If you were to start watching a TV show halfway through an episode in the middle of the fourth season, the chances are it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. To understand what is happening, we need to understand the show’s context. The context could be formed by a number of things:
- The historical and cultural setting the show is in (A show about a samurai in premodern Japan would be very different to a show about Americans in an office environment)
- The events that led up to the current conversation (Had there been an argument? Had anyone been in the wrong? Why can this man fly?)
- The audience that the show was intended for (A cartoon for small children will not be as insightful to a teenager because it was never intended to be)
In this way, the Bible is quite similar. In order to gain a proper grasp of what the Scriptures (another word for the Bible) are teaching us, we need to understand its context. So what does this look like?
There is a well-known joke that a man was looking into his Bible to find some guidance from God. Because he didn’t know where to look, he simply flung open the pages and put his finger on a verse. Whatever he read he would take as advice. The first verse he landed on was, “Judas went out and hanged himself”. Not knowing what to do about that, he tried again. “Go and do likewise.” A little uncomfortable, he tried one more time: “Whatever you are to do, do so quickly.”
Clearly, reading the Bible this way can get us into trouble! When reading the Bible, consider the following questions:
- What does the verse say in the context of the paragraph and the chapter?
- What does the chapter say in the context of the book?
- What does the book say in the context of the Old or New Testament?
- Is there anywhere else in the Bible that supports my interpretation of the verse?
- What is the historical and cultural setting that the book is set in?
- Who was the intended audience of the book?
This process of interpretation is traditionally known as hermeneutics and is hugely important to understand the Christian faith in the way that God intends us to. There has been much damage caused over the course of history (and even today) by people who have not interpreted the Bible properly or taken the passage out of context. Although the questions above may seem a little intimidating to someone that has never read the Bible before, please don’t let that stop you! One of the purposes of The Complete Church Creative is to help people understand these questions, as well as some key questions for new believers. Our hope is that the focus on both the practical and the theoretical will be hugely beneficial for believers in their church setting.
Finally, we believe that the Bible is to be taken literally. When we read about people like Jesus and Peter, we consider them real people that really existed. We believe that the miracles Jesus performed were not just stories but in fact actual historical events. In the next article, we will look at why we believe the Bible to be true and how we can trust that it is from God.
Do you have any questions about what you’ve just read? If so, feel free to comment below and we’ll get back to you!