Home > Bible, Word of God > Thoughts on Interpreting the Text – (Dougernism)

Thoughts on Interpreting the Text – (Dougernism)

Tired of hearing the angry voices competing for attention by increasing volume, I have often felt like the post-modern who says, “You’re both all right.” Silence seems golden when the only sound you hear is the sparring of two syllables in flight. But what is even more golden than silence is the articulate voice that creates the future in the midst of a world that seems to be crumbling.

Now more than ever I believe we need people to pay attention, to listen, and to respond with an articulation of wisdom from the Word. So how do we approach the Bible, the Word of God? What tools, what lenses, what frameworks can assist us in our endeavor?

This is not an exhaustive list but a few thoughts collected from writers and thinkers far wiser than myself. Karl Barth (via the great synthesizer Donald Bloesch) taught me that I don’t stand over the Word but it stands in judgment over me. So the first tool in my bag of interpretive tricks, is the grace, the gift, the challenge of humility. I come to the text realizing my own flaws, my own limited vision, my own sinful heart and deceptions. I humble myself under the mighty hand of God that He may lift me up in due time.

One of the dangers of critiquing modernism is the sense that I am finally here to save the day. Actually many a man far greater than myself lived and died in the school of the moderns, and I am grateful for the gifts of that generation. So in addition to humility, gratitude might also be helpful. We might learn to be grateful for our critics, our forebears, and especially for the heretics. I can learn from the successes and failures of others if I might learn to appreciate them and listen.

Listening is yet another key tool. Listening to the text. Listening to the writer influenced by the Greek philosophical world, the Roman legal system, the early medieval tribal world, and the late medieval scholasticism. Listening to the heart of the Reformers, the precision of the Enlightenment thinkers and the passion of the emergents. If we can develop the skill of listening to others across space and time, we might be forced to reflect upon and consider and grow from a different perspective.

All these initial tools might be captured in the words, “faith, hope and love.” The Word is not my word but God’s Word. So when I open the text, I must believe that God is speaking to me through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Instead of critical distrust, I bring critical trust. As a good Protestant, I believe the Word stands over and above all human words. Yet, like the Reformers before me, I believe that this God Word echoes through the communities of faith across space and time. So listening intently to these communities is valuable.

Different times sound forth particular articulations that sometimes seem unrecognizable from our current milieu. This requires the discipline of sustained listening through the ears of love. In addition to speaking from vastly different cultural contexts, different Christians across time and space have read the Word through particular parts of the Word. Gerald Bray suggests that the early centuries of the church read through the lens and questions of John’s gospel. It should be obvious that we read the text today through the lens of the book of Romans.

This is why question of justification, faith vs works, law vs grace and so on are so readily in our discourse and our faith walk. Another book that has exerted a powerful gateway into the rest of the Bible is the book of Psalms. This collection of songs offers an interpretive lens for everything from the creation story to the end of time, and we would all do well to sing (listen twice) to the treasures of this hermeneutic aesthetic.

Growing up with an attitude of derision toward the law, I found parts of the Old Testament virtually unreadable. More recently, I’ve begun to discover the treasure that the law brings in opening up the stories, the songs, the provers, the gospels and even the epistles.

By moving back and forth between varying perspectives, am I not simply reflecting the post-modern conditioning of my culture? Unquestionably. On the bad side, this can lead to a position of having no tools to correct readings that damage the text, and having no ability to draw distinctions between Biblical revelation and the latest new age prophecies.

But seeing the Bible through varying perspectives does not mean that I give into a sea of subjective waves. Rather, I can draw from the tools of the ancient church realize that multiple perspectives can operate at the same time without canceling each other out. I can appreciate the narrative tools and rhetorical devices without denying the historical veracity of the stories. Both perspectives can teach me. This can begin helping me develop the Biblical skills I need to distinguish between subjective fluff and subjectively inspired revelation via an objective God who stands outside of my thoughts.

While I don’t like to really even use the terms objective and subjective, but for now let me suffice with the idea that the church has and still does offer the tools to distinguish between helpful and hurtful approaches to the text.

