the Church on the Hill
by D. Eric Williams
Pastor, Cottonwood Community Church
As twenty first century followers of Jesus Christ, we like to consider the Bible a document written especially for us. Yet, the truth is, the Bible was originally written for someone else. No doubt, the word of God is living and powerful (Hebrews 4:12) and is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This was true thousands of years ago and remains true today. However, we will miss the mark in making Scripture our own if we fail to recognize that every word of the Holy Bible was first penned for an ancient audience living in times and cultures very different than our modern age.
The first step in understanding and applying Scripture is to grasp the meaning of the text as it was understood by the original audience. This does not mean the first readers of Scripture would have understood every word. Nevertheless, everything in the text would have been familiar to them because the language utilized would have been drawn from their contemporary culture and worldview. “God‘s word to us was first of all his word to them. If they were going to hear it, it could only have come through events and in language they could have understood” (Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding The Bible, pg. 19). Thus, “the first task of the interpreter is called exegesis. Exegesis is a careful, systematic study of the Scripture to discover the original, intended meaning. This is basically a historical task. It is the attempt to hear the word as the original recipients were to have heard it, to find out what was the original intent of the words of the Bible” (Fee and Stuart, pg. 19) This then, “is the first step in reading every text” (Fee and Stuart, pg 20).
Failure to maintain a godly hermeneutic is a sign of arrogance. Is to say “we are the people” and the message of the Bible was never really intended for anyone other than us. This kind of thinking is most typical today when we consider Bible prophecy; there is evident confusion among the “experts” because of this hermeneutical hubris.
Although it seems everyone is premillennial and dispensational these days, that is where the similarities end. There is a perplexing array of pre-trib, mid-trib and post-trib belief. There is a confusing catalog of views concerning the symbolism of the Old Testament apocalyptic literature and The Revelation. Worse yet, most of the “experts” claim they approach Bible prophecy literally. Nonetheless, all of them discover an endless list of non-literal meaning in the text. Locust become helicopters; the number 666 becomes a bar-code; the multiheaded beast becomes the European Union and so on. In other words, no one interprets The Revelation and other prophetic passages literally regardless of their claims. But that isn't the real problem; errors arise when non-literal interpretations look to contemporary culture for their interpretive yardstick.
More on this next week.