Interpretation Is About What The Text Meant To The Original Audience
“Are we there yet? Learning how to study the Bible is taking a long time!”
You may feel like the kids in the back seat that are getting impatient with the trip. We are getting close but no, we aren’t there yet. This step, interpretation, focuses on what the text means. Believe it or not many people never make it to this step! It’s common to read the Bible with one question in mind, “What does this verse mean to me?” That’s how many small groups function when they meet. The leader reads a verse and then gives everyone the opportunity to say what it means to them.
“What does it mean to me?” isn’t a question about interpretation. It is a question about application, that is, how to apply the Bible to one’s life. That’s important. In fact, that’s where we want to end up in our Bible study. However, before we get there we must know the interpretation of the passage.
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The question that leads us to the interpretation of a passage is “What did this text mean to the original audience?” There are too many people who dismiss this question as irrelevant. If you’ve been following our posts for the past couple of weeks you know why. Doing Bible study the right way is work!
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Let me give you a real-life example of why interpretation is so important. I have two friends who are close to 30 years old who have asked me to help them find a spouse. One is male the other female. It sounds like I should introduce them and see what happens, right? No, that’s not right. You see one is from the US and the other is from India. The problem isn’t distance. The problem is that the interpretation of “help me find a spouse” is very different for them.
In the US helping someone find a spouse means introducing them to a potential mate. Nothing more. The couple either falls in love and gets married or nothing comes of it. In India it means finding someone who is also looking for a spouse with a similar background, faith and values. It means the potential couple’s parents talk with each other and discuss marriage before introducing them to each other. After that they meet. If all is right the decision is usually made at that first meeting to get married. The phrase, “Please help me find a spouse” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone today.
As we read the Bible there are so many cultural, historical and language issues that require interpretation. Until we understand them we can’t know what the text meant to those who first read it. Once we do understand it we can get to “What does this mean to me?”
In tomorrow’s post we will be discussing the interpretation of Mark 1:1-8, what it meant to the original audience.
Do you have a question or comment? I’d love to hear from you.