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Entries in Bible Study (114)


The role of the Spirit in interpretation

I've been reading about the expectations of the interpreter in the process of Biblical interpretation. The truth is in the text, but the interpreter has to seek it.

There is the approach that the Spirit will tell us everything we need to know. Have you confronted that sentiment? I have. I have heard other Christians say that they don't need commentaries or a lot of study, because they are just going to let the text speak to them. That may sound like a rather noble idea, but it us misguided. The illumination from the Spirit works in conjunction with the work of the one doing the reading and interpreting. This comes from my textbook, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation:

Illumination means that a dynamic comprehension of the significance of the Scripture and its application to life belongs uniquely to those indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Though scholars posseses an arsenal of methods and techniques with which to decipher the meaning of the biblical texts, interpretation falls short of its true potential without the illumination of the Spirit. Neither methodology nor the Spirit operates in isolation from the other.

At the same time, there is work which needs to be done:

Being indwelt by the Spirit does not guarantee accurate interpretation. Though we have no desire to diminish the creative work of the Spirit, the Spirit does not work apart from hermeneutics and exegesis. Rather, he provides the sincere believer that indispensable comprehension of the text (that "Aha!") by working within and through methods and techniques.

Prayer is also essential for Bible interpretation, but again, one cannot simply pray for understanding of the Word without doing the work:

We do not substitute prayer for diligent exegetical work. We pray that we will do our work well, that we will be sensistive to the Spirit's direction, and that we will be obedient to the truth of what we discover.

I really appreciated this comment from my textbook:

. . . since the Bible comes to us as literature -- and in a variety of literary genres -- those who would understand its message must become competent readers of literature. We must apply methods that will unpack for us what each level of the text and each kind of genre requires for understanding -- whether historical narrative, epic, parable, prophetic denunciation, epistle, or apocalypse.

As a teacher, I can tell you that it's much easier to teach a class of students when each one has done work prior to the class. I happen to teach a class where there is a desire for no homework. Basically, I'm more of a lecturer. I do try to think of questions to direct them to a text, but teaching women who have already become very familiar with the text prior to the class makes things much easier. We all have to do the work. Yes, the teacher needs to do more, but the student, to get the most out of the class needs to do the work. The Spirit can't illumine what someone has not thought about. It's not as if merely touching the pages transmits the Holy Spirit into us. God chose to reveal Himself through words; words that would become a book. That means we need to read. The fact that we are reading a very old book means it will be work. And it's work that always gives back to us.


Tips for bible reading

I've noticed quite a few people sharing their favourite reads of 2015 as well as their plans for what they will read next year. Once New Year's gets closer, we will see many sharing about reading through the bible in a year.

Some folks don't enjoy reading through the bible in a year, because they can't stop and ponder long enough. I'm sort of that mindset. Having read through the bible in three months this fall, I think I'd rather read it at that pace, because then the rest of the year can be used to focus in more closely on particular parts of the bible. If someone didn't want to try reading in 90 days, one could draw up a schedule for reading the bible in six months. I read the bible for an hour a day, around 12-14 chapters, and I finished in three months. I think one could easily set a target of six to eight chapters a day and be finished in less than a year. If you're interested in a schedule for a 90 day reading one, I found this one. I began using it, but ended up using it only as a guideline.

One of the problems of reading through the bible, of course, is hitting the wall after Exodus. Personally, I hit the wall at II Chronicles. Leviticus was way more interesting. It can be daunting to think of reading the whole bible. I want to share some tips that helped me.

First, look for themes. I think it gives focus to our reading. I looked for the theme of covenant, God's holiness, and redemption. When I got to Leviticus, I looked for the theme of clean/uncleannesns. As I read through Psalms, I paid attention to the word "steadfast." Once I got to the New Testament, and I began to see repeated themes, it was even easier to concentrate. I used a pencil crayon and marked words in my bible. I wrote down favourite passages in my journal.

