How Do You Prefer to Interpret The Bible?

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  • How Do You Prefer to Interpret The Bible?

    With a number of books ranging from 66 to 72 depending on which version you read and stories going back thousands of years, there are numerous accounts in The Bible that are extremely far removed from the world we inhabit today. Old testament characters reputed to have lived hundreds of years, the story of Jonah and the whale, the feeding of the five thousand, the exodus.....the list could go on and on.

    The way we look at life today renders many of these stories difficult to accept at face value and there are instances where science proves scipture to be incorrect.

    Knowing this to be true my question is how do you personally interpret The Bible? Is it the unshakeable word of God and a infallible account of human history or is it a collection of ancient and modern documents of religious philosophy that you can use to benefit you in any way you see fit?

    To summarise, do you prefer a literal or more metaphorical approach to understanding biblical writings?

  • #2
    Except for prophecy the rest of the bible should be literally interpreted. The bible isn't a bunch of stories. It's recorded history. Was Jonah in the whale's belly for three days? If he wasn't then we call Jesus a liar. [[For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights]]. With God all things are possible. Doesn't science say the dead can't come back to life? Isn't Jesus alive today?
    Comment>

    • #3
      Originally posted by PiousPete View Post
      To summarise, do you prefer a literal or more metaphorical approach to understanding biblical writings?
      The Bible contains different kinds of writing and each should be interpreted accordingly. Much of the Bible records historical events and should be interpreted literally just as other historical records are. The psalms are poetry and poetry often uses metaphorical language so there are passages in the psalms which would make no sense if interpreted literally. Jesus often told parables which were intended to convey truth in symbolic language.

      I have found that the best rule is to interpret each part literally unless it is clear that the author intended it to be interpreted some other way;
      Clyde Herrin's Blog
      Comment>

      • #4
        Originally posted by Smithee View Post
        Except for prophecy the rest of the bible should be literally interpreted. The bible isn't a bunch of stories. It's recorded history. Was Jonah in the whale's belly for three days? If he wasn't then we call Jesus a liar. [[For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights]]. With God all things are possible. Doesn't science say the dead can't come back to life? Isn't Jesus alive today?
        In this case how do you resolve conflicting accounts and/or contradictions in the bible, as you believe everything to be a strict record of history can you please tell me how Judas died?
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        • #5
          As a believer of Christ, reading the Scriptures is a must. It was stressed in the book of Joshua chapter 1 verse 8 "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success." Praying in the Holy spirit is beneficial before reading and interpreting the Bible,Actually at the time of Jesus, He used metaphors or parables to convey His message because according to Him in book of Mark chapter 4 verse 12 so that, "'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'". In a plain sense one can really understood the Scriptures fully after one humbly ask for the forgiveness of sins from the Lord Jesus and on which the Holy Spirit right away dwells on one's heart and making him or her to clearly understand the passages in the Bible be it figurative or literally written.
          Comment>

          • #6
            Question: "What is good biblical exegesis?"

            Answer: Exegesis means “exposition or explanation.” Biblical exegesis involves the examination of a particular text of scripture in order to properly interpret it. Exegesis is a part of the process of hermeneutics, the science of interpretation. A person who practices exegesis is called an exegete.

            Good biblical exegesis is actually commanded in scripture. “Study [be diligent] to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). According to this verse, we must handle the Word of God properly, through diligent study. If we don’t, we have reason to be ashamed.

            There are some basic principles of good exegesis which serious students of the Bible will follow:

            1. The Grammatical Principle. The Bible was written in human language, and language has a certain structure and follows certain rules. Therefore, we must interpret the Bible in a manner consistent with the basic rules of language.

            Usually, the exegete starts his examination of a passage by defining the words in it. Definitions are basic to understanding the passage as a whole, and it is important that the words be defined according to their original intent and not according to modern usage. To ensure accuracy, the exegete uses a precise English translation and Greek and Hebrew dictionaries.

            Next, the exegete examines the syntax, or the grammatical relationships of the words in the passage. He finds parallels, he determines which ideas are primary and which are subordinate, and he discovers actions, subjects, and their modifiers. He may even diagram a verse or two.

