This is a follow-up post to a question I asked last week, Is the Bible like Candy?
The Protestant Reformation is the historical event that Protestants look back on with celebration and where we draw many of our theological distinctives from. One of the biggest achievements of the Reformation which caused a huge shift within Christianity was that Martin Luther translated the Bible into German. The common people of Germany could now access and read the Bible for themselves, rather than simply being told by the priests and monks what the Bible said. On one level, this needs to be celebrated for the breakthrough that it is. But, we also need to acknowledge the downside to this monumental shift in the way the Bible is read, interpreted, and applied.
Up to this point, the idea of a biblically-uneducated person having their own copy of the Bible, studying it on their own (without any prior teaching), and then coming up with applications on their own was entirely alien. Yet this is the predominant practice in American Christianity today. It’s no wonder we have come up with hundreds of various interpretations of the Bible’s contents.
The problem with giving a biblically-uneducated person the Bible like it’s a piece of candy is that the person will then read the Bible on their terms, rather than on the Bible’s terms. This is the cardinal mistake of interpreting the Bible (hermeneutics). Hermeneutics 101 is that we must understand what the original author was trying to communicate to the original audience he was writing to.
The Bible is an inspired, eternal message written from God to all of us, but God chose to use contextual authors to write to contextual audiences who applied God’s eternal truths in their own context. The reason we have hermeneutics is so we can decipher what the eternal truth from God is in a text and how to apply it today. We do not always apply things the same way they were applied when they were written.
A favorite example of mine is”Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12). We apply the eternal truth of this passage (to be loving and friendly when we greet one another) without applying the cultural application of actually kissing one another! If you ever hear a church say, “We take the Bible literally”, make sure you’re not around during their “meet and greet time” on Sunday morning…or at least wear a pleasant flavor of ChapStick!
When a person picks up the Bible for the first time like it is candy, they do so without any tools to aid them in figuring out what cultural applications need to be left in the year 2000 B.C. or 51 A.D. As a result they apply things that we are not meant to apply and they exclude things we are not meant to exclude. In short, it’s a mess.
Stay tuned for further posts of this line of thought, where I’ll further unpack the problems of (and give examples of) reading the Bible on our own terms, rather than on its terms, as well as how we often do this in a (unintentionally) dishonest way in an attempt to get everything to fit into neat little boxes.
QUESTIONS FOR YOU: WHAT EXAMPLES CAN YOU THINK OF WHERE THE BIBLE HAS BEEN READ LIKE IT WAS A 21ST CENTURY DOCUMENT, RATHER THAN A 1ST CENTURY (AND EARLIER) DOCUMENT?
HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHAT SHOULD BE APPLIED IN OUR CULTURE TODAY AND WHICH APPLICATIONS SHOULD BE LEFT IN THE 1ST CENTURY (AND EARLIER)?