I found listening to the bible very enjoyable. I love Max Maclean's recording. I enjoyed listening to the Psalms, especially. They were, after all, written to be heard. I found much of the poetic literature easy to listen to. I listened to the entire books of Daniel, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Lamentations. I was surprised how quickly I was able to hear the repeated words and themes. We are such a visual culture; I think it's good to hone our listening skills.

I would also suggest having someone to read along with. I don't necessarily mean reading together (although you could do that), but keeping in touch with a friend for support and encouragement. I like accountability, and knowing that I had to give a report to my prof about my reading helped. Not everyone is a check list person, but some people really benefit from a tangible list to tick off things. And of course, there is always a cell phone app for that. 

I love reading. And I love reading about what books are coming out, and what books are good. I can't forget to read my bible, though. And more and more, I think I need to be thinking about what I read more. That's where memorization and meditation on the Word becomes helpful. But that's a post all its own.


Give yourself 90 days

I began reading through the whole bible on August 17th. I will finish sometime at the end of this week. Not exactly 90 days, but given that I was away on a couple of trips during that time, it's not surprising.

My prof assigned the reading. Because he's my academic advisor as well, I knew it was coming, so I started early. I'm glad I did. After I'm finished the reading (which is 20% of the course mark), I can focus on studying for the final exam.

My prof warned us that we may not find this kind of volume of reading what we're used to when bible reading. I think he was surprised when one of the students shared that he thought it was the best part of the class. He was getting up an hour earlier every morning and loving it. I, too, found this one of the best parts of the course.

I think there is a misconception that reading at such a pace excludes any "devotional" aspect of the reading. When we think of devotional reading, we automatically think of sitting over a passage for a time, rolling it over in our heads, and perhaps praying over it. There is no reason when reading a faster pace we can't do that. Every day when I read, I selected a few verses to record in my journal and later reflect on. Often, I would do my reading in the afternoon, and then as I walked with the dog afterward, I would think about what I had read. A couple of times I listened to the bible in the car when my car trip was longer. On one trip, I was able to listen to the entire book of Daniel, and I thought about it for the rest of the day. No, fast reading doesn't mean we're not reading "devotionally." I've read slower and felt very little devotion. I think devotional reading starts with an open heart, not necessarily the perfect time frame for reading.

I thought of some of the longer books I've read, especially novels. One of the longest ones I read was The Stand, by Stephen King. It's over 1,000 pages. I read it in five days. Now, while King is a great story-teller, it's not complicated reading like parts of the bible, but I think sometimes, we automatically think the bible will be hard, so we balk at the thought of reading it from beginning to end. When my husband read Les Miserables, another tome, it was definitely more than five days. But other than the three month break from the book (Hugo really did ramble at points so he put it down for a while), he finished it in under a year. It is possible to finish the Bible in a year.

One thing this exercise did is reveal to me which biblical courses I want to tackle first. Once I get some required courses out of the way, the first course I want to take is on the Pentateuch, and after that the Poetical books. There were so many questions I had which we couldn't stop to answer because we had to plow on through.

It was an excellent exercise. It did eat into my reading of other books, but that was not a bad thing, either. Theology books, commentaries, and Christian living books are great, and I love them. But it was good for me to spend more time in the word alone. I am pretty sure that I too often simply give assent to someone else's conclusions before properly coming to my own.

It's definitely not something I'd do every year, but if you have a chance to do it, go for it. You'll really enjoy it.


Supernatural pre-suppositions

My seminary class is a survey of the entire bible. Part of the content is examining presence of contradictory views on Scripture. Competing views exist, and it is the prof's responsibility to discuss them with us. One of the matters we discussed as we studied the Pentateuch was the numbers in Numbers, specifically, the census numbers.

