Friday, July 13, 2012

An Email to a Friend about Interpreting the Bible

Dear Brother,

You will encounter controversial and sometimes ridiculous issues like whether a person should be baptized in Jordan river like Jesus did. Whether a non-Jew can actually preach the Gospel or even understand the Gospel. Another issue is about baby baptism. Then you will have all kinds of issue with circumcision and foods. Some issues are about the King James Bible versus other translations. You will hear of issues such as dressing, length of hair, and even the kinds of occupation. etc.

In order to understand the bible, the primary subject to learn is Exegesis. That is to at least grasp the basics of how to exegete or in another word, decipher and understand the Bible in light of its cultures, languages and historical backgrounds.

From there, learning the Greek and Hebrew languages will then be helpful. Let me explain - for example somebody wants to learn English but does not understand the cultures and other aspects of the language, then by learning the vocabulary, they may make mistakes in how they understand and use English.

For example, the word, "water". Within the context, we can understand its usage. We drink water is different from we water the plants. The eyes water is different from the sky waters. The danger of most students of the biblical languages is to take all the meanings and attribute it to one passage or scriptural portion with a total disregard for the context.

English when used by the British and the Australians or Malaysians can have vast differences in meaning. So a 'mate' in Britain is a spouse but in Australia it is a friend. In Malaysia, it may be a companion or all the above. So when you read the Hebrew texts, you may have to understand the different sources of writing. Take the Pentateuch (first five books of the bible), you will soon discover that there are at least four different writers and a couple of editors who complied the Torah. So, you must learn about JEDP sources. J stands for the Jawehist. E for the Elohists. D for Deuteronomists and P stands for Priestly.  Some scholars accept these sources while other are against them. This of course is another issue that we can discuss next time.

With wrong exegesis, we can come out with some of the most ridiculous doctrines. For example, 1 Timothy 5:22 - Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.

In the early 1980s and even until now, this verse has been misinterpreted by some Charismatic self-styled preachers to mean the 'transference of the evil spirit'. They say that if you lay hands on a very sinful person or a demonic person, the evil spirits will enter you.

However, when you read the portion from 1 Timothy 5:17 onwards, you will find that the context of the passage has to do with leadership.

The background and context do not permit anyone to exegete it as the 'transference of the spirit'. It simply means do not appoint a young believer as a leader or else you will be responsible for his sins and mistakes. Let him mature first then appoint him later.

This wrong doctrine has harmed many believers and I knew of a case where a Burmese sister actually gone mad because she was so filled with fear about the transference of evil spirit. She refused to sleep with her husband and touch any animals because she believed that all the demons in these will enter her. She ended in a mental institution in Yangon.

After exegesis, you will need to learn Hermeneutics.  This is for the purpose of understanding how the bible can be used for today's purposes. For example, what the women preachers issue. How about smoking and drinking? How about pre-marital sex? How about pornography? How about eating meats? How about going to church? All these different questions are being worked out by both applying Exegesis and Hermeneutics. Of course, sometimes, these two disciplines overlap.

I hope this helps you to understand the importance of Exegesis and Hermeneutics before learning the biblical languages.

Anyway, if you are interested in a particular Greek or Hebrew word in the bible, you can go to Strong's Concordance. Here are some of the links.

God bless and enjoy your study. See you in Church tomorrow.

In Christ Alone,
Pastor Albert

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