was very useful in my synoptic gospels class, as I was able to get a little more understanding into particular words, phrases, or situations. And of course, nothing beats a good commentary written by someone who has really spent time not only in the text, but in the time period of the text.

Think about when you have had your words taken out of context. When that happens, our concern is being misunderstood. The same applies to the text of any Bible passage we read. Yes, we must deal with the immediate context, but the other layers of context are equally important, and disregarding some of them can mean we don't entirely understand.


If we are Bible readers, we are interpreters

All of my assignments are completed and I have one remaining lecture on Tuesday. Had it not been for an ice storm, our Pentateuch class would be finished. Tuesday is a make-up class. I don't supposed I have to go, technically, but I don't want to miss this last lecture on Deuteronomy.

I have learned so much this year, and it swims around in my head, interruptng other things on a regular basis. I feel like I don't yet have it all processed. I find myself being torn between not wanting to pick up another theology book until September and wanting to read it all now! 

This semester we read Who Shall Ascend to the Mountain of the Lord? which is biblical theology on Leviticus. We were told by Dr. Vaillancourt that the book was one of the most influential books he had read and he anticipated we would feel the same. I did. This morning, as I was reading Hebrews, I heard echoes of what I read in Morales. I have studied Hebrews before. I have even taught it. And yet after reading Leviticus, I realize that there is so much more to learn. And there are still some mysteries.

This morning, I read Hebrews 7, the section on Melchizedek. In Greek, Hebrews is one of the most difficult books to read in the New Testament. I will have to work up to that. I did wonder how doing so may shed light on that passage. Melchizedek is a mystery. Most of the time, I kind of skip right past that section, because I honestly have a lot of questions about it. I was reminded that reading the Bible meaningfully means interpreting it. How do I interpret that passage?

Semester after semester in seminary, I am reminded that Bible study means interpretation. And responsibile application flows from proper interpretation. There are scads of "how to" Bible study books and if they are good books, they will have guidance regarding interpretation. But it's not something easily learned. It takes practice and it takes watching someone else do it; someone who knows what he/she is doing. Sometimes, I think we are too much in a rush to get to the "what does this mean for me?" that we skimp on the interpretation part. 

I hope I can arrive a satisfying interpration of the significance of Melchizedek some day. When I read Genesis this semester, I did read some suggested evaluations, and I wasn't entirely sure. Sometimes I can see elements of truth in every view I read. That is where I must continue to pray for discernment. It is a serious business, this interpretation of the Bible. But if we don't interpret, we'll never gain a full appreciation of its wonders.


My Favourite Bible

Next weekend, I am moving my desk, bookshelves, and study paraphanelia upstiars to my freshly re-decorated study. I bought lovely blinds, and the light is soft and warm, inviting. We're just waiting for my sons and future son-in-law to help my husband. My desk is very solid wood, and heavy. My dad gave it to me. I've been using it since I was 17 years old; I'm attached.

As I look at my shelves beside my desk, with the books shelved both vertically and horizontally, I know that a purge is going to be in the future. I'm planning a trip to the Christian Salvage Mission. And in that box, there will be some Bibles.

Over the years, we've been to conferences where we get free books, including Bibles. Some of them, we simply don't need. Also over the years, I've bought smaller Bibles which are easier to carry. My 53 year old, bifocal needing eyes don't benefit from them anymore. And some Bibles I bought because Crossway or whoever was advertising a new and wonderful format of Bible that would revolutionize my Bible reading. I have Bible translations on the entire spectrum. Someone gave me a copy of The Message (which I don't read) and I have translations like the NRSV and the NASB.

One of my recent purchases was the ESV Scripture Journals. They are inexpensive and useful if you like writing in the margins and taking notes. The paper is quite thick, so you don't have to worry about bleed through. I have a Cambridge Wide Margin NASB which I purchased a few years ago, thinking it would be great for school. I don't really like it much. I realized after opening up the shrink wrap that it is a red letter edition, and I do not like red lettering. And the paper is quite thin so that my favourite Micron pens bleed through. I'm using the ESV Scripture Journals for my Synoptic Gospels class, and the wide margin Bible, which I pulled out, is sitting rather unused on my desk, taking up space.

