Lay Formation Program Syllabus-Bible

TOPIC:          BIBLE

 TITLE:         “THE BOOK OF ALL BOOKS”

Lay Formation Program Syllabus-Bible

 DESCRIPTION:

Ang pag-aaral tungkol sa Bibliya ay tumatalakay sa Banal na Kasulatan bilang aklat na kinasihan ng Banalin na Espiritu at nagpapahayag ng ugnayan ng Diyos sa tao sa pamamagitan ng kasaysayan ng mga Israelita bilang baying pinili ng Diyos hanggang sa pagtagos ng ugnayang ito maging sa mga taong sumampalataya kay Kristo.


OBJECTIVES:

General:

matutuhan, maunawaan at maisapamuhay ang pag-ibig at pagliligtas ng Diyos sa sangkatauhan sa pamamagitan ng Banal na Kasulatan.

 

Specific:

  1. Maunawaan ang Banal na Kasulatan sa kanyang orihinal na konteksto mula sa kasaysayan kanyang pagkabuo hanggang sa kanyang pag-aangkop sa kasalukayang panahon.
  2. Makaugalian ng mga mag-aaral ang magsaliksik, magbulay ng Banal na Kasulatan tungo sa pagbabago ng indibiduwal na buhay, buhay ng sambayanan, Iglesya at pamayanan.
  3. Maging kagami-gamit sa ministeryo ng Iglesya sa pamamagitan ng pagtuturo at pangangaral.

 

OUTLINE:

  1. Nature and Characteristics of the Bible
  2. Stages in the Development of Bible Writings
  • Three-Way Understanding of the Bible
  1. The Biblical Writers
  2. The Biblical Story
  3. Framework of Social Analysis Applied to Biblical Studies
  • Understanding the Philippine Historical Context of Biblical


Interpretation

 REQUIREMENTS:

Magsulat ng isang reflection paper ( minimum of 150 words) hinggil sa makahulugang kaalamang natuklasan ng mag-aaral hinggil sa Bibliya.

 

REFERENCES:

Capulong, N. C.  “We believe … in the Holy Bible”. Reprinted from Like a

        Mustard Seed: Commentaries on the UCCP Statement of Faith, 1987.

 Capulong, N. C. “Like a Two-Edged Sword”.

 Dingayan, L. l. Bible in Context (12 Modules).

Edwards, B. Library Forms and Biblical Interpretation.

Harper and Row. Introduction to the Bible.

 

THE BIBLE:  THE BOOK OF ALL BOOKS

 

I. NATURE AND CHARACTERISTICS OF THE BIBLE

  1. Living Word of God

The Bible is the Word of God, but it is not the words of God. Within its words is housed the Word, which is changeless and eternal.

2. Affirmation of Faith

The Bible is a book of history but it does not claim to be objective history, with its primary focus on the covenantal relationship of God with people. It therefore views and interprets historical events from within the context of that faith relationship.

3. Protest Writing

It is a written record of protests against the abuses and oppression of empires (Exodus 3), the idolatry and apostacy of the monarchs (Micah 3), the hypocrisies of the political-religious leaders (Amos 5; Matthew 23), and so on.

4. Minority Report

It is written from the point of view of a persecuted minority, who are struggling to be faithful to their God in the midst of powerful empires that dominates their land and people.

5. Library

The Bible is a library. A literal meaning of the word “bible” is “book of books”.  It is 66 books for Protestants, 73 for Catholics.

The 39 books of the Old Testament tell the story of God’s dealings with Israel and the 27 books of the New Testament tell the story of Jesus and the church that followed Him.

To call the Bible a “library” means that there are different types of literature between its two covers. There is drama, history, law code, song, and poetry. There are gospels, parables, letters, and more.

6. Language of Relationship

The Bible is more concerned of the why questions of life than the how questions. Thus, it is not a science book. It is written from within the worldviews of its writers, a worldview quite different from that of  the present day. Nonetheless, it claims that God is God of all creation, that Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection have cosmic implications, and that people are an integral part of creation, as well as called to be stewards of it.

