Friday, December 5, 2008

Interpretation of the Bible

In the previous post, I wrote that learning the proper interpretation of the Bible is important for ex-members of abusive churches because abusive churches usually twist the Bible in order to justify their abusive and authoritarian practices. This often causes people to have wrong concepts of God and the Bible and frustrates their normal spiritual experience.

Actually, individual Bible study can be very enjoyable. It seems that many people think that Bible study and Bible interpretation are very difficult. This is not really so. Everything depends on the methods you use. It is impossible to write everything about Bible study and interpretation of the Bible in one post. I will just give some ideas.

It is often recommended to just read the Bible. This is good. However, the problem is that when you read the verses that were often used in your abusive church, you think that you "know" what they mean and are unable to consider that these verses might have a different meaning. In addition, they remind you of the abusive church and how they were used there.

Probably, the most simple method in addition to just reading the Bible is to read Bible commentaries. However, it is important what Bible commentary you use. The best commentaries give more than one interpretation of difficult verses. In addition, they give information on the background of each book and on the Biblical history and culture. I think this way is helpful because it gives another interpretation of the verses that were twisted by the abusive church.

It is good to read more than one interpretation of the verses (either in one commentary or reading more than one commentary). This gives you an opportunity to think about the meaning and use your ability of independent thinking. Sometimes, you will not be able to make a conclusion what interpretation is more correct. This is not a problem. Since even theologians who have special education and who spend much time on interpretation of the Bible have different opinions, this means that this verse is not easy to understand. It might cause some confusion in the beginning. However, it is also good to learn that there are different opinions in Christianity and that it is normal to have different opinions.

I think it is also very useful to learn the principles of interpretation of the Bible (hermeneutics) and methods of study the Bible. Probably, many people think that they need to know the Biblical languages in order to interpret the Bible. Of course, it is good to know the original languages of the Bible. However, it is not mandatory.

There are many books on hermeneutics and methods of study the Bible that can be used by people who do not have any theological education. I will mention just some of them:
1. Geoff Bennett The Bible: Dig a Little Deeper
2. Howard G. Hendricks, William D. Hendricks Living by the Book
3. Walter Henrichsen, Gayle Jackson Studying, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible
4. Daniel M. Doriani Getting the Message: A Plan for Interpreting and Applying the Bible
5. Gordon D. Fee, Douglas Stuart How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth
6. Henry A. Virkler Hermeneutics: Principles and Process of Biblical Interpretation

It is also good to get some "birds-eye view" of the Bible studying Old Testament and New Testament surveys. There are many books on the survey of the Old Testament and the survey of the New Testament. Some of them are very simple, some are deeper. I personally prefer 4 books:
1. Samuel J. Schultz Old Testament Speaks
2. Fred J. Greve Old Testament Survey. A Study Guide
3. Merrill C. Tenny New Testament Survey
4. Jesse K. Moon New Testament Survey. A Study Guide

In principle, study of the doctrines of mainstream Christianity may be also useful. There is a lot of literature on the Christian doctrines beginning with the books for new Christians and ending with the literature on systematic theology and dogmatics. However, many authors present the doctrines of their denominations or their personal opinions. So, it is important to notice the doctrinal positions of the authors and it is good to read the books of different authors who have different doctrinal positions.

Though learning the biblical languages is not mandatory, it is still useful. If you have no time to learn the languages, there are many interlinear translations that can help. However, they still cannot fully substitute reading the Bible in the original.

The Bible was written in three languages: New Testament Greek (the whole New Testament), Biblical Hebrew (the most part of the Old Testament), and Biblical Aramaic (some chapters of Daniel and Ezra). New Testament Greek (koine) is different from classic ancient Greek (Attic dialect). Biblical Hebrew is different from modern Hebrew. Besides Biblical Aramaic, there are many other Aramaic dialects. Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic are similar languages, but still they are different languages with different grammar and vocabulary.

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