The Message of the Text

250biblejackHaving realized that I embraced doctrinal errors for over two decades, I devoted myself to get a good education on biblical interpretation and find out what it’s all about. The first subject I took at the Asian Theological Seminary (summer class 1996) was Hermeneutics, the study of biblical interpretation. And one of the many lessons in Biblical interpretation that is really important to me is something which I wrote inside the first few blank pages of my Bible.

It reminds me of a very important point whenever I read and interpret the Bible. I do not now remember if I got it from one of my seminary professors in class or if I got it from a book but here’s the quote:

  • “The message of the text is not conveyed through single words alone, but through words in relationship with each other as they occur in a specific literary context.”

And here’s another one:

  • “The part has no meaning apart from the whole.”

This is a good reminder for me not to rely solely on the original Hebrew or Greek meaning of a word to interpret Scripture. Why not? Because a word or group of words derive its meaning depending on how it is used in a particular phrase or sentence in a specific context.

Knowing the root words in Hebrew or Greek does help a lot in understanding the original meaning of words but there may be times when it may not help. There are other considerations in understanding Scripture aside from knowing about original meanings of words in Hebrew or Greek.

Let’s take for example the English word, “run.” If I say, “I would like to run for city mayor,” it is quite clear that in this particular context, the word “run” got its meaning from how it is used in this sentence. In this particular context, the literal meaning of the word “run”—the physical act of actually running—is not what is meant. It’s talking about one’s desire to become a city mayor. It’s figurative language. A lady’s stockings can have a “run” too. And here the word “run” means that some part of the lady’s stockings got damaged. So, it would be a mistake to interpret “run” based solely on its root word and its original meaning (in Hebrew or Greek!) without considering how the word is used in a particular context.

Learning the Lessons

So, the lesson for me is that I need to be mindful always of the context. In fact, there are various contexts that needs to be considered when reading the Bible like literary context, grammatical context, historical context, cultural context, etc. One needs to consider the overall context of God from Genesis to Revelation—“the whole counsel of God.” And we can only understand this through the lens of who Jesus Christ is — the context of Jesus Christ.

The most important context in understanding all Scripture is to consider who Jesus Christ is and who we are in him. This is the “lens” through which we should interpret Scripture. Jesus is our “lens.”

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