Our Old Testament class has been looking this week at ways to go about getting a handle on the Old Testament writings. Some of the stuff was so applicable to other things (like the New Testament… and music… and great literature… and…) I wanted to share them. Here’s a short list…
- Discover the author’s intended meaning
- Consider the larger context
- Identify the genre
- Consider cultural, historical, and linguistic influences
- Look for what the text has to say about Jesus
- Keep in mind that there are other possible interpretations
These things seem kind of obvious to me but it’s amazing how many times we miss them. To detail a few of the items…
Discovering the author’s intended meaning, for example — this takes time and patience and good listening skills. Without hearing what the writer is actually saying it’s impossible to make an intelligent reply. Failure to discern intended meanings results in the phenomenon of “talking past each other” that happens so often in modern discourse.
Considering larger context — no one part of the Bible stands in isolation from the rest of the book. Everything ties in together. When reading from scripture it’s important to know what came before and what comes after the part being read.
Genre is another important issue. If we read, for example, “the moon and the stars bow down before you”, this doesn’t mean it’s time to run and grab our telescopes. Why? Because we’re reading poetry, not a scientific treatise. The Bible is full of all kinds of literature: poems, songs, histories, biographies, legal codes, prophecies, apocalypses, personal letters, public letters, and so on. Knowing which you’re reading goes a long way in figuring out the meaning of the text.
Finally, where it comes to the Old Testament, the entire testament is meant to point towards the Messiah. Reading it with this big picture in view helps draw deeper meaning out of the New Testament as well as the Old.