            2. The Literal Principle. We assume that each word in a passage has a normal, literal meaning, unless there is good reason to view it as a figure of speech. The exegete does not go out of his way to spiritualize or allegorize. Words mean what words mean.

            So, if the Bible mentions a “horse,” it means “a horse.” When the Bible speaks of the Promised Land, it means a literal land given to Israel and should not be interpreted as a reference to heaven.

            3. The Historical Principle. As time passes, culture changes, points of view change, language changes. We must guard against interpreting scripture according to how our culture views things; we must always place scripture in its historical context.

            The diligent Bible student will consider the geography, the customs, the current events, and even the politics of the time when a passage was written. An understanding of ancient Jewish culture can greatly aid an understanding of scripture. To do his research, the exegete will use Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and books on history.

            4. The Synthesis Principle. The best interpreter of scripture is scripture itself. We must examine a passage in relation to its immediate context (the verses surrounding it), its wider context (the book it’s found in), and its complete context (the Bible as a whole). The Bible does not contradict itself. Any theological statement in one verse can and should be harmonized with theological statements in other parts of scripture. Good Bible interpretation relates any one passage to the total content of scripture.

            5. The Practical Principle. Once we’ve properly examined the passage to understand its meaning, we have the responsibility to apply it to our own lives. To “rightly divide the word of truth” is more than an intellectual exercise; it is a life-changing event.

            Source: Biblical Exegesis
            Comment>

            • #7
              Originally posted by Erlindis June Baisac View Post
              As a believer of Christ, reading the Scriptures is a must. It was stressed in the book of Joshua chapter 1 verse 8 "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success." Praying in the Holy spirit is beneficial before reading and interpreting the Bible,Actually at the time of Jesus, He used metaphors or parables to convey His message because according to Him in book of Mark chapter 4 verse 12 so that, "'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'". In a plain sense one can really understood the Scriptures fully after one humbly ask for the forgiveness of sins from the Lord Jesus and on which the Holy Spirit right away dwells on one's heart and making him or her to clearly understand the passages in the Bible be it figurative or literally written.
              One common mistake christians make is to assume any declaration regarding the importance or validity of a scripture pertains to the whole entire bible. The quote from Joshua is not referring to the bible as the bible didn't exist at that time. Writings that make up the old and new testaments were put together in the latin vulgate bible but the bibles that we know to day did not come into existence until the 1400's.

              My question relates to what to do when the presence of the human hand in producing the bible becomes extremely evident.
              Comment>

              • #8
                Originally posted by William View Post
                Question: "What is good biblical exegesis?"

                Answer: Exegesis means “exposition or explanation.” Biblical exegesis involves the examination of a particular text of scripture in order to properly interpret it. Exegesis is a part of the process of hermeneutics, the science of interpretation. A person who practices exegesis is called an exegete.

                Good biblical exegesis is actually commanded in scripture. “Study [be diligent] to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). According to this verse, we must handle the Word of God properly, through diligent study. If we don’t, we have reason to be ashamed.

                There are some basic principles of good exegesis which serious students of the Bible will follow:

                1. The Grammatical Principle. The Bible was written in human language, and language has a certain structure and follows certain rules. Therefore, we must interpret the Bible in a manner consistent with the basic rules of language.

                Usually, the exegete starts his examination of a passage by defining the words in it. Definitions are basic to understanding the passage as a whole, and it is important that the words be defined according to their original intent and not according to modern usage. To ensure accuracy, the exegete uses a precise English translation and Greek and Hebrew dictionaries.

                Next, the exegete examines the syntax, or the grammatical relationships of the words in the passage. He finds parallels, he determines which ideas are primary and which are subordinate, and he discovers actions, subjects, and their modifiers. He may even diagram a verse or two.

                2. The Literal Principle. We assume that each word in a passage has a normal, literal meaning, unless there is good reason to view it as a figure of speech. The exegete does not go out of his way to spiritualize or allegorize. Words mean what words mean.

                So, if the Bible mentions a “horse,” it means “a horse.” When the Bible speaks of the Promised Land, it means a literal land given to Israel and should not be interpreted as a reference to heaven.

