Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Interpretation—Understood through Careful Study

by Laura Springer, Th.M., Ph.D.

Reading is always interpretation. In any written text, ideas from the mind of one person are translated into written language. Readers then translate the written text back into ideas in their own minds, seeking to decipher the author's ideas from words on the page or screen. Like other ancient writings, the text of the Bible requires a bit more effort than newer works. The most recent biblical book was written over 1,900 years ago in a language that is no longer spoken (Koine Greek) by an author who is long since dead (John the Apostle) who lived in a time and culture very different from our own (the first century in the Middle East). But unlike other ancient texts, the Bible also had a Divine Author who is wholly other, so additional care must be taken.

To understand the biblical authors’ intended meaning, we must do the hard work of interpretation, bringing our Spirit-illumined minds and God-given capacities to the text, discerning the authors' intended meaning and the significance of that meaning for life.

Interpretation has two basic components. Hermeneutics consists of the assumptions we bring to study and the principles we follow as we study. Hermeneutical principles answer such questions as What is the measure of interpretation? Where do we find meaning? What do we do about apparent conflicts among passages? We will look at Hermeneutics more deeply in August.

Exegesis is the process of working out the meaning the biblical author intended to convey and the significance of that meaning today. Exegesis begins with the big picture, moves to the details, and circles back to the big picture. It has two essential phases. Phase One asks, What did it mean? We answer this question by studying the text, both the whole and its parts, and its context. Phase Two asks, What does it mean? We answer this question by understanding the similarities and differences between our context and the context of the original readers. We will look at Exegesis more deeply in September.

Interpretation takes time and effort. When we invest our time and effort doing the work and developing the skills, we will reap a bountiful harvest. So, we must commit ourselves to do interpretation well, living out what we discover and teaching others to do so.

2 Timothy 2:15–19
F. F. Bruce and J. J. Scott Jr.  Interpretation of the Bible. Ed. Elwell, W. A. (2001). In Evangelical dictionary of theology: Second Edition (pp. 611–615). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

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