7. Product of Life Experience and Faith

The Biblical people lived their religion within the drama of life, long before there was a written Bible. Out of this, lived faith inspired writers to put together their traditions and wrote books which became their sacred Scriptures.

 

II. Levels or Categories of the Word of God

Capulong, in his “Two Edged Sword”,  enumerated the following levels or categories of the Word of God:

  1.  The Creative Word (Genesis 1 – The Creation Story)

When God speaks the Word, “Let there be light, and so on …” then it  become so. Our life, our environment, our world, the whole universe, our total existence have all come to be mainly because of the Word of God that creates and now sustains us. This is the Word that creates and gives life and sustains it, as we can see in the creation story in both Genesis 1 and 2. Without this creating, sustaining Word of God, we are nothing,.

  1. The Prophetic Word

The Hebrew term for the “word” that is uttered by God to create through speech (dabhar Elohim – word of God) is actually the same term used in creating events in history and judging it. When the prophet makes the announcement, “Thus says the Lord … !” (kho dabhar YHWH), the prophet in effect becomes the very mouthpiece through which the Lord speaks. The announcements can be in terms of judgment, or salvation, condemnation or forgiveness, denunciation or restoration, punishment or assurance of hope and comfort. These  can very well seen in the books of Hosea, Micah, Habakkuk and others.

  1. The Wisdom Counsel (hokmah)

This is the word spoken through the wise men and women as seen in the Books of Proverbs, mainly addressed to the young, to train them proper manners, values and priorities and mature decision making. The goal is for the attainment of life that is at peace with each other in the community and with their environment. This is the word that teaches various community affirming values such as respect for elders, frugality, true friendship, and proper moral conduct, kindness and compassion towards the poor. It teaches also the traits of a good leader, the fear of the Lord as the real beginning of wisdom.

  1. The Word of God Revealed in Person, Jesus Christ (Logos)

Thus, Jesus Christ, for all believers, becomes the most complete, most authentic, most profound word by God. Jesus Christ is the Word of God, that has become flesh (John 1: 1, 14). This is also very eloquently stated  in John 1: 1-3  “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us” (NRSV). He is the Word that was not only uttered and heard but has been seen, and encountered concretely, and faithfully witnessed to by His disciples.

 

III. STAGES IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF BIBLE WRITING

1. Oral Tradition

The Bible did not miraculously fall down from heaven; it is a product of a long process of development from the oral stage to its present form. It started as stories of people’s encounter with the living God, preserved in the collective memory of the community. These stories were orally transmitted from one generation to another. They were remembered, especially in celebrations (Deuteronomy 26: 4– 10; Luke 22: 14-23), in the preaching, teaching or in responding in the community of faith.

2. Written Tradition

The stories of faith now recorded in the Old Testament, which were handed down from one generation to another, were finally put down into writing: firstly, in very crude forms, like in  tablets of stones, barks of trees, skins of animals or papyrus sheets. Later on, they were preserved in scrolls. The stories were written independently from each other. These independent writings were then compiled, edited and formed into books.

3. Canonization

Canon comes the Hebrew word Kaneh, which means a reed. A reed can be used to measure something. The Greek word for it, Kanon, means a measuring rod. Applied to the Bible, the term canon refers to a norm of revealed truth, a rule of faith.

4. Translation

The Old Testament was written, for the most part, in Hebrew. A few sections were written in Aramaic, a sister language of Hebrew. Some of the later books of Apocrypa were composed in Greek. The whole of the Old Testament was translated into Greek about 200 years before Christ. It was known as Septuagint. It literally means seventy, the number of Jewish scholars who, according to an ancient legend, did the translation.

The Septuagint was used by Christian missionaries, such as Paul, among Greek-speaking non-Christians.

The whole New Testament, on the other hand, was written in Greek.

