I shared an article a few weeks back about some good books for learning how to interpret the Bible faithfully. One book that I mentioned is ‘Journey Into God’s Word’ by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays (this book brought to you by the intial J). I have just started working through this book with some high school students and wanted to share their simple approach to reading and interpreting the Bible.
Put simply, we can view Bible interpretation as a journey:
- Their town: It starts in ‘their town,’ or the town of the original writers and recipients. If we want to know what the Bible means then we need to begin with what the Bible has always meant. Thus, we need to ask and answer the question: What did this passage mean to Paul and the Corinthians or to Peter and the elect exiles? The journey begins in their town.
- The river: After discovering the meaning of the text in their town, we have to cross the river of differences before we can get to our town. The culture in Corinth is different. The language and images are different. If we are reading in the Old Testament, then the covenant that we are under is different. Thus, we need to ask: What are all the differences between their setting and our own?
- The bridge: Once we have established the width of the river, we need to build the bridge of applicable principles, or theological principles. We want to know the timeless truths that Paul is communicating to the Corinthians in his letters. We may have differences with the original readers, but God’s truth is timeless and we need to discover these truths in the text that we are studying. Thus, we ask: What are the theological principles in this text (for both the original readers and us today)?
- Our town: The Bible always means what it always meant. Yet, the application of that meaning will vary. We may not be tempted to eat meat sacrficed to idols, but we must consider the well-being of our brothers and sisters in Christ as we make our daily choices. We have not finished the interpetive journey until we have answered the question: How do the theological principles apply to my life today? And through the Spirit’s illumination and power we seek to conform our lives to the truth of the Word.
The interpetive journey approach to reading the text is extremely helpful because it is so simple and straight-forward. That does not mean that it will always be easy, it will not. But it provides a memorable framework to use when studying the text. I recommend it to you and encourage you to pick up a copy of Duvall and Hays’ book to understand more about how to make this journey faithfully.