Faithfully interpreting Scripture will always require us to ask the right questions. It always begins with, what does it mean, before we ask, what does it mean to me. The reader or listener does not contribute anything to meaning. We must be vigilant against the temptation to read ourselves, our situations, our circumstances, our backgrounds, the color of our skin, or anything else regarding our “standpoint”, into the text and back out again. Doing so dismisses the divinely inspired authors, usurps their authority, ignores their intent, and destroys meaning.
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Does Your Cultural Background Influence Bible Interpretation
Can an individual’s or group's cultural situatedness, their "standpoint" regarding ethnicity, cultural background, life/personal experiences, etc., give them advantages in interpreting and understanding the Bible? Do different groups have unique insights that others don’t and can’t? Do we really need a diversity of voices and viewpoints to rightly interpret and understand the Scriptures? Does this kind of approach to the Scriptures help our understanding, or in some way might it hinder us? These are the questions and concerns that Dr. Richard Caldwell and Dr. Josh Philpot seek to answer this week on the Straight Truth Podcast. Join us as they aim to provide some helpful clarity regarding Biblical hermeneutics as they speak to us about the confusion surrounding Biblical interpretation, meaning, and application.
Dr. Caldwell says this kind of approach to the Scriptures (through the lens of our cultural situatedness/standpoint) doesn’t help. If anything, this approach can get in the way of a proper reading of Scripture. We’ve all heard about Bible studies where differences of opinions are shared regarding the meaning of texts. Things like: this is how I understand it, what do you think it means, this is what I hear it saying, or this is what it means to me, are shared among those in attendance. But that’s subjective. It's not how we interpret Biblical text and its meaning. What it means to you or me doesn’t really matter because meaning is not found in our thoughts, feelings, or opinions. The Bible is a God-breathed book, right down to the very words chosen, including the arrangement of those words. So, the meaning is not found in the hearer or the reader. Meaning is found, in the text, and that text has a context that extends to the texts around it, its chapter, the book, and to the rest of God’s Word contained in the two canons of Scripture. This gets to the Doctrine of Inspiration and how we view it. We believe that it is God’s Word, but He chose to work through human authors in such a way that they were active in the process (divine concursus). It was not something just being dictated to them. Therefore, there's a human author and a divine author. For example, when Paul wrote the book of Romans, it was Paul writing words that were breathed out by the Spirit of God, and those words are God’s very words. When you believe this, your task is to get yourself out of the way. You can’t know what it means or even know how to apply it until you take yourself out of the picture.
So then, how do we get to that meaning? We need to think about the world and time in which the Bible was originally written. We need to think about the author’s context when he wrote and what he is communicating. Those divinely inspired men God used to write the Bible wrote with specific intents. What the text means is what it has always meant and what it will always mean. It does not change from one interpreter to the next, and it does not change from culture to culture. So then, the way to determine its meaning is to discern what the original writer consciously intended to convey by the words and grammar he chose. To do this, we believe in literal interpretation and use the grammatical-historical principle of interpretation. This method examines the genre, structure, argument, historical and literary context, and more. In addition, we can often employ the Analogy of Faith, which compares Scripture with Scripture. But even when we do, we want to be careful to not jump there first and then read other passages on top of the one we are studying. We want to deal with the text in its immediate context first. It has an objective meaning, and that is what we are after. Each passage has only one correct interpretation but can have many applications.
Dr. Caldwell explains how this one meaning of a text and its many possible applications work out when it comes to reading a passage on singleness. It’s helpful because it’s pretty straightforward. We know the meaning, and for a single person who reads it, the application of it is clear. But when it comes to reading that passage as a married person, does its meaning change? No, the passage's meaning doesn’t change. But how a married person reading that passage applies those truths will be different. Dr. Caldwell shares a few. So, there can be a variety of application based on circumstances. But that application will only be as helpful, useful, and accurate as our understanding of Scripture.
About The Straight Truth Podcast
The Straight Truth Podcast: Christian Opinions in an Increasingly Secular World. Join Dr. Richard Caldwell, Dr. Josh Philpot, and their guests as they discuss news events, current affairs, and cultural issues from a Biblical point of view. Find the truth at www.straighttruth.net
The Straight Truth Podcast is a weekly opinion show hosted by Dr. Richard Caldwell and Dr. Josh Philpot. Straight Truth is available as an audio podcast on iTunes or as a video podcast through YouTube or Vimeo. The duration of the podcast is approximately 10 minutes. We release new episodes every Thursday.
The topics discussed in the Straight Truth Podcast are current events, matters that challenge traditional Christian values, and questions submitted by audience members. Dr. Caldwell, Dr. Philpot, and their guests seek to answer these questions with Biblical truths and from a Christian conservative point of view. The Holy Bible is the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God; it alone is and will be the basis and authority of
answering any and all questions.
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