 

THREE-WAY UNDERSTANDING OF THE BIBLE

 1. The Bible may be understood on the theological level as the Word of God, and as a witness to an affirmation of faith in the God who is revealed in its pages. The Bible is understood in primarily theological concepts. The Bible is a document that records the deep theological reflections of the people of God, their confession of faith in this God whom they recognize, from Genesis, as the sole Lord of creator of the heavens and the earth, to Revelation, as the great judge and re-creator of all that is. Through the pages of these documents, God’s people are also making the confession of their faith in a God who acts in history in order to save and liberate the oppressed,  and who came to identify himself with His own people. The Bible easily becomes the source of the most profound theological expression of God’s people.

2. The Bible may be understood on the textual level, as literature, that is as word that is expressed and recorded by his people in typical literary forms of expression, such as historical narrative, poetry or song, prophetic oracle or sayings, or proverbs, parables, epistles, and many others. Each literary form reflects a particular cultural background and historical situation to which the Word of God is initially addressed. The form of the literature of Biblical material also provides a very important key in understanding the original cultural and historical background of the material and in eventually at arriving the message of the text.

3. The Bible on the historical level, being the Word of God that is incased in a particular culturally bound literary form, may also be understood as a record of history. It records the history of Israel as a nation and as people of God. As such Biblical literature, even as it contains the Word of God, also contains records of events portraying the origins, the rise, fall, and the reconstitution of Israel as a nation, and the birth of Christianity as a religion. The Bible presents itself as a history of a people, even as it may also be seen as a history of ideas and of faith, as well as a collection of varied forms of literature.

 

THE BIBLICAL WRITERS

Old Testament or Hebrew Bible

  1. Yahwist (from Yaweh) – 950 – 920 BCE
  2. Elohist (from Elohim) –  875 – 800 BCE
  3. Deuteronimist (from Deuter meaning second & nomos meaning law)

– 700 – 650 BCE

  1. Priestly (from Priests) – 580 – 540 BCE (Babylonian Exile)
  2. Wisdom Writers – 538 – 333 BCE
  3. Apocalyptic Writers – 330 –    63 BCE (Greek period)
  4. Prophetic Writers

New Testament or Christian Testament             

  1. Paul – 50 – 70 CE
  2. Mark – 70 CE/Rome
  3. Matthew – 80 – 90 CE
  4. Luke – 80 – 90 CE
  5. John – 95 – 100 CE
  6. Writer of Peter – 64 CE
  7. Writer of Hebrews – 70 CE
  8. James – 60 – 80 CE
  9. Jude – 80 – 90 CE
  10. Writer of Revelation – 96 CE
  11. Writer of the Johannine Letter  (I, II, III) – 100 CE
  12. Writer of II Peter – 100 CE

 

  1. THE BIBLICAL STORY

Genesis- A pre-historical set of tales and sagas.

  • Creation stories; Pre-Israel Sagas; Noah; Abraham; Jacob; Isaac; Joseph to Egypt

Exodus– Calling of Moses; Exodus from Egypt; Journey in Wilderness; Receiving the Law

Leviticus– Levitical laws (laws of the Levite priesthood)

Numbers– In the wilderness (40 years of wandering and the sending of 12 spies into Canaan

Deuteronomy– The Second Law, a re-interpretation of the events of the Exodus,the Law, the wilderness and settlement in a way that supported a centralized location for worship- the temple.

Joshua– The settlement of Canaan

Judges– Stories of tribal heroes and how they held unto their territory

Ruth– The story of David’s ancestry from a Canaanite grandmother

1 Samuel– The story of the prophet Samuel and the rise of Israel’s first king, King Saul.

II Samuel– The story of David’s unification of the 12 tribes and his protection of the nation against invaders.

I & II Kings– The story of Solomon through the civil war that divided the kingdom. It continues of the history with the destruction of Israel’s northern kingdom by Assyria (721 BCE) and the exile of the southern kingdom to Babylon (586 BCE). With Elijah and Elisha as prophets.