                3. The Historical Principle. As time passes, culture changes, points of view change, language changes. We must guard against interpreting scripture according to how our culture views things; we must always place scripture in its historical context.

                The diligent Bible student will consider the geography, the customs, the current events, and even the politics of the time when a passage was written. An understanding of ancient Jewish culture can greatly aid an understanding of scripture. To do his research, the exegete will use Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and books on history.

                4. The Synthesis Principle. The best interpreter of scripture is scripture itself. We must examine a passage in relation to its immediate context (the verses surrounding it), its wider context (the book it’s found in), and its complete context (the Bible as a whole). The Bible does not contradict itself. Any theological statement in one verse can and should be harmonized with theological statements in other parts of scripture. Good Bible interpretation relates any one passage to the total content of scripture.

                5. The Practical Principle. Once we’ve properly examined the passage to understand its meaning, we have the responsibility to apply it to our own lives. To “rightly divide the word of truth” is more than an intellectual exercise; it is a life-changing event.

                Source: Biblical Exegesis
                What does this mean for you in reality William? Explain your thoughts in just a few simple sentences?
                Comment>

                • #9
                  Originally posted by PiousPete View Post

                  My question relates to what to do when the presence of the human hand in producing the bible becomes extremely evident.
                  Just curious, what does "inspiration" mean to you PiousPete? Inspiration can be found in the Old Testament Job 32:8 and New Testament 2 Timothy 3:16. This is a rather broad and open question. I ask this because most "conservative" or "hard core" Christians boldly proclaim inerrancy. In contrast, others with a more "liberal" tendency tend to reject inerrancy, contending that parts of the Bible are divine and true, but other parts are clearly human and in error. They say that many of the legends, myths, and false beliefs about science were incorporated into the Bible. They argue that since these are not inspired of God they must be rejected by enlightened men as remnants of a primitive mentality unworthy of belief.

                  Personally, I adhere to an Orthodox view of Inspiration. But I'll refrain from going into that for the sake of brevity. I'm just curious about your belief, because your view seemingly comes across as a modernist and/or liberal?

                  Some people view inspiration through what they call conceptual inspiration. That is, God gave the thoughts to the prophets who were at liberty to put them into their own terms. In this way, God provided the conceptual inspiration and the men of God gave it a verbal expression characteristic of their own styles. Another words, some have opted for the "inspired concept" theory that God only gave the thoughts which the prophets were free to put into their own words.

                  There are other methods people believe. Like divine dictation. So you can see by the examples I provided, that the question has many possible answers, what does "inspiration" mean to you?
                  Comment>

                  • #10
                    I like to interpret it as a big metaphor full of beautiful stories that can help you in ways to live a life that is good with God.
                    Not every word is true in it and people tend to read everything as a strict thing.
                    Comment>

                    • #11
                      It is difficult, because at one point you do have to realize that language changes and there is symbolism that was never meant to be interpreted exactly. I think the church has a problem because once you admit that any word of the Bible is open to translation or interpretation, then where do you draw the line. It is because of this fear of floodgates being opened that the Catholic church states that the bible is the infallible word of God. But my personal opinion is that the Bible can be the perfect story of God, while still admitting that certain parts are just stories used as examples, or used to explain really complex things in more simple ways.

                      There are so many easy examples of where the Bible contradicts itself. Genesis 1 animals are created before man, Genesis 2 man is created before animals. In Mathew one of the sinners next to Jesus repents, in Luke, both sinners mock Jesus.

                      The Bible is about God´s love for us, and our Salvation through Jesus.. The church does itself a disservice when it hangs on every word as a literal translation of science and history.
                      Comment>

                      • #12
                        The Bible is a religious book not a philosophical one or a scientific one, and it needs to be read with the language of religion.

                        The first 11 chapters of Genesis are classics of this. The language of philosophy and science it has big problems with its geography and history. But these are not relevant to the language of religion. It is writing about God, his creation and his relationship with man and man’s relationship with God. To an extent (and I emphasis to an extent) scientific facts are irrelevant and are put at the service of religion and theology not the other way round.

                        But leaving Genesis aside I will take an example from the New Testament to explain my point.