I might also suggest that objectively I can obey and embodying the words of the 10 commandments. Without faith in the historical Jesus and literal obedience to His commandments, I am still on the outside and all discussion of interpretation is simply theory. Stepping on the inside, I discover that I can listen and obey in simple childlike faith. And that many of the most simple will interpret the Word through their lives far more effective than me by listening, trusting and obeying the gentle (and not so gentle) promptings of the Holy Spirit.

  1. October 15, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    Hello! My name is Anders Branderud and I am from Sweden.
    You write: “I might also suggest that objectively I can obey and embodying the words of the 10 commandments.”

    According to world-recognized authorities in this area the historical Jesus was a Pharisee (a Torah-practising Jewish group – who according to 4Q MMT practised both written and oral Torah). His name was Ribi Yehoshua. As the earliest church historians, most eminent modern university historians, our web site (www.netzarim.co.il) and our Khavruta (Distance Learning) texts confirm, the original teachings of Ribi Yehoshua were not only accepted by most of the Pharisaic Jewish community, he had hoards of Jewish students.

    Ribi Yehoshua said:

    “Don’t think that I came to uproot the Torah or the Neviim [prophets], but rather I came to reconcile them with the Oral Law of emet (truth). Should the heavens and ha-aretz (the land, particularly referring to Israel) exchange places, still, not even one ‘ (yod) nor one ` (qeren) of the Oral Law of Mosheh shall so much as exchange places; until it shall become that it is all being fully ratified and performed non-selectively. For whoever deletes one Oral Law from the Torah, or shall teach others such, by those in the Realm of the heavens he shall be called “deleted.” Both he who preserves and he who teaches them shall be called Ribi in the Realm of the heavens. For I tell you that unless your Tzedaqah (righteousness) is over and above that of the Sophrim and of the [probably ‘Herodian’] Rabbinic-Perushim (corrupted to “Pharisees”), there is no way you will enter into the Realm of the heavens! “
    Netzarim Reconstruction of Hebrew Matityahu 5:17-20.

    Now you are confronted with the very words of historical Ribi Yehoshua [in the above quotes].

    So why not start following Ribi Yehoshua by practising Torah including Halakhah non-selectively? To follow him by practising the commandments in Torah including helping the needy gives true meaning of life!!

    From Anders Branderud
    Geir Toshav, Netzarim in Ra’anana in Israel (www.netzarim.co.il) who are followers of Ribi Yehoshua – the Messiah – in Orthodox Judaism

  2. November 21, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    Doug, Hello!

    I must just add one important clarification!

    The historical J*esus is not le-havdil (to differentiate) Ribi Yehoshua.

    The historical J*esus is an oxymoron. There was a historical Pharisaic first century leader named le-havdil (to differentiate) Ribi Yehoshua. This is not the same person as the Christian J*esus.

    My initial post is about Ribi Yehoshua.

    No one can follow two polar-opposite masters — the authentic, historical, PRO-Torah 1st-century Ribi from Nazareth and the 4th-century (post-135 C.E.), arch-antithesis ANTI-Torah apostasy developed by the Hellenists (namely the Sadducees and Roman pagans who conspired to kill Ribi Yәhoshua, displaced his original followers and redacted the NT).

    Logic dictates that the burden of proof is on the person that wants to state that Ribi Yehoshua is the same person as le-havdil (to differentiate) J*esus.

    When Christians who are reading this realize the above you can start follow the historical Ribi Yehoshua by practising Torah non-selectively. That is indeed meaningful; and everyone that loves ha-Sheim – the Creator of the universe – does his or her utmost to practise Torah (the words of תורה implies this.).

    The first century Ribi Yehoshua said: “Happy are they to be who hunger and thirst after tzedaqah [justness according to Torah; that is practising the מצות in תורה (Torah)], for they shall be filled of it.” [The Netzarim Reconstruction of Hebrew Matityahu 5:3].

    All the best,

    From Anders Branderud

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