Chronicles– Tells the stories of Israel from the creation of the world down to the beginnings of the Persian Empire, with special emphasis upon the rise of the Davidic Kingdom, Solomon’s rule, the divided kingdom and the exile until the Persian King, King Cyrus, allows them to return.

Ezra & Nehemiah– Tell the building of the Jewish culture around the temple, following  the return of the exiles to Judah.

Esther– A tale of Esther who protests the Jews from persecution during the reign of the Persians.

Job– Its setting is “in the land of Ur” (Job 1:1), which probably means the great Syrian desert east and northeast of Palestine. It deals with the timeless, universal problem of human suffering. In literary form, it is a majestic drama addressing the lofty subject of God’s dealings with men.

The Psalms–  Sort of hymnal for the Israelites. About half of the 150 psalms are attributed to David, but most of the others are anonymous.

The Book of Proverbs– A collection of collections of wisdom , sayings written by Solomon gathered over a considerable period of time.

Ecclesiastes, The Preacher– Is credited to the “Son of David, King of Jerusalem” (1:1). Its  main is sounded at once: “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity” (1:2). “Vanity” literally means emptiness.

Songs of Solomon- Commonly referred to as Canticles. It is also attributed to this king (1:1). In typical Oriental language, it describes the joy of marital love.

Isaiah– The ministry of Isaiah is dated from about 740 BCE. He prophesied in the southern kingdom of Judah and presumably wrote his matchless book near the close of this period. There is little doubt that most of the first 39 chapters come from the mouth of the prophet Isaiah who advised King Hezekiah during the Assyrian attacks. Chapters 36 – 39, consist largely of historical records of the invasion and Hezekiah’s response to it. Part of Chapters 40 – 66 deals with the exile of Judah in Babylon and the rest addresses the Jews in Judah.

Hosea– Contemporary with Isaiah (750 – 736 BCE) who prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel. He made a dramatic plea to the Lord’s wife, Israel, to return to her rightful husband, leaving the false gods. But it was in vain.

Amos– Maybe the earliest of the writing prophets; he is perhaps to be dated around 760 BCE. His emphasis was on social righteousness. He preached in North Israel, especially in Bethel.

Micah– The date of the ministry of Micah is the same as that of Isaiah (740 – 700 BCE). He, too, prophesied in the southern kingdom of Judah. In common with Amos, he struck out vigorously against the oppression of the poor. Also included as contemporaries are Joel, Obadiah and Jonah in this period.

Jeremiah– Prophesied during the last 40 years of the southern kingdom of Judah (626 – 586 BCE). He is called “the weeping prophet” (9:1). The prophet’s visions and messages were written down and the result is the largest book in the Bible.

Ezekiel– He was the Lord’s prophet to His people in Babylonian captivity. Taken in an early deportation, he apparently ministered 22 years (593 – 571BCE). Described a future ideal state of Israel. The book is highly apocalyptic.

Daniel– Prophesied in Babylonia (606 – 536 BCE). The book of Daniel is the apocalypse of the Old Testament though there are apocalyptic elements in other books like Ezekiel.

Joel- 3rd or 4th century. Vividly described a terrifying plague of locusts. Then he makes a two-fold application to the coming punishment of Judah and to “ the day of the Lord”. The latter expression is the key phrase of this book.

Jonah– Ministered during the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel (787 – 747 BCE). Told to warn Nineveh of its impending doom, he tried to run away. When Nineveh repented, he complained. The book shows the folly of racial pride, and also God’s love for humanity.

Nahum– Generally between 663 – 612 BCE. He predicted the destruction of Nineveh, which took place in the latter year. Israel’s ancient foe, Assyria, was finally punished for her sins when her capital city fell.

Habakkuk– Prophesied in the same 7th century, near the end (603 BCE). He foretold the coming punishment of Judah by the Babylonians.

Zephaniah– About 625 BCE, he blasted out against the idolatry of Judah.

Haggai & Zechariah– Both began their ministry at the same time (520 BCE).