                        In Matthew’s gospel he records a series of long discourse by Jesus, starting with the Beatitudes (chapter 5). He says:
                        “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying….” (Mt 5:1-2)

                        If we look at a similar passage in Luke’s gospel we find Jesus has been praying on a mountain, he calls his disciples and then he says:
                        “He came down with them and stood on a level place……Then he looked up at his disciples and said….” (Lk 6:17,20)

                        So did Jesus go up a mountain, sit down and proclaim the Beatitudes, or did he come down from a mountain to a level place, stand and proclaim the Beatitudes?

                        In the language of philosophy & science this matters – there is a discrepancy.

                        In the language of religion this doesn’t matter. The important questions are why did Matthew put Jesus sitting on a mountain? Why did Luke put Jesus standing on a plain? They are teaching us different things about Jesus and using their placement of Jesus to make the point, not telling us factually where he was.

                        Matthew is writing for Jewish believers and presents Jesus as the new Moses who God had promised he would send (but one even greater than Moses):
                        “Then the Lord replied to me…… “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people” (Deut 18:17-18).

                        Moses went up the mountain to receive the Law from God, but Jesus goes up the mountain to proclaim the law as God.

                        Matthews presents Jesus presenting the new Torah – the Beatitudes and the other discourses in five great books, like the five books of the Torah.

                        Additionally when a Rabbi teaches he sits down “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you” (Mt23:2). Jesus does this - see Jesus in the synagogue (Lk 4:20) & sitting in the boat (Mt 13:2). So when Jesus goes up the mountain to proclaim the new Torah he sits.

                        Luke however is writing to gentiles, for whom this would mean little. Luke puts Jesus standing on the plain, which stretches out into the distance and represents the universal scope of Jesus mission. There before him are a multitude of people from different regions around the area.
                        “He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon”. (Lk 6:17).

                        A painting is not a photograph, and we would not expect an artist to depict a scene or a person exactly as if it was. The artist will use many devices as clues and labels which give information about the person or event depicted. For example saints are depicted with some object that they are associated with and identifies them, keys for St. Peter, a pot of oil for St. Mary Magdalene, a heap of stones for St. Stephen. Paintings of the Annunciation normally show Mary inside some kind of enclosure, a house or a garden denoting her virginity. There is usually a white lily somewhere which denotes purity, and so on. The writers of scripture use similar principles to tell their story; the incidental details are part of the message they are conveying. They are truthful in what they are conveying, but they are not necessarily accurate as to what actually happened.

                        The Bible is a collection of books with many different literary styles, using different literary conventions. There is poetry, parables, inspirational writing, wisdom writing etc. And each needs to be read within the context of the style and literary genre. It is like a collection of paintings in many different styles that need to be “read” in different ways. We would not expect to read a Leonardo in the same way as a Picasso,
                        Comment>

                        • #13
                          Originally posted by petesede View Post
                          here are so many easy examples of where the Bible contradicts itself. Genesis 1 animals are created before man, Genesis 2 man is created before animals.
                          Not true. In short, Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are harmonious in every way. What may seem as a contradiction at first glance is essentially a more detailed account of chapter one. The text of Genesis 2:19 says nothing about the relative origins of man and beast in terms of chronology, but merely suggests that the animals were formed before being brought to man.
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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Bede View Post
                            So did Jesus go up a mountain, sit down and proclaim the Beatitudes, or did he come down from a mountain to a level place, stand and proclaim the Beatitudes?
                            He did both. He spoke to the people on many occasions and must have taught the same things many times. Matthew and Luke describe two different messages that he gave which contained many of the same elements. The fact that the Bible is about religion doesn't exempt it from the same standards of truth and accuracy that we apply to other writing.
                            Clyde Herrin's Blog
                            Comment>

                            • #15
                              Originally posted by theophilus View Post
                              He did both. He spoke to the people on many occasions and must have taught the same things many times. Matthew and Luke describe two different messages that he gave which contained many of the same elements. The fact that the Bible is about religion doesn't exempt it from the same standards of truth and accuracy that we apply to other writing.
                              Where does scripture say he proclaimed the Beatitudes twice?
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