Reading The Bible and “Getting” the Point.

This post is going to be about Hermeneutics. I know, you’re thinking, “Didn’t they sing ‘Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter?'” No, that would be the 60’s British invasion band Herman’s Hermits. Hermeneutics can be summarily defined as the science of reading and interpreting the Bible.

The first issue we address in the interpretation of the Bible is that of genre. The Bible has narrative (like Genesis), poetry (like Psalms), prophecy (like the majority of Isaiah–which includes poetry), wisdom literature (like Proverbs), epistle (like Paul’s letters), and apocalyptic literature (like Revelation and parts of Daniel). The problem is that there are different issues in interpretation for each genre. For instance, proverbs are generally true statements. A proverb, as a genre of literature, is not intended to be always true. Therefore certain statements in Proverbs should not be taken with the same weight that one would give to, say, an epistle of Paul. Why? because the genre, by definition, does not present itself this way.

Also, apocalyptic literature is very pictorial and uses a large amount of word-pictures. For instance, John, in Revelation, describes Jesus as “Looking as a Lamb slain.” This is obviously picturesque language. We don’t, for a minute, think Jesus is covered in wool and goes “Baaaah!” No, John is painting a picture of Jesus dependent on the rest of the Bible–Jesus is the One who is the Sacrificial Lamb.

Narrative sections are generally historical accounts of what happened–books like Genesis-Deuteronomy, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, The Gospels, and Acts, to name a few. Epistles are letters generally telling someone or a group of people what to do.

Our goal in reading the Bible should be to seek what the author’s main point is. Only when we find the author’s main point can we find out what God has intended for us to learn and then we can apply that main point (in different ways) to our lives to make us better Christians.

Always find the main verb. A knowledge of Greek and Hebrew makes this much easier. In some genres, this is more important. For instance, in the Great Commission, Jesus says, “Go…make disciples…baptizing…teaching…” I’ve heard many sermons about how we are commanded to “Go.” The Great Commission is used as a “Proof Text” to that end. But a careful examination of the passage shows that the main verb is “Make Disciples,” not “Go.” In Greek, the participles (which “Go” is along with baptizing and teaching) generally show how the action of the main verb is to be accomplished.

There have been many hilarious and some downright wrong interpretations of epistolatory literature because this rule has not been followed. Let me give you an example:

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 (ESV)
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. [13] “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. [14] And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. [15] Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! [16] Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” [17] But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. [18] Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. [19] Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, [20] for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

How many times have I heard a message on what is “Lawful” contrasted with what is “Beneficial?” That difference is not what Paul is talking about–it is not his main point. His main point is found, actually, in verse 20, “Glorify God in your body.”

So, then passage should be understood this way:

Paul’s Proposition: Use your body for the purpose of glorifying God

Paul’s supporting point #1: Use your body for the purpose of glorifying God by fleeing sexual immorality

Other supporting ideas #1: Use your body for the purpose of glorifying God because your body is God’s, not yours–He bought you at a price (Christ’s blood).

Other supporting ideas #2: Use your body for the purpose of glorifying God because we will be judged for how we lived.

Now, if I were preaching this, I’d put it this way (this is York’s applicational model):

Proposition: We must glorify God in our bodies

Point 1: Because we are to use our bodies to glorify God, We must flee sexual immorality

Point 2: We must glorify God in our bodies because He bought us with Christ’s blood

Point 3: We must always seek to do that which glorifies God because we will be judged for our actions and choices.

So, then, the main point Paul (and therefore God) has for us is that we are to use our bodies as instruments to glorify God (see also Romans 12:1-2).  And this passage is weird because it seems to be in retrograde–which means the main verb comes at the end of the passage, rather than at the beginning.

The next challenge in getting the point of the passage is context. This is perhaps the area which most people have the greatest challenge.

How many times have you heard, “You’ve said wherever two or three are gathered…” when you have five people at your Sunday evening service? The context of this statement is the Church Discipline part of Matthew 18!

How about this one….”A little child shall lead them?” Warm & Fuzzies abound, group hugs are offered to all, and a chorus of Kum-by-ah threatens to break out. BUT, this is not the context of this statement! This statements is talking about the eternal kingdom where children will lead animals that otherwise would have ripped them to shreds! Like real estate’s rule of location, location, location, Context’s rule is location, location, location.

Context must be considered in more than one aspect. You have the general context of the passage at hand, the context of the book, and the context of the Bible as a whole. For instance, the Apostle John uses certain words a certain way and Paul uses those words in a slightly different way.

Also, historical context must be a foremost consideration. I’ve heard many preach, teach, and talk about John 8 (the woman caught in adultery). As the passage is preached, it is inevitably brought out by the preacher that Jesus’ mercy to the woman is a model for all of us. I’ve even heard some say that it is OK to breach the law in an effort to show mercy.

This passage should be viewed in the context of the Old Testament law. Jesus couldn’t condemn her (which she deserved, by the way) because the “Accusers” had left and there were no longer two or three witnesses to condemn her–a requirement of the Law. In Jesus’ interaction with the Scribes and Pharisees, we find out that they likely set her up (as seen by only bringing her to Jesus and not the man too–again, required by the Law).

So, to summarize: Always, Always, ALWAYS find the author’s main point. Look for the main verb, and seek to understand the context (passage, book, biblical, and historical). Once this is accomplished, you can apply the truth of scripture to your life accurately and this will help you to live your life as an act of worship to God.

1 Comment

Filed under Biblical Theology, Preaching

One response to “Reading The Bible and “Getting” the Point.

  1. Great post.

    Question: Is there ever a time when preaching about using our freedom in Christ wisely, that you can use this passage to support that?

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