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Correct (?) Biblical Interpretation….

By: Eddie Botha 2014-08-17 13:20

I have read Keita’s essay and was struck by some of the points which he mentioned as well as the many assumptions. Just like every critique levelled at the written word (be that Classical Greek literature, Shakespeare or religious works), there are certain criteria which have to be fulfilled for your critique to be objective and correct. I believe that Keita may have err’d in this regard.  

From here on I shall attempt to outline how the majority of Biblical scholars approach the Biblical writings, and how they attempt in their interpretation thereof, to be as close to the original author’s thoughts and reason behind their writings.

There are thirty (30) different principles which, are and can be, used by the Biblical scholar in order to ‘interpret’ a specific portion of the Biblical text and try to remain as close to as the original meaning of the text. Thirty! Then, we as Christians and laypeople alike, attempt to do so in one reading, one sitting! How very insightful of ourselves! How utterly arrogant!

Surely should one read a scientific text, one should at least be educated in the rudimentals of science and physics before we can even understand, let alone interpret, what the author is attempting in bringing across. When we study Shakespeare, we endeavour in ‘interpreting’ his language and imagery only once you have made the effort in understanding the period English in which the play has been written. Should one provide critique and an interpretation, and publish it online, without the necessary background of understanding, you should, obviously, expect to be critizised yourself for your arrogance, ignorance or both! (The last mentioned includes myself, but I do not even pretend to say that I have the necessary background to do thus now. I have, though, done so in my younger years!)

So, after some ranting from my side, I shall proceed to, at least, lay some foundations as to how to start any attempted interpretation of the Biblical Texts. This is not to say that once you have read this that you should be able to interpret the Bible with accuracy, rather, you should at least think about Biblical Interpretation in a different light as well as reading the passages in a different light. Do this with an open, inquiring mind, without any preconceptions or objections, as you would any book or article which is actually your field of interest/expertise.

The fundamental principles in attempting to interpret the Bible would be as follows: The Historical-Grammatical Principle, the Dispensational (or Chronometrical Principle) model, the Covenantal Model, the New-Covenantal Model, the Ethnic Division Principle, the Breach Principle, the Christo-Centric Principle, the Moral Principle, the Discriminational Principle, the Predictive Principle, the Application Principle, the Principle of Human Willingness in Illumination and the Context Principle. (as extrapolated by Wikipedia) As you can see, there is not only one way to interpret Biblical Text, and should one follow just these which I have mentioned, to read the Bible would become a full out study of the texts, not just a mere reading thereof.  

I attempt to adhere to some of these principles, such as the Historical-Grammatical, the Covenantal, the New-Covenantal and the Christo-Centric Principles, seeing as my view is that these are the most important. And that there, ladies and gentlemen, is the problem with interpretation as a whole. Each and every  one of us have our own specific world view, and we judge, critique and interpret everything that we read with that particular world view. You can say what you want, none of us are immune to this as we all have been influenced by some or other world view which was held either by our parents, our high school teachers, our university professors or by some ‘information age guru’ on the internet.

We are in such a little bubble when it comes to information today, that we do not study that which we read. We take whatever information that we can lay our hands on, be that from the ‘Internet Infidel’ or the responsible researcher, as the definitive authority on the text. We do not always apply our own knowledge to what we have read. We have become lazy due to the vast amount of information which is at our fingertips. We tend not to think about what we have read, something that we have gained from modern education and our workplaces. A common, if clichéd, military punch line comes to mind: ‘You are not paid to think!’

I have found that there is a profound lack of understanding of the Biblical text among Christians, and a skewed understanding among those outside of the fold. Therefore we pronounce that which we understand of the text as the truth, without ever bothering to study it. I, myself, am so very guilty of that fact, and that is why I am attempting to rectify the matter, starting with myself.

I would like to use two examples of current ‘hot topics’ which have been discussed ad nausea on this forum, apply some of the principles already mentioned, and see if is get to a different understanding of the texts. So, here goes:

Genesis 1: ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…’  I believe that every single one of us, and the majority of people in the world, tends to misinterpret the first chapter of the first book of the Bible. Yes, it states that God created the heavens and the earth, yet it does not go into the nitty gritty of how He did it. Yes, it states that of different ‘days’ He did that and the other, but it does not say exactly what He did to bring the creation about. Therefore, as with some Biblical scholars, I believe that it would be incorrect to read the first chapter as a literal creation text, rather, it would appear, when one attempts to understand the language in which it was written as well as the audience for which it was initially intended for, that it would be a story telling account. Not poetic, but rather telling a story. Not a scientific account, but rather telling a story. One of the hermeneutical tools that we should use is the understanding that the Hebrew language at the time of writing the first chapter only contained approximately three thousand (3000) words. This limited the authors’ ability in recounting any narration, let alone the creation story, leading to certain words would have different meanings when read in different contexts. For instance, the word for day, which is used in the original texts, yom or yomme does not necessarily mean a literal 24-hour day. When read in context, and when using the mentality of the period, it may very well mean ‘period of time’, i.e. a thousand or ten thousand years.  

I can already see that this essay is becoming a little long winded by some contributors’ standards on this forum, thus I shall end there today. I will attempt to provide further understanding of Biblical Text Interpretation later this week. Today’s essay, I would consider, to be an introduction to interpretation and some of the misconceptions that we as lay people have of it. Hopefully, as I attempt to continue to provide a possible alternate to our current understanding of Biblical Interpretation, I can help those, Christians and non-Christians alike, to a possible different reading to the Bible.

Disclaimer: I am not a Biblical scholar, not do I profess to have superior knowledge to everyone else. Rather, I am facing the same dilemma as everyone else as to what the original Biblical authors meant. These are my views and my interpretations, and cannot be used to either prove or disprove the Bible. I welcome any correction and advice, strictly from an objective point of view. Due to time constraints and work responsibilities, I shall attempt to respond to some comments, not all. Feel free to contact me via Facebook should you have more direct questions. Thank you for taking the time to read this essay.

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