I tried a note taking ESV Bible when they first came out, but the lines along the margin were too small even before I was a 53 year old woman with bifocals. I bought an ESV Study Bible when they came out; yes, it is big enough to use as a door stop. I seldom take it anywhere, instead using it at home. I'll keep that one because the articles and outlines are helpful. I bought a Gospel Transformation Bible when it was marketed. I have no idea why other than I wanted the notes. But there comes a time when all the bells and whistles don't necessarily mean I'm getting more out of my Bible reading.

I love the site Evangelical Bible. The Bibles they sell are beautiful. They are Bible luxury. I was given gift money one year, and I decided to buy something. I did not splurge and buy another Schuyler Bible (that is another story altogether; a sad one, involving an expensive Bible, a water bottle, and an hour car ride). Instead, I decided to go for something more compact. I bought the Cambridge Clarion NASB Reference Bible. It is my favourite Bible.

It is a great size: 7.5 in. by 5.6 in. by 1.7 in. It's 9 point type, just a little bigger than Cambridge's wide margin Bible. It is black letter, with two ribbons, single column, and with references in the margin. The Old Testament passages which are quoted in the NT are referenced in the margin, and appear in all capitals. It makes it easy to cross-reference. The paper is quite good, too. I wouldn't try anything more than a .01 Micron pen, but it does hold up well to soft coloured pencils. There is a limited concordance, but nothing special. Best of all, the binding is excellent, and it opens up flat right out of the box. I love this Bible. Some people don't like the NASB, but I do. I use it side by side with my ESV. 

I think I'm done buying Bibles. I have Logos software now, and any other versions I can get from there. I got quite a few with the standard package, and if I want anything else, I'll just buy it for Logos. The only thing I would buy in paper is a side by side Koine Greek/New American Standard edition. There is an ESV/Greek hardcover version, but I'd rather wait for the NASB. 


The world of chicken little

Every morning, while my coffee is brewing, or my tea is steeping, I check my email and I check the news. I have my regular blog reads, and I read those, too. Some mornings, I hear good things, but more often than not, it's a litany of "the sky is falling." Parents are enlightened to the many dangers confronting their children; married couples are warned about letting the fire die; and there are myriads of other warnings that if something doesn't change, all is lost. It can put the focus on fear over all else. 

I love Psalm 46; it's one of my favourites. I love the calm, confident opening.

God is our refuge (v1)
God is our strength (v1)
We don't need to fear in the face of change and chaos (v2)

We are assured that God is in the midst of the chaos and he will not be moved (v5). The Lord of hosts is with us (v7).

This is my favourite part of the psalm:

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the ends of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the sprear in two;
He burns the charios with fire (v8-9)

All of this power displayed by God is followed by this often misused line (v10): "Cease striving and know that I am God." We don't need to run around like chicken little because God is in the midst of whatever situation we find ourselves in, no matter how desperate it seems.

The glory of God is seen in many ways, and his power is visible in the big and little things. But his glory is not always evident in removal of chaos, but in the reality that he is in the midst of chaos. We do need to be aware of dangers, but we must not forget that God is in the midst of chaos. I love that line "He breaks the bow, and cuts the spear in two." The NIV and the ESV both say he "shatters" the spear. God can and will destroy chaos and conflict.

I tend to fear more than I should. In fact, my tendency to fear the unknown, to fear change, to fear failure, to fear rejection, has been the thing I have stumbled over the most. How thankful I am that as a young married woman with small kids I was not able to feed on the fear that is often generated online through blogs or social media. I would have been more of a basket case than I was. I would have needed this psalm desperately to remind me that God is with us in the chaos. While we need to have a healthy fear, we need to remember that "The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our stronghold."