I am taking a theology class at my local seminary. In it, we are learning how to correctly interpret the bible. I thought I would pass along some of what I am learning.
When we read the bible, how literally should we take it? For example, are women still supposed to wear veils to church? 1 Corinthians 11:5 reads:
But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.
Are we to take this literally? Or, do we just discount it because women covering their heads in church is no longer in our culture? Let’s take another example. Leviticus 23:22 says:
“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.’”
Very few of us have crops harvesting on our lands. If you do, will leaving the edges of your field unharvested help the poor in cities hundreds of miles away from you?
In the book Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, authors Klein, Blomberg and Hubbard suggest that we:
Determine the original application intended in the passage to the original audience.
Evaluate how those original applications apply to the original historical situations. If they still apply today, use them.
If the original applications are not transferable, identify the broader cross-cultural principles that the specific elements of the text reflect.
Find applications appropriate for today that implement these principles.*
So, let’s take the example of women covering their heads in church. When Paul wrote that command, for Jewish women, having a shaved head might have suggested they were guilty of adultery. For Greco-Roman women, shaved heads may have indicated they were the masculine partner in a lesbian relationship. Obviously, those applications don’t apply in our culture today. So, the specific practice here is irrelevant. On the other hand, there is a principle here that we can apply: any dress or grooming, behavior or conversation that can be interpreted as being against God, is as wrong today as it was then. So, next we need to find an appropriate application for today. We could say, perhaps, that we should dress modestly, and behave respectfully when we are in church (and at all other times as well).
In the other example, where the farmer is told not to reap to the edges of his field, the principle that could apply to us today might read, “Be generous with the poor. Don’t be greedy, and keep every morsel for yourself, and don’t waste good food.” An application for that might be to start a food bank at your church, using food that isn’t “perfect” that might otherwise be thrown away by your local grocery stores. Or, you might read it as a suggestion to give to your local food bank, or sponsor a child living in poverty in Africa.
Of course, this isn’t an exact science. The point is to try to discern what the original author meant, try to decide what the underlying principle was, and apply that principle in today’s culture.
As I was thinking about this concept, I had a realization. I LOVE the book of Philippians. I started to wonder if I love it so much because most of the text has principles that still apply today. So, I got out my bible, and began reading my favorite passages.
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. . . And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (verses 1:3-6, 1:9-11)
In the above passage, Paul is writing to fellow Christians in Philippians to tell them how much he loves, and admires them, and hopes they keep growing in their faith.
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (verse 1:21)
Things are bad for Paul right now. If he dies, he will then be with Jesus, which is better. If he lives, he will continue working for Christ.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (verses 2:5 – 11)
Even though Jesus is God, he was willing to humble himself, come to earth, and die for our sakes. We should have a similar humility in our relationships.
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (verses 3:12-13).
I haven’t “arrived” yet, but
I forget what has happened in my past, and strain toward a better future. Tweet This
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (verses 4:4-8).
Don’t be afraid. God is with you. Keep praying and focusing on the good, rather than the bad in the world. Tweet This
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (verses 4:12-13).
I have had good times and bad times. I have learned to be happy in either, because I can lean on God’s strength. Tweet This
I’ve decided that yes, one of the reasons I love the book of Philippians is because much of it is still applicable to our lives today. Also, it is a very hopeful book, and many of us need that hope. Paul is filled with joy, no matter what has happened to him.
Question: What passages of the bible have troubled you? Would this method of interpreting the bible be helpful for you?
Help us learn how to gain significance from the Bible for our lives today. Give us your Holy Spirit to help us understand your word. Amen
Many blessings my friends,
*W. Klein, C. Blomberg, R. Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), p. 610.