2+2=4 (or so they tell me)
I would dare say that all of us (even the mathmatically challenged like myself) can understand the above equation. It is second nature for us to look at that and understand what is being communicated. But as simple as it is, we had to learn how to do it. None of us were born able to handle even a simple mathmatical problem, we had to be taught. Somebody had to tell us what the number ‘2’ meant and what the ‘+’ sign meant as well as the ‘=’ sign. Without that, we would be as lost on this equation as we would on one far more complicated (like say, 2×2=4, now we are getting tricky!) Some basic guidelines are necessary in all types of learning.
I used this illustration to begin my Sunday School class on Sunday over the different genre’s of the Old Testament (Narrative, Law, Wisdom, and Poetry). (Aside: I love our Sunday School material ‘The Gospel Project.’ We have been using it for three years and it is great, looking forward to their new study through the Bible series that begins in the Fall). In our class we talked about some basic guidelines for understanding each of these types of biblical writing. If we do not understand these guidelines then we can make some mistakes in our reading and application of the Bible. For example, reading poetry in the same way that we read Law is like thinking that 2+2 and 2×2 is the same. Yes, they both equal 4, but what happens when you change it to 2+3 and 2×3, do they both equal 5? We need a basic understanding of the guidelines of interpretation to read the Bible faithfully.
And the good news, it’s not all that difficult. I discovered this when I took “Introduction to Bible Study” my Freshman year of college. I kinda thought going in: ‘Who needs this class, don’t we all know how to study the Bible?’ Man, was I wrong. That class changed my life becase it changed my approach to reading the Bible. Not that I had been doing it all wrong my whole life, but just that I needed some important guidelines to do it better and to avoid errors. These were not new ideas (we do not need ‘new ideas’ for interpreting our Bibles, 2+2 has been and always will be 4). No, they were just simple lessons for faithfully understanding and applying the text.
For example, what do we do with proverbs that don’t seem to always come true (like say Proverbs 22:6 about training up a child)? Do we dismiss the Bible if a child turns away? No, we simply need to understand that the proverbs are not promises (always come to pass) but principles (generally come to pass). Not every hard worker will be rich (13:4, 21:5), but normally they are. It is wise to be a hard worker (diligent) and to train our children to be hard workers, not because they are guaranteed to be wealthy but because generally hard workers are not lacking in what they need. So then, this simple change in approach can better help us understand God’s Word.
One of my favorite books on interpreting the Bible was written by Duvall and Hayes. It is called ‘Grasping God’s Word.’ If you are looking for a thorough volume on this subject, then I recommend it to you (it’s pictured below). But if you are looking for something more simple (like you know, less pages), then I recommend their smaller volume ‘Journey into God’s Word’ (which I plan on offering a study through in the Fall for students if you are in the area and might be interested). This book will give you a basic understanding of the necessary guidelines for interpreting the Bible. (Hey, and if you are really interested and can’t wait for the Fall, our Sunday School lessons for the next few weeks will be continuing to cover this as well.)
I assume that if you are reading this then you are least somewhat interested in reading. If you believe with me that the Bible is God’s Word, then wouldn’t it make sense to take some time to read about how we can study it faithfully? In our current spiritual climate, I believe that it is critical. There are some good books out there on the subject (and some bad ones as well). I encourage you to give Duvall and Hayes a try, I think they will be a good place to start. Here are some of the volumes I own, let me know if you want to borrow one: