Sunday, July 20, 2008

BIBLE CHEWING

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by Laura Springer, M.Div., Th.M.

How would you feel if, for every meal, you were offered pre-chewed food? Unless you are an infant—in which case it is amazing that you are reading this article :-)—you would not be pleased. So why do so many of us survive on pre-chewed Bible? [1] If you want to chew and enjoy the Bible for yourself, try these three questions.

What did it mean?

The first step in chewing the Bible for yourself is figuring out what the writer intended to communicate to the original readers. This can be complex, but only one thing is crucial: read and reread the text. Before looking at cross-references, Bible dictionaries, commentaries, or even section headings in your Bible, read the text.

The biblical authors were good writers who wrote so that their readers might understand. Look for repeated words and ideas, cause and effect, claims and evidence, and summary statements. Ask who, what, where, when, how, and why. Read the passage in several translations.
Once you have an opinion about what it meant, check with other believers—whether in person or in books—and then argue your case or adjust your conclusions. Write down the meaning in a few sentences.

What does the passage mean?

Once you have a handle on what the passage meant to the original readers, rewrite the statement in terms that are more general so it will be clear to people in your church and community. This rewrite is a “biblical principle” and it will always match the original meaning of the text. We must not and cannot make Scripture mean anything we choose. Check your rewrite with other believers to be sure you are on the right track.

How is this passage significant for us in our time and culture?

This is where perspective and creativity come in. While the text always means what it meant, the details of our obedience change with culture and circumstance. Allow the biblical meaning to confront you in three areas: knowledge, desires, and behavior.
  1. Do I/we have ignorance to be remedied, false belief to be corrected, or true belief to be strengthened?
  2. Do I/we have desires to be restrained or reinforced?
  3. Do I/we have behaviors to be stopped, corrected, started, or encouraged?
If you are tired of eating pre-chewed Bible, I challenge you to chew it for yourself. Take advantage of the habits we are developing in the TFB Summer Reading Program, choose one passage (at least a paragraph) per week (or per month) and chew it yourself. Then gather with fellow believers and share the wealth.

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[1] Chewing illustration courtesy of Dr. Shelly Cunningham, Biola University (see Who Gets to Chew the Cracker? in the Christian Education Journal).