20110821-102859.jpgThe Bible stands as the single most influential book in the history. Believe in God or not, marks of the Biblical narrative can be found on literature, in art, in our laws, government, language, philosophy, etc. The impact of its words on western thought cannot be understated. That having been said, it is a book frequently subject to very odd, and sometimes totally incorrect interpretations. This is particularly prevalent amongst modern Christians, who can often be heard saying things like “what this verse means to me.” This method of reading scripture often results in life tips being gleaned from the texts or inaccurate understandings of the Gospel or worse. Proper reading and understanding of the Biblical texts is not a particular daunting task, largely because the writers set out to write books that their readers would understand. The majority of the basic messages in the scriptures can be easily discerned. This series will deal with learning to read and understand the scriptures properly. The study of how to read the scriptures properly is called “hermeneutics.” This is a sort of basic entry-level course in hermeneutics.

Why bother doing this? Believe it or not, the original authors intended to convey a particular message in their writings. As a parent, if I leave my daughter with a new sitter with a list of instructions I don’t want the sitter to interpret his/her feelings into the text of my letter. “For emergencies call me and the following doctor” is not a suggestion and it is not to be interpreted to mean, that if the sitter has a hair emergency they ought to call the doctor or that this is a guide on how they are to feed my child. This is a particular instruction. The writers of the Biblical texts wrote for particular reasons. When we read our own opinions or experiences into the texts, we miss the message that the writer was trying to convey.

One good example of this is found in the story of the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus feeds 5,000 people in the wilderness with a few loaves and fishes. I listened to a podcast sermon a few weeks ago arguing that this story is about how to make your personal wealth grow. This was probably not the gospel writer’s intent. I read another writer who said that the miracle was an exaggeration. In reality, the sharing of the loaves and fishes inspired everyone to share and that when everyone shared there was enough to go around and it was a miracle because people were nice to each other. Again, this forces a perspective into the text that is simply not present. The larger message of the story in context of the entire Gospel is the author’s intent. This series will explore the basic principles for reading, understanding and applying God’s word.

Another reason for learning to properly interpret God’s word is that it gives you a valuable tool for defending your faith. Frequently, folks will use scripture to attack Christianity. If you can properly interpret a text you are more capable of responding.

The best reason to do this is to know God more intimately. God gave us His word so that we can know him. He reveals himself in the scriptures. Reading and properly understanding His word is the way to know Him. There are those that will argue that we can know God through prayer. While I don’t dispute this, anything that we know of God as a product of our prayer must be measured against the scriptures. If they do not stand in harmony with the word of God, then what we have learned from prayer is not about God.

I read a quote recently that said that there are many wonderful things to find in God’s word, the reader puts many of them there. When I read the scriptures, if I put my own prejudices, values or beliefs into the word, then I misread it. The goal of learning to read and interpret scripture properly (hermeneutics) is to learn to find God in the scriptures, not us.

This series will be ongoing and will feature a number of rules and resources for properly interpreting God’s word. The next installment is the most important one. If you only read one more, please check that one out. It covers the single rule that does 90% of the work.

If you choose to follow this series, shoot me a note and let me know that you are getting something out of it.