Malachi– Around 450 BCE. It is the last book of the Old Testament. The name means “my messenger”. Looking across the four centuries ahead, he predicted the coming of the Messiah.

The Jews arranged their sacred books into three groups: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Law consisted of the Pentateuch, the five books from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Jews attached great importance to this section because it contained the laws given by God to Moses and also the record of Israel’s early history.

The Prophets is divided into two groups, the “former” and the “latter” prophets. This section contained messages of men like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, as well as historical books of Joshua, Samuel and Kings.

The Writings included some later books of history (Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles), the Psalms, the apocalyptic Daniel and the wisdom books of Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

We cannot know for certain how the Old Testament Books were collected into their present order. It is possible that the scribe Ezra, whose story is in the biblical book Ezra, or other people during his lifetime (the 5th century BCE) were engaged in arranging  and collecting these sacred books together. This is strongly held in Jewish tradition. But collections of parts of Pentateuch, some of the messages of the prophets and some psalms and proverbs are known to have existed much earlier than this.


Between the Testaments, the following took place:

  • The rise of Greece (336 BCE)
  • Judah under Ptolemies (323 -198 BCE)
  • Judah under the Greeks (175 -163 BCE)
  • The Maccabean Revolt (167 -142 BCE)
  • The Conquest of Galilee (104 BCE – 76 CE)
  • The Roman Influence (63 CE)
  • The Zealot Movement (66 CE)
  • The Destruction of the Temple (70 CE)
  • The Defeat of the Jews (73 CE)

For 500 years, the Jews rarely been their own masters in the land of Israel. Even when King Cyrus of Persia had released them from captivity in Babylonia, they were soon subject to the Greeks and the Romans. The nation groaned under the burden of taxes paid to a foreign power and of being forced to take part in activities reflecting an alien culture. During the 200 years before Christ,  came stirrings of hope for a Messiah who would deliver them from the oppressors but when Jesus was born, He was not recognized as the deliverer He later claimed to be. He was crucified as a blasphemer for he claimed to be able to release people from the greater oppression of their own failure to live as  God had intended they should. But from that event has sprung the Christian faith, and the claim that Jesus, though crucified, still lives on.

 

The Birth of Christianity

 1. Jesus and His World

  • Jesus’ birth
  • Jesus in Nazareth
  • Jesus, the teacher in Galilee
  • The road to Jerusalem
  • The resurrection

2. The First Christians

  • The Christ is born
  • The Church begins to grow
  • Jews and Christians

3. Paul, the Traveler

  • Saul at Tarsus (CE 1)
  • The first journey (CE 46–47)
  • The second journey (CE 50–52)
  • The third journey (CE 52–56)
  • Jerusalem in Rome (CE 60–61)

Just as the Jews believed that God had uniquely inspired their Scriptures, so the first Christians attributed a similar quality to some of their writings. By CE 200, all the churches recognized the Four Gospels as the official records of Jesus’ life and teachings. Some of Paul’s letters to individual churches  had also come  to be recognized as being necessary to the development of the whole church. It was only later that the remaining books of the New Testament became generally accepted.

The book of Revelation, for instance, was known in the 2nd century but not widely used by Christians until the 3rd century. The letter to the Hebrews was not generally recognized as “scripture” by the churches in the west (Italy and parts of Europe) until the 4th century, partly because of doubts as to whether Paul wrote it. After some three centuries of discussion, during which writings had a unique authority for Christian faith and conduct, the “canon” or list of accepted books was confirmed by meetings of church leaders. The Council of Laodicea (CE 363) accepted the New Testament as it now stands with the exception of Revelation. In CE 367, a letter from Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria cited a list of books identical to our New Testament, and the list was officially recognized at the Council of Carthage (CE 397).

FRAMEWORK OF SOCIAL ANALYSIS APPLIED TO BIBLICAL STUDIES

I. Importance of Social Analysis in Biblical Study

  1. Relevance of Biblical Interpretation

A biblical interpretation should be relevant to people’s life situations. It should respond to their needs, hopes and aspirations. Social analysis helps the interpreter make relevant connections between the biblical reality and the present reality.

