What I am going to do over the next few posts is share some practical tools to help you start to responsibly interpret ANY passage of scripture. We will call these tools our toolkit of truth!
TOOL 1: CLASSIFICATION
The Bible is not one book but a library of books - so we need to identify which kind of literature we are reading to help us understand it. That’s classification. On Sunday, October 30, 1938, the UK experienced a big problem caused by incorrect classification. HG Wells’ War of the Worlds played on the radio for the first time, but people mistakenly believed it was real, causing mass panic and fear of an alien invasion. It was a case of a mistaken genre.
Each genre communicates in a different style or structure. What is the genre of the book you are reading in the Bible? Is it narrative, law, prophecy, poetry, history or a letter? This impacts how we read it. We read a science textbook differently to how we read a novel or we read a newspaper differently to an email from a friend. Should we read the Bible Literally? It depends on which classification of a genre you are dealing with!
Single men - be wise – or you may end up waiting for the Song of Songs woman and she looks like a monster! We always need to look carefully at the language of the text within the genre– is the passage using metaphors or other figures of speech such as Hyperbole (deliberate exaggeration)? How does this affect the overall meaning of the passage? If you are not sure, how might you find out more? We need to read the Bible Literarily as much as we read it literally! In THE TOOLKIT OF TRUTH, classification is key.
TOOL 2: CONTEXT Did you know? The Bible clearly says there is no God! Whaaaattt??? Psalm 14:1 says ‘There is no God.” Obviously, we are conveniently overlooking how those words are introduced: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.“’ This why we always need to be careful not to build entire doctrines on single sentences.
Consider the context of the passage you are reading. You can answer 75% questions about the meaning of a passage just by reading the whole text. The context in which any passage is written influences how it is to be understood. Context includes several things like the verses immediately before and after a passage - This is often where the convenient division of chapter and verse can sometimes be unhelpful – we are prone to see things in isolation.
• The paragraph and book in which the verses appear
• The time and culture in which it was written - we tend to default to see everything through our 21st-century lens.
• The message and themes of the entire Bible Anyone who has ever tried to tell a joke in a different country will probably see it go down like a lead balloon (now there’s an expression they wouldn’t get in 1st century the Middle East!)
Why does humor so often fail? Because we miss one another’s context and culture. The Bible was written to address real people who were living in real locations and real times for a real reason. That’s context. In THE TOOLKIT OF TRUTH, context is key.