There is an objection raised from some areas that if we take the census numbers literally, the number of people is much too large for the ancient world. One critique pointed out that if we took the numbers literally, the population then was bigger than the Gaza Strip today. There were also objections regarding the logistical matters of moving such a large group of people, and matters such as sanitation and livestock. Some critics of a literal reading of the numbers believe that the numbers are an example of hypberbole.

One could spend a lot of time wrangling through such arguments. My prof's motive for discussing them is not to question the integrity of God's word, but to ask us to think about why we believe what we believe. As I thought about these issues, my reaction was, "God is God. Of course he could manage such things."

Our pre-suppositions are important. Do I believe that God is a God of the miraculous? Of the supernatural? The same word that discusses these numbers in Numbers is the same word that a few books earlier said that God created the world, that God opened the way for the Israelites to pass through the Red Sea, that Noah was preserved in the flood. These things are supernatural. If God can open up the Red Sea, he can deal with large numbers in the desert. If God can raise Christ from the dead, he can take care of livestock and waste matters. If we cannot accept a supernatural God, then yes, we will struggle with biblical matters.

A few years ago, I had a young person ask me for a book about the bible that was written from a completely objective viewpoint. I told this young person that I did not believe for one minute that there was such a thing. Everyone comes to the Bible with pre-suppositions. When I read the Bible, I read it with the pre-supposition that it is not just a handful of paper, leather, and ink. It's an inspired word; it is a revelatory word. It is God's word. Belief in that alone demands a belief in the supernatural.

If we want to persuade someone that the bible is God's word and we try to persuade them using the bible itself, we will be in for a struggle. There must come a moment of faith when we approach the bible for what it is. And God must give us that faith. As for our witness to others, all we can do is continue to live according to its truth, to continue to believe. No, we do not suspend our intellect, but neither do we exalt it above God. 

I have to read the entire bible by December 5. I am almost finished the Old Testament. In reading it in such large chunks, and at such a pace, I have seen the miracle that is the bible. It really is far too amazing for someone to have thought up on his own.


Grumble, grumble, grumble

Last Sunday, I taught from Hebrews 4:1-13, where the writer admonishes his readers to be careful to enter God's rest. The topic was first brought up in chapter 3, but he develops it more in chapter 4. He quotes a scripture passage, Psalm 95, when he tells them to be careful not to have hard hearts like the Israelites. The Israelites were prevented from entering his rest because of their disobedience. He uses Psalm 95 as a reminder.

The incident referred to in Psalm 95 is found in Exodus 17. There is no water to drink. So far, in their spectacular escape from Egypt they have seen God provide, most notably by taking them through the Red Sea. Still, they do what they are wont to do: grumble. "Why have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock?" (v.3). Moses is always the recipient of this grumbling, but in reality, they are grumbling against God.  

As it happened, the day following my lesson was election day here in Canada. I did my civic duty and went about my business, and I suspected what the outcome would be. When I went to bed that evening, I was proven correct, although I did not expect that our next government would be a majority. The next morning, what I woke up to from many Christians was not all that dissimilar to the Israelites in the wilderness: "Why have you brought us here?"

There was a real sense of desolation in the voices of many. But God is not surprised by this, and God is in control. What surprised me further were cries of this: "Trudeau is our next Prime Minister. I had better start praying for the country." Well, why weren't you before? We're commanded in Scripture to pray for the ruling authorities, and there is no stipulation that we only pray for the ones of our choosing. 

I find it curious that Christians often look to the government to solve all of their needs and look for it to give only what God can: rest. The three major political parties in this country will not lead us into God's rest. Only Christ can. We are pilgrims in this world, wandering in the wilderness. And just as God provided for the Israelites, he will provide for us. Our job is to stop grumbling, trust God, and pray for our leaders. If we are so bent out of shape about politics, we also have the freedom to become more involved and work to change things. In some countries, that freedom is not there. Perhaps we're all a little too complacent about things so that when things don't go our way, we look to God with frustration. That's when the grumbling begins.

And grumbling never solved a thing.