  1. Missionary Imperative

The goal of studying, interpreting, and proclaiming Biblical truths is no other than the  transformation of persons and communities. Hence, it is important to seriously study what needs to be transformed. Social analysis guides the interpreter in discovering what needs to be changed, not only in the human person but in society, as well.

  1. Human Beings as Social Beings

Human things are created to live alone by themselves, but to live in community with God, with their fellow human and with the rest of God’s creation (Genesis 1). It is our right relationship with our fellow human beings that our humanity find meaning and fulfillment. Hence, it is important to study human relationship in society.

  1. Steps in Analyzing Society
  2. Standpoint/Perspective

From what/whose standpoint are we looking at society? Is it from the perspective of the powerful or from the perspective of the powerless? Our standpoint affects very much the results of our social analysis, as well as the solutions we are to propose. We must be clear and sure of our standpoint at the very start.

 

Illustration 1

Standpoint Jesus’ Time Our Time
Powerful Romans, Herodians, Religious leaders, rich landowners, etc. MNC’s, landlords, political and religious leaders, etc.
Powerless Poor, beggars, sick, prostitutes, etc. Peasants, workers, urban poor, tribal people, etc.

 

Questions:

  • From what/whose standpoint did Jesus view his own society? Examine Jesus’ life and ministry. Take note that Jesus’ preaching is like a two-edged sword, good news to poor and powerless (cf. Matthew 11), but bad news to the rich and powerful (cf. Matthew 23).
  • From what/whose standpoint are we looking at our own society? Try to examine our own life and ministry.

2. Facts

Our standpoint should be based not on hearsay, but on solid facts. Facts can be verified by experience or research. In Biblical terminology, they can be “seen and heard” (cf. Exodus 3:15; Acts 4:19-20). Sometimes, our standpoint changes due to our encounter with the facts in life (e.g. exposure to concrete life situations). Many rich or middle class people have opted to deny themselves, carry their own cross, and follow the path of servanthood for the poor and powerless due to their encounter with the facts of life.

Illustration 2

Standpoint Jesus’ Time Our Time
Hearsay Matthew 11:4-5

Jesus is not the Messiah

Globalization is good news to the poor
Facts What people are seeing and hearing:

·         the blind can see

·         the lame can walk

·         the sick are cured

·         the deaf can hear

·         the dead are brought back to life

·         the good news is preached to the poor

Effects of globalization:

·         liberalization

·         deregulation

·         privatization

Effects to the poor:

·         massive land conversion

·         displacement

·         high prices

·         etc.

 

  1. System

The interrelationship of facts constitute a system. There are at least three systems operating in a given society, namely: economic, political, and cultural. Some social analysis would separate religion from the cultural system and consider it a superstructure.

  1. Economic

Questions to be asked

  • Who owns the wealth or material resources of a given society?
  • How is the wealth distributed?

This is the determinant factor in a given society. It determines society’s

situation and destiny.

 

Illustration 3

Economic System Jesus’ Time Our Time
Indicators Poverty Poverty
Immediate cause Sin Laziness
Root causes Jewish law

Unequal distribution of wealth

Roman imperial rule

Corruption in the bureaucracy

Unequal distribution of

wealth

Foreign domination

 

  1. Political

Questions to be asked:

  • Who controls the state machinery?
  • Who is in power?
  • Who defines who is in and who is out?

This is the dominant factor in  a given society.

 

Illustration 4

Economic System Jesus’ Time Our Time
Who is in control? Obedience of the law U.S., traditional politicians
Worst expressions of control Crucifixion,  stoning Summary execution, name calling

 

  1. Cultural

Questions to be asked:

  • Who directs?
  • Who justifies?

