Chapter 1 Summary..
The first chapter is titled ‘Introduction: The Need to Interpret.’ What the authors were indicating is that we need to interpret the Bible so that we can know what God is saying to us. They use the words ‘plain meaning’ to describe what we take, or rather should take, when we read the Bible. The book argues that because of the nature of us readers and the nature of the Bible one needs to get into the process of exegesis and hermeneutics to properly arrive at this ‘plain meaning’.
They continue to explain the nature of the readers and the nature of the Bible. First, the nature of the readers is that we are human. This means that because we have different experiences in life we bring our own subjective views when reading any kind of text. One of the examples they use is when the Bible uses the word ‘cross’, one usually imagines a Roman shaped cross because of the culture’s art. While in reality, we don’t really know what the actual shape was. Although a minor detail in terms of the grand picture, we can start to see how other words can be subjectively shaped incorrectly.
The book follows with the nature of the Bible. We as Christians believe that the Bible is the Word of God, but at the same time God used humans to write it out. Understanding both these facts is important. Examples are given of when the Bible is interpreted ignoring one of these facts. When the Bible is just taken from the human side, then it becomes like any other history book. When the Bible is taken as strictly from a Holy God, then it becomes a list of rules. Realizing that God spoke to actual people in history gives the Bible both authenticity and a challenge.
The Bible was written using many different literary types by God to speak to people. The challenge comes when interpreting from a certain literary type. We must recognize which type is being used and realize that interpreting one form, for example a psalm, will be different from another, let’s say a law. Also God spoke to different people at different times. This means that a certain word would have a specific cultural meaning to the original people the text was written for.
The book introduces the process of exegesis and hermeneutics to help us arrive at the ‘plain meaning’. Exegesis means understanding the original meaning of the text in relation to the people it was written for. Hermeneutics is applying those same words in our culture today.
The authors go on to say that exegesis is commonly used by everyone. The problem is that it is being used too selectively only on text that seem to need it, rather than on all parts of Scripture. The other problem is that sometimes unreliable sources are used to arrive at a final exegesis.
The process of good exegesis is presented as being able to read well in general and ask the right questions. Historical and literal context are what one should keep in mind when asking questions. Historical context are relevant factors of the author’s setting and literal context means that words are defined within sentences and sentences within their paragraphs. The authors add that content is also important and we must ask what is the author’s intent in the words he/she uses. Three tools they suggest to assist in exegesis are a good Bible translation (or several), a Bible dictionary and a good commentary.
The book continues with a preface to the following chapters and goes on to state the importance of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics preceded by good exegesis avoids people interpreting the Bible subjectively. We are given examples of bad interpretations of the Bible because of a lack of good exegesis and hermeneutics. While some of these are easily seen with common sense, it is clear that we must have a concern whenever the Bible is interpreted.
We must carefully and prayerfully interpret the Bible to find out what God is really saying to us. I believe these authors presented their argument well and I agree with them about the importance of properly interpreting the ‘plain meaning’.