 

This is the justifying factor of a given society. It provides justification for the

economic and political systems through education, mass media, and religion – the three vehicles of culture. Take note that those who own are the same people who control and direct the destiny of a given society. A cultural system, however, has also progressive elements in it. Education, mass media, and religion can be used to justify or change a status quo.

 

Illustration 5

Cultural System Jesus’ Time Our Time
Value Obedience to the law Obedience to authorities
Vehicles of culture Religion Religion, mass media

 

  1. Structure

The interrelationship of the social systems constitutes a social structure. This is controlled by the political system, determined by the economic system, and justified by the cultural system. Now, where does social transformation come from? How can Christians be instrument of social transformation?

 

  1. Process of Transformation

 

  1. Source

Transformation comes from the people themselves, the victims of the social structures. They are the ones opting for change. To establish God’s kingdom, Jesus went to the people.

 

  1. Process

In order for the people to be a strong force for social change, they must be aware of the “truth that will set them free’, bond themselves together in unity and love and do something to bring about genuine change.


UNDERSTANDING THE PHILIPPINE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION

Brian Edwards, in his “Library Forms and Biblical Interpretation, states that the Bible is a box of treasure. It is full of things of great value, but it requires a key to unlock it. The key to unlock the Bible is within the reach of everyone and not just a special group of people with expert training – although training and experience certainly help us to use the key with greater ease and accuracy. This key is knowing the principles of interpreting the Bible, or hermeneutics. Hermeneutics comes a Greek word meaning “interpreter” .

Many people forget that the Bible, like any other book, must be understood according to certain rules. We are using most of these rules everyday when we read books, letters, or even newspaper. When a friend tells us that she “cried all night”, or the radio claims that “ the whole town was angry”, we do not seriously imagine that our friend sobbed without interruption for eight hours or that there was not even one person in the town who was not pleased with the news that annoyed most of the citizens. We have used the key of hermeneutics to unlock the statements made.

The Bible as a book must be interpreted sensibly, and as God’s book, it must be interpreted spiritually. Many of the attacks made upon the Bible by its critics are due to a misunderstanding of proper interpretation. An obvious and simple example is when people criticize the Bible for being unscientific when it speaks of the sun rising and setting (for example, Genesis 15:12, 17; 19:23). We all know that this is a convenient expression that is used the world over, or it is not intended as a scientific description of the relationship of the sun to the earth. Even the weather forecasters refer to sunset and sunrise.

The interpretation of the Scripture is a vital subject. It is important as the doctrine of verbal inerrancy itself. There is no value in being able to say, “These are the Words of God”, if we proceed to interpret them in a way directly the opposite of God’s intention. We are answerable to God if we abuse His Word in this way. In the history of the Christian church, there have been many leaders who have interpreted the Scripture in a fanciful or even ridiculous fashion and, as a result, have completely missed its clear teaching. The Reformers looked first for the literal or historical meaning of Scripture and only for an allegorical interpretation where this was allowed by Scripture itself.

Hermeneutics is not a matter of theory; it always has a practical application. Hermeneutics follows exegesis. Exegesis comes from another Greek word meaning “to explain”. The preacher and Bible teacher must be an exegete in order to understand the meaning of the text before he can interpret it and apply it to the lives of those listening. But he cannot explain or apply the Scripture unless he has clear principles for interpreting it.

Much of the Bible is plain, and anyone with a little common sense can understand it, but some of it is hard to grasp; at times there is fuller or deeper meaning that is not immediately obvious. Both the prophet Isaiah and Jesus himself reminded us that it is one thing to hear the Word of God, but quite another to understand it (Isaiah 6:9-10; Matthew 13:13-15).

The Bible is God’s book, and it has its stamp of authority across it. His Word is authoritative – not our particular interpretation of it. God has given us rules by which we can rightly understand His Word. They are not hard to follow and they are within the reach of everyone who prayerfully and carefully uses them as a key to interpret this treasure box. Interpret the Bible sensibly and spiritually. Make it relevant; not ridiculous. Ask for the help of God’s Holy Spirit because He is  the reliable interpreter of His own book.